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Listening to Librarians and Educators Talk Back

"Listening to Teens Talk Back: Teen Responses to Booktalking
Styles" (VOYA February 2009) shared survey feedback from 2,922
teens Li stening to five-book booktalking sessions in high school s,
public librari es, and other community venues between January
2006 and August 2008. Locations included urban and small towns
in the Houston and Galveston, Texas, area as well as remote to
urban areas of North Carolina, from beach communities to small
mountain hamlets. A smaller number of booktalkers presented
talks to high school teens in Oklahoma, Colorado, West Virginia,
Connecticut, Minnesota, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
The initi al assumption that the first-person booktalk was
th e most po pul ar with li steners was based on my informal
di scuss io ns with teens as well as my experi ence booktalking
young adult titl es for more than two decades in locales as varied
as Alaska, Hawaii, Wisconsin, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Would thi s assumption hold true with a variety of booktalkers?
As an instructor of master's level courses in literature for young
adults, I had a ready pool of booktalkers who were K- 12 school
librari ans and classroom teachers, public librari ans, and a small
group without a school or librar y background.
Levels of bookt alking experience ranged from a few who
had been booktalking for many years to novices who had never
before heard of booktalking, let alone presented one. Those who
had booktaLked before had not done so in a structured format.
Many of the novice booktalkers, especiall y the elementary- level
educators, had not read young adult literature pri or to choosing
the titl es for the booktalking session so they were asked to select a
theme on which to focus before selecting their five books, four of
which had to be YA titl es recommended for hi gh school age teens.
The remaining titl e could be a crossover book, but most chose
exclusivel y YA titles.
The theme not only helped the booktalkers select titl es, it also
proved to be fun for the teens. A booktaLker who chose a "secrets,
do we share or hide them?" theme commented after booktalking
to a "tough" group of eleventh graders: "As I wrapped up the first
book and began to move into the second book, a student from the
far side of the room suddenl y said, ' Hey! What's the secret?' By
the end of the second book, when anot her student call ed out ' So
you ain't gonna tell us that secret either?' I knew I had garnered
interest and felt successful."
A few of th e booktalkers initi ally challenged the idea that
older teens would enjoy hear ing booktalks. A novice booktalker
who teaches hi gh school Spani sh commented that she had not
heard of booktalking before and "was not sure a group of teens
would be interested in listening to me talk about books; however,
I found the experi ence to be a positi ve o ne." Another, moving
from working in a bookstore to a school librar y, noted that she
initi aIJy felt that booktalking was "irrelevant and too elementary
for hi gh school students, but I was compl etely wrong. If anything,
booktalks are more relevant to high school st udents than younger
students." Although th ere was an occasional booktalker who
honestl y stated in the concluding self-evaluation that he/she did
not enjoy booktalking, all acknowledged that it was an effecti ve
reading incenti ve ac ti vit y with older teens. Even when the
booktalker was not a "natural" at this reading incentive technique,
the teens still enjoyed hearing the booktalks.
The booktalkers involved in this still-ongoing study received
sa mpl e theme-based booktalking session transcripts, video
footage of a booktalking session, sample individual booktalks,
and access to online sites for addressing booktalking techniques.
They also received instruction on creating a five- book theme- based
booktalking session with booktalks presented in three different
styles. The first-person booktalks involved becoming one of the
characters in the book. The di scussion booktaLk shared a funny
or scary incident in the book, and the excerpt style required the
booktalker to read a sect ion of text fro m the book. Participants
were expected to present one of each booktalk styl e, with the other
two booktaLks' styles self-selected. Most chose either the excerpt or
the di scussion style for the other two booktalks.
It is interesting to note that a number of th e parti cipant s'
self-evaluations indi ca ted that they surpri sed th emselves by
di scovering the first-person style to be the most fun to present. A
new middl e school librari an, booktalking with hi gh school teens
for the first time, openly admitted her initial lack of confidence
in presenting the first- person talk but went on to share her
delight in being able to relax and even add a few new lines that
weren't in her notes. Anot her excitedl y shared that one of the
teens asked her if that had reaIJy happened to her. The teen was so
into the first-person booktaLk that she had totall y forgotten that
the booktalker had take n on a character's persona and was not
sharing her own story.
The assumption that listeners would respond the most positively to
the first-person style booktalk in sessions with older teens proved
to be correct, with 42 percent of the teens choosing the first-person
style as their favorite. The data from the hosts, mainly librarians,
teachers, and youth- group leaders, also indi cated that the fi r st-
person booktalk was their favorite style. The teens' and hosts' second
choice was the excerpt style. Last place went to the discussion style.
