Grandpa's Tree Reading Corner

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Preparing your book talk:

a few examples...

by Sharyl Calhoun

If you intend to speak to an audience, you must pinpoint some aspect of your book which will provide students with some take-away value for their time. It may sound crazy, but you can easily spend 30 minutes in a classroom, expanding upon a single, simple picture book.

For instance…after reading your picture book about a book character who completely misunderstands another character’s intention, you might lead a discussion about how students can better interact with their peers.

A guidance counselor uses my simple picture book, Sophia and the Bully (Hameray Publishing), as a springboard for kindergarten class discussions about what bullying really looks like. Sometimes, these young “bullies” are just trying to be friends, and they haven’t figured out how to do it in an acceptable way! That concept is an eye-opener for both the “bully” and the perceived victim.

Book Talk for

Reb Fishburn: In Too Deep!

Maybe you have written a chapter book—and you’re obviously not going to read the whole book aloud! Instead, you want to encourage them to buy and read your book on their own. Why should they read your book? Will it teach them about why other kids (or adults) act the way they do? Will it offer solutions to a problem that kids might have? Is it strictly a book for entertainment and comical relief? Is it designed to enrich the child’s knowledge of the world around them? What is the take-away value?

My first chapter book was Reb Fishburn: In Too Deep! By the time it was published, I had authored eight children’s books, had been the ghostwriter for an ex-CIA agent’s book of memoirs, and had written several hundred magazine articles.

What is your biggest fear? You’re going to give that fear to a new book character. Use story map/plan, add details.

Book Talk Outline for Reb Fishburn: In Too Deep!

 (Helping Second or Third Grade Students Write a Fiction Story)

“What is your biggest FEAR? Find the big orange starburst at the top of the page.  Write your biggest fear in just a few words or a superfast drawing. You only have 90 SECONDS…”

 (watch the clock and stop students at 90 seconds! Walk around and make sure they are following your directions)

“The BEST stories are topics that you feel strongly about…things that make you fearful, things you see  that are funny, things that leave you fuming…angry, situations that leave you feeling forlorn…lonely…sad.”

(Uncover each word, one at a time, on overhead projector with humorous cartoon illustration depicting each emotion) 

“The book I’m talking about today is Reb Fishburn: In Too Deep! “ (hold up actual book and show an overhead picture of cover so they can see details)

“What was my childhood fear?” (let 2 or 3 students guess)

“When I was about 4 years old, I saw kids jumping off the far end of the dock into Lake James. They were laughing and having a blast! The kids would jump in, and climb up the ladder again and again! It looked like so much fun…that I jumped in.”

“I didn’t know that the water would be way too deep! The water closed in over my head. Cover your ears like this… (keep talking to the students with your hands covering ears). I could still hear all the kids laughing and yelling, but it sounded far away…almost in another world…and the bubbles! I heard bubbles! I had never heard bubbles gurgling, before! And some seaweed brushed against my arm…I was absolutely terrified of water after that!”

(Allow just a few questions at this time—they always ask, ‘Who saved you?? Did you ever learn to swim?’) 

How I wrote my book… (give interesting details in a quick brief talk)

“While encouraging my 3rd grade class to write, I decided to GIVE MY FEAR to a fictional character…I started writing this story in front of my students.
I wrote some chapter titles (main idea words) to steer my story)."

(Show overhead of Table of Contents)

“I just sat down one evening and started writing the story—as we went through the school year, I’d share part of the story with my students and they’d share their stories with me!”

“I looked at lots of books my students were reading--Marvin Redpost, Encyclopedia Brown, Junie B Jones…” (briefly mention LAYOUT, HUMOR, LENGTH OF CHAPTERS)
“I added more dialogue to my story…kids talking to each other.”

"I had it CRITIQUED by Mrs. Stout and a lady who writes kids’ textbooks. It’s scary to have someone read your writing, isn’t it? …especially when they tell you what they think needs more work. But I considered their suggestions and changed some things."

