Book Talk

My Annual Book Talk in West Hollywood: Nine Great Book Titles

January 19, 2014

TGoodGardenThumbhe West Hollywood Children’s Roundtable shows what a city can do. The City West Hollywood has, since the mid-90s, gathered various stakeholders to think about ways to provide optimum services for children and families. This brings together educators, social services, parents, and agencies to meet monthly, from September through June. They share resources, collaborate on programs, and hear from experts on a range of topics. The Children’s Roundtable was initiated by Daphne Dennis, Manager of the City of West Hollywood’s Social Services Division, who, with her dynamic team, have even led some stellar service learning initiatives including writing a city-wide In Our Village books (see In Our Global Village), developed students as gardeners and proponents of healthy eating as part of Healthy West Hollywood, and championed alternative high school students to develop an annual city food collection campaign the students named Gotta Feed ‘em All held in April (when the students determined the need was greatest).

And every year the Roundtable hosts my Book Talk. I am given a budget to select books on themes and topics that matter to kids. Then we have a glorious time together, 30+ folks relishing the value of getting fabulous books in the hands of young readers. Here are the four categories and nine titles from January 2014.

GROWING GARDENS   Gardens are abounding! So let’s read about them to get info and inspired.

Potatoes on Rooftops: Farming in the City by Hadley Dyer is like a bite-size encyclopedia of ideas and examples of all sorts of inventive urban gardening all over the globe. Great photos; for all ages. Read more here.

The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway takes us to Honduras to follow a girl learning from a teacher about gardening and being helpful to her family. Based on the real story of farm transformation underway in Honduras and many other countries, this book offers children ways they can be part of the movement to grow “good gardens” and foster food security. Read more here and visit the book website for additional resources

GUN VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS   This is a terrible topic, I know, however we can’t shy away from the hardest conversations when questions abound in even young minds and we have safe communities to build. And fortunately, authors have given us amazing books as resources.

Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine takes us to a community rocked by a senseless act of violence at a middle school, and how a girl with Asberger’s syndrome struggles to understand her brother’s death. This is an accessible story, even for children as young as grade 4, particularly as a readaloud. The author’s choice of presenting what happened through the lens of a child with Asberger’s syndrome also helps us to consider the difficulties in understanding these tragic events. With this book, I hope readers will think about ways to work in their communities and with national efforts to find and support safe and responsible policies and laws that protect our children, families, and neighbors. Also, through understanding of the Autism spectrum, including Asberger’s syndrome, we recognize how to interact, support and establish meaningful relationships. Read more here.

Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser was his response to the Columbine shooting. This point of view novel constructs a myriad of voices, much like you would construct a story as it would unfold in the media. Footnotes of statistics about gun violence further illuminates and educates. Many resources are listed at the end of the book. A teacher once told me that when she gave this book to her 8th graders, she didn’t get a single copy back. (She got all the copies back of The Sun Also Rises.)

Environment   Let’s laugh it up with Carl Hiaasen’s two novels Scat and Chomp. Both of these engaging stories have adolescents who seem perfectly normal amid a bunch of wacky adults—kind of how teens really do see the world! In Scat a middle school science teacher has gone missing on an Everglades field trip. In Chomp, a TV adventure star (a complete fraud) needs rescuing again and again, and two teens (their names are Wahoo and Tuna) are right smack dab in the thick of crocs and more. Both stories have thought provoking content, a deep dilemma to look at; in Scat, a boy’s father is serving in Iraq and another boy is labeled a bully, and in Chomp, a girl is abused by her father. I am a huge Hiaasen fan and know his books can provoke students to take action, but first enjoy the laughter.

Global  It’s a big world. Let’s bring it closer to home.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway introduces children to the world of microfinance. Really? Yes! At Concordia International School in Shanghai, third and fourth graders have used this book to launch academics where they set up businesses, meet with bankers, take loans, and work like crazy to meet financial obligations and raise charitable funds. Grab the book. Visit the One Hen website. And let me know!

Understanding Each Other  What else is there for us to do? These books help us get there.

Wonder by P.J. Palacio is a book to read. Period. I have a blog about this one (read here). Let me just say, I read Wonder two times before I could put it down. Many thanks to my dear friend James Toole for the gift.

And Corey Roskin, who works in the Social Services Division at West Hollywood wanted a book about diversity and children understanding each other. This led me to Children’s Book World, a great store in Los Angeles, where fab saleswoman Cherry handed me Same, Same But Different by Jenny Kostecki-Shaw. What a story! Two children, one in an urban U.S. setting is a pen pal with a child in India, where the expression “Same, Same But Different” is often said. The narrative of what they explore together and their heartfelt friendship that grows, I simply sigh, and wish this for us all.

Nine treasures for your bookshelf. Enjoy! And I love to hear from you about books your recommend. Contact me at

Cathryn Berger Kaye