Notes from a First-Time Book Talker

Last week I did my first real-life book talks as part of our summer learning program promotion. I talked to five groups of 6th-grade language arts classes over a full school-day. Most of the periods were two full class groups, so about 60 kids at a time in the school’s library. It was also the last full school day of the year, so I was a little apprehensive about the attention level, but they were great.

How I Prepped

I had about six weeks of lead time between scheduling the talks and the presentation. I had a few books in mind already, then looked for some inspiration from other librarians in my system. We also had a book talk sharing presentation at our spring teen services meeting, so I stole a few ideas from that. The hardest part for me was choosing books that would appeal to 6th graders, since they’re a little in between middle grade and YA. I tried to check out copies of all of the books I was considering, so I could read new titles or refresh myself on titles I had already read. In all, I think I seriously considered about 25 books before finally settling on 17 to share (odd number, I know!).

I first started with a Prezi to show the book covers and summer program information, but ended up using Powerpoint based on how I wanted the presentation to flow and some audio-visual elements I wanted to include. For example, there were a couple animated gifs I wanted to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to get them to show in Prezi. In my Powerpoint, I just put a cover image and title/author information on individual slides. I also used some audiobook clips, so I had to rip some files and clip them down using Audacity before inserting them into the presentation.

I wrote out all of my book talk summaries in Word at first, either writing them on my own or pulling some wording from the book jackets, other publisher blurbs, or the book introductions for non-fiction titles. I also re-wrote the summaries onto individual index cards, both to have to refer to during the presentation and to help with memorization.

The night before, I made sure I had my Powerpoint loaded up on a flash drive, as well as uploaded to my Google Drive. I also brought along some of the non-fiction books with lots of pictures to use as props, a copy of our summer reading log, my note cards, and a bottle of water.

What Worked

The audiobook clips were a hit. Hat tip to Emily for her awesome suggestion of Zombie Baseball Beatdown as an audio for middle schoolers. I also used a bit from Etiquette and Espionage, though that didn’t go over as well with these 6th graders. This also gave my voice a bit of a break!

Using pictures from graphics-heavy non-fiction books and graphic novels was also a nice way to break up the parade of book covers. Both Unusual Creatures and One Big Happy Family were big hits, almost entirely due to the animal pictures. I also found some cool images from some of the book websites, including an animated gif of the exploding wicker chicken from Etiquette and Espionage (they liked this much more than the audio clip that referenced it!)

I incorporated a few audience participation bits. At the beginning I asked for shows of hands for who had library cards and who had visited some of our local branches. In the middle, I asked for the students to volunteer book recommendations to their peers. ‘Recommend a book to a friend’ is one of the activities on our summer activity log, so this was a good tie-in, but it would also work in any context. I asked them for the book title, author (if they remembered it!) and one word to describe the book. Some classes were much more into this than others, but overall it worked well. At the end, I also asked for volunteers to share what book they heard about from me that they were most interested in reading. This was a good on-the-fly way to gauge interest in the books I was promoting. I’m pretty sure at least each book was mentioned once over the course of the day, but the most students expressed interest in Cinder, Steelheart, and Zombie Baseball Beatdown.

All of the books I talked are below!

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