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Booktalking “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba

William was a boy born into poverty in Malawi. He watched his entire family grow thinner during the winter. He has many sisters, and his seven-year-old sister got into the habit of greedily grabbing chunks of food. His other siblings objected to this, of course. They were just as hungry as she was. William found it very difficult to concentrate at home or at school, due to the constant hunger pains. Some kids left school at recess in search of food, and they did not return. Then, a school official informed the students who had not paid their school fees that the money was due the next day. If they did not pay, they were not welcome to continue their schooling. The youngster asked his father for the money, but the impoverished family had no money to spare. That was the end of formalized learning for William, for the moment.
But William’s curiosity would not die.

He ended up tinkering with electricity and electrical wires, and it emerged that he may be a budding electrical engineer. William started off by wiring a home, and he graduated to working with a colleague to create a windmill. This remarkable accomplishment rightly generated some media attention. Shortly thereafter, William was able to attend a secondary school in another town, then a school in South Africa, then eventually Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

William is very interested in science, and he refuses to give up on his dream of science. Despite his many years of lack of educational access, the poverty, his rural place of residence and the many other obstacles that he faced throughout his journey, William’s positive attitude, energy and intellectual verve is an inspiration to us all.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba, 2015

This was a very interesting story about Malawi culture and electrical engineering.

Books about electrical engineering

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Booktalking “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles

Gene is a super-star student who excels in the classroom. He likes order, he likes to plan, be safe, and conduct himself in accordance with school rules.

Phineas’s middle name is trouble. A daredevil whose wit and charm manage to always talk him out of any deleterious consequences for his lackadaisical behavior.

Devon School brought them together. They room together at school, and they both stay there during the summer months. The boys form a secret club which holds meetings every evening. Boys will be boys, but diving into the water from a high tree branch reeks of tragedy… both for Finny and Gene. Gene hears the talk at school: those boys who hint subtly and not-so-subtly that he knew ahead of time about the incident or that he caused it to happen. Meanwhile, Phineas recovers at home. The two have discussed the situation, but resolution seems far afield.

WWII permeates all aspects of the boys, lives. The rising high school juniors are relieved that they are not yet old enough for the draft. Indulging in luxury is frowned upon, and materials are rationed. The talk of the town includes speculation about the presidents, actions. The boys banter about the tragedy, and everyone wishes that the war would end. Somehow, though, there has to be some fun amid the chaos.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles, 1959

This book illuminated why people compare Covid 19 to a wartime scenario. I have not lived through a war that drastically altered my daily life, but the corona virus definitely has impacted my life, along with everyone else’s.

Books about WWII

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“You Too? 25 Voices Share Their #metoo Stories” edited by Janet Gurtler

Incest that occurs in your family that you are too ashamed to speak of.

A friend’s father who touches you in his van.

A boy who keeps talking about your private parts while you are wearing a swimsuit.

Accompanying a friend to her attacker’s rape trial.

Turning down a boy for a date, then being harassed mercilessly at school because of it.

These are a few of the stories of people who have been sexually mistreated by others. Work, school, home and public areas should not be places where people are open fodder for the egregious sexual gratification of predators. At least sufferers are speaking out openly and in large numbers so that the hurt and betrayal can finally stop.

Teachers talking suggestively to teen students, then touching them.

Waiters reaching down the front of your shirt, then observing your mother tip them.

Having a boyfriend’s roommate make advances to you and watching your lover enjoy that.

A high school coach walking into a girl’s changing room, only to make lewd comments about their bodies.

None of these things should happen. The first step is telling the world that it is not okay.

You Too? 25 Voices Share Their #metoo Stories, Ed. Janet Gurtler, 2020

I am not generally a fan of short stories, but I loved the variety of perspectives in this book.

Books about sexual assault

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Booktalking “Path To the Stars: My Journey From Girl Scout To Rocket Scientist” by Sylvia Acevedo

Sylvia loved growing up in Las Cruces, NM with her siblings, Mario and Laura, her Tia Angelica, Mami and Papi. In good weather, the kids would go outside and play with whatever other kids were around. Everything was peachy keen until Laura contracted meningitis. After many tense and lonely days when Mami and Laura were in the hospital, the two finally returned home. But it was a hollow victory, since the toddler’s sight and ability to learn had been diminished. Still, the young girl was thrilled to see her sibling once again.

The kids spoke Spanish with their mother at home, who did not speak much English. However, her mother grew more proficient with the language over time. Hermana Diaz helped Mario and Sylvia acquire language skills in English by tutoring them at home before they embarked in the land of public education. Sylvia was also fortunate enough to get an opportunity to attend a Head Start program during the summer prior to first grade. She loved the colorful toys. In first grade, she was an advanced reader.

