Teens and Shelftalkers

Josie Leavitt - February 22, 2010

On Friday night we had our first-ever teen appreciation night, and what fun it was. There was no author, no activity, just seven pizzas (which the school paid for) and twenty kids who wanted to talk about books with us.
We’ve been working very closely with the Vergennes seventh and eighth grade teacher choosing books for her classroom. Ms. Lawson, Jen to me, comes in with a list and a deep knowledge of her students and together we match the kids with books. Jen is the kind of classroom teacher all kids need, someone who cares a great deal about them and knows them as readers. Jen had the kids write shelf talkers for us. She asked who would like to participate in this and all thirty kids said yes. That was gratifying to say the least. photo3.jpg
Look how cute this shelftalker is! Hand-drawn by an eighth grader from our newsletter, this is so much more appealing than our index card shelftalkers. These have only been up a day and already I’ve heard kids reading them and talking to their friends about the books. Now that’s a successful shelftalker. I am going to track the sales of the books these kids choose to write about and see if kid-written shelftalkers increase sales.
I have a feeling they will. The kids and I finished the pizza and then talked about books. The conversation turned to book covers with one boy asking,”Why are they so ugly?” Well, that’s direct. He said he hated photographs of real kids on covers, especially modern-looking kids on historical fiction titles. Many girls chimed in that they were getting “really tired” of covers that had girls’ bodies, but no heads. The consensus was the photographs ruined the book in a way because it dictated what the characters looked like, and that might not be how the reader actually saw them. Editors, are you listening?
I  gave out galleys at the end and the kids were excited, but one boy was disappointed there weren’t more 2010 galleys. I told him I hadn’t finished reading them yet.
The teacher and I decided that we will do this quarterly. So, in the spring, I’ll get 30 more reviews, we’ll have some more pizza and honestly, I can’t wait.

12 thoughts on “Teens and Shelftalkers

  1. Amy M.

    This goes to show that teens are definitely intelligent and perceptive. What a wonderful opportunity you provided for them! I wish we had a Ms. Lawson in my daughters’ school…
    Amy M., Cincinnati, OH

  2. Petra

    I hope the editors are listening to the kids because one of the problems I have is books with black kids on the cover are of no interest to white kids and vice versa. Books without pics of anyone on the cover, no matter what the book is about or who, black, white or alien, is in it, is of interest to all.

  3. Lea Wait

    What a great idea to connect books and students! And what perceptive kids! I hope editors listen, too … I’ve had headless modern kids on the covers of my historical novels, and I hate them!

  4. anoynmous

    What a fantastic idea! I, too, would have loved to be a fly on the wall that night. As an editor, I (and most that I know) agree wholeheartedly about being sick of photo covers, modern kids on historical fiction, partial-body images, and in general boring or overused cover concepts. But a certain huge national chain has a huge amount of sway over what covers get put on books. The times when an editor is allowed to do something really new and different with a cover are the times when either the sales force has dismissed a book as institutional only, or when the entire company gets behind a cover and does its best to force the national chain to consider the book anyway. Which, as you can imagine, doesn’t happen all that often. Just wanted to say that you and the kids are preaching to the choir!

  5. Julie

    I think Petra is right — why have a person on the cover? Also, I’ve noticed that sometimes I will see a book that I think my oldest child would like, but if it has a dragon or sword on it, I doubt she will give it a try.

  6. Jessica Leader

    Oh, this sounds like such a good time! Not only are the kids lucky for Ms. Lawson–they are lucky for you! How many kids get to hang out and eat pizza in a bookstore, I ask you?
    I’d also have been curious to hear which covers kids *did* like. I, too, am sick of a certain kind of cover photo (luminous; dismembered)–but I’ve also heard that kids want someone on the cover to identify with. So are there any they like?
    Great post!

  7. shelftalker elizabeth

    Jessica, they LOVE the Hunger Games and Catching Fire covers, the Twilight series. They don’t hate ALL covers with photos of kids, but the sheer volume of them is bothersome, and the kids said that rarely do the characters look the way they imagine them looking.

  8. Andrea Vuleta

    Yippee! So glad your event went well! (And I am wishing we could get pizza more often.) This is the age that is most responsive for us, too, although we have one older group and one younger. Funny about the covers! Our kids are tough to sell on the totally blank covers. And although they get a little hand-sell on the titles, they still read all the blurbs before deciding. The part I think is super cool is when the kid that declined the book at the last meeting decides they have to read it after hearing one of the other readers “sell” it. Positive peer pressure, I guess.


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