(use overhead definitions to pause briefly and explain steps of writing/publishing)

"I got busy with new grandkids  and left it sitting inside my computer for a decade.
In December I was recovering from a back injury, sitting around, bored--I pulled story up on computer and finished it.
I asked my 9 yr old granddaughter to draw a black and white illustration for each chapter, and I asked my 13 yr old granddaughter to use the drawing APP on her computer to make the COVER ART."

(show photos of granddaughters , cover and a few illustrations)

"I put it altogether on my computer, printed it out several times, fixed lots of errors, made it fit the size of book I wanted."

  (show humorous PICTURE OF MY CAT playing with pages as they exit printer)

"I asked Miss Emily to PROOFREAD the “Final” copy—then decided to make a few more changes that she suggested.
Then I made a PDF copy of book that could not be changed accidentally, and emailed it to printer.
They sent me PROOF (a REAL, actual book to examine for errors before they printed a lot of books). I made one change on the cover and ordered my first 100 books."

(Show PHOTO of other books I’ve written (all on one or two overhead sheets)

AUTHOR’S PURPOSE (just the two words on overhead): “Does your teacher talk about the author’s purpose when you read books?

 "I write for several reasons—but it’s usually to help people.
I use funny experiences about my family to write stories for kids who are learning how to read.
"I’ve written 200 magazine articles to encourage people  & to inform people about new businesses and interesting people (e.g.: local lady still running races and winning at 70 yrs old).
"I wrote Grandpa’s Hidden Gold Farm—to help beekeepers introduce the importance of beekeeping to school kids
"I was a GHOSTWRITER for a book about a spy during the Vietnam War. He was also a CIA spy for our govt. My PURPOSE was to help an elderly man write down  memories of his life for his kids, grandkids and anyone interested in the CIA and Vietnam War—he died a couple years after we published his story, so his family have those memories to pass along to future grandkids."

“You haven’t even read my book, yet, but look at the front cover. What do you think my purpose was for writing Reb Fishburn: In Too Deep! ...?”

(take 2-3 guesses)

“So that a kid who is afraid of water will know there are other people just like him/her…”
“To encourage kids not to keep their biggest fear a secret—but tell an adult they trust…”
“To encourage kids to read fun chapter books!”

 "There are a few things I do in my books that I’d like you to try the next time you write:”

“Use SYNONYMS that make your sentences more interesting…”(uncover the first example on the screen…) ”Happy is ok, but it’s more of a kindergarten word—can you use more exciting words?” (Uncover example and just allow kids to yell out the word they see.) “Big is ok, but there are more exciting ways to say it…” (give a few examples in sentences).

“Play around with PERSONIFICATION. Which sentence is more exciting?” (Uncover examples, one line at a time, and let the students read them aloud—you won’t have to prompt them! They will just start reading aloud if you are silent and looking at the screen.)

Question/answer time --  3 minutes

Biggest Fear Writing Plan:

“In the rectangle (#1) draw a simple character to whom you would like to give YOUR biggest fear…this can be a person, animal, superhero…”

“In (#3) this explosion or starburst shape, draw or write (in one or 2 words) the alarming news that your character has just received. Reb was in gym class, when her teacher announced they were going to swim for two weeks! She was terrified!”

“Did your character SEE or HEAR something alarming that scared him or her? Was it a news report? Was it the teacher or parent who told them something was about to happen?”

“Next (#4), what is the first thing your character did to avoid facing that fear?”

"Example: Reb tried lying…she took her new swimsuit out of her gym bag and threw it in the back of her closet! Then she told the teacher, “Oh, no! I left my swimsuit at home!” A half truth is still a lie, isn’t it? And Reb didn’t feel very good about being deceitful to her teacher."

“Then (#5), what else did the character do, to avoid facing that fear?”

