Saturday, July 07, 2007

Rules, by Cynthia Lord

Yawn. Music Playin: Cindi Lauper, Time After Time.

I'm starting to really hate my summer "goal" to write 20 original booktalks. It's making my summer feel shaped less like a vacation and more like an example of the cruel expectation imposed on all public school teachers: "summer is the time in which you must perform hours upon hours of unpaid labor." I don't mind spending my vacation days reading tons and tons of kids books. And I really love doing all the work I need to do to get ready to teach my two math classes next year. I even had a nightmare that a new teacher was hired, just to teach math, and I was so ANGRY and devastated. Those classes are mine, mine, mine! Just today, while reading some of the wonderful new sixth grade materials, I was stunned to learn about this amazing conjecture, yet to be proved or disproved!

But for some reason, coming up with great "hooks" and really captivating ways of introducing all these fabulous books is much harder than I predicted. I think it's partially because I'm so passionate about the whole enterprise: about the books, and about encouraging kids to read them, so I end up feeling frozen by the self-imposed pressure. But here's the thing: there's this librarian woman named Nancy Keane who has already compiled heaps of booktalks, and they're pretty good ones. So I'm going to keep linking to them, even for books that I really liked.

Rules is a book that takes up complicated themes and I'm grateful for an author that had the courage and grace to take it on and do it justice. Catherine, the main character, loves her younger brother David, who is autistic. She loves him, but she resents him, sometimes, and is embarrassed by him, sometimes, and wishes he were different, sometimes. I can see why lots of folks thought it would win the Newbery.

Stormbreaker is the first book in the Alex Rider, super spy series. I've enjoyed all of the Alex Rider books I've read and can think of a few kids for whom this series might be their breakthrough, wow-reading-can-really-be-cool set of titles. There have been some fairly harsh criticisms of this book and series, though. My reply: if it gets these certain kids reading, I don't care about the fact that the villains aren't Brits. What's a good spy thriller without a two-dimensional bad guy? It's the genre--it's like saying that orcs, goblins, and trolls are unfairly represented in fantasy books. C'mon.

I'm probably going to label all my beloved Baby Mouse books as "holiday" books this year, but I'm going to allow, in fact encourage, my students to take a nice holiday every fourth book or so. And what better way to introduce Baby Mouse than with this sweet little booktalk.

And finally, here's the booktalk for The Two Princesses of Bamarre, which is my favorite Levine princess book because it doesn't recreate a classic fairytale, but instead gives us an original, unlikely heroine.

Whew! I feel better already. The only problem I can see with this particular way of preparing booktalks is that there's always the possibility that Nancy Keane's site will vanish, one day. But for now, I'm feeling satisfied. I'll keep working on writing a few of my own, maybe even the 11 more I need to reach that blasted 20. I'll especially work on ones that Nancy doesn't have up yet.

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