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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Booktalking

Booktalking is one of my favorite librarian things to do. I’m going to share my typical preparation for day of booktalks at a school. I would love to hear other people’s techniques!

For those non-librarians, booktalking is what librarians do to do promote books to teens and kids. It can be one-on-one with teens (or parents) in the library, but what I’m talking about is the school visit booktalk. It’s a full day and can be exhausting! Ideally, to reach as many teens as possible, I talk to several classes during one class period. Because it’s multiple classes, booktalking usually takes place in the school library but it can also be in the auditorium. So, first thing first – scheduling the booktalks, figuring out how many teens you’ll be talking to, setting the dates, what grades, where, the time, where to park, what door to go in, etc.

Next is selecting the books. Because booktalking like this involves hundreds of teens, it’s important to have enough books in the library for when the teens come looking for the books. I like to have a minimum of three copies, ideally more, on hand for teens to take home right away. For libraries that are part of a larger system, extra copies can be brought in from other locations. It is extremely helpful if the library /library system encourages input about collection development, so a librarian can say, “I want to booktalk x book, please buy multiple copies.”

Creating the list involves balance: older books, newer books, nonfiction, various genres, diversity, etc. I go through, counting, removing some books that are overrepresented and brainstorming areas that are underrepresented. Especially if it’s a school or teens who don’t know me, I include at least one or two books that are already popular. Including books that the teens already like helps the teens trust me about the books they don’t know. If I talk to six groups of teens, I’m going to mix up the books used in each group so that I don’t get bored and also so I don’t have the same groups coming in for the same books. This makes for a longer list. If possible, I coordinate with the school librarian to include books in the school, so if teens go to the school library they can find the books. Part of the brainstorming includes using professional resources (see below).

Here’s a secret: I don’t read all the books first. I know, I know. I’ve read a lot of them, but sometimes it’s just not possible to read all. So what I do is research the hell out of the book to ensure it’s a good fit. I read all the reviews, I read blog reviews, I go to websites, I skim the books (first 50, middle 50, last 50), and I use the books and websites dedicated to booktalks.

Then I prepare the booktalks themselves. Usually, a good number are already prepared because they are ones I did in previous years. I prefer short booktalks — brief plot, ending with a hook. Basically, it’s a commercial that leaves teens thinking “I want to go to there.” How short? I go old-school, preparing index cards (3 x 5) which on one side has the info on the book (title, author, pub date, age) and on the other the booktalk. So, the talk has to fit on the back of the index card. Each index card goes in the copy of the book I’ll bring with me. I read over all the ones I’m going to use. I don’t so much memorize as re-familiarize myself with the books. Sometimes, I hit a wall and just cannot figure out the right way to “sell” a book. Luckily, there are a ton of resources available, both in selecting the books to use and preparing the booktalks.

Resources for selecting books and creating the booktalks include NoveList and publisher websites, as well as Nancy Keane’s Booktalks and Joni Bodart’s Booktalker. YALSA has a list of resources. Another list of online booktalking resources.

Next, I create booklists to take with me to hand out to the teens. I put them in alphabetical order by title. I hand them out at the start of the booktalk, so teens (and teachers!) can follow along and mark the books they are interested in. Every now and then, there’s a teacher who won’t cooperate with this because the teens will be “distracted.” I’m about to talk thirty books in forty five minutes — who is going to remember what I talk about without a booklist in front of them? The booklist also has the library name, address, my name, contact information and the date of the booktalk.

Before I go, I have the library prepared. Multiple copies of books are in one area on display. Using a bookcart helps, especially if you have limited display space. Signs are key and extra booklists. I also let all staff know about the booktalks so they can direct teens, teens and parents to the display.

The day of the booktalk, I bring the books, water, Tylenol, throat drops, a breakfast bar, and lunch. I know some people use a PowerPoint of books instead. This saves on bringing copies of books to the school, but it cuts back on the spontaneity. I stand in front of the class, with a table or two. The books are in front of me, lying down. I introduce myself and the library. Ideally, I visit schools twice a year and the first visit will have more on getting a library card; the second will be about promoting the summer reading program.

Then, I start. I pick up a book, show the book jacket, read the title and author and go into my booktalk. At this point, I don’t really need the index card; it’s more there in case I need it. Also, I tend to forget character names so it’s terrific to have that right in front of me. I may not even take the index card out of the book. Once I’m done with that book, it goes on the table but this time standing up so that the teens can see it. I make eye contact with the teens, try to judge the reactions to the titles, and use that to decide what book to pick up next. I also try to mix it up, going from adventure to sad to fantasy to nonfiction. Ideally, there are a few minutes at the end for the teens to come up, look at the books, ask me questions.

Bell rings, teens leave, I have a few minutes. The books that I didn’t booktalk, I move closer to where I’m standing as a reminder that I didn’t talk about them yet. I put all the books flat on the table. Take a drink of water, find the cough drops, and start again when the bell rings. See why I don’t use a PowerPoint? It ties me in to what books I’ll talk about and the order I use. Between groups and during lunchtime is a great time to network with the staff at school for future joint projects. There’s a creative writing club? I can come with books by teen authors or poetry books during April. A big research project is being planned? Let’s work on a school trip to the public library that includes the resources available.

Day ends, everything gets packed up (unless it’s a two-day visit) and I return to the library. Then the fun part really starts — watching the books on display disappear, seeing the holds on books pile up, and talking to the teen who come in looking for books. I note what books go first, what books don’t go at all, wonder how I can adjust book talks or just accept that not all books will be as popular.

