Booktalking/Handselling for Early Literacy

As library professionals, we are not strangers to the question of “what should I read next?” coming from adults. Often,

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those patrons will share their likes and dislikes with us, and we will use that information to figure out what new book they might enjoy. However, children (particularly those we target under the age of 3), have a much harder time telling us what they like to read. If we get any requests at all, they usually come from the child’s caregiver.

Caregivers might not think to ask about what books are good for their child(ren) to read, particularly if those caregivers are unfamiliar with Early Literacy and the Every Child Ready to Read skills and practices. Even if they do know about these skills and knowledge, caregivers might be too afraid or embarrassed to ask about children’s books, thinking that they should perhaps know that information already or (worse) that all children's books must be the same.

As professionals, we have an arsenal of knowledge at our disposal when it comes to children’s books! If you’re anything like me, you probably read more picture books than adult literature or even newspapers, and you have a lot of knowledge from which to draw. We know what books are good to read at bedtime, which ones will wind up a pre-K audience, and which ones improve narrative skills. So, how can we bestow this information upon even the shyest parent or caregiver?

There are many ways to share wonderful children’s books with people! Bookmarks with titles on them and book displays are good for a passive audience, but people are significantly more inclined to get excited about books that people they know and respect are excited about themselves. Think of a picture book that you particularly enjoy - you might like it because kids love when you read it to them or because it improves narrative skills or because it has beautiful illustrations... Whatever the reason, try to think of a couple of sentences to describe WHY you like it. The best tactic to use here is honesty, because people can tell if you’re just reciting something off of the back cover. Then, the next time you see someone with a child perusing the children’s books, offer that book to them as an option. It just might increase your circulation, increase the chances that this patron will return to you for more suggestions, and will mean that a truly excellent book will be read to a child and not be left sitting idly on a library shelf.

One of my favorite picture books is Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes by Eric Litwin.

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Here’s what I would say to someone about it: “I love that the song repeats throughout the book, that kids anticipate vocabulary throughout the story, and that it is easy to memorize so that kids in a storytime or read aloud setting can look at the pictures the whole time. If you’re looking for a great book to read to any size group, reach for Pete!”

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