Book talking — tips to fire a passion for reading

Book talks are a powerful way of promoting books and reading to students. These lively, quick-fire presentations highlight some aspect of a book to intrigue and entice readers. Book talking increases awareness of character, style, and themes while bringing attention to potential future reads.

Books in a speech bubble

Book-talking basics

Book talks (as opposed to book chats, which are more informal chats about books that can take place anywhere, anytime) are usually prepared in advance and can be given by librarians, school leaders teachers, or students. Pernille Ripp, for example, writes about how she encourages students to share recommendations with 30-second book talks.

Unshelved’s book review format uses an appealing three-part framework for promoting books to others, and avoiding 'plot re-telling'.

  • Why I picked it up — why I chose it, what appealed — cover, author, recommendation, genre etc.
  • Why I finished it —what kept me reading — characters, plot, language, humour, setting etc.
  • Who I would give it to — what sort of reader might like this book, what are this title’s 'read-alikes'.

Additional tips

  • Read the book and take a few notes on plot, setting, characters, themes, and a hook- like a question.
  • Start the talk with the hook or an attention-grabbing sentence.
  • Do your own thing and create your own style.
  • Read an excerpt, if appropriate — can be a hook or to end your talk.
  • Keep it short and snappy — think of a 30-second advertisement.
  • Link book to others, e.g. same author, series, genre, themes.
  • Don’t give too much away and definitely don’t tell the ending!

Ideas from book-talking pros

Ohaeawai School Librarian, Liz Christensen, sometimes gathers up all the books in a series or two and then does an exciting promotional book talk in a class library time. She calls this doing a 'book flood'. Choosing a series with enough titles to get some 'critical mass' means that the series 'goes viral' within that class for a term or so, borrowed and returned between students in the class, building reading enthusiasm, mileage, modelling, and shared experiences.

Megan Davidson, Teacher Librarian at Westlake Girls’ High School, has shared how she book-talks (pdf, 702KB) to students and the various hooks she uses to entice readers. In this video, Megan book-talks 21 books in 9 minutes, averaging 25 seconds per book (shortest is 6 seconds, longest 51 seconds). The way the girls hurtle to the table at the end of her presentation to grab the books they want is proof of the impact this tactic has.

Have a look at the results of the annual 30-second book-talk competition on Jennifer LaGarde’s Adventures of Library Girl’s website. Jennifer says: 'It’s about kids and books and about how adults with passion can bring them together.'

The Principal of Mahurangi College, David Macleod, demonstrates the powerful effect of school leaders talking about books on students' enthusiasm for reading in the Creating a school-wide reading culture video on our web page: A school-wide reading culture.

Tip — be prepared for demand following your talk

As shown in the Mahurangi College video, if you're a teacher or school leader, it's a good idea to let your school librarian know you’re giving a book talk so they can be prepared for any demand that the book talk may generate.

Have a 'books to consider' list

Book talks can help students choose a book to read right now, snaffling it off the pile of books they've just been shown. These talks can also help students create a 'to read' list of books that have caught their interest for future reference.

Stephen Layne, in his book Igniting a Passion for Reading (Stenhouse, 2009) describes how he includes regular student book chat / 'buzz about books' sessions in his classroom programme. Students jot down any titles mentioned they are interested in to refer to later. In the younger classes, this is called their 'someday' book list, for the older students it is 'books to consider'. He also talks to students about choosing books from the library as 'going shopping', and we know having a list is a big help for that task, whether selecting from supermarket or library shelves.

What would work for your students to keep a 'to-be-read' list of title suggestions?

  • Use a pen and paper notebook?
  • Use a digital platform, for example:
    • a Google doc or Book Depository wish list, or
    • a GoodReads or LibraryThing account with 'want to read' tags?

Book talks are all about helping to make connections between books and readers, scaffolding choices, and building interest and enthusiasm.

Find out more

Reading promotion — ideas for creating and promoting a reading culture in your school.

Helping students choose a book for reading pleasure — advice for helping students learn how to find a ‘just right’ book.

Build better book talks is a catchy short video (3mins), with tips for book talking by Dr Brad Gustafson.

By Jeannie Skinner

Jeannie is a Facilitator in the National Capability Services team with Services to Schools.

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