An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Warming

cover image for An Inconvenient TruthGore, Al. (2007) An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Warming. New York, NY: Viking.

Plot Summary:

With statistics and full color photographs, Gore presents the basics of a global crisis. From explaining greenhouse gases to chronicling Antarctica’s dramatically shrinking size, an airtight case for humanity’s influence on the global climate is made.  While deliberately and understandably alarming, the book ends on a hopeful note – showing the ways in which the modern world has been able to change its ways  and halt the process when we have put the effort into doing so.

Critical Evaluation:

The teen version of Gore’s popular and controversial book is much abridged, but still densely packed with information.  The abundance of graphics help to break up the text and ground the data in something more tangible for readers.  It’s an important book for teens to read, especially as it spends a decent amount of time discussing what can be done to halt global warming.  Some older teens will prefer reading the original adult title, but having this copy available as well will make the information accessible to a larger number of teen readers.

Reader’s Annotation:

“I is our only home. And we must take care of it.”

Author Information:

Being such a public figure, Gore’s sites are more about his projects than a way to connect to readers, but interested teens will find them informative.



Booktalking Ideas:

Props would work really well for this talk, not just graphs and pictures from the book, but everyday things like packaging and light bulbs. The trick would be to give enough information to be understandable and credible, but not so much that potential readers think checking out the book would now be unnecessary.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/10-16

Possible Controversy:

The controversy surrounding the movie and adult title is likely to follow the teen version as well.  The best defense is a well rounded collection and various educational and scientific organization’s endorsement of the series.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I was curious as to how this title would be adapted for younger readers.


They Called Themselves the KKK

cover image for They Called Themselves the KKK

Bartoletti, Susan (2010) They Called Themselves the K.K.K. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin.

Plot Synopsis:

Beginning with the end of the Civil War and ending with the start of the Jim Crow laws (with a short epilogue on desegregation and the Civil Rights Acts of the 20th century) They Called Themselves the KKK chronicles the formation and growth of arguably the most notorious group in American history.  Before the book even starts we know that Bartoletti is not going to pull any punches, the subtitle on the cover proclaims the KKK to be a terrorist group.  The pages inside make it quite clear this is not an exaggeration.

Critical Evaluation:

We have a habit, here in the US, of portraying history as inevitable – especially when we talk about it with youth.  The idea that the Civil War might not have turned out the way that it did becomes a sub-genre of science fiction rather than a philosophical discussion or an examination of the choices people made.  One of the main strengths of Bartoletti’s work is that she consistently refuses to buy into this narrative.  Her method of digging deep into the individual lives of ordinary people and of often switching from the simple past tense to the subjunctive helps to ground readers in the idea of history as something that was lived and decided upon, rather than a predetermined road that everyone walked down to lead us to where we are today.  They Called Themselves the KKK could easily have taken on the bewildered and helpless tone of an article on school shootings or psychopaths; instead Bartoletti invites us into the homes and minds of the people who lived in the South during Reconstruction and shows us how so much of what happened was an interplay of individuals choices.  The prejudice and willful ignorance of the politically powerful white Northeners; the arrogance and narcissism of the white Southern landowners who convinced themselves that their former slaves really believed that their sheet draped selves were ghosts from the spirit world (and not simply playing along because it was safer); and the pride and fear that left newly enfranchised black Americans walking a constant tightrope of outward submission and often private defiance.  Bartoletti does not present an exhaustive history of the formation of the KKK, but she selectively provides the kinds of details that make it clear that the their reign of terror was a choice and not a force of nature.