Among the 180 hosts (some booktalkers had more than one
host), only 24 were male, with half of this small group choosing
the first-person style as their least favorite booktaLk style. With so
few male hosts involved, thi s subset of data may not be extremely
relevant, but it is supported by a male public library YA speciali st
who stated that hi s "main gripe with the first-person presentation
is that it seems awfull y condescending for the older teens; a good
marketing tool perhaps, or a good tool to use online, but when
presented vocall y it seems too childish."
As was the case with the hosts, a majority of the booktalkers
were wo men. It was, therefo re, no surpri se th at most of the
first-person booktalks presented were for books wit h female
protagonists, which may also help expl ain why 45 percent of the
girls but onl y 39 percent of the boys chose the first- person style
VOY4. presents peer-reviewed articles to share research with a wider audience. Research articles are reviewed for publication by VOYA's Editorial Board.
~ 7 I VOYA February 2010 www.voya.com
Host Responses to Booktalking Session
120 +-____________________________________________ __
49% 51 %
Heard Before Present ed Before
as their favo rite. Perhaps if more of the booktalkers had been
male and presented first-person booktalks for books with male
protagonists, the percentage of boys choosing that style as thei r
favo rite style mi ght have been higher and the male hosts wou ld
have seen that teens, both male and female, respond favorably to
men presenting thi s "entertaining" booktaLk style.
Sur vey results and informat ional discussio n with teens about
bookt aLk styles indicated that they do not respond weLl to lengthy,
plot-dri ven, summary style booktalks. They do, however, respond
well to a booktalk that pulls them in immediately with a quick
question, which requiTes no more than a nod or shake of the listener's
head, and then qui ckly focuses on a suspenseful or funny incident in
the book, an intriguing character, or a unique setti ng. Some novice
booktaLkers, however, saw the term discussion and assumed that whil e
presenting thi s style, they were to engage in a group conversa ti on
with the teens. But two things often happen when opening the floor
to discussion during a str uctured booktalk ing session-it takes too
much of the booktalking session time or t he teens stop li stening
because it feels too much like a lesson. Equally important, the fl ow
of the booktaLking session has been broken and it may be difficult,
especiall y for a novice booktalker working with a group of teens with
whom she does not regularly interact, to get the talkative teens back
on track and wake up the ones who zoned out.
BooktaLkers learn in their instructions that teens may choose not
to interact with a booktaLker, especiall y someone they do not know.
They may stare, expressionless, at the booktalker or look away and
act as if they are not paying attenti on. The booktalkers were told to
assume that the teens were paying attention but to make sure the
questions were ones to which the teens could respond with a shake
or nod of their heads. Noting that without this pri or understanding
of how unresponsive teens may be, a novice booktalker said she
would have been quite unnerved but happil y went o n to state
that "although the students did not appear to be interested at the
outset, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were paying
attention to a great degree. Taken a step further, not only were they
paying attention, but judging by the fact that many students wa nted
to check out the books selected, the teens also were engaged and
partici patory. The one great lesson that I have learned, is that at
different stages of development, a lack of overt interest does not
necessaril y indicate di sinterest."
Effecti ve
o Yes
The excerpt-style booktalk received the second highest percentage
of both teens and hosts choos ing it as their favo rite style. Excerpt-
st yle booktalks cl early hold a solid middl e ground, even when
exa mining th e d ata as to teen a nd host least favorite styles.
Onl y 30 percent of the teens and 28 percent of hosts chose the
excerpt style as their least favor ite. The survey results suggest that
although the first-person booktalk was rated the favorite style
by the largest number of teens and hosts, they also enjoyed the
excerpt style, which is a solid entr y in any booktaLking session.
With the above data in mind, even the most novice booktalker
ca n be successful by sta rting o ut with excerpt- style booktalks.
Normall y able to read aloud weLl , librarians and teachers shoul d
be abl e to enti ce teens to read books they have introd uced via
an excerpt that has teens wa nting to know more. Although t he
first-person and discussion-style booktalks must be self-c reated,
an excerpt-style booktalk requires onl y the select ion of a passage
of text to pique the li steners' attenti o n. Savvy booktalkers flag
the excerpts that will make great book talk conten t as they read.
Needing a booktalk quickly, all they need to do is pick up t he
book, flip to a marked excerpt, and begin reading.
As simpl e as reading aloud is to get teens involved in a book,
informal input from both hi gh school teachers and libraria ns, as
well as teens, indi cates that few hi gh school teachers read aloud to
their st udents. Knowing that 30 percent of the almost 3,000 teens
who attended the booktalking sessions selected the excerpt as their
favorite style of booktalk should have secondary school educators
rethinking the notion that reading alo ud is only for children.
