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Seminar on Lit for Youth: Connecting with Youth

Watch the video, then read the page. 

There are endless works of engaging nonfiction in library collections for youth. How do help youth develop a passion for informational reading? How do we persuade them to come to the library and check out books?

Read the Introduction to Gotcha Again for Guys! (2010) by Kathleen A. Baxter and Marcia Agness Kochel.
Create your own list of ideas from the semester. IUPUI students can view the article online.

Marketing Informational Reading

toiletGhost, aliens, and magic books will get their attention. How about survival guides, beauty and fashion books, and freaky facts almanacs?

Well-known author David Macaulay's new book Toilet: How It Works (2013) will get their attention too. Part of the "How it Works" series, this leveled book encourages both viewing and reading.

Booktalks and Book trailers

Booktalks and book trailers are an effective way to promote the nonfiction collection for youth.

A booktalk is a short presentation, skit, or spoken narrative intended to convince youth to read a book. Generally, the audience is provided with a glimpse of the book's focus. When booktalking a narrative nonfiction, it's important not to give away the ending. The key is providing enough interesting information to make the potential reader ready to choose the book. Booktalks are generally three to seven minutes in length. Book commercials are sometimes 60 to 90 second like a TV spot.

According to Jarrell and Cannon (2010, 2) in Cooler than Fiction: A Planning Guide for Teen Nonfiction Booktalks,

"While it seems the common trend to booktalk novels, we have discovered that nonfiction books are some of the best tools for teaching teens that reading can be addictive and enjoyable. Many authors of teen nonfiction know how to make everyday life seem outlandish and almost too odd to be true. These authors take normal, common truths that we often take for granted and paint them in a new light. Booktalking titles such as The Beast of Chicago by Rick Geary, Things to Do Before You're Old and Boring by Richard Horne or Freaks of the Storm by Randall Cerveny will get every teens' attention"

A book trailer is a video advertisement for a book. Like a booktalk, it's used to promote books and reading. Like a movie trailer, it uses visual and audio elements to convince readers to check out the book. In many cases, it includes still images from the book along with music and narration. Watch videos from Random House such as Magic Tricks from the Tree House intended to entice readers to read both a fiction and nonfiction book. For lots of examples, go to YouTube and search for book trailers.

Explore book trailers for some recent, popular works of nonfiction.

Designing a BookTalk or Book Trailer

There are many approaches to creating a booktalk or book trailer for youth.

When designing a booktalk, it's critical to think about the needs, interests, and desires of the audience. What will engage a second grader or teen reader?

While some booktalks focus on one work, others explore a genre such as sports books, knitting how-tos, or true crime. For these genre booktalks focus on three or four books that reflect the broad spectrum of options in the area. When focusing on how-tos be sure to show some examples.

First person booktalks are a fun way to attract attention. Dress up as an historical character, scientist, or sports figure. Talk from the point of view of these character. Or, use puppets to act out a passage.

The key to selling the book(s) is eliciting an emotional response. Gross out tweens with facts about phlegm or astonish them with statistics about UFOs. Show them a craft that you produced based on a how-to book or a magic trick you learned. Use costumes and props to bring the topic alive.

Don't forget the book! In your excitement about skits and props, remember to provide information about the book. Read exciting passages, point out amazing facts, and show engaging visuals from the book. Be sure to include information about the organization of the book. While students are accustomed to the story arc of narrative nonfiction and picture books, they may not be familiar with the idea of structuring a book based on the life cycle of a frog or the timeline of an historical event. In some cases books are organized into categories such as air, land, and water transportation.

Make your booktalk or book trailer memorable. Could you wear a costume, use props, or weave in associated background music? Could you turn it into a skit or mystery? Be creative!

Read Wharton, Jennifer (May 16, 2016). Integrating Nonfiction into Your Summer Booktalking. School Library Journal. Available through SLJ.

Read Wharton, Jennifer (January 18, 2016). Selecting and Promoting Nonfiction in Your Library. Available through SLJ.

try itTry It!
Watch some booktalks and book trailers at publisher websites or YouTube. My Collection Development course links to popular Publisher YouTube Channels. Look for the children/teen divisions.

