July 18th, 2015

reading ladders

Meet and greet

Arrived in St. Louis yesterday for the International Literacy Association Conference. After a wonderful dinner with Donalyn Miller, her BH, and our Heinemann editor, Tobey Antao, we walked back through the heat and humidity (and I am from Texas and still found it stultifying) to the hotel. There I'm the lobby, we heard cries of recognition. Hugs, handshakes, laughter ensued. That's the thing about conferences: we get to meet one another IRL (in real life). I know so many folks in an online environment, but it is wonderful to get to really meet them, even in the lobby of a hotel.

I suspect that today's wanderings in the Exhibit Hall will also produce wonderful moments. I am on the hunt for a few folks I have been longing to meet FTF for some time. I feel as though I know them well already, but I am so looking forward to a personal touch.

That personal touch works in other situations as well. I find it works wonders with books. For some readers, avid or less-than-enthusiastic, an array of books can be intimidating. We can narrow choices by placing books into displays and bins, suing spine labels, etc. But nothing says personal touch quite like the booktalk.

Booktalks do not all have to be formal presentations to a group. Last night at dinner, each one of us delivered brief talks about our recent finds. Books were added to Amazon wish lists or jotted down in notebooks. The thing is, there is not time to read it all. I read a lot, but I am barely scratching the surface. However, when someone I respect (and that is key here) tells me about a book, especially when the talk begins with, "I thought about you as I read this book," talks to me about a book, my immediate reaction is, "Can I have it now?"

I have written about booktalks and booktalking quite a bit, but I think it still gets lost in the shuffle. But I see evidence all the time that talking about books, offering a personal introduction to them, is effective. Here are some of the reasons why.

1. Before I can talk about books, I must read them. That means I am a reading model. It means I love books (at least the ones I am talking about). It means I make time and take time to read. It means I read the books my kids might want to read. It means I am committed to veering from the whole-class novel and giving kids lots more CHOICE when it comes to books.

2. As I talk about books, I am talking about what made me fall into the story or read further or flip pages excitedly. I am modeling what my engagement with the text looked like. One summer, quite a few years ago, I received an ARC of LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. I was reading it one afternoon while my fired was reading another book. I kept interrupting her to read passages, to share thoughts. Eventually, she put her book to one side, declared, "So hurry up and finish reading it, so I can!" I was not trying to sell her on the book; I was just sharing my excitement. Too often, kids do not get to see that process. But book talks show them, in part, that love of a book.

3. Booktalks serve to help students make choices about books that are more informed. Instead of cover design, length, or some other extraneous factor, kids are making decisions based more on the content of the book. Face it: we have all read books with covers that do not do them justice. However, we know not to judge a book by its cover, so we will read. Kids are more wary, more hesitant. And too many educators require a page count for books. My job in booktalking is to show that good books can be short, too. (and if you do not know 100 WORLD CLASS THIN BOOKS by Joni Bodart, find it and read it).

There are more reasons why booktalks work, but it is time for me to hit the showers, head to exhibits, and do some meeting and greeting (well, as soon as I finish a couple of chapters in the book I started this morning).