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Book talk

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A booktalk in the broadest terms is what is spoken with the intent to convince someone to read a book. Booktalks are traditionally conducted in a classroom setting for students. However, booktalks can be performed outside a school setting and with a variety of age groups as well. It is not a book review or a book report or a book analysis. The booktalker gives the audience a glimpse of the setting
Setting (fiction)
In fiction, setting includes the time, location, and everything in which a story takes place, and initiates the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may...

, the characters
Fictional character
A character is the representation of a person in a narrative work of art . Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr , the earliest use in English, in this sense, dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of...

, and/or the major conflict without providing the resolution or denouement. Booktalks make listeners care enough about the content of the book to want to read it. A long booktalk is usually about five to seven minutes long and a short booktalk is generally thirty seconds to two minutes long1.


According to Carol Littlejohn (Keep Talking That Book! Booktalks to Promote Reading Volume II) there is "no known inventor of booktalking"2. As far back as teachers and librarians have promoted reading and literacy booktalks have existed. One of the oldest sources to mention the actual art form of booktalking is Amelia H. Munson's An Ample Field (1950)3 and in The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts Margaret Edwards discusses performing booktalks in the 1930s when it was difficult to get into Baltimore schools4. The actual term "booktalk" was coined in 1985 by children's author and literature teacher Aidan Chambers
Aidan Chambers
Aidan Chambers is an award-winning British writer of novels for children and young adults.- Life and work :Born near Chester-le-Street, County Durham in 1934, Chambers was an only child, and a poor scholar; considered "slow" by his teachers, he did not learn to read fluently until the age of nine...

5, in his book Booktalk: occasional writing on literature and children.

In the 1950s, booktalks were originally designed to motivate young adults to read because they had the freedom to read but chose not to6. Teenagers don’t read for a variety of reasons including (but not limited to): the notion that reading is not cool, unnecessary, and uninteresting. Books also have to compete with movies, television, the Internet, and other media. By 1980s, there are also booktalks for adults. For example, booktalks in senior centers and in adult book discussion groups in libraries. Booktalks for adults were geared towards the recommendation of new titles rather than the motivation to read1. By 1990s, booktalks were also created for children to motivate kids to read at a younger age7. However, booktalks for children focused heavily on teaching kids to read using mostly picture books.


The purpose of a booktalk is to motivate listeners in order to foster good reading, writing and speaking skills by encouraging self-directed learning through reading. Booktalkers also try to incorporate learning opportunities following a book talk which include discussion topics, ideas for journals, papers, poems
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 or other creative writing, panel discussions or presentations (visually and/or orally)8. Book talks are commonly used by school and public librarians, teachers, and reading coaches, to get a reader interested in a book or to recommend similar books. It is an excellent tool for reading motivation
Reading Motivation
Reading motivation is the motivational drive to read, an area of interest in the field of education. Studying and implementing the conditions under which students are motivated to read is important in the process of teaching and fostering learning...

. Booktalks were used long before the advent of the Digital Age, and the "traditional" booktalk of yesterday is still used today. However, librarians and educators have been able to utilize the Internet and computer software
Computer software
Computer software, or just software, is a collection of computer programs and related data that provide the instructions for telling a computer what to do and how to do it....

 in order to modernize and improve book talks.


The traditional booktalk consists of a presenter using few tools to engage his audience, save the script
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

 he has created and a copy of the book itself. Having no real "bells and whistles", the booktalker has to get and keep his audience's attention. While there are plenty of sources available, both on the Web and in print (see external links and further reading below), that provide examples of ready-to-present booktalks most librarians and teachers recommend that the presenter read at least a part of the book he will be booktalking. The presenter must engage the audience as any good public speaker would, with an excited feeling, a non-monotonous tone of voice, and eye contact
Eye contact
Eye contact is a meeting of the eyes between two individuals.In human beings, eye contact is a form of nonverbal communication and is thought to have a large influence on social behavior. Coined in the early to mid-1960s, the term has come in the West to often define the act as a meaningful and...


Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 booktalks and first-person booktalks are fairly popular. Genres to consider for a booktalk may include classics, sports, historical fiction
Historical fiction
Historical fiction tells a story that is set in the past. That setting is usually real and drawn from history, and often contains actual historical persons, but the principal characters tend to be fictional...

, science fiction and fantasy, romance, fairy tales, short stories, mystery, adventure, non-fiction, short or thin books, horror, realistic contemporary fiction, humor, adult books, graphic novels, and poetry9. A genre booktalk should consist of multiple books within one chosen genre. The number of books talked depends on the age of the audience. It is encouraged to have multiple genre booktalks ready in case the presenter starts to "lose" his audience.

