Talk the Talk: The Art of Booktalking to Young Adults
Whether you’re talking to a single 12-year-old or an entire classroom of high school seniors, an effective and engaging booktalk can be a challenge. Learn best practices for presenting to young adults and how to find your finest booktalking voice. Try your hand at constructing an impromptu book talk of your very own, and leave the session with greater booktalking prowess for talking up some great reads to teens.
In October at the Illinois Library Association conference, I had the honor and the pleasure to collaborate with Alice, Katie, and Mike to talk about one of my favorite job duties: book talking to teens.
For the first seven years of my library career, I didn’t get to book talk, even during my brief tenure as a teen librarian. I was primarily an early literacy librarian, so I spent all my time reading picture books, crafting story times and other programs for young children, and occasionally doing reader’s advisory for teens on the reference desk.
So when I switched jobs in 2012, one of the things I most looked forward to was the chance to book talk, something I’d scarcely learned about in library school.
Being excited did not equal being prepared, however. I will admit, some of my first solo book talks were TERRIBLE. I talked for too long, I wasn’t familiar enough with the books (or I was talking books I wasn’t excited about), and I was talking solo. Over the last three years I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, so when Alice asked me to collaborate with her on a presentation about book talking, I was eager to share my own hard earned knowledge, and that of my collaborators as well.
While this blog post can’t replicate the awesomeness of our ILA presentation, I hope to cover some of the main points for those who attended, as well as lay it out for those of you who are just reading the post.
While normally I am great at working alone–and prefer it–when it comes to book talking, I definitely want to be part of a duo at the very least. (Recently I had a book talk with four different staff members on hand, and it was amazing). When it comes to book talks, there is power in numbers, and I now do my best to avoid solo book talks that are longer than one class period.
Why talk as a team?
- Variety, of books and voices. We don’t all love the same books, or talk them in the same way, so students benefit from hearing a realistic fiction fan and a sci-fi fan during the same book talk session.
- Endurance. For my schools, it’s often easiest to schedule us to see an entire grade during one day, so having more book talkers on hand guarantees that you can get through six hours of book talks without losing your voice or your mind.
- Fun. With a team book talk, you can go from being a solo act to being the Smothers Brothers or Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. It’s nice to have another person to riff off of and look to, and it makes your book talks more diverse and dynamic.
Where to talk
Does anyone just, like, hold book talk programs in the library that teens will come to? I think this is probably a rarity, so most of the time I’m guessing you’re going to be book talking in a school to a class or a set of classes.
My ideal situation is book talking to one or two classes in a group, in a larger space such as the library media center or common area. I’ve grown to like having a few tables at the front where I can display my books covers out.
I also take out a mobile circulation station (laptop, hot spot, scanner) which I set up away from the book talk area, so teens can check out books they are excited about ON THE SPOT. This has changed the game when it comes to book talks– no more handing out lists and hoping they’ll come to the library to check something out, nope, if they want it they get it. (This means the number of books you bring is radically different, which I will address in the next step).
What to talk
Ideally, you’ll talk books that you have 1) read and 2) are really, really excited about. However, none of us live or work in an ideal world (if you do, you’re a lucky duck!), so sometimes we’ll have to book talk on an assigned theme, or we’ll accept a last minute book talking request and we won’t have enough new books read to fill the request, so we’ll have to fake it.
If you’re trying to talk books you haven’t read, the team and I had a few strategies to share:
- Read a LOT of reviews. Certain reviewers are better at indicating potential readers than others, so once you figure out those reviewers, turn to them first. Bookshelves of Doom is great for Fantasy/Horror, and Stacked is great for realistic fiction and fantasy/sci-fi. I also turn to common sense media quite a bit so I can be more certain of the content of thornier books, especially when I’m talking to sixth graders.
- Observe your fellow book talkers. This is another pro of talking in teams. There are some books I still haven’t read, but I’ve heard my colleagues talk about them enough that I’ve memorized their talks.
- Admit it! I’ve taken out a few books based solely on their covers and blurbs, so I admit this to the kids. “I haven’t had time to read this one, but it has a rabid squirrel on the cover, so I was pretty sure someone would want to read it.”
Remember the mobile circulation station I mentioned? This affects how many books we bring. We try to bring multiple copies of as many books as possible, so we can repeat book talks throughout the day. This reduces the number of unique book talks we need to prepare and present, and the physical number of books that we have to take out to a school. Each book talker generally brings out two to three large tote bags full of books, and we usually take back one or two tote bags of books that didn’t get checked out.
How to talk
The right way to book talk is the way you feel comfortable, excited, and enthusiastic. Everything else is up to your personal preferences and strengths.
I will say this– if you’re able to take a stand up comedy class (seriously!) or another kind of live literature or storytelling class, this could improve your book talks immensely. Because really, what is a book talk other than a story about a story? And while you don’t have to be a laugh riot, the ability to land a joke can go a long way in making your book talks more enjoyable for your audience (don’t forget the teachers in the back!).
My style involves a lot of personal anecdotes. Teens are fascinated by personal narratives and making yourself even the tiniest bit vulnerable can have a huge impact on how they perceive you.
Why do we book talk? To get teens to read, yes. To circulate books, yes. Book talking was created by teen librarians for teens because even in the 1920s, teens who could read were choosing not to, for many reasons. Very noble goals, and goals I try to achieve with my book talks.
I also see book talks as a way of developing relationships– with the teens, with their teachers, with the school librarians, with their school, with your coworkers. Even if teens don’t care for any of the books you talk during a particular session, with any luck they’ll realize you know a lot about books, and might come seek you out to help them find what they want to read.
So that’s the Hi, Miss Julie guide to book talking! Thanks for reading.
Read More About It!
How Did YA Become YA? (includes why book talking was created for teens)