However, the girl was not excited when she learned that her family was again moving into a new house. Sylvia had to leave her friends, and she felt out of place in the new school. Then a girl who shared her name invited her to a brownies meeting. Sylvia did not want to go, but her mother approved the outing. The young girl was pleasantly surprised though. She loved the order and conscientiousness of the brownie troop. It also gave her a sense of belonging and appealed to her tomboyish nature. She loved the outdoors adventures, and she was so proud to wear her brownie uniform to school and to meetings. She obtained a copy of the Girl Scout handbook and devoured every word. Sylvia loved the values of helping others and being productive.

Path to the stars: my journey from Girl Scout to rocket scientist by Sylvia Acevedo, 2018


Sylvia Acevedo is definitely a force to be reckoned with; I loved this memoir.

Books on rocket science

Sylvia Acevedo’s web site

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Booktalking “The Perfect Place” by Teresa Harris

Treasure, aka Jeanie, and her sister, Tiffany, lose their father first. Then, their mother dumps the girls with their Great Aunt Grace. The two girls cling to each other, bracing for what might come. Grace certainly does not waste time filling their days with activities. They are assigned to wash clothes, clean dishes and work in the store.


Jeanie does not take to working in the store like her sister does. Tiffany enjoys operating the cash register. Jeanie loathes cleaning shelves. Terrance works there as well, and he makes a point of talking incessantly to Jeanie, which is annoying. It is difficult to determine what is most important to avoid: working in the site, Terrance, Great Aunt Grace, or the four-hour church services that Jeanie is required to endure.

The girl goes to her mother for help.

Unfortunately, her mother does not see the urgency of the situation. She laughs and tells Jeanie that she endured many summers with the dreaded Grace, and she lived to tell the tale. The mother is busy looking for the girls’ father, and she cannot come to retrieve them for at least a week.

Grace’s notorious lack of interpersonal skills are apparent in many arenas, not just in dealing with the sibling pair. She rubs the neighbors and the local sheriff the wrong way, for instance. She is accused of stealing other people’s belongings. Worst of all, she seems indifferent to the treatment that Jeanie is subjected to by mean girl, Jaguar. This visit to Great Aunt Grace seems to last an eternity from the very beginning.

The Perfect Place by Teresa Harris, 2014


The Perfect Place by Teresa Harris, 2014

This book is both whimsical and fun.

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Booktalking “American Predator: the Hunt For the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century” by Maureen Callahan

Israel Keyes studied those who were similar to himself. For example, he described Ted Bundy as his “hero,” and he relished in the murders of other serial killers. He was also very intrigued by the people who hunt serial killers, especially Roy Hazelwood and John E. Douglas. Both were FBI agents in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Israel used this info to avoid getting caught. He used the info about how police forces solved the crimes to learn how to avoid leaving traceable evidence. He wanted to succeed at his horrible acts so that he could continue his hobby unperturbed.

His library of books and DVDs about dastardly acts was extensive… and the cops read and watched every single one of these helpful pieces of evidence. Keyes was smart enough to leave a bunch of false clues. One step he took to make identifying bodies difficult was dismembering them. He also triple-bagged the body parts in plastic in order to contain the blood and avoid leaking DNA. Keyes constructed and buried “kill kits” in the areas where he planned to act.

Israel Keyes grew up in an off-the-grid cabin in the state of Washington. He had nine siblings, and he lived in poverty. His parents were Mormons at first, then they joined a white-supremacist church. The boy did not have many friends as a child, and when he found some, a pair of brothers, they also became killers as adults. Keyes enjoyed sojourns into the woods to shoot animals, one of whom was his sister’s cat. He developed some awareness of his differentness due to the horror of other kids at his violent tendencies.

Keyes liked taking things from other people, whether it was money, their autonomy and/or their lives. he enjoyed robbing banks in small towns because it was easier to succeed. He enjoyed kidnapping people and then demanding ransom. He raped, tortured, and killed people of all genders and ages. His only preference was “lightweight.” He tracked the progress of law enforcement on his crimes.

Israel Keyes was not a person that you wanted to meet alone in a dark alley. You probably did not want him to work on your house either. Some customers of his company, Keyes construction in Anchorage, Alaska, were a bit weirded out by him.

American Predator: the Hunt For the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century by Maureen Callahan, 2019

This was an intriguing read; I first saw mention of this case on the 48 Hours TV show.

