April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

How a Librarian Got Celebrities to Booktalk for Her School

Victoria henderson

Viktoria Henderson

One of my favorite parts of my job as an elementary school librarian is opening my students’ eyes to a new genre or subject through a booktalk. However, like many, I don’t always have the class time. So I started giving booktalks twice a week during our school-wide morning video announcements.

I choose one book to highlight during a one-minute segment. Sometimes it’s a brand-new title; other times I select an overlooked one that has been sitting on the shelf for far too long, or a series, so that many students can read books at once.

Last spring, I started thinking of ways for other people to introduce a wider variety of books to my students. I knew that it would help if these guest booktalkers were people that my students recognized so that their recommendations would be more meaningful. I would show videos of these local “celebrity booktalks” during morning announcements, as well as my own.

As this celebrity booktalk video idea formed, I needed to set goals and a schedule to help focus the project. I set a goal of receiving a talk from 30 celebrity readers during the summer break to use during the 2014–2015 school year.  I defined “celebrity” as anyone my students would recognize from the school system or TV: our superintendent, governor, news anchors, local college athletes, etc.

STAR 102.1 radio morning producer Tyrone Beach booktalks Caps for Sale.

After that, I created a Weebly Educator website for this project. I explained what I was doing, why I was asking for help, and how people could help me achieve my goal. I gave an example of a booktalk, along with a list of title suggestions for those who could not put their finger on a favorite childhood title. Once I had the website, it was time to share my project via social media.

After school let out for summer, I contacted local celebrities at news stations, the University of Tennessee athletics department, and government officials by email. Meanwhile, I promoted my project through Facebook and Twitter. It was through social media that my project was ultimately noticed, bringing in my first booktalk from actor Nikki Estridge, a Knoxville native who has starred on “Law & Order: SVU.” Estridge chose the childhood classic The Little Engine that Could  by Watty Piper.

Others started rolling in. Every time I get a new booktalk, I tweet to the person who created it to publicly thank him or her. I received booktalks from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and his wife, who talked about A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, and author and poet Nikki Giovanni, who spoke about “the Grasshopper’s Song,” a fable that she adapted in her book The Grasshopper’s Song: An Aesop’s Fable Revisited (Candlewick, 2008), illustrated by Chris Raschka. I got videos from local TV news anchors Gene Patterson, who promoted the series “Tom Swift” and “The Hardy Boys,” and Robin Wilhoit, who shared her love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie.

Knoxville WATE-TV News Anchor Lori Tucker booktalks Madeline and the Old House in Paris.

I was overwhelmed by the positive response from my colleagues and the community. Tweets, Facebook tags, and emails with suggestions of whom to contact, as well as notes from others offering to help contact potential contributors, poured in. Coworkers and the Twitter community retweeted about my booktalk project so many times that in early July, one of Knoxville’s local news stations asked me to do a segment about it for the evening news.

With all of the emails, Twitter shoutouts, and news coverage, I’ve received 18 book talks. The celebrities who contributed loved the opportunity to potentially spark a child’s lifelong love of reading.

While I did not make my goal of 30 booktalks, I feel quite pleased with the ones I did receive. Every reader went above and beyond what I was expecting. Students have loved seeing the booktalks on the video announcements and often request featured books.

This summer project of mine has shown me just how big a single idea can become. If you want to create your own booktalk project, here are some things to think about.

  • Set a reasonable goal. My first goal was 36 booktalks, or one book talk per week, for a whole school year. However, I realized that 36 was a lot to get during one summer, so I adjusted the goal to 30.  Remember, your project can be as big or as small as you want.
  • Set a time frame. Do you want this to be a year-long project? Month-long? For me, the summer was perfect, because I could focus on the project without typical workday stressors getting in the way. The two summer months also provided a timeframe I could handle, so I would not feel like I needed to work on it once school started.
  • Publicize your project. You need a way to share information about your endeavor and a way for people to contact you. I chose to use Weebly because of how easy it is to use their website and because they offer a free educator account. However, most Web or blog platforms should work. I also had celebrities contact me through the email address I have linked to my Twitter account, instead of my school email account, to prevent emails and submissions from getting spammed.
  • Talk it up in real time! When I first started, I did not discuss my idea with my coworkers. I didn’t know what they would think about me wanting to work over summer vacation. Once I decided to share and openly discuss it, though, I received more help and encouragement than I ever imagined. Without the assistance of my colleagues, the booktalks would not have been noticed by our local news.
  • Share everywhere. Twitter is a great way to get noticed, but don’t forget to share on Facebook or your state’s school librarian association site as well. I learned that with celebrities, it’s all about who you know. The more people who hear about your idea, the better response you will receive.

Viktoria Henderson (@MrsHendReads) is an elementary school librarian in Knoxville, TN.