Changes in layout help to fix some of the drawbacks of her earlier works; while the text is still dense in terms of content, it’s appearance is less daunting to younger readers by virtue of being broken up by images and quotes on nearly every page.  As always, Bartoletti’s work here is both appealing and appropriate; she does not shy away from grisly truths, but her descriptions of murder and torture are always grounded in respect for the victims and an unwillingness to dismiss the perpetrators something other than human.  Especially well done is her habit of often starting a chapter with a quote from a former slave accompanied by a twentieth century photograph of the person in question.  Much of the visual documentation from this era is in the form of cartoons and other drawings, making it tempting for younger readers to treat the subject as slightly fantastical.  While still in black and white rather than color, the photographs of former slaves standing in front of ordinary suburban homes near the turn of the last century does much to emphasize the reality of historical events to modern readers.  Linking the photographs with quotes from the person in them, and using those words as a thematic statement for the chapter, also provides the victims of the KKK with the dignity and respect that has been so often denied to them.  The idea that their words are worthy of not only being heard but of, in fact, leading the discussion is a powerful refutation of the dehumanized stereotypes of black Americans – both then and now.

Reader’s Annotation:

“Resolved, That in all cases of incendiariam, ten of the leading colored people and two white sympathizers shall be executed…by order of KKK” January 22nd, 1871

Author Information:



Booktalking Ideas:

I think this is one that I would want to bring props for – most likely copies of the pictures inside – and read off quotes from history that can be found in the book; anything to emphasize that it is a book about people not dates and facts.

Reading Level/Target Age:

9th grade/14-17

Potential Controversy:

History should not be controversial, but it often is.  The Civil War may have ended a century and a half ago, but it’s scars still run deep.  This might be challenged for the violence in particular, but also because frank discussions about this period in history make people uncomfortable.  As a non-fiction title by an award winning author, it should be easier to defend than many others.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

I was impressed with the other works by Bartoletti that I have read and thought the cover and title were especially intriguing.

How to Build Your Own Country

cover image for How to Build Your Own CountryWyatt, V. (2009) How to Build Your Own Country.  Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press


Have you ever wanted to have your own country?  Thinking of creating your own nation but aren’t sure how to get started?  Then read How to Build Your Own Country!  Step by step instructions show you how to not only choose you flag, currency, and motto – but also how to decide what kind of government you will have and how you will pay for everything.  It’s the must have guide for anyone looking to carve their own niche in the world.

This was one of the funniest and clever non-fiction books I’ve read all semester.  It starts with a common game among tweens – creating one’s own country or world – and uses that to explain basic concepts about diplomacy and government.  The first few bits of instruction touch on the kinds of things tweens usually focus on when world-building: name, language, flags, money, etc.  The rest of the book however, explains concepts like oligarchies or reviews some of the basics of holding elections, and it’s all done in an easy to understand and tongue-in-cheek manner that is sure to keep tweens as entertained as they learn.

Best for ages 6-11

Series website:

The Circuit and Breaking Through

cover image for The Circuitcover image for Breaking ThroughJimenez, F. (1997) The Circuit. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Jimenez, F. (2008) Breaking Through. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin


When Francisco was little and he had only two brothers, his family lived across la frontera, in Mexico, and he dreamed of moving to California, like his papa always talked about. After his family finally made that dangerous journey, Francisco did not find money in the streets, as the stories said, instead he found hard work and long days working the circuit picking strawberries, cotton, grapes or whatever else was in season, wherever in California it may be planted. Francisco was still happy, though, despite always moving and never having enough money for doctors, toys, or warm jacket. Because in California, Francisco and his sibling are able to spend their weekdays attending school instead of working, at least some of the time.

In a series of stories, Jimenez tells the true story of how his family came to live and work in California, and what life was like as the child of migrant farm workers over half a century ago in California. The stories are slightly disjointed, in that large chunks of time pass between each without this being mentioned, but not so much so that young readers will have difficulty following the tale. Jimenez tells his story in a very matter of fact way and with a voice that is both distinctive and fitting. Not every tween will enjoy this book, but those that do will be captivated by Francisco’s struggles and spirit.

Breaking Through picks up where The Circuit left off, with Francisco in eighth grade and his family in trouble with la migra. It follows him through his high school years, where he flourishes, despite prejudice, poverty, and other obstacles. Where The Circuit leaves readers fascinated by Francisco’s struggles, Breaking Through is nothing less than inspiring. Matching Francisco’s growing maturity, the reading level is slightly above that of The Circuit, but the voice is still clearly the same.

