Category Archives: Booktalking

Beyond the Hunger Games: A booklist for teens and adults


If you saw my reading log, you wouldn’t think I’m well into my thirties. The fact is that I read a lot of children’s and teens’ books. I know books are written – and marketed – for specific target groups, but I believe any book has the potential to reach other audiences than the writers or publishers intended for. That’s especially true between young and older adults. There are many YA books that are also interesting to adults (hey, I LOVED The Hunger Games!) as well as lots of adult books that can spark teens’ attention too. For example, Kidsbooks bookstore in Vancouver label their adult section “teen plus”.

Lise Kreps (Adult services) teamed up with Rachel Yaroshuk (Teen services) to host a readers’ advisory event last month at the Burnaby Public Library’s McGill branch, where they recommended a list of books that could be enjoyed by either teens or adults. “A lot of teen fiction won’t interest adults, for example if it’s strictly about school & boyfriends, and not particularly well written. Likewise, adult books about middle-aged identity crises, no matter how well written, don’t interest most teens,” says Lise. “But there are now a lot of good writers creating really excellent books that just happen to be marketed to teens, and anyone can enjoy them.”

Sixteen people came on a Thursday evening: seven were teens. Lise was impressed by how well read the teens were, “they knew a lot of my books already!” They were also very eager to share their own suggestions. For future book talks, Lise says she would like to focus more on new books or really old ones, that the teens may not know yet.

The audience clearly enjoyed the session, as they reported on the feedback forms, and would like to attend similar events in the future. One person suggested that we also include e-books available among the recommendations.

Here’s a list of some of Lise’s and Rachel’s recommendations:

The Woefield Poultry Collective, by Susan Juby
(adult, contemporary, humour)

woefield-poultry-collectiveWelcome to Woefield Farm, a sprawling thirty acres of rock and scrub somewhere on Vancouver Island, complete with dilapidated buildings and a half-sheared sheep. When Prudence Burns, an energetic twenty-something New Yorker and failed YA author, inherits the farm, she arrives full of optimism and back-to-the-land idealism, but without a scrap of experience or skills. She also seems to have inherited Earl, a cranky old farmhand and banjo-player who’s hiding a family secret. They’re soon joined by Seth, the 20-year-old alcoholic, celebrity-blogging boy-next-door who hasn’t left the house since a scandal with his high school drama teacher; and Sara Spratt, a very focused eleven-year-old looking for a home for her prize-winning chickens, including one particularly randy fellow called Alec Baldwin. When Prudence discovers that the bank is about to foreclose on the property, she has to turn things around, fast – and a few wilting organic radishes won’t cut it. The four of them must pull together to become an unlikely family and find surprising ways to save Woefield. Sequel Republic of Dirt just published this spring.

What I Saw and How I Lied, by Judy Blundell
(teen, historic)

what i saw and how i liedNoir-ish mystery set in 1947, filled with plot twists. Fifteen-year-old Evie’s step-father Joe is back from World War II with a surprising amount of money, and starts a business. But he’s acting strange and drinking too much. Out of the blue he suddenly takes her and her mother for an extended visit to Florida. There, he is none too pleased to bump into his old army buddy, the charming and handsome Peter. Evie finds herself falling in love for the first time with Peter, whom she feels treats her like an adult. But very slowly she realizes she is being drawn into a complicated web of lies between the adults. After a boating accident results in a suspicious death, Evie has to testify at the inquest. She must rethink not only her romance with Peter but her relationships with her parents, as everything she thought she knew about all three of them is turned upside down. What I Saw and How I Lied won National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Traitor’s Blade, by Sebastien DeCastell
(adult, fantasy)

traitorsbladeThe King is dead and the Greatcoats are disbanded, leaving Falcio Val Mond and his two companions reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer use magic to plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening. With swashbuckling action and rapier wit reminiscent of a combination of the Three Musketeers, Game of Thrones, and Terry Pratchett, Traitor’s Blade is the first book in Sebastien de Castell’s dynamic new fantasy series, continuing in Knight’s Shadow coming out this summer.

