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Booktalking

The Booktalk is a sample of a book — a little piece of pie so good that it tempts you to consume the whole concoction.” – Margaret Edwards

A booktalk is a tool for introducing a book to an audience in such a way that they feel they must read it or die. It is also an easy, effective way to encourage people to:

  • for pleasure,
  • try new authors, genres and formats,
  • explore new worlds, experiences, ideas,
  • view the library as an invigorating place that has what they need.

A booktalk is what you say to an audience, or an individual, to convince them to read a book. You want to sell it to them, but you must make sure you do not make the book sound better than it really is. This might make them less inclined to believe you next time.

Booktalking can only benefit a public library. It can increase circulation as well as the public’s knowledge of the library’s collection. It can even change the attitudes people in a community might have towards the library and reading.

Writing a booktalk is fairly simple. You just have to remember the two most important things:

  • Never, ever give a booktalk on a book you have not read.
  • Never, ever give away the ending of the book.

You want to tell your audience just enough to get them hooked. And you need to be able to answer questions they might ask about the story. Cover yourself – read the book. The whole book

cat readingBefore writing a booktalk you first have to read. When you schedule the talk find out the age, gender, and reading level of your audience. Try to pick a book, or books, that target all three. Or, you may choose to pick a theme and center your books around it. Find several books that “grab” you.

Remember, you don’t have to like a book to give an effective talk on it. It can be a book that disturbed you, but made you think. You might not be able to write a talk on every book you read and not every talk is going to be successful the first time you give it. As you are reading the book, take notes on lines or action that catches your interest. Using three by five cards make your notes easy to file.

It helps to have at least one scene that is action packed. This is a good way to start your talk and it is almost guaranteed to grab your audience’s attention. You could read this straight from the book. Then you might want to give a brief overview of the plot, (leaving out the ending, of course)

Book talks do not have a required length, but you should try not to make them too long so you do not lose your audience’s attention. The average time is three to five minutes. Anything over ten minutes is probably too much. As you become more familiar with booktalking you will develop your own style and find what works best for you, but writing it out first is good.

How Do You Give a Successful Talk?

Prepare, prepare, prepare. This holds true whether you are first timer or an expert. When giving a scheduled, formal booktalk, write down and then memorize it, especially if you have not done booktalks before. It will also help you if you forget what you were going to say.

If you have trouble memorizing, or do not have the time, you can read your talk, but that is not as effective. Be prepared to improvise. This will help keep your talk from becoming stale and obviously memorized. You really need to know the book.

Some experienced booktalkers prefer to give their talks “cold” This style has its advantages. It can make the talk more exciting and less formal. However, you must be very comfortable speaking in front of an audience and be able to think on your feet in case you forget what you had planned to say. Consider practicing your presentation on a friend until your are comfortable giving it.

Get copies of the books to take with you. You never want to show up at a booktalk without the actual books. Looking at the book can help you remember a plot point you forgot or inspire you to go in another direction. It also gives you something to do with your hands

Give the talk to a friend (or to yourself) several times before the actual program. Decide if you want to use different voices or inflections. Remember to enunciate. Wear comfortable shoes! This may sound silly, but if you are not comfortable your audience will pick up on it and you could lose their attention.

Make sure you arrive a few minutes early so you can set up and check out the room. You might want to arrange your books in the order you will be presenting them. If you are speaking to a very large group you might want to bring a microphone or request that one be made available for you.

As you are being introduced, relax. Remember that any mistakes your are going to make (and you are almost guaranteed to make some) are not deadly. Enjoy yourself and smile.

When you start your presentation, pick up the book and show the front cover to the audience. Tell them the title and author. If you have a small enough group and you want to show a picture, walk slowly to the front of the group, holding the book open slightly above their eye level. Speak in an even pace, not too fast or slow. Put emotion in your voice. Remember, you want to catch their attention, not put them to sleep.

If you feel like you are losing them, close the current talk and move to a more exciting one. One way to get them involved is to ask questions after the talk. Depending on the age of the children, you can bring stickers, bookmarks, pencils, or inexpensive prizes to give to the children who give the right answers. This works best with grade school children.

Before you leave, give everyone a bookmark or booklist with the names of the books you talked about, as well as similar titles you think they will enjoy. Make sure the library staff has a copy of the information as well so they can be prepared when the children descend on them to find these titles.

The attitude of your audience at the end of your presentation will help you know if your talk was a success. Are they interested in looking at the books? Do they ask you questions about them or beg you to tell the endings? Do they ask to take a book home? Does the teacher look enthusiastic and interested? Does he or she ask you to come again? These are good indications of a winning presentation. Even better is having the students come to the library requesting one or more of the books discussed.

If time permits, you might want to ask the students if they are interested in what you had to say or in any of the books you brought. Most children are incredible honest and can be a great source of feedback, positive and negative. Their comments can help you shape your booktalk into entertaining, suspenseful presentations.

Doing readers advisory is a form of booktalking, even though it is impromptu and very informal. You just give the person a brief overview of the book you are recommending. It is best if you have actually read the books because your enthusiasm can “sell” the book. If you have read only the book cover, however, do not try to make it sound as if you have read the whole book. It is too easy to get caught by questions.

At the close of your presentation, always remember to promote the library. Talk about the other wonderful books and materials, programs and services you have there.

Taken from

Children’s and Youth Services Staff Handbook et al Elaine M. McCraken, published by Georgia Public Library Service in 2002.  Used with permission.

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