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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 email@example.com.
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