Here Lies Arthur, by Philip Reeve
(teen, historic)

hereliesarthurA riveting reimagining of the Arthurian legend, told through the eyes of Merlin’s apprentice Gwyna, a scrawny orphan servant girl he finds hiding in a river to escape invading Saxons who destroyed her village. She seeks protection from the bard Myrddin, who uses Gwyna in his plan to spin tales transforming young Arthur from a local thug into the heroic King Arthur. Here Lies Arthur won the UK’s Carnegie award, and deserves to be known better.

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
(adult, memoir)

Persepolis-book-coverSatrapi’s autobiography is a timely and timeless story of a young girl’s life under the Islamic Revolution. Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi is nine when fundamentalist rebels overthrow the Shah. While Satrapi’s radical parents and their community initially welcome the ouster, they soon learn a new brand of totalitarianism is taking over. Outspoken and intelligent, Marjane chafes at Iran’s increasingly conservative interpretation of Islamic law, especially as she grows into a bright and independent young woman.

Laughing at My Nightmare, by Shane Burcaw
(teen, memoir)

laughingnightmareWith acerbic wit and a hilarious voice, Shane Burcaw describes the challenges he faces as a twenty-one-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy. From awkward handshakes to having a girlfriend and everything in between, Shane handles his situation with humor and a “you-only-live-once” perspective on life. While he does talk about everyday issues that are relatable to teens, he also offers an eye-opening perspective on what it is like to have a life threatening disease.

The King Must Die, by Mary Renault
(adult, historic)

kingmustdieTheseus is the grandson of the King of Troizen, but his paternity is shrouded in mystery – can he really be the son of the god Poseidon? When he discovers his father’s sword beneath a rock, his mother must reveal his true identity: Theseus is the son of Aegeus, King of Athens, and is his only heir. So begins Theseus’s perilous journey to his father’s palace to claim his birthright, escaping bandits and ritual king sacrifice in Eleusis, to slaying the Minotaur in Crete. When Crete makes Athens send seven boys and seven girls as tributes to compete to the death in the Bull Ring, Theseus volunteers to go. (Sound familiar? This story inspired Suzanne Collins to write The Hunger Games.) Renault reimagines the Theseus myth, creating an original, exciting story from Theseus’s own perspective as an ambitious, brave, and lusty young adventurer.

Art of Getting Stared At, by Laura Langston
(teen, contemporary)

art-getting-stared-atSixteen-year-old Sloane Kendrick is determined to produce a video in less than two weeks to get a film school scholarship. Unfortunately, she must work with Isaac Alexander, an irresponsible charmer with whom she shares an uneasy history. On the heels of this opportunity comes a horrifying discovery: a bald spot on her head. Horror gives way to devastation when Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease has no cause, no cure, and no definitive outcome. Determined to produce her video, hide her condition, and resist Isaac’s easy charm, Sloane finds herself turning into the kind of person she has always mocked: someone obsessed with her looks. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Sloane is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life.

What other books would you add to this list?

Photo by Dan Foy, on Flickr, under Creative Commons license.

Ana Calabresi is an Auxiliary Librarian at Burnaby Public Library.

Librarians’ Choice at Burnaby Public Library

Avid readers are always looking for good reading recommendations. In the age of internet, social media, and sites like Goodreads, you might think that the opinions of librarians wouldn’t be of much interest to library users but, of course, the opposite is true. It’s important for librarians to recognize this and position themselves as a preferred source of inspired reading recommendations.

When I started working at the McGill branch of Burnaby Public Library several years ago, then Library Manager Barbara Jo May had been doing a book recommendation program for a couple of years, similar to her “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestsellers List” sessions at BCLA conferences. Librarians delivered fast-paced reviews of recommended reads. I participated as a newbie to booktalking, and when Barabara Jo left I carried on coordinating the program.

