How to Present Your Favorite Books
When it comes to talking up our favorite books to the kiddies, I figure librarians need as much help as they can get. We are a communal community. Ideas aren’t hoarded. We don’t come up with an awesome way to booktalk a Frances Hardinge novel and then greedily keep our style to ourselves for fear of someone "stealing" our technique. One of the things I love about my occupation is that it’s an exchange of ideas. With that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to clue you in on the New York Public Library’s most recent presentation of "Children’s Books 2007: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing".
Every year, NYPL chooses the 100 best children’s books of a given year. I served on the 2006 committee and I can tell you right now that it was a ton of fun. You’d be amazed how hard it is to whittle down all the children’s books of the year to a mere 100 too. Still, every year the librarians of NYPL do it and it tends to be a pretty good list. If you don’t find a Newbery winner on there that’s usually because we deemed it teen at one point (ex: Kira-Kira and Criss Cross).
In celebration of this list, NYPL likes to gather together all its children’s librarians (remember that we have 84 branches, some with more than one children’s librarian or library assistant). They sit down, eat black and white cookies, and various children’s librarians talk up books on the list. John, my boss, got things rolling by discussing some of the non-fiction on the list. He was actually able to tie together five different books with one overarching theme. Discussing the evolution of creatures he went from When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm by Hannah Bonner, lobbing insects finger puppets into the audience. John has a good arm. From there he discussed the start of Venom by Marilyn Singer, which led nicely into Nic Bishop’s Siebert Honor Medalist Spiders. At that point he started chucking spider finger puppets as well. Librarians love finger puppets, so this was a very popular move. Sneeze by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel discussed tiny critters we can’t see, and it all ended with Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre, with pictures by Steve Jenkins. Vulture View, by the way, is a GREAT readaloud! I had no idea. I thought the pictures were fine, but I’d never tried to read it to a group before. It’s amazing! If you need a great non-fiction readaloud for a class of kids, I can’t recommend it enough.
After John was done, my other co-worker Warren (he of the blog Children’s Music That Rocks) got up with his guitar. He was presenting The Long Gone Lonesome History of Country Music and had Xeroxed the page with the funny country singer names for easy reference. This was one of my favorite books from last year, and Warren certainly did it justice. He discussed the history of country music, peppering his talk with some songs. Who knew he could yodel so well too? Amazing. And if you haven’t sat in an audience of children’s librarians in New York, 55% of whom know all the words to that Hank Williams honky tonk tune, Hey, Good Lookin’, then you have not lived.
Harlem Branch librarian Rebecca discussed The Lemonade War. Her lovely assistant Louise was able to supplement the booktalk with handmade signs. So when Rebecca talked about Evan’s first lemonade stand, Louise held up a very plain sign with the word lemonade misspelled. And when she talked about Jessie’s lemonade stand Louise held up a complex, well-colored, sparkly, truly awesome sign. It made for a good talk.
Jenny of the Yorkville Branch had a different take with her look at The True Meaning of Smekday. Jenny doesn’t like doing booktalks and she suggested bringing in the audio-visual elements into a Smekday booktalk. With her projected Internet we all watched that fabulous video on Adam Rex’s Smekday website. It killed with the audience, let me tell you. She had also printed out J. Lo’s reasons why you should read the book, which was very funny.
I’m not much of a poetry person but Esther of the Edenwald Branch gave the poetry section a bit of a kick with Bugs: Poems About Creeping Things by David Harrison, Good Sports by Jack Prelutsky, and This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman. I’d never read the Sidman book and hearing the poems presented here I was sad to have missed it last year. What a great book. I know you can’t see everything that comes out in a given year, but I should have given that a read anyway. *sigh*
Danita (our Bronx Borough Office specialist) did booktalks for our early chapter books. We call them Young Readers and 2007 was a great great year for them. Danita’s a pro too. She did a great Rickshaw Girl talk (it’s by Mitali Perkins) and was able to segue it into Sallie Gal and the Wall-a-Kee Man by Shelia P. Moses (which was another great book I missed last year). Then she did the near impossible and booktalked Violet Bing and the Grand House by Jennifer Paros. I think that book is amazing, but I wouldn’t have known where to begin with a booktalk for it. It all wrapped up with Trolls, Go Home! by Alan MacDonald, which I also missed.