Critique at least three booktalks/booktrailers for youth providing the URL, summary, and review. What works and doesn't work in creating a video booktalk or book trailer? How are fiction and nonfiction treated differently? Create a set of guidelines for producing a video booktalk or book trailer for youth focusing on works of nonfiction. How can you engage readers by going beyond the book (i.e., costumes, props, music, special effects, mystery).

Create your own video booktalk or book trailer for the nonfiction selection of your choice. Or, create a genre booktalk promoting some section of your nonfiction collection.

Your trailer should be engaging. I should want to run to the library to check it out. If you're going to do a traditional "talk at the camera and read an excerpt", choose another option. Instead, this is your chance to be create!

A Place of Wonder and Discovery

Is your library an inviting place to browse and read? What about your nonfiction section? Does your children's nonfiction area invite wonder and discovery? Do rocks, shells, and other natural objects invite you into the science area? Do old photographs and artifacts greet young historians? Are readers of career books greeted with construction and cowboy hats to wear as they read? Do young adult areas pose questions and provide attractive see-also signage to encourage exploration? Do photos on wall maps and oversized infographics provoke inquiry?

In A Place for Wonder, Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough (2009) notes that

"Our children's lives run the risk of becoming two dimensional in the present day's technology-driven society. The worlds of Internet and video games are becoming just as substantial to children as their reality."

Think about how your library can provide an environment that acknowledges the role of technology, print resources, and real objects in a child's world. Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough (2009) had success creating a "Wonder World" filled with questions, opportunities, and resources to support discovery. They suggest discovery tables containing nonfiction books along with items that stimulate observation, manipulation, and exploration. Microscopes, magnifying glasses, and primary source materials need to be part of the library along with books and computers.

Heard and McDonough (2009, 50-51) suggest the following nonfiction books for Wonder World area for primary grades:

Rather than simply pulling all your ant books and stacking them on a table along with a plastic ant, spend time to carefully consider items that would go into an interactive display intended to promote questioning, inquiry, and informational reading. Think about how each book contributes to understanding, provides a different perspective, and attracts different types of readers. Consider manipulatives like artifacts, objects, and other items that youth can handle or observe. What display posters, handouts or other materials would stimulate thinking?

Consider ways that this wonder display could be rotated or changed based on seasons or themes. Could these "sets of materials" be checked out as "wonder backpacks" to families to encourage informational reading?

Marketing to Boys

zombieWhile girls can sometimes be reluctant readers, experienced teachers and librarians have found boys to be more of a challenge.

Think about ways to market books that appeal to boys. If you add gross to bugs, you get Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead (2012) by Rebecca L. Johnson.

In Gotcha for Guys! (2007, xv-xvi), Kathleen A. Baxter identified three ideas for bringing boys back to reading.

"First of all, make the books that they want available to them. Then show off those books! Display them, set them apart, and watch them fly out the doors. If they don't want to read an award winner, let them choose not to. If the book is lower than their reading level, it does not matter. If they want the same book over and over and over again, let them have it. Somehow, most boys have determined that reading is a task, a chore, an assignment. It is now our job to teach them that reading is fun; reading is something pleasurable that we can all enjoy doing.

Second, we need to talk about the fun we have when we read. When we talk to kids about the great time we have while reading, we are opening the door to their realization that reading is not just a chore. Tell them about the great new fact you learned yesterday, or that you stayed up way past bedtime because you could not put down the book you were reading. I like to tell my audiences anything that communicates to them that reading is enjoyable...

Third, let's bring in any men or boys we can find to read to our classes and libraries and talk about the books they enjoy. Boys' academic lives are dominated by women in control. It is a rare thing for a man to be in charge of a class or a school media center or public library children's department. Boys need desperately to see male reading models...

Finally, let them choose what to read, how long it should be, what reading level it should be, whether to just read the photo captions, and where to read it; accept and allow almost any source of reading materials... Supply graphic nonfiction as well as graphic novels. Make sure you have a selection of reading material that is almost irresistible. Have you ever seen anyone who turned down a chance to browse through The Guinness Book of World Records?"