We decided to call the program “Librarians’ Choice”. We use four librarians (including Information Clerks sometimes) and cover about twenty books in an evening. Each book review is about two minutes. Some popular titles are included, but the focus is more on the “under the radar” books that might otherwise be missed.

Two librarians start off and alternate, then we break for refreshments which gives staff a chance to chat with the attendees, then the next two librarians go on. We provide a booklist so the audience can follow along, and we have often observed patrons madly taking notes. We put display books in the room, and encourage people to browse and talk. The program takes ninety minutes, usually 7 pm to 8:30 pm and we pre-register.

I coordinated this program for four years at the McGill branch. The loyal following that Barbara Jo built up early on continued to grow. Our turnouts would range from 30 to 40 plus, with our International Mysteries evening going viral! Some events were themed — for example: Varieties of Love, Historical, Thrills and Adventure, Real Reads (non-fiction). But many events were a generic selection of mostly fiction with some non-fiction as well and promoted with reference to the seasons: Fall into Books; Winter Reads; Spring into Summer.

BPL-touch-of-mysteryWhen I moved to the Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch a year ago, I discovered that the reading tastes are a little less eclectic than at McGill. Metrotown readers *love* mysteries, so we have so far hosted two mystery evenings at Metrotown, the first one also went viral so we had a full house; the second attracted 30 plus avid mystery readers. We are planning another mystery evening in the fall, and will try a general one in November. We are also planning to include DVD recommendations in at least some of our events. Librarians’ Choice also continues by popular demand at McGill with new librarians coordinating.

It is really gratifying to see people return to the library with their Librarians’ Choice lists as they read their way through the recommended titles. There is a real eagerness to get the inside scoop on what library staff are reading, and I think this is part of the appeal of this type of program. Also, avid readers just enjoy being at an event where something they love doing is celebrated.

And here is a little inspiration for library staff: I was on the Information Desk one day and a woman approached me and said “I just wanted to tell you how much I love the book events that you do. Reading is a solitary, introverted activity, and your events create community among readers.” Wow!

Georgina Flynn is the First Floor Information Desk Supervisor at Bob Prittie Metrotown Branch,
Burnaby Public Library

Breakfast of Books

Teens make up some of the most passionate readers I know, but they seldom ask for help in the library, let alone for reading recommendations.


This summer I tried something different. Inspired by a post on the YALSA blog I held a “Breakfast of Books” at the library. I wasn’t expecting a great turnout, but 28 teens got up at the crack of 10:00 am to come to the library and hear about the books they should read over the summer.


From 10:00 am to 11:00 am teens stuffed their faces with unhealthy breakfast foods (donuts, baked goods, etc) and listened to me tell them about a stack of books. During the hour program I blitz booktalked 20 new young adult novels and gave away a bunch of prizes. I had stockpiled all of the new teen books that arrived in the library the month before the program. I read as many as was possible and came up with quick booktalks (no more than two minutes each) for each title. Teens tend to be comfortable with what they know and are reluctant to try something new. They will happily re-read Harry Potter or Divergent over again and over again rather than pick up something unknown. If the book sounds like familiar territory they’ll be more likely to give it a try. When introducing new books, I aim to connect it to another popular book or movie and list as many read-alikes as I can.


To promote the “Breakfast of Books” I printed out invitations and gave them to any teen who would listen. I also scattered the invitations around the teen area for teens that didn’t come to the desk.


The invitation:
Breakfast invite

I made a poster using a picture of Ron Swanson with breakfast food from the television show Parks and Recreation and posted them through the library.

Ron swanson


Every teen program includes lots of dead air. Teens awkwardly come to library programs but then don’t want to seem dorky by participating. This was no exception, after the teens had loaded up their plates, they sat at their tables to eat in awkward silence. I challenged each table to find three things they all had in common. This broke the ice and got the teens more relaxed. Interspersed through the booktalks I gave away prizes through a draw and trivia questions, and we played a game called “Purses, Pockets, Wallets“. I had book prizes, movie passes, gift cards and lots of little prizes to give away. Most teens left with something.


