What are book sells and how do you teach them?

What are book talks? How do you teach students to do a book talk?

I recently finished reading the final book in Jessica Townsend’s AMAZING Nevermoor series. This series, touted as a cross between Harry Potter and Alice and Wonderland, had me looking forward to going to bed each night so I could quickly escape into its magical and creative world.

As happens with all the best books though, I slipped into immediate reader’s depression when I finished the last page, and the curtain on my friendship with all the characters was drawn.

It might seem odd (and I might be completely alone on this) but I can’t start a new book immediately after finishing another one. It’s like I need to grieve and wallow in my sadness- at least overnight- before I can move on.

Once I’m through the mourning, I find the process of deciding on a new book to be hugely enjoyable. I quickly become excited by the opportunities in front of me: do I want to use this next book to learn something? To escape? To dive into poetry? Or to try something completely different? Such is the power of books and reading!

The routine I go through to find my next read usually entails collecting a pile of potential books from my home library, before heading to the reading chair to preview them all and decide on a winner. There aren’t any losers though, as I’m always adding plenty of books to my TBR (To Be Read) pile as a result of the process.

TBR piles are critically important for keeping readers motivated. They give us a reason to stay focused and get through the book we’re reading so we can move on to all the other gems in our pile.

One low-investment, high-return strategy for building your students’ TBR piles is to engage in book sells.

(Note: ‘book sells’ are often referred to as ‘book talks’ as well. I prefer the term ‘book sells’ however as it makes the intention crystal clear- you want to sell the book to your audience. Whereas, I’ve found that many students and teachers think the term ‘book talks’ is synonymous with ‘book reviews’ and/or ‘book reports’ and that’s definitely not what we’re talking about here.)

What are book sells?

Each time you hold a book up in front of your students and provide a short summary of its storyline (of course remembering not to give away any spoilers) you’re conducting a book sell.

The good news on book sells is, you don’t even have to have read it to sell it! A book sell can be as simple as reading the book’s blurb aloud or as complex as providing a review of the book, complete with comparisons to other books and suggestions on the types of readers who would enjoy it.

The Nevermoor series is written by young Australian author, Jessica Townsend. There’s magic, quirky characters and good versus evil in this 3 (soon to be 4)-book series.  The main character is called Morrigan Crow and as a young child, she was placed on the cursed child’s list. As she grows up though, she learns that she actually has special powers, and she goes to a magical school to learn how to use them. The problem is that not everyone thinks she should have the powers she does. If you loved Harry Potter or Alice in Wonderland you would love this series as well! It would be a terrific class novel for years 3 and up.

Using Book sells in the classroom

One of the best opportunities to do a book sell in the classroom is when you’re choosing a new class novel. (You can read my blog on ‘6 reasons every teacher should read aloud every day’ here). This is a great chance to select a small handful of potential books, do a quick book sell on each of them (by reading the blurb and adding any other information you have on the book) before co-selecting a winner with students.

Even though your students think you’re using this process to democratically select a new class read, your intention is actually twofold:

  1. You want to select a new book that most students will be interested in for the class novel.
  2. You secretly want to entice your students into adding some of the non-selected books onto their all-important TBR piles.

The sign of an effective book sell when selecting a class novel is when a bunch of students ask if they can borrow or read the ones that aren’t selected. Job done!

Remember- the purpose of a book sell is to plump up your students’ TBR piles, so they always have their next read waiting in the wings as they finish their current one.

Teaching students to do book sells

Students can conduct book sells as well. In fact, teaching them to do an effective book sell combines reading, writing and speaking all in one task. It also provides a rare opportunity for them to put all their persuasive writing skills to work for an authentic purpose. (Hallelujah to that!)

When it comes to teaching your students how to conduct an effective book sell, of course I’m going to suggest you first seek out some mentor texts as guides. Watching a range of samples- from poor to good quality- can help you and your students co-construct a list of key elements of effective book sells. This list can then become the guide for your students to create their own book sells as well as the basis for any assessment rubrics.

Here’s a couple of mentor texts (examples) to get you started:

And here’s a sample list of key elements of a good book sell:

  • Introduce the book, author and illustrator
  • Give a very short summary of the book (don’t do a retell!)
  • Remember: NEVER give away spoilers!
  • Make suggestions on the types of readers who would enjoy the book
  • Make comparisons to other books
  • Leave a cliffhanger
  • Keep it short (2-5 mins)
  • Consider reading a sentence or two to the audience
  • Share some fascinating facts (if it’s a non-fiction book)
  • Share your passion for the book
  • Speak in an engaging way
  • Remember: a book sell is not the same as a book report- the purpose of a book sell is to convince your audience to read the book

One final benefit of book sells is that they can be taught and done in face-to-face classrooms as well as remote classrooms- all you need is a good book to sell!

There you have it- everything you need to get started in the wonderfully fulfilling role of selling books to students. Remember: if you get their TBR piles growing, you’ll never hear “I don’t know what to read” ever again! How enticing is that!?

Have you used book sells with your students? I’d love to hear all about them. Leave a comment below or join in the conversation on the Oz Lit teacher Facebook group.

BTW, the winner of my this week’s new book selection process for me was Jaclyn Moriarty’s CBCA Shortlisted book, The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst. (The main character’s sassy voice pulled me in on the first page). I’ll be sure to let you know what I think when I’m finished reading- stay tuned to my socials for a potential upcoming book sell 😊.

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1 thought on “What are book sells and how do you teach them?”

  1. Narissa,
    Thank you so much for providing me with the nudge to restart book sells. They were a regular feature of our library time. I always started off with my book sell (often the first book in a series, hoping students would ‘take the bait’ and then read the the entire series) and then I would have one or two students present a book sell. Students were always selected the previous week so had a week to prepare and had to be on a book we had in the library. I found it a great way to entice students and often certain books were in such high demand after a book sell I found myself purchasing extra copies for the students or the librarian went out and bought further copies if the budget allowed. I am going to start them up again. Great blog!

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