The December 15th issue of Booklist features an article: “Sure Bets for Book Discussions.” The article is part of an upcoming book by Brad Hooper, The Librarian’s Guide to Book Programs and Author Events . I think a similar list can be made of “sure bets” for library book talks, not a list of books that will be successful with any young adult audience, but a list of approaches that can add depth and engage interest in reading books. My aim in presenting the following ideas is to spark further discussion among AISL librarians so that we can exchange techniques to add innovation to our book talks.
Match a Book for Every Reader
Ensuring diverse reading choices becomes the foundation of assembling a successful book talk. Diversity entails both reading levels and genres (fiction and nonfiction). Not every student will tackle the 500-page Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See, but students can be immersed in historic fiction books with complex characters and challenging conflicts in young adult books, such as Wicked Girls (Salem Witchcraft Trials) and The Watch that Ends the Night (Sinking of the Titanic). In addition to various reading levels, presenting a range of genres gives readers a sampling of types of books they may not have tried. In a recent book talk themed to tales of suspense, the book talk titles included historic fiction, novels in verse, contemporary humor, contemporary thriller, fantasy, science fiction, and biography. All of these books included suspense elements, but the range of genre was broad. (See Book Talk GoogleSlides for books used in suspense book talk.)
Create the Hook
Essential to any classroom presentation is the hook, and this suggestion uses technology to capture audience interest. Using a formative assessment app called Plickers (https://plickers.com/), I collected a quick snapshot of student interest in types of books at the beginning of the book talk. Students were given a QR code card to hold up in response to a multiple choice prompt. The direction of holding the card indicates either an “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D” response. The app is free, but I purchased a more durable set of laminated cards (you can also print out a free set of Plicker cards through their website). An iPad (or Smartphone) scanned the roomful of students holding the Plicker cards (oriented to their A/B/C/D response choice). Plicker quickly posted the responses on the device and grouped student choices in a graph.
Here is a Plicker graph of 39 students who responded to the query “What is your idea of suspense?” Read the four descriptive book teasers and decide which book you would most like to read:
(Book answers: A. Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill; B. All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry; C. The Art of Secrets by James Klise; D. The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson.)
Explore Close Analysis with Book Trailers
Book trailers are not a new idea, and there are many wonderful examples posted to YouTube, but creating your own book trailer allows you to focus on particular book elements to spur a discussion on how authors make decisions in the writing process. For instance, author Stephanie Hemphill shared in an interview that she visited the town of Salem on a wintry day so that she could match the mood in her writing of Wicked Girls. She intended to show that the austere life and limited freedom for the young Puritan girls led to their using “visions” of witches and the devil to increase their own voice and power in this restrictive society. This Wicked Girls book trailer used text from the book’s first chapter that described the wintry setting; students can discuss how the words and imagery create analogies to the stern Puritan society (such as the bare limbs of trees like fingers pointing accusingly). Also, in a second viewing of the video, you can freeze the video frame to examine how image selection matches text, such as an image of the Devil pamphlet written by Cotton Mather that coincides with the text line “there are rules to follow here.”
The Watch That Ends the Night, a novel in verse that described the sinking of the Titanic, combined researched details into a riveting read. View this Titanic book trailer and experience how author Allan Wolf personified the voice of the Iceberg fated to collide with the ship (the iceberg “marks time with creaks, and cracks, and hiss”); Wolf also included authentic SOS messages from the sinking Titanic ship. Primary source photos from Britannica Image Quest helped dramatize the book trailer and can be a point of further student discussion into the historic connections behind the book.
Design Interactive Read-Alouds
We have all experienced the power of reading aloud from books, and selecting a dramatic passage that portrays conflicted characters can be a moment for an “interactive read-aloud,” as described by educator Cheryl L. Wozniak in her article “Reading and Talking about Books: A Critical Foundation for Intervention.” Wozniak described how during a read-aloud, “teachers stopped periodically for students to discuss their ideas about the characters’ traits and motivations” (19). For example, during my suspense book talk, I selected “The Silencer” chapter from The Fifth Wave, which dramatized the growing dilemma and hesitation of the alien “Silencer,” who had been sent to track down and kill the character Cassie. Cassie’s decision to face the killer and refusal to run provoked a surprising reaction from the Stalker. Author Yancey provided several clues in this passage that students can ponder to unravel motivations of “the Silencer” as well as Cassie’s decision not to run.
In the Wozniak article about read-alouds, findings from the research study showed that educators participating in the read-alouds and book talks developed a more positive attitude toward students and the teacher’s role in motivating readers (20). This is familiar ground for librarians; re-invigorating book talks with innovative approaches will ensure that librarians successfully encourage young adult readers.
Looking forward to hearing from AISL librarians on your approaches to book talks.