Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

beholding bee“The way I got the diamond on my face happened like this.

I was sleeping in the back of our hauling truck one night after Pauline shut down our hot dog cart and Ellis closed the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel, and then, after every one of the stars had blinked out for the night so no one could see, that is when an angel came and kissed me on the cheek.

That is the way Pauline sees it.

Other folks say different things, like ‘What a shame, what a shame.'”

Bee tries to hide the birthmark on her face from the customers that come to her hot dog cart at the carnival.  But sometimes, they say cruel things or tease her, and it hurts her feelings.  It’s not all bad: she has her little dog, and Cordelia, the pig; and there’s Pauline, the young woman who found her-the closest thing she has to a mother.

Bee spends her time looking for the home she dreams of, a nice place for her and Pauline.  And she’s learning to run, too, which helps when she is feeling sad.  No matter how difficult her circumstances are, Bee tries to remain hopeful. She knows it will be better someday.

When Pauline unexpectedly leaves, Bee takes refuge with her mysterious “aunts”, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter.  There’s something a bit strange about them, though: no one else seems to be able to see them.  They make a cozy, if unusual, family, and Bee settles down.  She even is able to begin school for the first time! However, it’s not as easy as she was hoping.

 This gentle novel explores friendship, beauty, and bullying, against the interesting backdrop of World War II.   The character development is natural and thorough, and the historical details are fascinating.  This book would be great in a classroom, and presents an interesting perspective on wartime combined with a story laced with meaning.  It’s also a good way to open a dialogue on differences and bullying.  I loved it, even though it made me cry about every other page!  I think you’ll love it, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Beholding Bee.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2013. 327 pp.  Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book (and I think you will!) try these:

Sorta Like a Rockstar

The One and Only Ivan

The Magician’s Elephant


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me“M,

This is hard.  Harder than I expected, even with your help.  But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well.  I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.

I ask two favors.

First, you must write me a letter.

Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key.

The trip is a difficult one.  I will not be myself when I reach you.”

Miranda isn’t supposed to tell anyone about the mysterious notes.  She’s not sure who she would tell, anyway: her mom would freak out, and her best friend Sal is avoiding her ever  since he got punched on the way home from school.   Miranda keeps quiet, and the notes keep coming.  Each is filled with details no one should know, and the message is clear:  she’s the only one who can prevent a tragedy, and she’s got to move quickly.

The list of awards this book has gotten literally fills the inside cover, including the Newbery Medal, and for good reason! This smart book is a perfect combination of realistic characters, a just-creepy-enough mystery with a great setting, and  accessible science fiction (which I can’t explain to you, because it will ruin the mystery). I really loved the setting: late-70s New York.  The period-specific details were just enough to make it feel interesting and different, but not overly nostalgic.  Finally, Miranda’s first-person-narrative voice draws readers in, making them feel like a close friend of hers, and a partner in the mystery-solving.  It was also quite refreshing to explore Rebecca Stead’s portrayals  nontraditional families, and the treatment of race and class issues in the text.  All in all, a great book for sharing. I’d like to read it with some middle schoolers and see who can figure out the letter-sender first.  Happy Reading!

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me.  Yearling: New York, 197 pp.  Ages 10-14.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll love Blue Balliet’s stories, especially her Chasing Vermeer series and The Danger Box.  If you liked the mystery element and stories about families, you will definitely love Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck.   Finally, see what the fuss is all about: check out Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.  You’ll get why Miranda loves it so much!

Best Bits:  letters that keep you guessing + science fiction that isn’t confusing + being a mystery that is not full of vampires, blood, or magic, because let’s face it, that gets old sometimes.

So, You Have To Do A Book Talk!

Have you ever had to do a book talk?  If you haven’t before, you probably will soon.  But don’t panic.  You can totally do this, and I’ll help you. First,  here is a handout on How to Rock a Book Talk that I made.  It summarizes the basics for you, and at the end of the post, you can download a template that will help you get started with writing!



First of all, what is a book talk?

It sounds a lot scarier than it really is!

Basically, it is an enthusiastic presentation of a book for an audience.  A book talk is a performance, designed to entice people to read a chosen book.  It is like a movie trailer, in that it never contains spoilers, and always leaves the audience interested and hoping for more. Book talks share some of the same qualities as a book report:  they include the same information, but this is just in presentation format.  It’s like a spoken book report.  If you want, here are some examples to check out.

What kind of books should I use?

The best books to talk about are 1. ones you liked and 2. ones you’ve finished reading.

This isn’t because we’re trying to trick you into reading more books to punish you for not liking one of them, it’s only that it is much easier to do a book talk on a book that you thought was great!  If you liked it, it won’t be as difficult to think of positive things to say about it.  Book talks aren’t a place for criticizing books-the whole point of them is to make people want to read the book you’re talking about, so it’s important to like your book!

It’s also helpful if you avoid book-talking books from a series,  unless it is a story that can stand alone.

Ugh…how do I start?

Oftentimes, getting started is the most difficult part of projects like this.  I know the blank-screen feeling, too! When I’m stuck on what to say, sometimes I’ll get things started by telling my sister about the book I just read, or a friend of mine.  Try it! You might be surprised at how much it helps. Or, you can download my worksheet at the end of this post, and it will give you some good places to start!

So, let’s talk structure.

Your book talk should have three main sections: the Book, the Hook, and the Quick Look. You can call them whatever you’d like, but the mnemonic helps, I promise.

First, the Book. You want to introduce your book, with the title, the author, and the genre.  This is a good time to tell people if your book has won any awards, or any other special things about it. You should bring a copy with you so that your audience can see the cover, too.

Now, the Hook.  This is the part of the presentation that gets and holds your audience’s attention.  This is the cliffhanger! The Hook is the passage you will read aloud, and you’ll want to choose it carefully.  Hooks are like the passages I chose for the first part of every post. The main thing about a Hook is that it needs to be exciting!  A passage describing the central conflict in the plot, perhaps, or a moment of intense action. I also like to use the opening paragraphs of books-that is often a good place to find a Hook.

 And, speaking of finding Hooks, here’s some advice: the tricky part about Hooks is finding them after you’ve already finished the book.  It can be difficult to go back through the entire book, hunting for a specific passage that you know that you’ve read. I’ve done that and it takes forever.  If you can remember when you’re reading, it helps if you keep track of likely passages—just mark them in some way and then you’ll be able to find them after you’ve finished!

Finally, you need your Quick Look.  Since book talks are generally very short, this section is just an overview of the important literary elements and some reasons why you thought it was a worthwhile read.  I like to summarize the plot (not the ending!), talk about the characters, setting, and the main conflict in the story.  Then, I talk about what makes the book special!This your time to champion your book! Was the narrator hilariously sarcastic?  Did you like the creative setting?  Did the characters feel real to you?  Tell us!

Keeping Cool

Before your presentation, practice! Time yourself, film yourself, practice in front of a mirror, get comfortable reading your Hook and talking to your audience.  The more you rehearse, the more comfortable you’ll be when it comes time to present!  You can try using notecards, or writing a script for yourself (I do this sometimes!) if you’re worried about forgetting what to say.

You Can Do This

I’ve designed a Book Talk Builder worksheet for you-just click on the link and you can download it!  It’s a basic framework for your book talk, and filling it out will make it easier to talk about your book. Keep in mind-your listeners only know what you tell them. They haven’t read the book yet, and it is your job to make them want to! With a good passage to read, and your opinions on why it is special, plus some creativity and practice, your talk will be ready to go.  So, take some deep breaths, speak clearly, and tell everyone how cool your book is!