The di scussio n-style booktalk was chosen as the least favori te
by 44 percent of t he teens and 37 percent of the hosts. Some
booktalkers expressed t heir disbelief over t he negative survey
responses fro m the teens as they fe lt that they had presented a
credible discussion-style booktaLk. One, however, openl y admitted
that a few of the boys a ppea red "glassy-eyed" wi th boredom,
but as a novice booktalker, she was afraid to deviate from what
she had prepared. Others ack nowledged th at they had gotten
February 2010 VOYA 1f,77
Most Favorite Booktalk Style
45 ,------------------------------------------------
0 +--'---
First Person
carri ed away and offered too much of the pl ot. Perhaps the word
di scussion had been a poor choice as the defi ning "titl e" for the
third booktalk style. Referring to it as a descripti ve booktalk style
mi ght have res ulted in attenti on-getting booktalks that focused
on an incident , a character, or a unique setting rather than the
lengthy book summari es and gro up discussions that the teens
did not like. A booktalker who is also a teacher offered insi ght
into why a majo rity of her teen audi ence chose the discussion
style as their least favorite: " Fro m a teacher's perspective, I ca n
understand [it ]. St udents fee l that they are lectured to all of the
time by their parents, teachers, and ot her ad ults in their li ves.
Therefo re, [because] the discussion-style booktalk most closely
represented lecturing, I can understand why st udents favored it
the least."
It is, however, heartening to note, especiall y for the booktalkers
worried that a poorly received booktalk resulted in a cool recepti on
to the book as well , that thi s concern was not typically the case.
The teens were also asked, of the five books introduced, which one
they would be most likely to read and whi ch one they would be
least likely to read. The responses indi cated that a majori ty of the
teens clearly separated the booktalk style fro m the book itself. They
were as likely to choose a title they'd most likely read that had been
booktalked in their least favorite style as one introduced in their
favorite style. It also proved true that favoring a parti cular booktalk
style did not necessitate that the teens choose a book to read that
had been introduced in t his style. The teens' responses confirmed
that a "fa il ed" booktalk did not condemn the book, no r d id a
hi ghl y successful booktalk guarantee that the teens would select the
book as the one they wanted to read.
The sur veys indi cate that a majo rit y of the teens and hosts who
had the opport unit y to listen to the booktalkers enj oyed the
exper ience. It is interes ting to note that o nly 35 percent of the
tee ns indi cated they had heard a booktalk before, but almost
twi ce as many hosts indi cated that they had previously hea rd
booktalks . The sta ti sti cs, however, cha nge s ignifica ntl y in
relat ion to the number of hosts who had presented booktalks
478 I VOYA February 2010
31 %
o Teens
An interesting subset of host data ind icated that a majority of
the Engli sh teacher hosts had heard booktalks before, but fewer
than iO percent had presented a booktalk. On the other hand, all
forty-four school and public librari an hosts had heard booktalks
before, and onl y one public library YA speciali st noted that she
had not presented a booktalk.
Although the teens were not asked if they had ever presented
a booktalk, it is interesting to note that the two comments abo ut
teens presenting booktalks came fro m no n-school hosts. The
first, from an adviso r of a public librar y's Mock Print z Book
Club, noted that the booktalker had "a tough teen crowd because
these teens booktalk every ot her weekend." The other was a youth
group leader who noted that he wa nted the teens to begin doing
their own booktaLks.
Some of the librari an hosts noted that Li stening to the booktalks gave
them the incentive they needed to do more booktalking. Comments
from many of the host teachers i.ndi cated that there would be future
requests for their school librar ians to present booktalks to their
students. An English teacher who wanted the booktalker to return
next year and present to all of her English classes added, "[ would
also like to see our librarian do thi s for us!" A health teacher, very
pleased with the session, suggested that booktaLks should "be done
in every class to enti ce the students to read."