The program was lots of fun, and several teens commented on their end of summer evaluation form that they enjoyed the breakfast. I will definitely offer the program again. Next time I will start the program at 11:00 am (turns out 10:00 am is too early!) and incorporate more games in between the book talks.


Teen books are fun to read and promote! Read some books, put out some food and share both with some teens. It’s actually pretty easy, and tasty. For help finding book titles and other teen programs the YALSA blog and website are great resources.

–Dana Ionson, Librarian and Summer Reading Club Coordinator, Fraser Valley Regional Library

Multnomah County Library’s “My Librarian”

Similar to the Edmonton Public Library, Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon also has a Readers’ Advisory team! I had the opportunity to learn more about this program during their session “My Librarian: Personalization and The Future of Reader Services” at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference.Laural_2

Not suprisingly, their program is called “My Librarian” and currently consists of 13 enthusiastic library staff members who offer personalized and specific recommendations to patrons. These team members offer staff training, deliver outreach, participate in public events, contribute to social media, and respond to individual RA requests in just 4 hours a week (or roughly 10% of their time, ideally).

This program was created to “facilitate more personal connections for online readers.” Staff members conducted a focus group study, coordinated a series of conversations at ALA conferences, and collaborated with Seattle Public Library to develop the program. A grant for $190,000 helped this project get off the ground.

What staff learned from their research:

  • Libraries are often the last point in the book discovery process. People mention word-of-mouth, bookstores, & online resources before they consider libraries as places to attain reading recommendations. Libraries are competing with Scribd, Goodreads, Powell’s Daily Dose emails, National Public Radio’s Book Your Trip series, the New York Times Book Review, Nancy Pearl,  & Kindle Fire with their 10 second customer response rate to name a few.
  • People respect librarians, but don’t want to take up our time
  • People value asynchronous readers’ advisory (RA), but are hesitant to engage
  • Patrons have been very enthusiastic about the personalized librarian recommendations
  • Email is the preferred way to communicate the service

How did they recruit & train their team?

  • Staff members were encouraged to apply by showcasing their hobbies, talents, and passions
  • They solicited applications from anyone in an information services role–25 applied from over 200 staff
  • Team members were trained in RA skills, Drupal, virtual reference skills including chat and Skype, email tracking software, booktalking, and Novelist over a series of four classes
  • One training activity included visiting Powell’s to find read-alikes in the stacks and book-talk them to one another

What does the exMatthew_2_0perience look like?

  • It’s like for books! Each “My Librarian” has a profile with a photograph showing their personality, a biography, monthly recommendations, blog posts, and a contact link
  • The goal is to respond to each question within 48 hours and to offer 3-5 recommended titles

How was the program marketed?

  • The program was first announced through an email to all 39,000 subscribers
  • Library Journal & The Oregonian featured the program, and it was then picked up by people on Twitter
  • They featured a tile ad on their website
  • They included it on their Google + account and in a Google ad
  • They paid $400 for an ad on Facebook, reaching approximately 30,000 people (as opposed to 560 people reached through an organic Facebook post)
  • The mobile app promoted it
  • Print ads are forthcoming

Thanks to Alison Kastner, Jeremy Graybill, Temlyn Chun, and Laurel Winter for the information.

Edmonton Public Library’s “Great Stuff Crew”

i heart eplEdmonton Public Library (EPL) won Gale/Library Journal’s Library of the Year award in 2014 for a number of reasons, one of which is their great job marketing resources through their “Great Stuff Crew.”

I had the opportunity to hear Tina Thomas, the Director of Marketing, Communications and Fund Development Division at EPL speak in two different sessions at the American Library Association Conference in Las Vegas last month.

In “Turning Books Into A Cool New Tool: RA Marketing in the Age of Maker Spaces,” she used the umbrella term “Discovery Services” to refer to EPL’s efforts to match people with the content and resources that they seek. EPL has marked their Staff Picks with the tag lines: “We read. We listen. We watch. We game. We share.”

