February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Integrating Nonfiction into Your Summer Booktalking | Nonfiction Notions

Most public librarians do some kind of summer presentation to local schools before summer gets underway. Even if you haven’t yet weaseled your way into—Ahem. That is, been invited to—your local schools yet, there are ways to promote your upcoming summer reading/learning program with eye-catching displays, interactive bulletin boards, and, of course, booktalking. I’ve always found spring to be the perfect time to share great new titles from the past year, and, since I’m presenting not only to the kids but to the teachers and librarians at our local schools, this is a great time to share what’s new and exciting. I usually take approximately 50 titles or more to my upper grade and middle school audiences. I also create a Pinterest board featuring all of the titles, which allows the kids, school librarians, and teachers to track down the books that caught their attention during my presentation.

While my general mode of booktalking is to spread out the books and let the kids pick which ones they want to hear about (then cram as many booktalks into 20 or 30 minutes as I can), I will also do some prepared booktalks to highlight special titles I want my audience to know about. I make it a point to include many nonfiction titles and I love to pair them with more familiar fiction titles. So, without further ado, here are the hot titles of 2015 and 2016 that I plan to promote to my schools in May and June.

000 LincolnOne of the popular titles I presented at last year’s pre-summer booktalks was Kate Hannigan’s The Detective’s Assistant. This historical fiction novel is a fast-paced mystery, complete with coding challenges.  It’s based on the true story of the first female detective in Alan Pinkerton’s famous agency, Kate Warne. I now have a great nonfiction pairing for this title: Samantha Seiple’s Lincoln’s Spymaster, a riveting account of Pinkerton’s life and adventures as America’s first detective. Although the book addresses Pinkerton’s life, from his origins as a cooper to the struggles of his agency in his declining years, the main focus is the thrilling adventures of the agency during the Civil War. There are plenty of hair-raising plots and escapades as readers learn how Pinkerton tracked down spies and Confederate sympathizers and saved Lincoln from assassination and, best of all, coverage of Kate Warne and other female operatives! Lincoln’s Spymaster is a fantastic title to introduce fans of mystery and adventure to some true-life action.

For kids who are more into fantasy, summer is a time to revisit favorites and catch up on new titles000Vikings and sequels they may have missed during the school year. As I prepare for the on-rush of summer readers, I usually haul my extra copies of “Harry Potter”, “Dork Diaries”, and other popular series out of storage. This year, the hot new fantasy titles of summer are likely to be Rick Riordan’s latest mythology-based titles, including his new series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.” Which means it’s the perfect time to promote Norse history! Ben Thompson’s “Guts & Glory” series continues with The Vikings, a riveting historical account that’s full of humor, gore, and some thoughtful discussions of how historians determine truth from myth. Readers who are willing to tackle Riordan’s thick fantasy titles will have no problem plunging into Thompson’s in-depth look at this larger-than-life history.

Our voracious readers are covered with these bulky fantasy and historical titles, but what about more reluctant readers? School is out and they don’t see any reason why they should have to go through the misery of reading a—groan—book during the long, lazy days of summer. For these kids, I offer something a little different: how-to books. I haven’t encountered other librarians who regularly booktalk these types of titles, but they should. How-to titles appeal to kids not enthused about reading a novel and those who are interested in learning new skills or doing fun activities over the summer. I look for titles that are colorful and appealing, include both text and graphics in their instructions, showcase a diversity of kids, and introduce a range of activities.

000JewelryFor summer booktalking, I usually turn to Lerner’s hands-on titles which fulfill all my requirements. My top picks for this summer include a title from their new “Style Secrets” series, Jewelry Tips & Tricks, which includes not only helpful hints on choosing, wearing, and storing jewelry, it also covers hand-made jewelry. The activities are primarily simple; safety-pin bracelets, feather earrings, and other jewelry that tweens can make with minimal adult assistance using common or inexpensive items.

For kids who want to pick up a little cash over the summer, I will be recommending the “You’re in Business” series, specifically Get a Job Making Stuff to Sell. From the classic lemonade stand to bake sales, making your own soap, or more artistic pursuits, there’s something for

everyone to try. Even if readers don’t make a profit, they’ll have fun and learn some new skills along the way, including managing their money and marketing their business. This is a great title to booktalk to both boys and girls, as it’s very careful to avoid stereotyping the projects by gender, uses gender-neutral colors and layout, and doesn’t assume kids are going to stick to traditional norms (girls babysit, boys mow lawns, etc.).

Finally, two Lerner titles from 2015 were such a big hit at last year’s booktalking I’ll be bringing them again: Plan a Birthday Party and Plan a Sleepover Party from the “Party Time!” set. These titles include themed party ideas, activity suggestions, to-do checklists for preparing, and even hints on party etiquette. The models featured show a wide variety of ethnicities, and, although they are primarily female, there are a few boys pictured as well. Best of all, they discuss budgeting and offer many suggestions for inexpensive fun. Put all these titles together and kids may be inspired to create their own jewelry to sell in order to raise funds for a party!

While kids may dismiss nonfiction as “boring” or “just for school” when they’re getting ready for summer reading and activities, if you bolster your booktalking with these exciting historical adventures and hands-on activity titles, you’ll have them clamoring to read nonfiction all summer long.


Titles Referenced

  • The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316403511
  • Lincoln’s Spymaster by Samantha Seiple. Scholastic. ISBN 9780545708975
  • The Vikings by Ben Thompson. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316320566
  • Jewelry Tips & Tricks by Emma Carlson Berne. Lerner. ISBN 9781467752206
  • Get a Job Making Stuff To Sell by Ryan Jacobson. Lerner. ISBN 9781467738378
  • Plan a Sleepover Party by Stephanie Watson. Lerner. ISBN 9781467738323
  • Plan a Birthday Party by Stephanie Watson. Lerner. ISBN 9781467738354
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Jennifer Wharton About Jennifer Wharton

Jennifer Wharton is the youth services librarian at the Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. You can follow more of her library adventures at jeanlittlelibrary.blogspot.com.

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  1. Marybeth says:

    Love the idea of book talking how-to books to reluctant readers! Thanks for the great tip!