Monday, August 6, 2012


The Unbreakable rules of booktalking
  1. Don’t talk about a book you don’t like.
  2. Don’t talk about a book you haven’t read.
  3. Don’t tell the ending.
  4. Don’t tell everything about the book: just enough to make the audience want to read it.
A guide for booktalkers
Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to prepare, nor be unduly concerned by preliminary nervousness.

Make sure you know how to get where you’re going to speak, unless the audience is coming to you. If the latter is true, make sure the room is reserved and set up in advance. If you are a librarian going to a school, always check in at the main office first to introduce yourself and announce the purpose of your visit.

Organize your books and equipment. Set them up in the order in which you’ll talk about them and have chosen passages marked with a clip at the bottom of the page. Hold your notes up if you have to, use a podium, or clip them to the inside or back of the book.

Do not begin to speak until the audience is ready to listen, and wait for attention with good humour, unobtrusively. Introduce yourself or allow your host to introduce you and any other team members at the beginning of the period and be sure everyone in the room can hear all that is said and understands why you are here.

State clearly the author and title of each book you talk about. Sometimes it is wise to have a list of your talk titles prepared in advance you can distribute and let the audience keep and check off as you speak. This is especially good if your charging system or the circumstances don’t allow you to circulate the books on the spot at the end of the period or visit.

Speak slowly and clearly, trying not to think too far ahead so you don’t forget what you’re saying. Talk to the back of the room and don’t be afraid to smile occasionally or to laugh with the kids at a funny spot. Avoid any gestures or tones which do not enhance the story and call attention to yourself, and don’t try to be hip or you’ll be very embarrassing to the audience. On the other hand, don’t talk down to them using phrases like “boys and girls” or “you young people,” or you’ll alienate them.

Try not to be monotonal, a quality which can be discovered and corrected if you have practiced with a tape recorder prior to your appearance and change the pace of your speaking as well as your loudness occasionally. Don’t be dramatic unless it comes naturally or you’ve been coached by more experienced people.

Stand firmly without rocking and try not to lean, or play with rubber bands or paper clips. It looks terrible and distracts the audience. If you hold a book up so they can see it or show illustrations, hold it firmly and consciously and pan slowly so everyone can see it. A book held at an unconsciously lopsided, impossible viewing angle is an all too common fault among beginning booktalkers trying to remember everything at once, and it is very annoying to an audience.

Don’t illustrate a book with an example or incident applicable to a class member. I once introduced Slipping down life to a class saying, “Evie Decker was the second fattest kid in her whole high school,” only to see the entire class, to my horror, turn in unison to an overweight member. It was awful, and I never used it again. Try to learn from your own mistakes.

Try to know the characters’ names, especially in teen novels, or they all sound alike out loud, and don’t frustrate the audience by making every talk a cliff-hanger or they’ll tune you out as the tease you are in such a case. Don’t get nervous and tell the whole story or no one will read the book. This is avoided by careful preparation and discipline on the spot if the kids beg you to tell them the ending.

Be flexible enough to wind up quickly and go on to another title or activity if the group seems restless or bored, and whatever you do, don’t scold the audience for not being fascinated with you. It backfires every time.

Try not to use difficult words they may not understand. Don’t be nonplussed if they say, “Hey, what’s that mean?” Beware of rhetorical questions. Someone may answer them. Don’t use dialect unless it’s natural to you or you’ll be ridiculed or will unwittingly insult the kids by making fun of them. And avoid profanity and double entendres because the kids usually either think it’s hilarious from you and go into phony gales of shocked laughter or are actually shocked and forget what else you’re saying. There are some exceptions to the double entres like Night to remember which always got asked about by an unwitting teen who thought it was a torrid love story. One of those is usually enough because tricking the unknowing audience is hardly the point.

Don’t oversell average books. There’s no bigger bore than a librarian who gushes over every teen or sports story as if each is equal to War and peace. The kids will peg you as a phony each time and you are guaranteed to bore them to death. Be sure of your terms and facts in technical and sports books and do not use explicit factual books on physical or sexual development unless you’re sure of both community reactions and your own ability to speak without embarrassment.

Set up the books or give out the lists and, if you’ve gained enough experience, let the audience call out titles they want to hear about or ask them to tell you any they’ve already read so that you can match them with a similar story. On the other hand, always be honest and admit when they’ve stumped you, and never pretend to have read a book you haven’t. You’ll need to have a talk prepared in case you meet only solid indifference despite your most artful efforts to stimulate comment.

Be prepared for interruptions by the kids saying “Oooo!” at scary spots and laughing at funny ones. The school PA system usually broadcasts daily announcements once or twice each day and finding out just when can save you much grief so you’re not in the middle of a talk when these come on. There is no way to avoid the more dramatic interruptions, but knowing that they do happen will keep you reasonably calm in all circumstances.

Try never to read to the audience unless in the material you’re presenting “the author’s style is the important thing and can be communicated in no other way: poetry, some essays, fine writing in general. Even then you would do well to quote rather than to read or know the book so well that you are not bound to it – your eyes can still rove over the group and take cognizance of their enjoyment. Be watchful for signs of disinterest.”

Go on to pre-arranged announcements of upcoming library events after you have finished talking. Tell how to get a card or check out a book, invite questions or browsing, distribute additional lists, etc.

Keep track of every class or group you’ve spoken to for periodic statistical reports which may help justify more staff assistance for your service speciality. Write a brief narrative report so there is a record of what you’ve done, both for your supervisor and for any possible successors.

Evaluate your success as a booktalker primarily by noting how many people read the books you discussed or come to the library asking for them or to get a card for the first time. You are often successful even when the audience seem indifferent, asleep, or incredibly itchy, although continual responses like these should make you alter your technique. Perhaps the selection wasn’t right, or you spoke too long, or over the heads of your audience, or were too monotonal or too dramatic.

School Library Journal. April 1976. P. 43
Summary for class book talks
Class visit information card

Basic information necessary for choosing books – reading level, make-up of class, etc.
Booktalks presented – use abbreviated titles

Class visit summary sheet
NUMBER OF REQUESTS TAKEN: (list titles below)
BOOK TALKS (list titles below)

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