105 Ways to Give a Book

Teen Booktalking

I’m booktalking today to middle schoolers, and thought that I would share with you an article of my hints that was originally in The Edge of the Forest. (Check out the original article for an abbreviated sample booktalking session.)

If you were to ask a librarian whether she would prefer to talk about books to a room full of seventh graders or walk into a cage with some tigers, there would be a short pause. Then the inevitable question: “How many... tigers?”

It’s not that you think that the students are judging you. You know they’re judging you. The very thought transports you back to middle school when some boy pulled up your skirt in the school play and everyone called you Susie Underpants for the rest of your school career. Or maybe that was a Friends episode.

In any case, you do not need to be afraid. You will probably be judged, but it will be less frightening than you thought. They’ll laugh if you mention that the book Plastic Man made your car smell like rubber, but they will then move their mental attention to the topic of whether Madison really kissed Tom after the game and will Evan pound Tom or instead make a move on Annie? Important stuff.

I have not been booktalking at middle school for long, but I can share what I have learned to make your experience successful. Or perhaps convince you to give it a try.
  1. Dress Down

    While it would be unwise to wear layered tanks and pants with “JUICY” across the butt, it would also be unwise to dress in a tailored suit with a flowered pin. While not drawing attention to your clothes, you want to look like a person who enjoys young adult books. Actually, you want to look like the kind of person who wouldn’t use the phrase “young adult books.” Start with the assumption of flat-front khakis, black V-neck T-shirt, and decent black shoes as the perfect outfit and work from that point.

  2. Work the Crowd

    Comedians and rock stars have a warm-up act to get the audience ready for the show. You just have... well, you. If you are in an auditorium where kids are filing in, try to make a little conversation. I’ve asked kids about the shirts they made for a school project. I’ve asked if they’ve seen the latest hot movie. I’ve said hello to kids I’ve seen at the library. I’ve encouraged them to move closer to the front. All of this gives the kids a chance to warm up to me a bit. If I were coming into a class, I might not have this same chance. But I might start my booktalks with one that asked a question of the class, or ask about any projects displayed in the classroom.

  3. Identify the Problem Spots

    Walking around also pinpoints the kids who might mouth off. I’ve subtly asked teachers if a kid will be a problem, and they’ve sat with him. I had one kid try to shock me by telling me that when he played soccer he would get hit in the balls. I said, “Wow, you must not be very good.” Snap. Then during my booktalk, I asked that kid to explain to the group how mummies are made, using his need to be noticed for good.

  4. Quick Introduction

    I usually go to the middle school at the beginning and the end of the school year. I introduce myself, and talk about the library services for teenagers or the summer reading program. I do this quickly, walking the front of the stage and making lots of eye contact. If I see talkers, I give them a little extra eye contact.

  5. Beg for Tolerance

    After my quick intro, I take a long pause. Then I say, “Talking in front of all of you guys is not the easiest thing librarians do. I hope that you’ll pay attention and hear about some great books. But if you can’t listen, just please don’t talk. It’s very distracting, and makes it harder for me to keep it interesting for you. Thanks.”

  6. Jump Right In

    Lead off strong with your clearest winner. Mix up your booktalks with types of books and types of talks. I usually do one book where I ask the teens a question. Then maybe I do a straightforward booktalk. Then maybe one with a little gimmick. Then maybe I read from a book. Keep it moving and keep it fresh.

  7. Show No Fear

    After my little “No Talking” speech, I can usually keep things quiet with steady eye contact on the talkers. If that doesn’t work, I walk near that person and talk directly to them until they get the point. My last strategy involves a completely innocent tone. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you have something to say about the book? No. Then do you mind if I finish sharing it with the class? Thanks.” Then I move right on. Only once has someone responded with, “This is boring.” I responded, “Yeah, I can see how you would rather be writing a report. I’m sure your teacher could arrange that if you prefer.” “Nah, I’m okay,” I heard next.

  8. Drink Water

    If you’re talking a lot, you’ll get thirsty. Enough said.

  9. Bring Your Best Game

    Full booktalking days generally give me a headache. I take Advil before I even leave home. Do what you need to do to keep your energy up.

  10. Time Your Closing

    When the bell rings, those kids are gone. I’ve learned to time some of my booktalks for right at the end. Know what time you’re got and actually work with it. This is my favorite ending booktalk: “You’ve all heard of book banning, right? Generally, it’s the content of the book that is in question. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a movement to have a book banned based entirely on the title. [Tell about the story.] Now, do you want to know what is this title that is so destructive to today’s kids? [Here’s the reveal of the book.] Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love.” As the kids go wild about me saying the word “sex” in school — if I timed it just right — the bell rings.
You have the tools, you have the knowledge, and you have the love of books. You can do it. Go out there and face down the tigers. I mean teens.