So, how do your booktalks go? What suggestions do you have for me for using PowerPoint and being spontaneous? What are your favorite resources?

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Susan Miles says:

    I do booktalking with my third through fifth graders during their regular 30-minute library time in our elementary school. I generally select 3-4 library books per class using changing criteria each week. The class comes in and gathers around the rocking chair and I give little glimpses into the first book, read the front flap/back cover and the first page. Before I am done, hands are wildly waving to be given the book. I pass the book to a pair of eager hands and move on to the next book. When I am done, then two volunteers from the class do the same thing, both with a book of their choosing. All this gets done in about 15 minutes so that they still have time to browse and check books out, but I feel satisfied that each week all the kids are being exposed to at least 5 titles and if they don’t get the book they want that day, it goes on their “to be read” list!

  2. Meredith says:

    If you are interested in having a presentation and be spontaneous, you might look into something like Prezi (http://prezi.com/); Prezi has a free version to play around with, but it allows for non-linear presentations (so you could definitely skip around or eliminate as needed).

    I typically combine traditional spoken booktalks with video trailers. I get the chance to be spontaneous and pick and choose amongst books I’ve brought with me depending on audience response, as well as take a break from talking for a minute or so. And, because I upload all my book trailers to YouTube, even if one group of kids misses my presentation, they still get a chance to see some of the books I’ve recommended.

  3. Deb Marshall says:

    Wow. Big, big sigh.

    This was my favourite part of work at Calgary Public Library. It has been a few years since I’ve don’t the big school presentations like this, but really looking forward to getting into it again in a my new position at our small town library. _Thank you_ for sharing this. When we did our career presentations we always finished up by saying to the kids “And while you are doing all this research, thinking about the just right career? Please…don’t forget…to HOWL at the moon.” If there was time (usually best with one class) I would talk through each book on display, quick hold up say what about, very casual, walk around the room place the materials in different spots then invite kids to go have a look—huh, not sure if I explained that well.

    Happy Book Talking!

  4. Jennie says:

    I tend to only use Powerpoint when I know I’ll be in a large space talking to multiple classes. In those instances, the book is just too small so the kids (because I tend to do elementary schools) can’t see the cover if I hold up the book.

    If I’m just doing one class, one thing I like to do is go around the room and let kids choose a book off the list that they want to hear about. Keeps me on my toes and keeps them more engaged.

  5. Thanks for this! Booktalking, somehow, is not something they cover at library school (at least not at MY library school) but I know it’s an important thing to be able to do – what a great guide!

  6. Jennifer W. says:

    Wow, you are so organized! I visit as many schools as possibly in late May/early June for summer reading promotion and booktalks. I fill two giant bags with my favorite books, new stuff that looks cool, and anything on the shelves that catches my eye. I get 15-30 minutes with each class, depending on the school and grade level. I visit 3 elementary schools, 2 parochial schools that go up to 8th grade (although I don’t always visit above 6th) and the 6th grades at the middle school in two groups of 100 each. I set out as many books as I can fit on the tables, give a lightning fast spiel on the summer reading program, then tell the kids they can pick which books they want to hear about (except K-2nd, they’re not good with the whole decision thing, so I choose for them). I do most of my booktalks off the top of my head. Sometimes I’ve read the book, sometimes I haven’t. Sometimes I just read off the publisher’s description with on-the-spot amendments of my own. Works well so far!

  7. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Susan, what a terrific way to do booktalking to classes.

    Meredith, I know what I’ll be playing with next week — Prezi. Cool.

    Deb, my current job doesn’t give me the chance to booktalk like I used to and I really miss it. I loved visiting the schools & getting to know the teachers & students, and I loved the weeks after when the kids came in and books went out. I loved seeing what books went first and what didn’t.

    Jennie, I love the idea of the kids asking “what about this book” and booktalking the ones they picked.

    Emily, my materials for YA covered it briefly, there was an exercise to do it in class, and I did a TERRIBLE job. It didn’t help that I was new to libraries, had never seen one done, and thanks to alphabetical order of last names went first. After that, I pretty much went through all the professional resources I could and sat in on some great booktalkers and pushed myself to both love it and do it well.

    Jennifer, what a lot of schools! I love the interaction with the kids, of them picking what they want to hear about.

  8. Michelle says:

    This sounds like it would be my favorite part of the job. So much fun to go in and talk about books with teens and see them get excited.

  9. Bridget Heos says:

    As a children’s book writer, I really appreciate that librarians do this! I would have loved this as a kid, too. I remember that feeling of wanting to read a book after reading about it in Scholastic Book Club or seeing it on Reading Rainbow. It must be fun to have a librarian come to your school and talk about books live.

  10. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Michelle, it is so much fun! And so hard to not bring every book in the library.

    Bridget, thank you. And I loved Scholastic Book Club and being able to order books from them.

  11. LaurieA-B says:

    Nice to read this as I am thinking about a morning of booktalks with sixth graders in my school library this week. (I was going to write “preparing for,” but at least on the weekend, it’s really just thinking about it.)

    Funny thing–the YALSA page has a link to a sample booktalk, right at the top, to Rats Saw God, one of my personal very favorite books. And the booktalk manages to make it sound boring. Strange that the librarian wrote her booktalk that way, and strange that YALSA chose that as a sample booktalk.

    (My booktalk would be something like, “Steve York is having a great junior year in Texas with his hot girlfriend, when his life suddenly crashes down on him. , , etc, etc.)

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