You Get a Book Tasting, and You Get a Book Tasting…

As a librarian, the best feeling is connecting a student with a book. There are many ways to do this – reader’s advisory, book talks, book trailers, etc. But one of my favorite ways is hosting book tastings. I’ve done many types of book tastings over the years, and each has its own strengths.  Most of these ideas are not new, but I hope they inspire you to try something new to you!

Each book tasting includes a paper (designed to match the theme) where students can record their thoughts about the books they look at, which sometimes teachers collect as a participation grade.  (Don’t worry, I make sure students get the papers back so they can remember what they were interested in!)  I also make sure to leave time at the end of the period for students to check out any books they want, not just the ones pulled out for the book tasting.

**Just a heads up, if you are wrapping your books for any activity, write the barcode number on the outside somewhere. Then the kid who checks it out gets to unwrap it whenever they wish.**

Blind Date with a Book: 

To prep, I set the mood- red table cloths, fake rose petals, battery-operated candles for soft lighting, soft classical music. I wear a black skirt and white shirt (and sometimes a tie) so I can be their waiter. Students sit no more than 4 per table. Sometimes the 6-8 books on the table come from the same genre, but sometimes they are all different. Students have around 5-8 minutes at each table to explore the books (reading the summary, starting the first few pages, etc.) They have a paper designed like a datebook.  There are, of course, many variations of this form and I tend to change it up each time I do this style of book tasting. After the allotted time students get up and move to another table. Then, rinse and repeat.  At the end of the period, each student (no matter if they checked out a book or not) gets a Hershey’s Kiss because it’s the “best way to end a date.” 

Book Cafe:

To prep, I set the stage – checkered tablecloths, placemats with an outline of a plate and utensils, upbeat music. I wear a chef’s hat and an apron. Students sit no more than 4 per table and for this type of book tasting, each table represents a different course of the meal so they are all set up by genres. There are approximately 6-8 books on each table with a paper designed like a menu showing them their appetizer, main course(s), and dessert. There are, of course, many variations of this form and I tend to change it up each time I do this style of book tasting. Students have around 5-8 minutes at each table to look at books (reading the summary, starting the first few pages, etc.) After the allotted time students all get up and move to another table. Then, rinse and repeat. I have also done this as a Starbooks (Starbucks) theme in which I wear a green apron that I have designed a Starbooks logo for. I then become their barista and use a similar menu form. 

Believe it or not, the kids (high school students) loved that I dressed up for the Blind Date and Cafe. 

Musical Chairs with Books:

To prep – Set up a basic game of musical chairs. Have the same number of chairs of students that will be playing. I place one book under each chair. Students sit in the chairs with something to write against in order to fill out their musical book forms. I preplan music of different genres for some fun. The form I have students fill out has the title and author of the book, their brief thoughts about the book, and if the book rocked or not. Start playing the music. Tell students which way they will be walking. Bonus points for dancing and singing! Stop the music when you’d like. Watch everyone scramble for a chair. (At this point there are still enough chairs for everyone). Have students take a few minutes to look at the books (reading the summary, starting the first few pages, etc.) and respond on their form. If a student is interested in checking that book out, they can bring it with them whilst they travel for another round. If a student picks a book up from a chair that I am not removing, I add another book to those chairs. I have all students complete at least five rounds – taking a chair out each time. If students don’t get a book, they can still participate in the activity. It’s fun watching them get into it and scramble to find a chair. After that, students who have books are allowed to check them out and start reading. We play a few more rounds after that and then if students haven’t found a book yet, they are welcome to browse the library.

Musical Genres:

This is similar to musical chairs with books, but instead of a circle, I set up chairs in front of different bookcases. I usually skip every other bookcase. When I talk about bookcases, I am referring to a vertical bookcase (singular). Since most of our shelves contain more than one bookcase, I skip every other one (or a couple). This way kids have space to themselves and they can fully devote their attention to the books in front of them. I use the same form from musical chairs with books. Each student takes a seat with their form and something to write on. But instead of one book, they now can browse that entire shelf. I play music and start and stop it as I see fit. Students move to the next chair to their left when the music stops. Students get through as many bookcases as possible during the period.  

