Friday, October 17, 2008

Don't Shoot from the might backfire

Don’t shoot from the hip…it might backfire- or at least not be appreciated for the genius bit of writing that it is.

Reading aloud can be a powerful tool towards increasing the literacy of our students. Publishers try to help us by providing a reading interest level to guide us in our choices. However, one needs to be conscious of the fact that a book that is promoted interest level K-3, may not, in fact, be a good idea to read to kindergarten. They really work better with older students. If you have ever read Amelia Bedelia books to young students, you know exactly what I mean. I call these books: Don’t-shoot-from-the-hip-because-it-might-backfire books.

For example, one of my favorites is Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. It’s a love story about a caterpillar and tadpole who fall in love and promise to never change. That’s what these creatures do. They are all about change. The tadpole changes faster than the caterpillar. He is her “shiny black pearl” and she is “his beautiful rainbow.” When he breaks his promise the third time, she goes away angry and cries herself to sleep. Time passes and she has transformed into a beautiful butterfly. She has also lost her anger and decides to forgive him. She flies down to where the lily pad meets the water where a little green frog sits. “Have you seen my shiny black… But before she can finish her sentence, the frog leaps up and eats her- in one great gulp. And there he sits thinking fondly of his beautiful rainbow and wondering where she went. The end.”

Sometimes when I read this with adults, even they are taken aback. If you share this with your high school students, they will see the power of writing. They appreciate the surprise ending. It breaks the ice in a new class because people want to talk about it. If you read these to kindergarten, you may have to get out the box of tissues and spend the rest of the morning consoling little souls. So use the following books as a starter list of books that may be recommended by the publisher for K-3, but they will be better appreciated by grades 3-12.

Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis
Where Willy Went by Nicholas Allan
Whatever by William Bee
Beware the Frog by William Bee
Princess Justina by Ellen Dee Davidson
The Library Dragon by Carmen Deedy
Martina the Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Deedy

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Booktalking- Count the Ways

“So there I was tied to an altar of outdated encyclopedias about to be sacrificed by a group of evil librarians.” (Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson)

“If your teacher has to die, August is a good time of year for it.” (The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck)

Booktalking is a great way to get kids (or adults) to read books they may otherwise miss. There are lots of ways to do it. One way is by reading the first few sentences. Sometimes, as in the books above, it may only take one sentence to raise interest. You can also read the last paragraph in a chapter.

Which leads me to another idea- have your students collect first and last sentences in a graffiti-kind of way. Place a long sheet of bulletin board paper somewhere in the school. The cafeteria is a great place because it advertises the library outside the library. Title it: Best First Lines or Best Last Lines. Invite students to write lines from their favorite books, being sure to write the author and title.

I also use a document camera to booktalk. Sometimes I read just a few pages, leading up to the exciting point and then stop, telling them that if they want to know what happens, they can check out the book. Sometimes I use the document camera to do something that advertises the book. For example, I do a magic card trick that I learned from Sid Fleischman's webpage to sell his book, Houdini.

I am a huge fan of slide shows with book covers. In fact, that’s the backbone of my book presentations. Everyone can see the covers while I read from the book. It also makes a more lasting impression on those who need to see as well as hear. Right now publishers are fine with us using this method, as it sells books. As long as you are not doing it to save money or raise money, you are probably fine to copy a jpg and paste it into a slide show. You might even make one that loops as your screen saver in the library. If you have an announcement board or a television station, loop your slide show throughout the day to provide more exposure.

There are also places to go to learn more about booktalks. Nancy Keane has a website that features booktalking skills and examples. Many publishers have booktalks on their websites now. I noticed last night that Scholastic has video booktalks. Watch some of these and then let your students make their own video booktalks. Sometimes the kids can sell the books to themselves faster than you can.

Let me make a couple of final points about booktalking.
1. Read the book. You can’t sell a product you don’t know.
2. Read the blurb aloud. It’s a good refresher.
3. Show an interest in the books you are trying to sell.
4. Talk outside your own interests. (Even genres you don’t love.)
5. Talk about fiction and nonfiction. You will reach more readers.

Booktalking is the teacher/librarians’ product. If you love it, it will sell. If you keep trying, you can find the right match from product to client. Don’t give up. Books are like shoes. Not every shoe works for every foot. There is a book to match every Cinderella- or Prince Charming. Try 'em on and see.