Think about topics that appeal to youth. For instance, bugs are always a popular topic. Place The Beetle Book (2012) by Steve Jenkins in a display of plastic and rubber bugs. Can readers identify the different types of beetles?


Promotional Materials

readFrom bookmarks and banners to bulletin boards and posters, there are many tools available for promoting nonfiction reading.

The American Library Association have regular marketing campaigns that often include nonfiction elements. In addition, special days, weeks, or months provide another opportunity to focus on marketing nonfiction. For instance, the smartinvesting@your library program would incorporate nonfiction works.

At the ALA store, you can find reading posters that include nonfiction themes.

The Collaborative Summer Library Program generally focuses on a theme such as space or bugs that are ripe for nonfiction reading. Many public libraries participate in this program.

Other organizations like the School Library Association in the UK also have ideas. Check out their informational posters.

For many more ideas, explore my online course Marketing for Libraries.

Book Clubs

When you think about book clubs for teens, informational texts probably aren't on the list. However like other reading club books, you can find lots of nonfiction works for book clubs as well.

Since youth are accustomed to reading stories, start with nonfiction narrative such as Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson or Into Thin Air: a Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer.

Then, try a book that will generate discussion. Some ideas include:

Popular Topics

Generate nonfiction book clubs from popular topic such as LEGO building, cooking, or computer games like Minecraft. Rather than traditional book discussions, involve youth in talking about how they connect "how to" books with their creations.


Look for engaging books about people that will connect with teens.

Hennepin County Library suggests biographies for teens such as An Unspeakable Crime: the Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank by Elaine Marie Alphin, Janis Joplin: Rise up Singing by Ann Angel, or Med Head: My Knock-down Drag-out Drugged-up Battle with My Brain by James Patterson and Hal Friedman. For other ideas go to the Hennepin County Library.

Body Angst

Hennepin County Library suggests fiction and non-fiction works dealing with body image and eating disorders. Some examples include


A history group might read:


Connect a book club with a school or community science club. Get out your science experiment books for lots of fun. Ask each participants to choose a different book each week and share their favorite experiment. Each a shared experiment or ask a club member to do a demonstration for the group.

featsBook Spotlight

by Jordan Brown introduces key scientists and over two dozen science experiments for intermediate and middle school readers.

The engaging physics activities are organized into seven chapters focusing on gravity, motion, heat, magnets, sound, light, and electricity. What makes this title unique is the way information about scientists and the science behind the stunts is woven into the narrative.

Although the library is already filled with science experiment titles, the unusual approach and visual appeal of this informational text makes it worth the purchase.

This engaging work of nonfiction would be a great addition to your library’s STEM collection. The diverse cast of characters adds to the appeal of this useful science resource. Use this book along with other science experiment books to jumpstart a science book club program.

try itTry It!
Develop a plan for a nonfiction youth book club. How will you generate interest? What books will you incorporate? Will it be a general group or focused on nonfiction narrative, dieting, or fashion?


makersMarkerspaces are a popular way to involve library users in engaging hands-on activities that involve imagination, creativity, and construction. From Lego stations to crafting areas, the opportunities are endless. Think about ways to connect these fun learning spaces with books and other materials from the nonfiction collection.

While some makerspaces involve crafting materials, others incorporate technology such as laptops for Minecraft competitions and video cameras for creating Lego animations. Get youth involved in making pop-up books, building games, and knitting hats for cancer patients. Books from your collection can provide step-by-step instructions, building ideas, and inspiration.

The photo on the right shows Sharon Rawlins and Corrie Peterson from Trenton Public Library (courtesy of Flickr New Jersey State Library).

"As a result of the first-ever Maker Faire hosted at the White House in June, LEGO Systems, Inc. and the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) launched the Junior Maker program to bring Junior Maker Spaces to libraries in each state."

You don't need a lot of fancy equipment or materials for a successful program. For instance, combine few Lego Ultimate Building Sets, some Lego building idea books, and mini-loaf cupcakes in the shape of Lego bricks (use mini-marshmallows for the bump) and you've got a winning program.

Below are some book ideas to get you started.

Read Lamb, Annette (2015). Makerspaces in the school library, part 1: where creativity blooms. Teacher Librarian Magazine, 43(2), 56-59.