A few of the teachers said they would like to give booktalking
a try, but most ind icated they would prefer that the booktaLkers
revisit their classrooms and present more booktalks with their
students. A male hi story teacher stated the booktalker " had the
students in the palm of her hand . .. it was a pleasure fo r her to
come in and ' take over.'" Not all of the booktalkers received such
glowing praise, but it was evident from the host comments that
they recogni zed the pos it ive impact the booktaLker had on the
teen li steners and themselves. A U.S. Hi story department chair
wrote, " I had oth er booktalks in my room, but never befo re
have they made me wa nt to read the books immediately!" Other
host comments included "the st udents were spellbound" and
"awesome booktalk!" A male teacher hosting a group of teenage
boys wrote that they "wanted to check o ut books immediately! "
www.voya. com
Least Favorite Booktalk Style
5 0 ~
o +--'----
First Person Excerpt
There were onl y t wo hosts who ind icated th ey wo uld no t
invite the booktalker for a return performance. Both were publi c
librar y YA speciali sts who had presented booktalks and were less
than charitabl e to the visiting booktaLkers in their comments. A
compari son of their sur veys and those of the teens they hosted
indi ca tes how differentl y adult s and teens ca n view the sa me
booktal king session. Both hosts li sted the first-person as their least
favo rite style and the di scussion as their fa vorite style. Both groups
of teens, however, predominantl y chose the first-person booktalk
as their favo rite st yle. Perhaps the teens' pos iti ve res ponse to the
visiting booktalkers and that style made the hosts uncomfo rtabl e
abo ut their own booktalking abiliti es.
The final questi on for the hosts was if they considered booktalking
an effecti ve reading incenti ve ac ti vit y with tee ns. Onl y t wo of
the 180 hosts sur veyed, both cl ass room teachers, indi cated that
they did not think booktalking was an effective reading incentive
acti vity. The o ther respo nses were affi rmati ve. Novice and veteran
booktalkers ali ke enti ced their audi ences, both teens and hosts, to
meet new YA books and authors. Several host teachers noted that
they co uldn' t wait to read the books. Others observed that they
had no idea that there were books like these publi shed specifi call y
fo r teens and that they planned to start reading YA titl es. An 11th
grade Engli sh teacher commented that the books "became instant
favorites, as there is a waiting li st to check them out of the librar y
medi a cente r." A librari an obser ving a booktalking session in a
9th grade Engli sh cl ass stated that the "students were excited and
wa nted the book before she even fini shed the booktalk."
The hos ts, mos tl y librari ans and teachers, with a few school
administrators and youth group leaders added to the mix, observed
booktaLkers in acti on- introducing YA literature in an entertaining
mann er whil e success full y interactin g with teens. The hos ts
observed a reading incenti ve activit y that cl earl y was effective in
engaging the hi gh school teens. Subsequent e- mail s from librari ans
in t wo of the host school s no ted that the booktalked titl es, as
well as the simil ar titl es the booktalkers had recommended on an
annotated book list handed out to the teens, had waiting lists. One
o Teens
of these librari ans was cl earl y delighted that teens who had not
heard the booktalks were coming to the library for a copy of the
handout and to add their names to the waiting li sts. The teens were
even overheard booktaLking amongst themselves.
Older teens rarely hea r booktaLks, but when they do, a major ity of
these teens are avid li steners and the books int roduced are wait-
li sted in their hi gh school cl assrooms and librari es. Hi gh school
level teachers are as unawa re of the wealth of leisure reading YA
literature for their student s as are the old er teens themselves.
Based o n th e o ld er t ee ns' ve r y ev ident lac k of kn owledge
abo ut books th at are writt en fo r them, it is essenti al that YA
librari ans and others who work with hi gh school age teens read,
recommend, and booktalk teen t itles that will appeal to thi s older
group. We need to be sharing our enthusiasm fo r upper level YA
books and the aut hors who write them.
Botto m line-booktalks enti ce older tee ns and anyo ne else
who is within hearing di stance to read books for pure enjoyment.
Booktalkers can share their ent husiasm fo r YA titl es by taking on
the persona of a book character, sharing an exciting event from a
book, or reading a cli ffh anger excerpt. Booktalks can take pl ace in
a structured setting, but informal booktalks happen anywhere-in
the hall ways, in the stacks of t he library, in the teachers' lounge, in
the lunchroom, on the bus, in the local bookstores, and yes, even
in the hi gh school cl assroom.
Where booktalking happens va ri es greatl y, but chances are you
will recogni ze an avid booktalker- he/she is the one with a book
in hand and cl ea rl y can' t wa it to talk about it. .
Ruth Cox Clark is a Department of Library Science Associate Professor in the
College of Education at East Carolilla University in Greenvi lle, North Carolina.
She teaches children's and young adult li terature courses as well as writes
professional booktalkitlg books and loves to booktalk with teens alld anyone else
who will listen to her talk about books. She also reviews for VOYA and Library
Media Connection. You can find her on her blog at ht tp://MadChat terYA.
blogspot.com or contact her via email at c1arkr@ecu.edu.
February 2010 VOYA I 7 9
TITLE: Listening to Librarians and Educators Talk Back
SOURCE: Voice Youth Advocates 32 no6 F 2010
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