Maureen Callahan’s web site

John Douglas’ web site

Books on serial killers

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Booktalking “Call Me By My Name” by John Ed Bradley

It is 1969 in segregated Louisiana.

Tatum (aka “Tater”) Henry begins playing football at a “white” field. Why? It is two miles closer to his home than the “black” field. The stares and comments that he receives are incessant, but he loves the game and so he perseveres. Rodney decides that he likes Tater, as well, and the teammates become friends. Then, desegregation of education commences. Suddenly, there are many black and white players on the team at school. There, Tater meets a girl that he likes.

That girl, Angie, is Rodney’s twin sister.

Rodney never thought that he would have a problem with his sibling dating a black guy, but he cannot stop thinking about it. Their father is explicitly racist, and their mother does not like the situation, either. However, Angie is devoted to Tater. She speaks to him every day on the phone, and she luxuriates in his attention. Angie continually fears that her father will insist that she end the relationship. She loves seeing Tatum in school and spending time with him in class.

Relations between the twins have been tense since Tatum and Angie’s relationship started. They used to feel that they knew each other so well. Now, Angie wants to spend time only with Tatum. She no longer shows Rodney her art. The inside of the car on the way to school is filled with silence. Matching T-shirts that they received as birthday gifts have never been worn. There is a schism between them that will take some healing.

Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley, 2014

This is an excellent novel about interracial relationships.

Books on interracial relationships

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Booktalking “Black Klansman: Race, Hate and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime” by Ron Stallworth

A black cop infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Unbelievable, right? Wrong. On a lark, Ron Stallworth responded to a recruitment ad for the Knights in the local Colorado Springs newspaper. He did not expect a response. He used his real name because he figured that the ad was the work of a prankster. Imagine the cop’s surprise when he received a phone call from Ken, the local organizer of the “Organization.” Ken inquired as to the reason for the man’s interest in the group. He also asked if Stallworth was Jewish and if he hated Black people. A no and yes, response, respectively were necessary in order to gain admittance to the group. 

So it happened that Stallworth handled the back end of the investigation, handling the phones whenever Klan members wished to speak to him. To make a believable front end, he enlisted the assistance of his white colleague, Chuck, to appear for in-person meetings. There was constant communication between the two to ensure that conversations could pick up exactly where they left off. Chuck listened to all conversations between Stallworth and the Klan, and vice versa. How the Klan members never noticed the change in voice from telephone to in-person is beyond all of the those involved.

This was an intelligence operation, not a sting operation, so no arrests occurred. However, cross burnings were thwarted and police departments in other localities received warnings of planned Klan activities, such as marches. Though the operation started with simply one undercover officer, Stallworth was able to obtain approval for more officers, and two officers became sworn Klansman in the pursuit of knowledge of the organization. They were able to obtain indoctrinating literature and propaganda that was produced by the Klan. Even the Colorado Springs police force tried to destroy all evidence that this operation even occurred. The only reason that this activity came to light is that Stallworth illicitly removed some of the case evidence from the police force since the investigation is of such import to our society.

Klan philosophy is as follows, and members must swear to uphold these policies. Klan activities and conversations must be kept secret. It is important to publicly profess racial justice and nonviolence, saying that the Klan is a proponent of racial segregation. Interestingly, the KKK originated in 1865, immediately after the banning of slavery. Members of “The Cause” should not use ethnic slurs in public. They agree to participate in Klan activities, such as cross burnings and marches in full robes with only the eyes cut out. They belong to a den and socialize with a few members outside of meetings. They agree to recruit other members, which they frequently do by claiming that a black man raped their wife. Since 1954, the “Cause” or “Organization,” as it is referred to in public seeks to find members to run for political office in order to advance its agenda of their belief of racial superiority of white people. David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Klan, changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican, and is a former Louisiana state representative. Incidentally, Trump was purportedly endorsed by the KKK.

Some facts about the KKK:

1. They profess to dislike Jewish and Hispanic people, yet one member had a Mexican wife.

2. They are not supposed to converse with plainclothes police officers, yet it is difficult to know when police are undercover.

3. The membership card of “The Knights” contains these rules and more.

Black Klansman: Race, Hate and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth, 2014

Stallworth is brilliant, and he did a fantastic job exposing the hate-filled Klan for what it is. This cop is so admirable because he took the evidence of this investigation into his home against orders to destroy it. He risked his career in order to expose the KKK for the horror that it is. It was most definitely difficult to slog through the hate and cruelty that filled these pages.

