In November, I was able to attend YALSA’s Young Adult Services Symposium with one of my coworkers. It was a wonderful experience, and we came home full of ideas for the 6-12 independent school library where we work. One idea we immediately wanted to try at our library was book tastings, which we heard about in a session led by Alicia Blower, librarian at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School.
I like to think of book tastings as the library equivalent of free samples at the grocery store—you get teens to try a bite of various books, hoping they will find one they want to take home. The basic setup involves putting books out at tables, and having teens rotate through the tables in groups. At each table, they “taste” a book that looks interesting to them by reading the blurbs on the cover and the first few pages.
We had the perfect opportunity to run a book tasting just one week after we got back from the Symposium. All of our seventh grade English classes were coming in to check out books, so instead of the usual book talks we give to feature certain genres, we decided to set up book tastings based on the genre of realistic fiction.
First, we decided on our physical layout. Five tables was a good number for us, given the class sizes (18) and how much time we had to run the activity (40 minutes). On each table were books related to a specific theme within realistic fiction, based on what’s popular with our students. Once we decided on the layout, the next step was to pick the books for our tastings. I wanted to have six books at each table, one for each student in a group of four, and a couple of extras to give them alternatives. We also needed to replace the books that got checked out during each class, so I accounted for that when pulling books..
While making book selections, I also had the goal of providing a strong representation of diverse books. To do this, I got a piece of paper and tallied up numbers as I pulled books. How many books had I selected with main characters of color? How about LGBTQ+ main characters? Characters who were differently abled? What about books that were #ownvoices? I had to go back to the shelves quite a few times before I felt I had acceptable representation, and some tables still ended up with less diversity than others. For example, we simply didn’t have enough diverse books for the theme of survival (as in surviving the wilderness or a natural disaster), so now that’s on my watch list for collection development and content curation.
I made place cards to go at each table, with the theme of that table printed on the card. My coworker made tasting forms where students could write down the title and author of a book they looked at, give it a rating from 1-5, and put any comments they had. (See linked documents for examples.)
Finally, I went out and purchased some real “tastings” to go along with the books. I got a variety of Hershey’s kisses, some miniature fruit-flavored candy canes, and a huge bag of Life Savers. At each table, we put two cups. We filled one with the candies; the other was for trash. I am proud to say that our students didn’t leave even one candy wrapper for us to pick up.
In the end, all of our work paid off. The students really enjoyed the experience. A lot of our selected books were checked out, and we were able to highlight the diversity in our collection. It took a little more time to prepare than book talks, but now that we have done it once, there won’t be as much prep required next time.
Does anyone do book tastings in a different way? I’d love to hear about it!
Whitney Etchison currently lives in Maryland and is in her tenth year as a school librarian. The best part of her job is readers advisory, although teaching research skills is pretty cool too. She loves horror novels but can’t watch scary movies.