Read Lamb, Annette (2016). Makerspaces in the school library, part 2: collaborations and connections. Teacher Librarian Magazine, 43(3), 56-60.

junkthunkBook Spotlight

by Brian Yanish provides engaging activities and easy to follow directions for creating fun projects from common household materials.

This visually appealing book contains dozens of activities that involve using materials that people often throw away such as empty milk cartons, cereal boxes, and bottle caps. In addition to providing detailed instructions for creating instruments, puppets, and toys, the book also contains lots of other activities to maintain interest and spark creativity.

Librarians will find this nonfiction book to be popular with children who enjoy arts and crafts. Place the book in a maker space containing the raw materials necessary to create some of the projects. Display the results in the library to highlight the arts and crafts section of the library.

Go to the Scrapkins website at for lots more ideas.

Public Library Programming

animallegoWhether promoting good eating habits with a children's cooking class or encouraging financial responsibility in a group of teens, there's a wide range of programming opportunities librarians can use to feature works of nonfiction.

Projects don't need to cost lots of money. Combine your existing resources with engaging hands-on activities. Seek out local businesses to donate materials and services. Ask a local banker to discuss opening a bank account with teens or invite a volunteer from the local animal shelter to discuss pet care.

Use a theme to draw in students. For instance, use Scholastic's "A LEGO Adventure in the Real World" book series as inspiration for a series of events that combine LEGO building with fun themes such as planets, knights and castles, and animals.


Your library shelves are filled with wonderful arts and crafts books. Start a knitting, sewing, or Lego club. Use books to kick off activities and promote informational reading.

Explore a Christmas Crafts (Program, Flier) example and the Master Jedi Origami (Program, Flier) example.

cooking with kidsCooking

Get out the cookbooks and have some fun. Run a series of workshops on baking cookies and cupcakes or making kabobs on the grill.

Family History

When you combine books on scrapbooking with family history works, you get a great idea for a program. Get youth involved with a family history project.


Valentine's Day, April Fool's Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and more... holiday activities are always fun events for children. Check out a Chinese New Year (Program) example.

Money Matters

Seek help from professional associations in building programs. For instance, ALSC produced a Money as You Grow book list to go with the Money As You Grow website.

Nature-Focused Books

From nature walks to night sky parties, many libraries focus on themes associated with nature and the environment.

Health and Fitness

When building programs, post resources on your library website and print one-page fliers with books and activity ideas. For a health and fitness program, consider the following resources.



Young Adults

Zombies, Monsters, and Aliens

It's important to keep up with what's popular with youth. Check out a Zombie Invasion Program (Program, Poster) example.

try itTry It!
Develop a program for a school or public library that weaves works of nonfiction throughout.


Baxter, Kathleen & Kochel, Marcia Agness (2008). Gotcha Good! Nonfiction Books to Get Kids Excited About Reading. Libraries Unlimited. Preview Available

Baxter, Kathleen & Kochel, Marcia Agness (2007). Gotcha for Guys: Nonfiction Books to Get Boys Excited About Reading. Libraries Unlimited. Preview Available

Baxter, Kathleen & Kochel, Marcia Agness (2005). Gotcha Covered! More Nonfiction Booktalks to Get Kids Excited About Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Baxter, Kathleen & Kochel, Marcia Agness (2010). Gotcha Again for Guys: More Nonfiction Booktalks to Get Kids Excited About Reading. Libraries Unlimited. Preview Available

Baxter, Kathleen & Kochel, Marcia Agness (1999). Gotcha!: Nonfiction Booktalks to Get Kids Excited About Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Heard, Georgia & McDonough, Jennifer (2009). A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades. Stenhouse Publishers. Preview Available

Jarrell, Jill S. & Cannon, Tara C. (2010). Cooler than Fiction: A Planning Guide for Teen Nonfiction Booktalks. McFarland. Preview Available

Saricks, Joyce (2005). Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library. 3rd Edition. American Library Association.

Wharton, Jennifer (May 16, 2016). Integrating Nonfiction into Your Summer Booktalking. School Library Journal. Available through SLJ.

Wyatt, Neal (2007). The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction. American Library Association.

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