Anonymous said...

Wow, great post! You would make an excellent middle school teacher. Not that I'm wishing that on you...

Thanks for the tips, and the Monday morning laughs!

Anonymous said...

You are a treasure, MR. I hope the tigers don't eat you today.

EM said...

Awesome. Takes me back to my days of substitute teaching in middle school. (My trick? LEARN THEIR NAMES. Use the seating chart. Listen as they talk to each other. Once the kids knew I could identify them by name, they were less likely to be trolls.)

Saints and Spinners said...

Ah, I so wish I'd had this advice 10 years ago as a newbie librarian. Thanks for posting it now, though. It's good to have for when/if there's been a huge run on tigers and I have to do storytelling at middle-schools.

Mary Lee said...

And if you go back and do that every day for 6 hours a day, you'll be a middle school teacher, which, like laura, I would not wish on you or anyone else unless you/they (why?) chose that for a profession!

Great tips. They probably work on an adult crowd, too.

Katie Dicesare said...

Loved this post. Reminds me why I stick with teaching primary tigers.

Miriam said...

Actually, I preferred teaching middle school to any other group. Never wanted to teach below fourth grade, and going into the high school to sub intimidated me. I also have to say that I've been pretty lucky. I booktalk to seventh and eighth graders just once a year, but in almost every class, they are polite and at least pretend to be attentive. But your tips are very good. I always wonder before I go just how much I'm going to get ragged on (behind my back) for something I'm wearing or something I said. I do wish I had more time to be relaxed and actually have a certain order in my presentation. But I have twenty minutes to tell them about my summer reading program and as many books on their (extensive) summer reading list as possible, so I usually just grab books and talk fast. I do ask beforehand what level readers they are and, when possible, what kind of books they seem to like, so I do have at least some basis for choosing whichever books are on display. I'd add one more tip: don't talk about the same books in every class unless you have a several (6+) copies available. It's frustrating for them to get excited about reading a book and then have to wait for weeks while kids who got there first read it.

MotherReader said...

Thanks for the love guys. It takes a lot of energy, but I love talking to these kids. There's a lot of interest still in reading with this age, though in a group they tend to hide it behind a "whatevah" type of posture.

Reading Fool, I hear you on presenting different books. This time I brought about twenty and I didn't repeat any book more than twice. I'm always interested to see what goes out the next day - or week.

Camille said...

Great Advice.

The thing I have noticed this week at the middle school I am subbing at, is the light that comes into a 7th grader's eyes when they realize that you love a book as much as they do. There is an instant connection.

Junior high readers want to talk about the books they are reading. Thank you for making that possible.

Three Silly Chicks said...

Middle school kids are so funny, because they want to seem so tough, but they are still so up for a cheap thrill or a giant wad of silliness. I always take my giant (and I mean GIANT) pencil with me when I visit middle schools. It's a prop I use when I visit younger kids and read WHEN GIANTS COME TO PLAY. It also goes with the GIGANTIC toothbrush and pair of undies, but I digress.

I don't bring up the big pencil sticking out of my bag, but some kid always notices it. Then, I get to show it off and they are all ears for the rest of the class.

Too funny.

Thanks for the ideas on presenting!

Andrea Beaty


Lindsey said...

Great tips, MR. I am a regular booktalker at middle schools, and I love it. Usually, I stick to the 5th graders. They are still not to cool for school yet although you have to grab them early in the year. I used to be very scared of booktalking. What helps me is to have a gimmick. Antyhing that let's them participate. For instance, when Teen Read Week was on poetry, I brought in some poetry books and had the teens read the poetry.

One year, the theme was Get Real @ your Library. I booktalked all non-fiction. I chose the Dewey Color System. It's like a personality test where you pick your two favorite colors and it describes your personality. I let teens volunteer to take the test. They wanted to do this all day long.

I am inspired. I think I will do an article on booktalking, too.

ElsKushner said...

I'm so glad I read this tonight; tomorrow I go in for my first school visit at my new job. So thank you!

Kristi said...

This is great advice. I'm a library student right now, and I've done quite a few booktalks in front of classmates, but have yet to actually face down a rowdy crowd of middle-schoolers, and as much as I love teens (in very small groups, at least), the thought definitely makes me a little queasy. I'll be keeping these tips in mind!