"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

03 October 2014

Book Talks

Aside from the dated clothing, my library actually looks a lot like this after a book talk.

As a middle school librarian, I have a very small amount of time with each class, and unfortunately I don't see some classes more than two or three times the entire school year.  As such, I try to maximize the time I do have with them.  We do not have a computer lab where I can teach them research skills, so I spend more of my time talking about books.  And let's be honest: middle school is the time when kids stop reading.  They don't have time for it anymore, teachers don't prioritize it, and it stops being cool to be the kid with the newest book.  I can't transform all of our English/Language Arts classrooms into bastions of free reading, but I can do my best to entice students while they're in the library.

When classes do visit the library, I give them a couple of very brief book talks and then let them search for books to check out. Rather than centering my book talks around a theme, I try to find a variety of books.  I have many students who are "onlys": that is, they will only read books written in verse, or only read books with a sportsball on the front, or only read books that are part of a dystopian series. Because of this, I always try to book talk at least two brand-new books, at least two books that have multiple copies in the library, at least one book that's the first in a series, and for all of these I try to choose at least three genres so the kids aren't hearing about only science fiction, or romance, or mystery, etc.   I also try to make sure I only book talk books I've read, which means I have to read from a wide variety of genres and keep current on the books I know about, too.

For example, I might talk about Roland Smith's Peak by saying, "The main character's name is Peak, and he gets in trouble for climbing up the outside of skyscrapers.  The adults decide to send him away for a while so no other kids try to mimic him and climb buildings, too, so he's sent to live with his dad.  But instead of grounding him or taking away his cell phone, his dad takes Peak on a trip to scale Mount Everest, hoping that Peak will become the youngest person to ever reach the summit."   Yes, my students could possibly get that much information from reading the back of the book, but many of them won't be bothered to do so.  They will, however, pick up this book and check it out.

When I finish my book talks, I always put the books I've discussed on a book cart so students can look at them. Sometimes I sneak read-alikes into the cart, books they might also like but that I didn't have time to discuss with them.  When I put Peak on the cart, I added a copy of The White Darkness and a copy of No Summit Out of Sight, and every copy of those three books is currently checked out.

Book talking books to the kids has a few added benefits.  First, the kids learn that I love books and love to talk about them.  This means they are always - and I do mean always - coming up to me and asking what a book is about or telling me about a book they've read or asking for recommendations. Not only that, but giving a book talk and then allowing students to wander and check out books sets the expectation that everyone should be able to find something to read, even if it isn't a 400+ page fantasy tome. I get more kids to check out books when I can show them the wide variety of reading options that are available to them, and book talks are a good way for me to do that.

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