The Great Stuff Crew consists of 9 staff members who are dedicated to sharing recommendations in certain genres and themes through social media, TV appearances on Breakfast Television every week, Bibliocommons lists, events, and in-library displays. They focus on the fun and the quirky, with one of the librarians creating pop-culture-relevant lists such as The Charlie Sheen Reading List, which garnered over 500 hits in one day during the Charlie Sheen debacle.

They are also using forms-based readers’ advisory by creating Personalized Book Lists for readers.

What EPL learned from creating the Great Stuff Crew:

  • personality is important but content is key
  • it’s valuable to have staff with specific genre specialties, but it’s equally important that all staff members embrace readers’ advisory
  • generalists with specific interests work best
  • it’s important to set expectations accurately and early when creating the team
  • incubate, create, test, MEASURE, and repeat

Tina Thomas also lent her voice to “Smart Marketing: Using Big (or Little) Data”, contributing to the idea that we must collect and measure data to integrate change and improve our libraries effectively. At EPL, every single program is evaluated. They also use the software Simply Measured to analyze data from their social media channels (including unlikes).

Does your library have a team of RA “specialists?”

epl cards




Reader’s Advisory for Adults Reading Teen Fiction

Sarah Isbister is currently an Auxillary Librarian at Greater Victoria Public Library and has just accepted one year position with GVPL as a Children’s and Family Literacy Librarian. Sarah has her B.Ed. as well as her M.L.I.S. and is interested in programming and reader’s advisory for adults, teens and children. She also has an interest in education in developing countries and has volunteered overseas in an educational capacity.

Young Adult Fiction is being read widely by adults, across a variety of demographics. As librarians and library staff, it is important to understand both why this is happening, and also how to recommend young adult fiction to adult readers. There has been an increase in adult fiction writers who are choosing to write young adult fiction. It is interesting to explore the trend in adult writers marketing their work to teens. In this post, I will provide you with the names of some authors writing both Adult and Young Adult Fiction as well as some recommended and popular Young Adult authors and titles.

While there are many adults already reading Young Adult Fiction, there are others who may be avoiding the genre altogether. As librarians and library staff, there are some encouraging statistics that we can employ to inspire reluctant readers of Young Adult fiction to try it out. According to Hope Schreiber of Complex Magazine, “Young Adult isn’t really just for the 12-18 age group anymore—it’s the fastest growing publication category right now. In fact, 55 percent of readers who buy YA are actually over 18. If you still feel guilty picking up Harry Potter, don’t.” (

It is essential to question what the adult reader gets out of reading these novels. Which should lead us to ask, what does a reader get out of reading any novel? One obvious response is to consider appeal factors, which include pacing, characterization, story line, and frame (background detail, mood, setting, tone). When adults were polled about reading YA Fiction, responses ranged from: “I enjoy the immediacy of the stories and the sense of being at the beginning of the path of who you’ll become.” — @sesinkhorn to “I like the mash-up of genre & style” and; “Unpretentious/literary, fast-paced/big-ideas, fantasy/mystery…” — @ErinSatie. The subtext of many of these responses seems to be that YA Fiction is being compared to Adult Fiction. In comparison to Adult Fiction, “YA fiction often delivers accessible, emotional, fast-paced stories with an optimistic or hopeful outlook.”

Eleanor & Park

If we choose to take a more academic approach, we can discuss reception studies. The point of reception/media/cultural studies is to, “study the audience (of a TV show, movie, etc.), not the creator of the media. A lot of reception studies focus on how consumption of a media product (TV show, book, etc.) is tied into an individual’s identity formation.” It has been argued that most cultural consumption in contemporary society is about identity. It’s about reaffirming one’s identity or challenging one’s identity or trying out new identities. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with this, it is intriguing that so many adults these days are drawn to narratives about teens. It begs the question, “what does [this] say about adult identities in contemporary society?”