Books about the KKK

Ron Stallworth’s web site

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Booktalking “You Have a Brain” by Ben Carson

Sonya Carson had a third grade education, she married at age 13, and she had two boys, Ben and Curtis. The lady was abandoned by her husband when her sons were eight and ten years old. The family lived in abject poverty, and the mother had to work two or three jobs during Ben’s childhood to support the family. The kids spent the afternoons and evenings either at home or at the local public library. They helped with the laundry and other household chores. Sometimes, the mother would drop the kids with relatives for a couple of weeks in order to deal with her debilitating depression.

Above all else, Sonya believed in her kids’ ability to succeed in life and accomplish whatever they wanted to. She demanded good grades from them, and she insisted that they read. After this snowball was started with Ben, it formed an avalanche. Ben’s brain was ignited by the knowledge that lay between the covers of books. Reading opened up his world to possibilities that he had not dreamt existed. Ben loves science, and once he showed a rock collection to a teacher, he felt smart at school. His dream was to become a doctor.

Despite his exemplary grades in high school, Ben struggled at Yale University. He was used to barely studying, then cramming at the last minute and still achieving stellar grades. That strategy did not work so well in the ivy league. It took him almost flunking a class for him to start studying by reading notes. He discovered how he learned best, and he capitalized on his strengths.

Ben learned that he had good hand-eye coordination, which was necessary for surgeons to possess. He decided that he had what it takes to become a neurosurgeon. Although some doubted his choice, due to racism or snobbery, he eventually successfully separated twins who were conjoined at the head. Both of the twins survived and recovered. He credits his mother with teaching him to shrug off the insecurities and bigotry of others because it is their problem. Hard work and using his brain got him through Yale, medical school and propelled him to the great height of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration.

Ben Carson can do anything that he puts his mind to.

You have a brain: a teen’s guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G. by Ben Carson, 2015

I have heard Dr. Carson speak, and I was fascinated to read this memoir.

Books about neuroscience

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Booktalking “19 Love Songs” by David Levithan

Quiz bow crush: aka an unarticulated crush on Damien.

Valentine’s Day with mom as an eight-year-old: red hearts everywhere, even the tomato sauce on top of a cheese pizza.

Being Santa Claus for your boyfriend’s kid sister: then, being outed by your boyfriend’s other sister.

Telling prince stories to your lover at night who lost his job and a loved one within weeks of each other.

Stealing kisses with your boyfriend while his parents are at home… and getting away with it.

Love takes many forms, whether it be poetry, discovering that you have a crush on someone that you did not realize, or cozying up with your mom on a happy Feb 14. Love is exciting. Stuffing yourself into a silly costume to make your boyfriend’s sister’s dream come true. Bring vestiges from your childhood back up to comfort your lover who seems so sad after he has lost so much. Sneaking around and finding time to make out without parents catching you in the art is an art form in itself.

Red, pink, purple and blue designate different emotions and feelings, different facets of love. Red for a hot, burning, sensual desire. Pink for sweet affection and kisses. Purple for the stormy hurt that occurs in relationships, whether it heals or not. Blue for loss and sadness that people hopefully eventually get over.

Words and letters like windows into one’s soul.

19 love songs.

Pick your favorites.

19 Love Songs by David Levithan, 2020

I started reading this book during covid in one city, and I finished it in another. As always, Levithan’s creativity never fails to amaze me. I love the cover art.

David Levithan’s web site

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Booktalking “Taking Flight: From War Orphan To Star Ballerina” by Michaela DePrince

Mabinty Bangura loved her family dearly. Born in Sierra Leone, her mother and father adored her and were sweet to her. Despite the poverty in which they lived and the war crimes that enveloped their community, the girl appreciated her good fortune. Then tragedy struck. Many men in the village were killed by war rebels. Even worse, her mother died soon after of an untreated medical condition. The girl’s unfriendly uncle then delivered her to the doorstep of an orphanage. 

There, Mabinty met Mabinty, and they become the best of friends.

Mabinty Suma took Mabinty Bangura under her wing at the facility. The two friends played together, and they invited others into their games. The aunties who cared for them were cruel to the kids, though. One of the aunties forced a younger child to urinate on Mabinty’s face while she was sleeping. She awoke sputtering and gagging. War surrounded the kids’ daily lives; it constantly made its presence known, and it was a reality that was impossible to forget. One day, Teacher Sarah seemed nervous about the perilous walk home. However, she convinced Mabinty that she would be fine. The young girl then watched as war rebels murdered her teacher in front of her.

The guiding light of all of the kids in the orphanage was that they were going to America to live with families. They received “family books” that had photographs of their parents, siblings, pets and explanations of what their lives would be like there. Except… Mabinty did not receive a family book. M. Suma said that maybe she could join her family. Unbelievably enough, that is exactly what ended up happening.