The first person booktalk is considered most suitable for an "entertainer" presenter and is best suited for books written in first person. The booktalker presents himself as a character from a book10. The presenter is not limited to characters of the same sex. However, when considering presenting an opposite sex first person booktalk the presenter must keep in mind his audience, as some audiences may be unable or unwilling to use their imagination during the booktalk.

Some librarians and educators consider the non-fiction booktalk to be the best way to win over a young adult audience. Non-fiction booktalks allow the presenter to tell astonishing yet true stories that can garner an emotion
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

al response. Non-fiction booktalks include a wide range of topics such as poetry, history, music, entertainment, crafts, folklore, crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

, psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

, UFOs, etc.11. They lend themselves to audience participation, since the presenter can ask questions throughout the booktalk, such as, "Who has heard of a ___?" "Have you ever seen a ____?" or "Who knows what a ____ is?"12 Common approaches to nonfiction booktalks include using visual or mental imagery, vignettes, notable facts and astonishing statistics
Statistics is the study of the collection, organization, analysis, and interpretation of data. It deals with all aspects of this, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments....

, booktalking in the first-person point of view, or initially presenting a nonfiction book as though it were fiction and surprising the audience by revealing that it is nonfiction13. Indexes and appendixes should be mentioned if they are included in the book14.

Digital (BookTalks 2.0)

From creating book talks on Power Point to creating a multimedia booktalk with sound clips and video excerpts, the booktalk has gotten a makeover thanks to the Digital Age (Keane & Cavanaugh, 2009). A number of websites, listed below, have been created solely for the purpose of sharing booktalks or guiding a librarian or educator on how to create one.

Teachers can use these sites to create an assignment for their students, asking them to visit a certain number of sites, browse the reviews and/or booktalks and select one book from each site that interests them. From this list the student can then choose one book to read and report on. The teacher can create a book review blog (i.e. http://bebookreview.blogspot.com/) and have the students post their reviews online, as well as comments on other student reviews, subject to teacher approval15. By utilizing Web 2.0, such as wikis and podcasts, and software such as Power Point, the presenter can create multimedia booktalks that incorporate film and videos, music and the Internet16. Using a projection screen and computer, the presenter no longer has to pass around a book to show cover art, illustrations, or photographs.

Within the scholastic setting librarians can work with teachers to create a set of rotating video booktalks that play in any location that have access to the school's closed-circuit television system17. The video booktalk acts as a book trailer and can be as simple as a taped presentation from a podium to as complex as a reenactment of a scene from a book. The possibilities for the contents of a video booktalk are limited only to the creator's imagination and budget. Creating a video booktalk can be used a class assignment, teaching students not only the tools of a booktalk but incorporating the use of audio/visual materials. Software programs, such as Photo Story, iMovie
iMovie is a proprietary video editing software application which allows Mac, iPod Touch 4th generation, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPad 2 users to edit their own home movies. It was originally released by Apple in 1999 as a Mac OS 8 application bundled with the first FireWire-enabled consumer Apple...

, and Windows Movie Maker
Windows Movie Maker
Windows Movie Maker is a video creating/editing software application, included in Microsoft Windows Me, XP, and Vista. It contains features such as effects, transitions, titles/credits, audio track, timeline narration, and Auto Movie. New effects and transitions can be made and existing ones can be...

, can be used to create a video booktalk without any expensive equipment18.


One way to find out which types of booktalks work best is to create an evaluation form for the audience to complete. Some booktalkers may have a natural inclination for first-person booktalks, while others may present typical third-person book talks, or a book talk that's been digitally enhanced to keep the interest of the audience19. The audience will also determine the length of the presentation, how many booktalks are presented, how much information to disclose, and the length of the individual booktalks20. The audiences of booktalks are broken down into the following categories: students (broken down into the sub categories: young children, older children, and teens), adults, senior citizens and professionals (for librarians and educators).

Young children have shorter attention spans so booktalks must be kept brief. Older children and teens are able to focus and sit at attention for longer periods of time and so booktalk presentations can be built in to fit within one class period (30–45 minutes). Within this timeframe 15-20 booktalks that are 2–3 minutes in length can be presented21. The presenter will want to appeal to as many students as possible so the individual booktalks should consist of many genres.

Adult and senior citizen booktalks don’t have to be strictly limited to adult titles. Choosing a children's title that will also pique the interest of adults helps keep this audience aware of current children's literature. The presenter doesn’t need to limit himself to the obvious literary groups and books clubs22. Booktalks for senior citizens that relate to the life experiences or periods of time that the group may have lived during, help keep the audience intrigued and involved. The presenter should also take into consideration books that available in large print or audio format for older audiences23.

Booktalks for professionals, such as librarians and teachers, should generally be up to 5 minutes in length and include plot summary, genre, interest and reading levels, and note controversial issues and curricular interests24. Booktalks of this nature can be presented in a lecture format. The presenter may also consider including critical reviews from reliable publications.