Pretties Uglies

Or is it simpler than the academia suggests? Kelly Jensen, librarian and blogger in her Book Riot post, states: “Listen. The only justification for why adults read YA books is this: they choose to. That’s it. That’s their reason. Adults read YA books because they as adults choose to do so.” (

In a New York Times Book review, A.J. Jacobs describes John Green novels as, realistic stories told by a funny and self-aware teenage narrator with, “sharp dialogue, defective authority figures, occasional boozing, unrequited crushes and one or more heartbreaking twists”( Green is one of the most popular writers of young adult fiction who also has a strong adult following. He currently has four novels on the New York Times best-seller list, has an online cult topping a million, and he actually plays Carnegie Hall.

It is legitimate and important to ask why adults read YA, just as it’s legitimate to ask why people read or do anything. The problem is, the answers to these kinds of questions are never simple, but of course, that’s also why they’re so interesting and can be studied and explored.

Two Boys kissing

Authors writing both Adult & Young Adult Fiction:

  • Douglas Adams
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Meg Cabot
  • Susan Juby
  • David Levithan
  • Patrick Ness
  • James Patterson
  • Jodi Picoult
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Philip Pullman
  • J.K. Rowling (pseudonym Robert Galbraith)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien

 Recommended Titles:

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  • Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • Eleanor & Park & Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • The Fault in our Stars & Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling Series) by Megan McCafferty
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
  • Winger by Andrew Smith

For more reading on the subject:

Reading Wildly! How do you promote Readers’ Advisory in your workplace?

A colleague brought this article to my attention at our recent BCLA RA Interest Group meeting–it’s about a Children’s Librarian named Abby Johnson who has “developed the Reading Wildly program to inspire [her] staff to read different genres and improve their readers’ advisory skills.” Every month, a genre is assigned and staff members are asked to read one book in that genre that they then book-talk to their co-workers at a meeting. Genre-lists are created based on the recommendations and staff have reported increased confidence when recommending books to patrons. Check out the American Libraries article to see how it has worked.

This idea may be more of a challenge for Adult Services Librarians when considering book length! Check out Abby’s personal blog for more information. This month, the genre assigned was Sports Books, as seen in her image below.

Has your library attempted something similar in an effort to improve staff readers’ advisory skills and encourage reading wildly?

Jazz up Booktalking and Invigorate your Staff

gvpl booksmack at the Belfry
Libraries have got talent and RA enthusiasm to burn but how to harness it and reach the broadest audience possible? Booksmack!

This twist on booktalking is a fast paced, noisy tag team event which draws from all levels of staff. A group of 5 avid readers take turns talking as many books as they can in a 5 minute, then 2 minute then 1 minute round- about 50 minutes in total. The event is drop in, not pre-registered and meant to feel spontaneous. Presided over by an MC/timekeeper, the group seats themselves in a prominent place in the library- a foyer or some other public thoroughfare.

A staff MC introduces each participant in a jocular fashion then each has the opportunity to talk a little about individual reading tastes before launching into snappy and opinionated reviews. Participants come with a pile of 15 to 20 items in all formats recognizing that they likely won’t get through them but trying hard! The MC wields a noisy school bell and keeps everyone in line and on time. Booklists are printed in small quantities and accessible online.

We’ve Booksmacked at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre, on CBC and gone out into the community. Best of all, Booksmacked has been taken up by teachers, book clubs and even staff in a government workplace.

Booksmack serves many purposes: it promotes library staff as readers advisory experts, it emboldens non-professional staff to get involved with readers advisory and rejuvenates professionals who may no longer have much interaction with patrons. The program is also an excellent way to promote older titles, sleepers and other formats such as documentary dvds. Keep it short, use already scheduled staff and voila- you have an inexpensive and effective program.

Be warned- it takes a leap of faith to just launch into a book talk complete with cow bell and timer when you don’t know who is going to stop and listen . On the other hand, do it once and you will be sure to have an audience the next time not to mention staff who champing at the bit to perform themselves!

Olivia Anderson, Branch Head, GVPL