I’m the librarian your teacher warned you about: YA Summer Reading Super-Short Booktalks

Like most of y’all public librarians, I’m doing lots of Summer Reading outreach right now. When it comes to daycares and elementary schools, I could knock out presentations for these kids in my sleep. When I meet with the teens, though, I get a little more than nervous. It’s like every single group of teens is its own separate country, complete with its own culture and laws and I’m just some literacy-crazy over-coffeed tourist. Does this make me sound old? Consider removing yourself from my lawn, OK?

Recently, my coworker and I headed over to a local high school to talk to the teens about summer reading.

In addition to the principal having no idea that we were going to show up (even though it was confirmed in a series of emails) and us having to scramble together some sort of audience for our booktalks, it also seemed like some of the teachers weren’t super-pumped to see us. Case in point, I was booktalking Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake in one of the classrooms. As I’m talking about how Anna rips her victims in half, the teacher starts making THE WORST NOISES:

Me: Are you OK?

Teacher: ::grimace::

Me: Do you…not like the book?

Teacher: I think students should be reading inspirational biographies about successful people, not this… ::grimace::

Me: Sometimes librarians and teachers aren’t on the same page when it comes to recreational reading. Those biographies might be fine for your classroom, but what they read on their own time is their own business.

No joke, the students burst out into applause at this point. I hope I accidentally sparked a crew of rebellious readers. Or maybe they just like to disagree with their teacher for sport. Hard to tell.

In any case, I thought I’d share my super-short booktalks. I’ve tested them out a bunch, and they’ve been tried-and-true crowd-pleasers. Even the surliest groups of jaded Brooklyn teens have liked these talks. I should say that I never memorize my booktalks word-for-word, even though they often come out sounding the same every time. I try to remember key points and then make my talk as conversational as possible. I like to start with questions if I can. I don’t care if the teens interrupt me. If they interrupt, at least I know they’re listening.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: Granted, not my favorite title. I’m going to be honest. The super-murderous ghost decides not to kill the dude and then they start making out?!? YOU CAN’T TAKE A MURDEROUS GHOST TO PROM, OK? But, it’s got a solid cover and premise, making it really good for booktalks.

I start by asking: How do you kill something that’s already dead? That’s the job of Cas Lowood, a modern day Ghostbuster (the teens got the Ghostbusters reference, so yay, olds). Cas mostly deals with super-violent ghosts that are out murdering and tormenting the living. Cas thinks he’s pretty good at his job until he faces his toughest ghost yet: Anna Dressed in Blood, who wears a dress that constantly bleeds. It’s known that Anna leaves no survivors. Though Cas thinks his chances of surviving Anna’s wrath are few, he faces her anyway. And while he doesn’t succeed in killing her, Anna spares his life. Why?

(To this, a teen said, “Is Cas ugly? Because if he’s not, maybe that’s why. Anna likes him.” Teens are smart. Don’t forget).

Everyday by David Levithan: Not my favorite by David Levithan, and it’s certainly problematic, but it does REALLY well in booktalks. It’s hard not to give A a gender, but I do my best.

The main character is called A, because A’s never had anyone to give them a name. You see, A wakes up in a different body every morning. A ages with the people they occupy: When A is three, they only wake up in the body of 3 year olds. Same for when A is 15. Other than that, A can wake up in a girl’s body or a boy’s, of any race. Anything is possible. A’s learned to live this way, how to seamlessly fit into the person’s life as to not cause problems. A can barely imagine another way of life, until one day, A falls meets a girl and falls in love. Now, A’s obsessed with getting back to her, not matter what body they’re in. How can A get find their way back to her each day? Could you fall in love with someone who looked different every day?

Sometimes the gender dynamics of this book can get the teens all hyped up (OMG A IS SOMETIMES A GIRL AND IS IN LOVE WITH A GIRL OMGGGG!!). Try and keep the discussion respectful and shut down any hateful speech. This one did really well in a recent visit, with teens snapping pics of the cover so they could remember it for later.

Black and White by Paul Volponi: I usually don’t booktalk books this old, but I really like Volponi and this book always gets this teens talking.

They’re named Eddie and Marcus, but everyone calls Eddie “White” because he’s white and call Marcus “Black” because he’s…(the teens yell out BLACCCCK and then I tell them how smart they are and we all have a good hearty chuckle). They’re best friends, almost like brothers. Every basketball team in the area is petrified of them, because they’re the best players around (I sound like a space alien when I talk about sportsball. It can’t be avoided). Black and White are always looking for extra cash, so they get the stupid idea to start holding people up and robbing them. They never intended to hurt anyone, but one day the stick-up goes bad and they accidentally shoot a man. Shoot him, but not kill him. The victim is able to identify Eddie and Marcus (at this point, the teens will start telling you about snitches). Now, the American justice system is supposed to be balanced, but what happens when two best friends enter the legal system? Who do you think is going to have a harder time? Black? Or White?

It’s a good conversation starter. Teens always want to take this one home, so I make sure I have lots of copies on hand.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan: I love this book. The end. Not every crowd can handle it because it talks about GAY THINGS, but you can usually suss out the mood when you walk into the classroom.

Would you do anything for the person you loved? (During one class visit, a teacher hit a kid in the arm and said, “SAY YES!” Couldn’t tell you why.) Sahar and Nasrin, two girls, have loved each other since as long as they can remember. While homosexuality is illegal in Iran, and is punishable by death, Sahar and Nasrin have been having a secret relationship. Everything is fine until Nasrin’s parents announce they have found a husband for her. Sahar is about to lose the woman she loves, when she finds that, in Iran, the government would allow and pay for much of her gender reassignment surgery. While Sahar is happy as a woman, as a man she could marry Nasrin. What lengths is Sahar willing to go to in order to be with the woman she loves?

This book is the best.

I used some other titles, to varying success. They’re great titles, but maybe I just need some more practice to get comfortable with them:

♥ I used the “Would you keep a secret, no matter what?”-angle for If I Lie by Corrine Jackson

♥ If they need a REALLY short book they can finish in no time: The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. Teachers like when you talk about teen pregnancy, right?

♥ Ritual human sacrifice, anyone?: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

What YA titles have you been booktalking recently?

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10 thoughts on “I’m the librarian your teacher warned you about: YA Summer Reading Super-Short Booktalks

  1. I love this post! You chose spot on books and I love the diversity of genres you offered! I noticed a typo (“were” for “we’re” in the line about the principal). Your post is ironcially suitable for my eyes as I’m transitioning from elementary to secondary librarian. I plan to check these books out over the summer…as I’m participating in summer-reading too! Well wishes to you and keep up the amazing work!

  2. Monica

    I love that you told off the teacher. I sneak that in a bit when I talk to 5th grade. Which is the oldest grade I usually book talk to (library turf wars). so I do a lot of middle grade books. This year, my plans are: The Great Greene Heist, The War That Saved My Life, The Port Chicago 50, Roller Girl, Into the Land of the Unicorns (at least one class has a teacher who gets them all into this series, and I shall now find out who! You know, instead of just asking because that’s boring), and possibly One Crazy Summer if I can’t get the second one in on time or can’t get enough copies for checking out. If I had older teens, I’d probably push Love is the Drug, Lumberjanes (not that it NEEDS older teens really — I think I decided against it ’cause there aren’t many copies in the system. Same prob with Nimona, which is also awesome.), Dorothy Must Die, The Name of the Star…hmmm and something NF. I do a variety since I’m also talking up Summer Reading and sneaking in “read what you want! Look! Choices!”

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