Infractions I’ve committed in the course of booktalking: telling too much of the plot, booktalking books I haven’t read, saying a book is “easy,” “quick,” or “the best book I’ve ever read.” I’ve expressed solid opinions about books, recommended books that are controversial, and read aloud from books that I’m booktalking.
Of course I haven’t received a ticket for these infractions—there are no booktalking police. There probably is not even a hard-and-fast set of rules for booktalking that all library media specialists would agree upon—and if there is, I doubt I would pay much attention to them. Rules restrict my main objective when booktalking: to put books into the hands of teens that they are likely to read. To do that, I resort to a wide range of strategies, including those that other professional booktalkers might discourage. I am, in fact, willing to violate just about any rule with wild and gleeful abandon if it will encourage a student— especially a reluctant reader who brags about never having read a book—to check something out of the library.
Traditional stand-and-deliver booktalking is a great way to advertise new books and I do it many times a year, especially after a vacation, when I’ve had time to plow through a shipment of new arrivals. It’s a great way to model for students how to talk about and promote a book without giving a long, boring summary. It’s also highly effective for sharing the books you’re most enthusiastic about—I’ve perfected my booktalks for Harlan Coben’s mystery novel Tell No One, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, and Margaret Bechard’s Hanging on to Max. When I talk about these books, it’s easy to be excited, and students clamor for them as a result.
But in addition to modeling enthusiasm for books, make sure that your students are familiar with other ways to find books, too, and equip them with skills for browsing and selecting reading material independently. I’ve developed a set of alternatives to booktalking, activities that show students how booklovers browse for and find books—a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives, when they don’t have a librarian to recommend materials. Another advantage to these alternatives is that they give students access to information about books that I haven’t read and can’t booktalk.
Using the Internet to Browse for Books—Internet Book Quest
A successful activity is an “Internet book quest,” in which students view a set of pre-selected book review Web sites. Some favorites include Flamingnet ( www.flamingnet.com/ ), Teen Reads ( http://www.teenreads.com/ ), TeensPoint ( http://www.teenspoint.org/reading_ matters/index.asp ), and the American Library Association’s Teen Reading Page ( http://www.ala.org/yalsa/teenstopten ).
The assignment asks them to visit a minimum of five sites, browse the reviews, and select from each site one book that appeals to them. They then write a brief explanation of why the book appeals to them. “I like that this activity gets kids to realize how widespread the community of enthusiastic readers is,” English teacher Jennifer Bradbury says. “It’s an opportunity for them to see someone besides their teacher talking enthusiastically about books, and it also gives them a chance to explore genres and types of books [I’m] not well versed in.”
Students also get a chance to refresh their OPAC skills, using the online catalog to determine whether our library has the book or not, and if so, they locate it and check it out if they wish. As an added benefit, collect all of the papers at the end of the activity and compile a list of the titles that your library doesn’t own, and use it as a shopping list when you make new purchases.
School Book Review Blog
A teacher can establish a school book review blog, where students and teachers can contribute their written opinions of books for their classmates to read. The blog is set up so that contributions and comments go to the teacher for review first, and then are posted to the blog. Because an entire class can access the Internet via computers in the library media center, reading the blog is an excellent alternative to stand-and-deliver booktalks. Students get to read each other’s reviews, and they are excited about contributing their own opinions, too. “I have one student who has started to draft a review even though she’s not finished with the book yet,” says teacher Jessica Klassen. “She wants to get her review up as soon as possible so that her opinion will be read by her classmates.”
Book Review Trailers
Technological advances have made it easier for writers, their publicists, and even their fans to post videos advertising their books. These ads mimic movie trailers and can be an engaging way to entice students to read a particular book. A savvy librarian with advance notice can prepare to share book review trailers to a whole class by pre-selecting trailers and displaying them via LCD projector, or by posting links to the library’s Web page and having students visit them on their own. In either case, a prepared questionnaire can help students rank the videos according to their appeal, and make comments or ask questions about the trailers. Because trailers are sometimes a few minutes in length, a limited number can be shown in class, and so demand for just a few books might be high—have multiple copies on hand!
Display five to six books on seven or eight tables by genre, including as many new books as possible, and students who’ve been assigned to small groups by their teacher can spend five minutes at each table, browsing the selections and then choosing one book from each table that most appeals to them. After they’ve visited all the tables, each group chooses the one book they find the most appealing and describe it briefly to the class.
The table-to-table rotation keeps students actively engaged in looking at and reading about books, and allows them to practice true browsing skills—reading book jackets, skimming blurbs, and thumbing pages to get a feel for the books. These are life skills, skills they’ll use when they visit libraries and bookstores after they’ve finished school and there’s no longer an adult advertising books to them. ”I like that this activity gives them a chance to practice the process of selecting a book and then discussing it with their peers,” Bradbury says. “It keeps [the teachers] from delivering the information every time.”
PowerPoint Slide Shows
Creating PowerPoint slide shows is probably the most labor intensive of the booktalking alternatives, but the results are long-lasting and highly effective. Given a particular topic or reading assignment (sports literature or memoir, for examples), create a slide show featuring books available in your library. Each slide contains the book’s title and author, as well as an image of the front cover and a one-paragraph summary of the book. Post slideshows on your library Web page, where students can access them easily. During an all-class visit to the library, they log in and read through the slides and then select a book.
Slide show presentations are relatively permanent, available, and user-friendly. Once created, they are easy to update when new books arrive, and slides can be copied from one slide show and pasted into another as needed. [Editor’s note: check copyright issues for distributing images via the Internet.]
Beyond Booktalking...Expanding Upon Reader’s Advisory
Besides lessons focused on connecting readers with books, maintain a variety of other readers’ advisory options to help promote reading, spread the word about new books, and continually emphasize the fun and importance of reading. Consider the following options:
Book review binders—maintain binders on your front counter or in another easily accessible location, and insert book reviews you’ve written or clipped from other sources. Students enjoy browsing these when they’re waiting in line or just need a quick recommendation.
Library displays—display new books when they arrive, and create other displays periodically to encourage students to read from various genres. Colorful signs and bookmarks can draw attention to these special displays.
Book of the Week reviews—encourage your staff members to read by reviewing a book from the library’s collection each week and sending it out in an e-mail. Post the reviews in the faculty room for additional exposure.
Advertisements—have student aides or students from English classes create print or video advertisements for their favorite books. Besides posting in halls, classrooms, and the library, they can also be used as part of the school’s video bulletin.
Bulletin announcements—an easy way to reach everyone, the school bulletin is a great place to announce new book arrivals and encourage students to visit the library.
Table toppers—use small, plastic, restaurant table-style stands to advertise books. Update monthly with new book reviews or lists of recommended reading and place them out on the library tables.
Recommended reading lists—maintain and update as many bibliographies as you can and update them as regularly as possible. Make one master copy and keep the pages in plastic page protectors joined together by a brad or metal ring. This makes them easy to update and easy to pass around to students.
New book lists—each month, send a list to your staff and post a copy in the library. Includes the title and author of the new books, color images of their covers, and brief summaries.
A library can seem like a rule-oriented place, with its ordered shelves, alphabetization, check out procedures, due dates, and guidelines for proper handling and documentation of materials. But it can also be a place of flexibility, creativity, and experimentation—a place where students see adults sharing their enthusiasm about books, reading, and the world of ideas in numerous formats, and a place where they can learn to love discovering new books and sharing their finds with their friends. A place where readers create readers—what more could we, as librarians, ask for?