Best (to Booktalk) of the Year

Sarah: End of the year best YA book lists are bumming me out. Every year I’m looking for what great stuff I’ve missed and every year the lists are packed full of books about sadness and trauma and tragedy and super-serious life issues. Which I’m sure are wonderful! There are readers for these books! But I want best of lists of light, booktalk-friendly books. I haven’t read exhaustively enough to have a definitive list, but here’s a look back on what I read this year– not necessarily released in 2016 or published for teens– to highlight the books I’m most likely pitch to teens.

speakingamericanSpeaking American*: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk, A Visual Guide by Josh Katz

This is going to the top of my summer booktalk list. It’s a fun, accessible guide to regional speech. The book has maps of where people say things like take out vs. carry out, garage sale vs. yard sale vs. tag sale vs. stoop sale. I’ll put up a picture of something and ask the class what they call it, then go to the map for that term. I had a great booktalk interaction over similar maps and charts from The Best American Infographics last year.

lucyandandyLucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown

Sarah: A comic about kid Neanderthals and their family, with current info on our knowledge on Neanderthals (a whole lot of which is very new). This is really enjoyable as a story for upper elementary and middle school and a great doorway to anthropological research.

caveboydaveGene: I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Brown’s graphic novels, but I have to say I enjoyed Caveboy Dave by Aaron Reynolds and Phil McAndrew a bit more than this. Lots of weirdly shaped heads and even stranger hair styles on the cave kids. It’s the story of a prehistoric inventor and features lots of dangerous animals. It contains science and some poop-related humor!

rollergirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Sarah: I’m probably the last person to read this, since it had hold lists at my library for more than a year. It’s not just about a girl going to roller derby camp, it’s about learning a skill even though you’re terrible at it at the start and learning to be a better friend. This is solidly in the developmental tasks of middle school kids and a fun read.

Gene: Great book. Right up there with the best graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier.

dannatureDan vs Nature by Don Calame

I might have to booktalk this sotto voce when the teacher isn’t looking, but it’s a roaringly funny, gross adventure.

Gene: I gave this to an adult cousin in Texas to smuggle to one of my teenage twice- or thrice-removed male cousins, but she started reading it and can’t put it down.  I have the sense it’s going to work its way through that entire branch of my family. File under practical jokes that backfire, Wolverine, and teen horniness.

pinkblobfishPink Is For Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating and David LeGrand (also featured at

I always have a cool animal book in my booktalks. I loved this.

Gene: You will believe a jelly can look like a sad old man.

presidentialfantasyYour Presidential Fantasy Dream Team by Daniel O’Brien and Winston Rowntree

Funny history, though I think people are pretty burned out on presidents, currently. When we all feel better, this would be a dynamite booktalk.

Gene: The comic Willow drew based on your booktalk is one of my favorite things from last year.

mementomoriMemento Mori by Paul Koudounaris

I love bringing macabre weird stuff, and Koudounaris took amazing pictures of the skeletons, mummies, and decorated skulls that stay in people’s daily lives after a loved one is gone.

dearlukeDear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth And Other Pop Culture Correspondences by John Moe

Short hilarious letters from real and fictional pop culture figures (including Darth Vader, as you may have gathered from the title), would make a great read-aloud part of a booktalk.

unusualchickensUnusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Sarah: A sweet story with paranormal chickens, a great upper elementary/younger middle school pick.

Gene: I write with Kelly every few weeks. She’s fabulous and so are her books.

breakthroughBreakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy

It’s a serious subject (birth defects, medical research, racism, sexism), but with fascinating detail and an inspiring ending.

humanbodyHuman Body Theater: A Nonfiction Revue by Maris Wicks

Hilarious and educational graphic nonfiction about (guess what?) human anatomy.

Gene: It’s a kawaii anatomy lesson. Everything is adorable, including snot and the spleen.

smallscenesSmall Scenes From A Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki

Action shots of Lego Star Wars figures (better than it sounds), it’s an easy sell with a few examples.

Gene: How could that be better than it sounds?!?

stevelichman1Gene: The only one I’d add is Steve Lichman Volume 1 by David Rapoza and Daniel Warren.

A lych, the dread lord of the dungeon where he lives, hangs out with his monsterous looking buddies. They’re not very confident and on the whole have lousy luck with women.  But the real tool of the bunch is Dracula. A mulleted vampire resembling Keifer Sutherland’s character in The Lost Boys arrives to make everyone (except Dracula) feel a little better about themselves, even if he is a bit of a dick. Hard to tell you in brief how funny this all is.  I know I’m supposed to show that and not say it, but it’s impossible. Luckily you can read a sample here.

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