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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

2011 Booktalk Pairings

Children’s librarians have many weapons at their disposal that allow them to entice children young and old with delicious literature. The booktalk may be the best of the bunch. Before I joined the profession I was utterly unaware of what booktalking really was. It certainly didn’t exist when I was a child, at least not in the form it takes today. Now, however, a good children’s librarian is all the better when they know how to booktalk. Essentially, it’s a kind of verbal movie trailer for a book. Not a book trailer, but a good old-fashioned kind of storytelling. You get up in front of a room full of kids and give them the gist of a book, enticing them without giving too much away.  And if you can end on a cliffhanger, all the better.

This year I’ve been reading a lot of books (3 a.m. baby feedings have their advantages) and I’ve started to notice strange similarities between them. The only possible use I can think of for such pairings is their potential for mutual booktalks. If you’re looking to promote some books with the kids, and you’d like to talk up your titles in twos or even threes, here are some potential groupings that may be of interest to you:

New York Gamins, Solving Mysteries at the Turn of the Century
City of Orphans by Avi
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty
Two books.  Two boys.  Both take place at roughly the same time and contain mysteries involving the rich.  In one the boy is guided by an eccentric inquisitor and in another he’s guided by an eccentric lawyer. I can’t help but love this pairing for other reasons as well. Like the fact that in both books the boys team up with girls, but in one the boy is paired with a socialite and in the other he’s paired with a filthy stick-wielding alley gal.  Sell this duo to kids by pointing out that one book involves magic and the other a true mystery.

The Birth of the Bike!
Tillie the Terrible Swede by Sue Stauffacher
Wheels of Change by Sue Macy
Around the World by Matt Phelan
What do these three very different titles (a work of picture book nonfiction, a work of chapter book nonfiction, and a work of graphic novel near nonfiction) have in common? All of them chart the rise of the bike in America. Kids wouldn’t necessarily hop to the topic on their own, but an enterprising librarian could easily play up the exciting aspects of Tillie’s life, the trials of women in Macy’s and the sheer exciting real adventures in Phelan’s.

Dog Ownership: The Good, the Bad, the Bizarre
A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbi Pyron
When Life Gives you O.J. by Erica Perl
There are plenty of decent dog books out there this year, but this pairing pleases me particularly. In both cases you have girls desperate for dogs. In one book a girl already has a dog, then loses it and must do everything she can to be reunited. In another a girl desperately wants a dog and must do everything she can to acquire one . . . even the ridiculous. Desperation for dogs exist in both these books, but in entirely different ways.

A Boy and His Elephant
An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo
The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant by Michele Cuevas
This makes for a historical fiction and fantasy pairing (one of many on this list). In both cases you have boys who are very close to their elephants. One’s a fable and one’s based on a true story but both have some pretty sympathetic pachyderms. If you’d like to work a book of poetry into your booktalk as well, just mention Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer and you’ll have all your bases covered.

Outdoor Cats Who Don’t Care for People
The Great Hamster Massacre by Katie Davies
Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach
It’s fair to say that the mysteries found in both Ms. Davies and Ms. Broach’s books could not occur were it not for their cat characters. In both cases a cat with serious people issues leads the humans into a curious conundrum. I was pleased to find that both books also appear to be written for early chapter book readers. Promote these two to the kids who can’t quite handle 500 paged tomes yet.

This Summer Cottage Would be Perfect If It Weren’t for YOU
Junonia by Kevin Henkes
A Million Miles from Boston by Karen Day
These two are so similar that I found myself confusing them a little. In one book a girl’s perfect cottage vacation is “ruined” by the presence of an annoying little girl. In another a girl’s perfect cottage vacation is “ruined” by the presence of an annoying older boy. And in both cases the girls have to work through their expectations and make the best of things. I considered including The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall in this group since it also includes a cottage (and an annoying boy for that matter) but the feel is completely different from these two. If you find yourself doing summer-related booktalks, these would fit the bill.

Never Trust a Shyster
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer Holm
The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker
Don’t let a sweet talker get too near your gullible citizens. They’ll soak you for all you’re worth. In one of these books the small town girl sees through the con man almost instantly. In the other she doesn’t see through him at all and pays for her trust. I thought about potentially pairing Ylvisaker’s book with The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens using a photography connection (in both books photography plays a huge role) but the shyster link between Ylvisaker and Holm is stronger.

I Just Wanna Fly
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
Perhaps the most disparate pairing of the bunch. In one case you’ve a boy who has lost his parents and just wants to soar under his own power in the sky. In the other you’ve a boy who definitely has both his parents and just wants to soar with his dad in the small plane that’s been fixed up in his garage. I won’t say if either boy gets his wish, but for two such very different books, here’s a way to booktalk a fantasy novel and a work of realistic historical fiction together, potentially pleasing all comers.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Another 2011 “This Summer Cottage Would be Perfect If It Weren’t for YOU” entry: LEXIE by Audrey Couloumbis.

  2. Thank you so much for including When Life Gives You O.J. in this fabulous wrap-up (and so many other books I want to check out).

    Booktalking, I want to also add, is important tool for parents. My 11 year old is a notorious cover-snob, so I regularly have to try to sell her on books that she presumes won’t do it for her. In addition to talking them up and showing her book trailers (when I find good ones), I also often read the first chapter out loud to her – sometimes after bedtime when she’ll do anything, even listen to a book she claims she has no interest in, to keep from going to sleep. So thank you, as an author and a parent, for adding some more books, themes, and booktalking points to my arsenal!

  3. Great list … thanks! These kinds of pairings are also nice for book displays with the theme “Double Date.” I’ve done this with fiction and non-fiction pairings about the same theme (e.g., “The Boy Who Dated” and “Hitler Youth,” both by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; “Uprising” by Margaret Peterson Haddix and “Flesh and Blood So Cheap” by Albert Marrin).

    Another nice historical fiction title for your Elephants category: “Elephant Run” by Roland Smith.