"Example: Reb went to great lengths to keep from getting in the water. She had heard the hairdresser tell a lady to stay out of swimming pools because the chlorine in the pool could turn her newly-dyed hair green. So, Reb secretly bought some hair dye. She waited until everyone was in bed, and she went into the bathroom to dye her hair. She colored her hair bright red—the color of that apple on the bulletin board!

"But her parents woke up and caught her. Let’s just say…that didn’t go so well for her. However…the scheme worked, at least for one day. When she got to gym class, she told the teacher she couldn’t get in the pool because she had just dyed her hair! Reb was feeling less guilty with each lie she told—because it was working! Lying was keeping her from having to face her fear…for the moment."

“Finally (#6 diamond), how did your character face that fear? How was the problem solved?”

"Example: Reb finally got caught in all her lies. She had to face her fear. She had to get in the water. Do you think she drowned? What do you think happened?"

“You’ll have to read the book to find out all the things that happened to Reb! I have a paper that I am going to send home with you today. If you liked hearing about Reb and think that you would enjoy reading the book, bring back the paper tomorrow with $3.00. You can have a book to take home and keep.”


Ask teachers to allow time (in next few days) to write this story which the students have begun. Tell students you would LOVE to read their stories and maybe offer an incentive for any students who actually complete a story (a coloring book that is supplemental to Grandpa’s Hidden Gold Farm or bookmark, etc).

In the 30-40 minutes allotted for my entire presentation time, each 2nd and 3rd grade classroom had finished the writing plan and students were ready to write their own stories. Each student gave his/her extreme fear to a fictional character, tried to avoid that fear, and finally faced the fear (although one girl crossed out “Fiction Writing” and wrote “Nonfiction” about herself).

Enjoy a few of the Writing Plans that resulted from the Book Talk!

Book Talk Activity

for The Pet Trap

Kindergarten/1st grade

Draw a quick picture (or write a word) of something you lost… write simple beginning/middle/end story –

Book Talk Outline

for Sophia & the Bully

Kindergarten/1st grade

Can you think of someone who is mean…does things that makes you think of a bully? –Bullying talks are important topic today—but not all 'bullies' know they are being mean… (used by school counselors) 


For the Illustrator's Book Talk

Show how your illustrations began with simple lines…and added details…color…then, do a simple drawing lesson with kids…they love it! (any grade)
Do’s and Dont’s

DO involve the students in your presentation, somehow!

DON’T take homemade treats into the school without the principal’s approval! Unless you are in a place where most people know you and trust you, find an alternative treat… if you feel that you must make your visit extra memorable.

DON’T bring any live critters or pets into the school without the principal’s approval! Animals are often against the rules—due to dander allergies and potential injury to students.

DO remember that you are an authority figure—expect good behavior. If the students talk over you or ignore you, continually, it might be that your demeanor shows lack of confidence or that your presentation is not interesting enough. Don’t give up! Change your presentation plan or, maybe, you just need to find a different classroom… where the teacher has taught the students to respect visitors.

DO speak loudly and clearly enough that everyone can hear your words. I’ve sat through many presentations that probably had a quite valuable message—but the speaker was too hesitant, too quiet, didn’t enunciate well, or hadn’t made proper forethought about the environment’s acoustics.

DO step closer to the students in a large group setting…and move around the desks in a classroom setting, to monitor whether they are attending to your words and comprehending what you are wanting them to do.

DO dress for your role as an authority-figure whom they can respect and like…for example, don’t distract students with a low-cut blouse, ripped-up jeans, or a short, skimpy dress that shows way too much when you bend over slightly!

DON’T bring potent odors into the school—heavy perfumes, cigarette smoke, and offensive body odor leave lasting memories of your visit (asthma symptoms, headaches, and kids trashing your book order slips on the way out the door).















Children's Book Authors: For more ideas, read my blog post  "How to Write a Book Description That Attracts Readers."

Author Book Talk: 
     Use Your Children's Book in the Elementary School Classroom to Enhance Student Learning