Elaine and Charles DePrince adopted Mabinty and Mabinty, soon to be renamed Mia and Michaela. Michaela had wanted to dance ever since she saw an elegant ballerina on the cover of a dance magazine in Sierra Leone. In Pennsylvania, her dream came true. She and Mia took tap and ballet lessons. While Mia gravitated towards tap and music, Michaela was entranced with the elegance of ballet. The young girl longed to dance on her tippy toes, and one day that opportunity presented itself. Michaela was thrilled to try on her first pair of pointe shoes. The rest is history.

Taking flight: From War Orphan To Star Ballerina by Michaela DePrince, 2014

I loved this story of a young woman who went through so much and cheated death so many times. She is an amazing woman and a fantastic ballerina.

Books about dance

Michaela DePrince’s web site

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Booktalking “My Story” by Elizabeth Smart

In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in Utah in the middle of a night by a stranger at knife-point. The girl was terrified and feared for her life.

For the next nine months, she would come to know the following well:

hunger

thirst

terror

rape

dirtiness

chains

despair

Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, teamed up to make her life a living hell. The trio camped in the woods, and Smart experienced unbearable heat, unsanitary living conditions, boring days and long monologues of prophetizing by “Immanuel.” The teen was chained inside the tent and raped almost daily.

When pushed enough by his wife, Mitchell would bring the two females into town to scavenge for and steal food. They wore veils, and Elizabeth was too frightened to attempt to flee. Mitchell repeatedly warned her that he would kill her entire family if she attempted to escape. Smart was happy to be getting out of the camp and hopeful that someone would recognize her and report it to the authorities. However, she always returned to camp somewhat dispirited. Mostly, the people they saw treated them with repugnance and disgust since they were unclean and malodorous.

Then, Mitchell got spooked by a cop in the local library who wanted Elizabeth to remove her veil. The captor sited religious obligation as a reason for refusal. Eventually, the police officer walked away, and Mitchell gloated about the incident later at the camp. So, they moved to California after finding enough money for bus tickets. They stayed for six months and spent their time looking for food and shelter. An extreme weather event was interpreted by Mitchell as a sign that they needed to move again. Elizabeth claimed that God had told her that they should return to Salt Lake City. Mitchell, amazingly enough, decided that she was correct.

Mitchell, Wanda and Elizabeth alternately walked and hitchhiked the 736 miles between the cities. The trek was physically exhausting. They walked with heavy packs in the blistering sun, often going a day without food or water. Eventually, the surroundings became familiar. When they were 20 minutes from her house, the teen became hopeful. This hope was dashed to the crushing dread that they were returning to the high camp in the mountains behind Elizabeth’s house. As they were walking towards the mountains, a cop car spotted them. More cars quickly surrounded them, and the trio was questioned separately.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart, 2013

This is a bizarre story of the kidnapping and prolonged torture and repeated rape of a 14-year-old girl. Elizabeth Smart’s resilience and strength inspire me.

Elizabeth Smart Foundation

Elizabeth Smart’s web site

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Booktalking “Filthy Rich” by James Patterson

Jeffrey Epstein had a talent with numbers. He could straighten out many a wealthy person’s finances in no time flat. Though he was born into poverty, he began to reap the monetary rewards of being an economic wiz. Hobnobbing with the rich and famous soon became second nature to him. He enjoyed a life of luxury, which included owning prime real estate in multiple swanky locations, including Palm Beach, Manhattan, and Little St. James Island, which he owned. Epstein enjoyed attending parties and meeting many women. 

However, there was a pernicious undercurrent to all of the glitz and glamour. Epstein had a habit of hanging out with underage girls. Some of the teenagers that he encountered, he turned into pimps. According to them, the younger the better. His choice hunting grounds: local middle and high schools. When girls visited his residences to give him “massages,” he would sometimes offer them $200 to bring in another girl. This seemed like easy money to some, and they obliged. Epstein was seeing two to three girls per day on a regular basis.

All of this coming-and-going activity of young females in and out of Epstein’s homes did not escape the attention of the local authorities. In fact, in at least one of the locations where there was an active, ongoing investigation into him, the billionaire made a hefty donation to the local police department. Eventually, a parent of one of the girl “masseuses” went to police with her suspicions about Epstein. It was not long before the house of cards began to fall.   

Filthy Rich by James Patterson, 2016

This is definitely a tale of the differential treatment of wealthy criminal suspects. The scope and breath of Epstein’s elaborate brothel schemes is shocking.

James Patterson’s web site