Creating a traditional book talk

Most booktalk creators and presenters suggest only writing an outline of a booktalk so the booktalk can be presented less as a lecture and more as a conversation. They also recommend that the presenter not memorize a script. It is up to the discretion of the presenter exactly how much of the plot to talk about in the booktalk, but it is universally acknowledged that a booktalker should never give away the ending of the book.

In The Booktalker's Bible seven parameters are considered when planning a book talk: 1. Size of the group; 2. Age of the group; 3. Geography; 4. Time; 5. Money; 6. Frequency; and 7. Schedule25. This title also lists six "Golden Rules of Booktalking": 1. Read the Book; 2. Like the Books You Booktalk; 3. Know Your Audience; 4. Booktalk; 5. Don't Tell the Ending!; 6. Leave a List26.

When creating a booktalk, or editing a previously created booktalk, the presenter needs to remember to keep the talk short and simple. The presenter needs to be able to grab the audience's attention in the first sentence. Sonja Cole, host of the video booktalk website Bookwink.com, recommends keeping a booktalk for children to no more the seven sentences. Introduce the main character and setting in sentences 1 and 2, Summarize the conflict in 3 to 5, and sentences 6 and 7 should get the audience thinking about what happens next in the story27. When booktalking it is important to remember to connect with their previous experiences and engage with them. The presenter can also define and discuss the characteristics of the type of booktalk and some audiences will benefit from a comparison of print and film versions and why the book is almost always better28.

There are a variety of ways to approach a book talk. Lucy Schall8 (author of many guides to book talks) describes the three following common ways to perform a book talk for all ages:
  1. Sharing passages aloud and reader response
  2. Reflecting on specific passages for discussion or writing
  3. Preparing dramatic readings or performances

Caroline Feller Bauer29 offers the following unique alternatives to perform a booktalk for children:
  1. Making and using crafts with children appropriate to the themes of your books
  2. Performing simple magic tricks to illustrate the themes of your books
  3. Using puppets to act out certain passages in a book, to give a booktalk or to narrate a story.

Effectiveness of book talks

There is limited research conducted on the effectiveness of booktalks but they clearly demonstrate the increase of booktalked titles being circulated and lack of effect on reading attitudes6.
Joni Bodarts dissertation (1987)30 concluded that:
  1. Booktalked titles circulated from the library.
  2. Overall attitudes towards reading is unaffected by booktalks.

Pamela Dahls thesis (1988)31 concluded that:
  1. Booktalks can have an effect on the number of pages that students report for independent reading.
  2. Booktalks did not have any effect on students’ reading attitudes.
  3. Gender breakdown in terms of reading interests was pronounced: 61 percent of females read one book a week compared to 21 percent of males.

Gail Reeders dissertation (1991)32 concluded that:
  1. Booktalking significantly increased the circulation of booktalk titles.
  2. Booktalking did not result in a change in reading attitudes.
  3. Booktalking increased circulation of selected titles but did not extend to other books.

Terrence David Nollens dissertation (1992)33 concluded that:
  1. Booktalking had no effect on reading attitudes.
  2. Booktalking had significant effects on student's decisions to check out the booktalked titles.
  3. Booktalking affected student choice, but only for a very short time.

Further reading

  • Gillespie, John Thomas. Juniorplots: A Book Talk Manual for Teachers and Librarians. R.R. Bowker, 1967.
  • Gillespie, John Thomas. Juniorplots 4: A Book Talk Guide for Use with Readers Ages 12–16. R.R. Bowker, 1993.
  • Gillespie, John Thomas. More Juniorplots: A Guide for Teachers and Librarians. R.R. Bowker, 1977.
  • Gillespie, John T., Naden, Corinne. Classic Teenplots: A Booktalk Guide to Use with Readers Ages 12–18. Libraries Unlimited, 2006.
  • Gillespie, John T., Naden, Corinne J. Juniorplots 3: A Book Talk Guide for Use with Readers Ages 12–16. Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 1992.
  • Gillespie, John T., Naden, Corinne. Middleplots 4: A Booktalk Guide to Use with Readers Ages 8–12. R.R. Bowker, 1994.
  • Gillespie, John Thomas, Naden, Corinne. Seniorplots: A Booktalk Guide to Use with Readers Ages 15–18. R.R. Bowker, 1989.
  • Gillespie, John Thomas, Naden, Corinne. Teenplots: A Booktalk Guide to Use with Readers Ages 12–18. Libraries Unlimited, 2003.
  • Langemack, Chapple. The Booktalker's Bible: How to Talk about the Books You Love to Any Audience. Libraries Unlimited, Incorporated, 2003.
  • Spirt, Diana L. Introducing Bookplots: A Book Talk Guide for Use with Readers Ages 8–12. Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 1988.

External links