Younger tweens are less likely to find the stories of the sequel in particular to be of high interest, but many who came to admire Francisco in The Circuit will still find much to keep them turning the pages in Breaking Through.

Best for ages 9-14, 12-16

Author website:

Double Dutch

cover image for Double DutchChamber, V.  (2002)  Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood.  New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.




I so very much wanted to love this book, but it felt unfocused and unorganized enough that I’m having a hard time figuring out how to describe it in a way that manages to be more enlightening than its title.  There are some great parts – such as the interviews with competitive double dutch teams, the history of double dutch, and the excerpt from Mama’s Girl – and I still think many tweens would enjoy it. I just feel like it could have been so much more.  Most especially, it felt like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a gift book for former girls or a non-fiction book for actual girls.  Instead, it tried to both and was a weaker book overall for having done so, as much of the text would interest adults far more than tweens, and yet the reading level was geared for tweens.  It’s a respectable book, it just doesn’t quite feel worthy of the awesomeness of its topic.


Best for ages 8-12


Author website:

What’s the Weather Inside?

cover image for What's the Weather Inside?Wilson, K.  (2009).  What’s the Weather Inside? New York, NY: Margeret K. McElderry Books




Wilson’s poetry doesn’t quite match the unsurpassed brilliance of Shel Silverstein, but it comes pretty darn close.  With a keen understanding of an older child’s view of the world, Wilson poetry covers everything from the trials of being a sibling to the onerous task of having to complete homework or chores, with plenty of the ridiculous thrown in for good measure.  All accompanied by Barry Blitt’s distinctive and appropriate illustrations.  Irreverent, playful, and full of puns, alliteration, and humorous literal takes on everyday words, this book of poetry is sure to delight many younger tweens and send them off giggling and guffawing.

Best for ages 7-11


Author website:


Illustrator website:

Serving Young Tweens and Teens: Chapter 2

[ok, now for the actual reflective essay]

As I was cleaning up around the children’s room the other day I ran across a smaller book tucked inside a bigger one – the way people on television will sometimes hide their real reading material behind more acceptable, larger one.  The dummy book was some random graphic novel biography, but the title inside was one of our recently acquired books – an updated version of Joanna Cole’s “Asking About Sex and Growing Up.”

As I was reading Hager talk about her own experiences trying to get the information she was looking for as a tween, I kept thinking about the fact that making sure that your library has a good selection of materials is only half the battle.  The other part is making sure that kids can find the books they need.   This is especially hard when it comes to books about puberty because patrons in general, but especially the younger and more self-conscious tweens, don’t always feel comfortable asking librarians for help finding such materials.  The shyness – or sense of shame – that keeps kids hiding books behind other books makes it nearly impossible for them to ask for help locating such titles.

It’s important to be friendly, helpful, and respectful of privacy when answering reference questions – aside from being important no matter what, it goes a long way towards making the patron feel confident in returning the next time they have a question, no matter what the question may be.  But that still isn’t going to be enough to convince all patrons to feel comfortable going up and asking a near stranger for books about sex.

I’m sure what the solution to this is.  Displays don’t seem quite right, because finding the right book for the right child is especially important when it comes to this topic, and check-outs from displays tend to be impulse check-outs* rather than something that is picked up after looking through all the possibilities to find the perfect title.  (I also work in a fairly conservative part of Southern California, and while I don’t give much though to possible challenges when purchasing books, I do consider it when creating and placing displays.)  I have been wanting to put together topical bookmarks that list several of the titles that we have on that topic [alphabet books, “if you like…” type lists, etc], it might help to do a series on books about sex and puberty.

(now, to only find the time to start this project…)

*I worked in a bookstore for several years before switching to libraries, and I still use some of the terminology – sometimes modified – when there doesn’t seem to be equivalent in library-speak.  Apologies if this means I don’t always make sense.  “Impulse buy” is a common term in retail and pretty much what everything from the displays to the layout of the store was devoted to it.

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