Nancy Keane's Booktalks -- Quick and Simple

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White, Ruth
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996.
IL 5-8 RL 5.5
ISBN 03744306680

(3 booktalks)

Booktalk #1

What would you think of suddenly having a cousin you hardly know live next door to you? Here's what Gypsy Arbutus Leemaster has to say about it:
"Woodrow had lived way up in the head of that holler with his mother and father without any plumbing or even a refrigerator, and he and I had always gone to different schools. We were the same age, as I had turned twelve in November and he had turned twelve sometime in January that year, and we were the same size--four feet ten inches tall and ninety-two pounds--but we had practically nothing else in common that I knew of then. Woodrow was gawky and backward and wore hillbilly clothes that were hand-me-downs from his daddy and his daddy's brother, Russell. . . . And I'll tell you something else about Woodrow--thought I really don't want to--he was cross-eyed. Sometimes you couldn't tell if he was looking at you or not, and he had to wear real thick glasses." (p. 8-9)
After Belle Prater disappears, her son Woodrow goes to live in town with his grandparents, next door to his cousin Gypsy. Although Woodrow has grown up in a shack in the Kentucky hills, he quickly wins friends with his storytelling ability, and he and Gypsy quickly become inseparable. But they both have things from their pasts that are difficult to let go. Woodrow knows has a secret about his mother's disappearance, and Gypsy knows the truth behind her father's death, although she has trouble facing it. ** But having Woodrow around brings back family stories, and Gypsy sees that she is much like her aunt Belle, looking for a way to be her own person. Gypsy has always been seen as beautiful and wants to be known for something else, and Woodrow is teased because of his crossed eyes. Both children struggle through their difficulties and come to understand each other, and themselves, better.
(Linda Wolfgram,, Middle/High School Media Specialist,Benton Community Schools, Van Horne, IA)

Booktalk #2

The setting for this story is a small Appalachia town in the 1950’s. The main character is in the sixth grade and his name is Woodrow. Woodrow is an only child and lives with his mother and father, until one day when his mother disappears into thin air. He is forced to leave his father and go live with his grandparents in a nearby town.  Woodrow is cross-eyed and wears hand-me-downs. He is picked on and doesn't fit in well in his new surroundings. His cousin, Gypsy, who lives next door, becomes his good friend and confidant. She is determined to question him about his mother's disappearance, even though she has been warned not to. Will Woodrow tell Gypsy the secret of his mother’s disappearance?  (Christi Unker

Booktalk #3

 “Around 5:00 a. m. on a warm Sunday morning in October 1953, my Aunt Belle left her bed and vanished from the face of the earth” (White, 3).
                    That’s the first line of Ruth White’s book Belle Prater’s Boy and that's what caught my eye and made me start thinking.  “No one vanishes into thin air, do they?  What could this book be about?”
                    Is it a mystery? Well not really but the question of Aunt Belle’s whereabouts will keep you interested as Gypsy, a 12-year-old girl narrates this humorous, yet sensitive story.
                    “When Aunt Belle had been gone for six months, it was brought to our attention that Uncle Everett was wetting his whistle to the point of saturation every chance he got.
                    ‘Not a healthy environment for a young boy,’ my Granny Ball declared’” (White, 6).
                    So this is how Woodrow, Belle Pratter’s boy, comes to live with his grandparents. Gypsy lives next door and she's excited about having her cousin close by but more interested in knowing “if he had any secret knowledge or theories about what had happened to his mother” (White, 9).
                    Gypsy finds that Woodrow firmly believes his mother's mysterious disappearance lies hidden in a poem. She doesn't understand Woodrow’s theory or why he chooses to believe it, but she knows about sadness.  Gypsy’s father died several years ago.
                    Gypsy has a secret of her own. Since her father's death she has a reoccurring nightmare of an ugly animal, lying in a pool of blood but she can’t see its face.
                    Gypsy and Woodrow become best friends and begin to share secrets that help them understand how everyone deals with grief differently. It is through this bond that they find the strength to face their own tragedy.  (Karen Bennett-Waterfield,,  CLIS 794)

SUBJECTS:     Cousins -- Fiction
                        Mother and child -- Fiction
                        Loss (Psychology) -- Fiction
                        Identity -- Fiction


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