Making Nonfiction Not-So-Scary with Booktalks

I want to preface this entry by saying I absolutely love to book talk. The genre, length, etc., don’t bother me. As long as I know my clientele and what the teacher wants me to emphasize, get out of the way, because I’m ready to go. It makes me so happy that my teachers assign a book report each year that has to be a nonfiction book. For now, my role is to raise awareness for the books we have and help students figure out what they may be interested in reading. Works for me. 🙂  A bonus to these book talks is a lot of times the teachers don’t even know about the books I choose to book talk, and comment that even they want to read a lot of the titles!

When doing booktalks for middle school students, especially for nonfiction, students need to know – besides it being assigned – WHY they should care about what you’re about to present. This puts what you’re about to say in context so they’re ready to receive what you’re going to show them. You may consider speaking with the teacher you are working with, to include some reasons they may have in assigning this project.

For these booktalks, I pulled a lot of nonfiction based on the teachers’ requirements. Then, I assembled them into categories that allowed students to think more about what interested them, instead of typical middle school “this is so boring I’ll just pick anything” or “this is so stupid I don’t like anything they have.” I tried to select books that tend to be overlooked and fit my students’ interests. If you already have categories in mind (or teachers want them to read in specific categories) you can always type those subjects into the library catalog and see what you find.

I created a HaikuDeck (at the bottom of this post) to share sample images from the PowerPoint I create for each class. Although it’s a lot of work, I tend to book talk different selections for each class, mostly because I typically only have 1 copy of each book and if my book talks go as planned, many students want to read what I’ve book talked. I don’t book talk all of these categories in each class, either; usually I choose 4, depending on time and the class size.

I tried to go as broad as I could with the categories to allow for range of student selection.  The “Freedom & Equality” category is one of my favorites. “Freedom of…”, “freedom to…”, and equality of all kinds is super relevant, and it’s important for students to have access to these materials in order to be informed about these events as well as form their own positions about controversial topics.

I created the “Just Plain Weird” category especially for those reluctant readers who may not find any of the other topics interesting.  I tried to choose books that not only would creep them out, but topics that were plain bizarre. Kids love creepy & bizarre!Many students I did this presentation with were drawn to these, and students flew to the library afterwards to check them out.

Being the librarian at a gifted magnet school really has its advantages, especially in terms of pushing my science books. However, because of this, it also really challenges me to keep my collection updated, so I can select books that are interesting to them as well as on their level, which can range from 5th grade to post high school. Many students were intrigued with the Gene book, as well as the Stronger than Steel title, which talks about scientists studying spider silk to enhance things like bulletproof vests. They were stoked! Most of them didn’t even know we had these kinds of books.

When selecting books to order, I really try to choose some that are windows and some that are mirrors. Students should be able to see themselves in some books, while encounter new experiences through other books. The “Teens in History” section is one that I think is a bit of both: seeing how other people their age have done great things they may not have experienced, you know, like challenging Hitler or fighting in a war. This category makes it easy for students to learn more about other teens in ways that they may not be able to find online.

Speaking of, so much of what our teens read today is online: brief Tweets, headlines of news articles, Facebook statuses. The category, “Today’s World” serves for students to dive into contemporary topics that interest them that are also current events. Note: Many students asked me about Day of the Dead and why it was included here. Their classmates were the ones to respond that they study it in Spanish class and it is a real thing for people, especially in Mexico. Yay for teachable moments – when other students do the teaching!

Many students claim to be history buffs or just enjoy history class, but one way to get them into nonfiction is by advertising super specific topics in history – stuff they don’t know about. I try to choose minor events that are related to things they study in class, such as the Superman vs. KKK; they study the KKK but are intrigued how Superman is related. Or, students read Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson and want to read more about the real yellow fever that took place. Boom. It’s that easy.

Sometimes at the end of my presentations students seem overwhelmed. There are so many options! I always end with a slide to encourage students that, although they may have liked the books in the book talk, it’s really about deciding what they’re into and looking for books about that. This usually makes students feel better. Also, highlighting that they can use the public library and the “subject” button in the library catalog widens their options. Finally, I keep a cart of all the books I include in these booktalks behind the circulation desk so if students want a specific book, they don’t have to go looking for it, and I usually can’t shelve them fast enough before they come looking for them. 🙂 Usually there is a mad rush the afternoon of the book talks, and it is wonderful to see so many nonfiction books being checked out. If you have any questions about this or any other book talks I do, feel free to comment below.

What do YOU enjoy book talking?? Stay tuned for how I market my new fiction books…

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