Louise (Manhattan Borough Office specialist) topped off these presentations with a bit of old-fashioned storytelling. She memorized the tale "Mothah Skunk Meets Sherman Curtis" from Tomie DePaola’s Front Porch Tales and North Country Whoppers, which worked well. I guess that if you have to booktalk a collection of stories, the best way to do this would be to tell one of them. Particularly if they are short and involve really stinky characters.
Now, to really drill home some of the music in these books, some of us had been asked to dance. Back in the day, I danced a lot. I took ballet and Scottish Highland dancing lessons. So when our materials specialist asked me to do something for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz I was aware that I didn’t know any medieval folk dances off the top of my head. I do know a sword dance, and with a little stretching, maybe we could claim that someone in Scotland was doing it by this point. If we are to believe Wikipedia (always a dangerous thing to do) then "The earliest reference to these dances in Scotland is mentioned in the ‘Scotichronicon’ which was compiled in Scotland by Walter Bower in the 1440s." Well . . . . close enough for government work, as they say. So we got out the CD of Christmas Revels and before the meeting I went somewhere secluded to practice the dance. A couple problems presented themselves.
A) No swords. Yardsticks work in a pinch, but you’d be amazed at how few yardsticks exist in the current professional workplace. I got some rulers, but they didn’t seem adequate to the job.
B) The music didn’t work. It said "sword dance" right there on the packaging, but when I popped it in it wasn’t your standard bagpiper ditty. It was more like a sword dance on Ambien.
C) We were doing this presentation in a room with a bunch of chairs. Which meant that no one would be able to see my feet except for the people in the first row. And at this point the only people in the first row were Laura Vaccaro Seeger and her editor Neal Porter (more on that later). So . . . hm.
Change of plans! Now I was going to do a Highland Fling. I hadn’t danced it since I was twelve, but that’s okay. It’s simple to remember (only four steps), and you’re basically jumping up and down in one spot, which any fool can do. So I ditched the sword dance (which I didn’t remember as well anyway) and I also ditched the idea of wearing a plaid skirt. I love librarians, but there’s no need to flash them inappropriately at these things.
So I did the dance and it ended a little sooner than I expected, but that was fine. I only got in 3 out of the 4 steps. And then, the next day, I am in pain. I am not kidding you. My husband and I were watching Ratatouille on the couch, I went to stand, and my legs seized up. Which is nuts. I know I’m not 12 anymore, but you know how old I AM? I’m 29, people. 29 and I can’t jump up and down for 3 steps of a Highland Fling without finding myself in severe pain the next day. Crazy! I mean, I have a gym membership and everything, but already I could hear my 12-year-old self laughing at my old lady muscles. *sigh*
After the music Laura Vaccaro Seeger stood up and . . . can I say something? I am in love with Laura Vaccaro Seeger. I mean, I liked her fine before she started to speak, but the minute she started talking I was mesmerized. She’s amazing! Have any of you watched her presentation before? Well, with her editor Neal Porter at her side the two of them discussed pretty much all the picture books they had done together. The level of detail that goes into each one of her creations is truly stunning. She is a meticulous artist, he is a meticulous editor, and together they have created these seemingly simple but rather complex titles that just blew me away. Books I’d liked fine before they spoke became books I now adore. That is the mark of a good author presentation. The whole thing was capped off with a discussion of her upcoming 2008 titles (a sequel to Dog and Bear called Two’s Company and another book called One Boy). Then she and Neal read the new Dog and Bear, with her playing Dog and him playing Bear. Weston Woods should hire these two to do the DVD version of the book.
That was all. I just wanted to give you a sense of how some people present the books that they love and the fact that Ms. Seeger has some new titles on the horizon.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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