Book Tweets:

Never judge a book by its cover. You only have one chance to make a first impression. However, we know that we do judge books by their cover. When we start this book tasting, we have a conversation about first impressions, stereotypes, and judging. We all usually agree that at some point in our lives we have been judged by the way we look, dress, act, etc. I tell them the books on their tables have been wrapped in paper, so we can’t judge them by what they look like on the outside. Instead of full-blown summaries on the outside of each book, I have summed up the book in 280 characters, including hashtags, Twitter-style.  4 students sit at a table, with 10 books to a table on 22 tables. On each table, there are dot stickers (but you can use whatever you want – any kind of stickers, stamp pens, etc.) and students are instructed that just like a Tweet if they like the book or find it interesting, they should add a sticker to the paper covering the book. This way other students know that these books are interesting to others and they might be more likely to take a look. This I also did as a timed rotation. If a student wanted to have the book, they were asked to put their name on the back of the book. I would then use a name generator to pick who got to check the book out first, second, and so on. I did have a Google Sheet of all the books, authors, and Tweet summaries that I sent to each teacher in case kids asked to see it to add to their to-be-read list. There was a lot of prep to this – wrapping each book, coming up with a Tweet and hashtag(s) for each book – whew!  The kids loved it though, so I felt it was worth it. Since they just had to read the summaries and not fill out a form, they actually seemed more engaged.

Book Summaries: (See my post on COVID style book tasting)

Lessons Learned:

As every educator does, we learn each time we do a lesson or activity how to improve or change the activity or lesson at hand. Now that I have done each one of these tastings, I have things that I would change. 

Blind Date with a Book & Book Cafe: 

  • Students, of course, read at different speeds. By making sure there were two to three books per student at each table, there were usually enough books to keep them busy by asking them to read the summary and if they finished that to read the first few pages and fill out their form. I did let students know when they had two minutes left so they could finish their form if they hadn’t started yet. Still, I had groups finishing at all different times. And when high school kids get bored – you never know what will happen. Next time, I will have more than 2-3 books per table. 

Musical Chairs with Books:

  • Some classes were all in for the full time. I mean, how often do you get to listen to loud music in the library and run around? Some classes started out all in and then fizzled out after a couple of rounds. To do this as the first book tasting of the year is probably not a good idea until you get to know the classes and kids to see if they will be all in or not. 

Musical Genres:

  • Back to the thing where students read at different speeds – by having an entire bookcase to look at before they moved on, that helped tremendously. Having students in chairs several bookcases apart, also meant they weren’t chatting – they were able to fully engage with the books. I actually like this book tasting better than musical chairs. 

Book Tweets: 

  • I won’t have students put their names on the backs of the books. I thought it would garner more attention to the books when students saw that their classmates were interested in that particular book – and I was right. However, if students didn’t put their last name on the back of the book, I had no idea who wanted it, which made using the random name picker pointless. Instead, I used my finger, closed my eyes, and pointed to a name and that’s who got it first. I also am worried that students now could see which book Tweets their peers were interested in (which I did mention was good), but it might out a student or something to that degree. Some students’ handwriting I couldn’t read either, which was another problem in getting that book to a student. 
  • Since I had only wrapped so many books, I wasn’t able to let students check out a book that day and unwrap it. Having students walk out with ideas of what they might like, but without books in their hands made me super sad, and it wasn’t a best practice. If I do this again, I will wrap more books and put fewer books on the tables. If they like a book enough to check it out, they can just check it out at the end of the period. 
  • I will let students go from table to table on their own so they don’t have to wait for their peers. 
  • If I use the sticker “likes” with these changes, then students will be checking the books out that they liked, so there wouldn’t be a visual. My immediate thought is to have chart paper around the library with numbers (which would match a book) and as a student wants to check out the book or likes the book, they could stick a sticker on that book’s chart paper. Then, at the end of the period, I would reveal which book numbers were which books and show titles, author, and book cover on Google Slides, this way if students get to all the books or one they thought they may like but was checked out, they can write down the titles of the books they were interested in. I’m going to try this next year and do it this way. 

Book Summaries:

  • Students not having to wait for their group members was a huge plus for this form of book tasting. Having the extra summaries made things easy so that once one was taken, then another went in its place. If a student found a book they wanted to read, they were handed the book and then asked to find another place in the library to read to see if they liked the book. They were also encouraged to continue through the tables. I think this was my best shot overall at mastering the art of book tasting. Because we weren’t wrapping the books, students also couldn’t see the thickness of the book, which was great because that can sometimes make a student pass on the book. More students walked out of this version with a book in their hand over the others. I do wonder if I had wrapped enough books so students could take their book with them within the Book Tweets if it would have had just as good of a checkout rate. 

Next year:

  • The first book tasting next year we will still talk about judging a book by its cover, first impressions, etc. I will have students start at their own tables with 4-6 book summaries and/or book Tweets. Then they can rotate throughout the tables without a timer. I will take the ideas from Book Tweets about having the chart paper and those likes will be tracked. At the end of class, students will be able to see which book number is what title. Basically, it is combining the Book Summaries and Book Tweets tastings. 

I’ll let you know in the fall how this hybrid version goes. 

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