In this edition of the Tales from the Wild, we’ll be looking at the fine art of booktalking. Not sure what a booktalk is? Here’s a helpful introduction from BookTalk Colorado, a great resource for newbie book talkers:
A book talk is NOT a review or a book “report.” A book report tells somebody you read the book, a book talk tries to convince the person to read the book. The key to booktalking is to “sell, don’t tell.” Thus, a booktalk is more of an advertisement or a commercial.
Booktalking is all about getting kids excited about books. Some books need little help – to the right audience a new Geronimo Stilton title will sell itself. Similarly, some groups are easier to book talk to than others – younger children, for example, often haven’t reached that age when grown-ups become “lame”, and they’re much more likely to want to read a book simply because their teacher or librarian showed it to them in class.
As they get older, many children begin to lose interest in reading. Recreational reading faces increased competition from sports and extracurricular activities, TV and video games, homework, and “hanging out” with peer groups. Reading sometimes just loses its lustre, or even worse, becomes “uncool”.
When working with older kids, a book talker might need to pull out all the stops. It helps to look at a book from the perspective of its intended audience. If you were 12 years old, what might make you want to pick up a book? Now depending on your personality and background, this kind of analysis could take some imagination – if you’re reading The Book Wars you probably already love reading, and at 12 years old I was a nerdy, shy, clumsy kid in an era before video games, so I probably wouldn’t have been doing anything other than reading anyway.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about developing book talks that might at least help keep your audience from falling asleep during your presentation, and at best might get a few books into the hands of some skeptical readers.
- Keep it short
- Movie trailers have less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds (the maximum length allowed by the Motion Picture Association of America) to convince you to see a movie. If they can fit 90 or 120 minutes worth of content into less than 150 seconds, you can fit a novel into a minute or two of animated talking.
- Keep it snappy
- Going back to the movie trailer example, the best trailers condense the most exciting aspects of a movie into a short, engaging snippet that leaves you wanting more. Don’t waste precious booktalking time on tedious exposition, or read a dull passage from the beginning of the book “to set the scene” – pick something exciting, something snappy, to get your audience hooked, and go from there.
- Keep it spoiler-free
- No one will want to read a book if you ruin the ending for them. Never provide more vital details than you’d get by reading the back of the book. ‘Nuff said.
- Have fun!
- This is the most important part of booktalking – enthusiasm is infectious. You get to share great books with kids – how lucky are you?! Have fun, be enthusiastic, and at the very least you’ll provide your audience with a bit of entertainment. Will the kids think you’re a giant geek? Of course they will, you’re a grown-up and they’re kids, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Remember that the whole point of a book talk is to get kids excited about reading, so let you book geek flag fly.
Here’s a script for a book talk I recently gave to a class of grade 6/7 boys. Short, snappy, spoiler-free, and extremely dramatic.
Everything is perfect in the small town of Serenity. Everyone lives in a perfect house, with a perfect lawn, a perfect pool and a perfect tree house. Nobody steals, nobody complains, nobody lies. Everything, and everyone, is perfect. Eli and his friends have never left the borders of their hometown, and why would they? Crime free, garbage free, pollution free, Serenity is the safest place to live in the entire country.
Or at least that’s what they want you to believe. Because something dark lurks beneath the surface of this ideal community. Something dangerous. Something deadly. And when Eli stumbles upon a terrible secret at the very edge of Serenity’s borders, everything he has known, trusted and loved threatens to come crashing down around him. With no one to trust and nothing to believe in, a small group of kids must uncover the truth about Serenity, if they ever hope to make it out alive.
Have you done any book talking? Let me know what your thoughts in the comments below, and see you next time!