Monday, May 6, 2013

Windup and Pitch: A Change Up for Book Talks

With baseball season in full swing and my attention focused on the boys of summer, a metaphor begins forming in my mind. Yes, baseball fans are all familiar with the plethora of routines pitchers employ prior to hurling that white and red orb toward home plate. 

Teachers have a variety of ways to generate interest in books among our students. Daniel Pink describes six PITCHES we can use and have our students compose in To Sell is Human (2012), a book I reviewed a few weeks ago.

I have adapted each of the six pitches Pink describes for selling ideas to "pitching" books. First, I created a document describing each type of pitch with the examples Pink offers.

Next, I wrote examples of the six book pitches for Cory Doctorow's YA dystopian novel Little Brother and presented them to my speech classes, where I piloted the assignment before using it in English.

The Pitches:

1. One word:  Freedom

2. Question:What would you do if you were accused of being an enemy combatant or a terrorist?

3. Rhyming: Whether terrorist or combatant, teens so labeled are no longer by the Constitution enabled.

4. Subject Line: 12-year-old labeled terrorist turns tables on government agency.

5. Twitter: Little Brother: Teen hacker Marcus is accused of terrorism when bomb explodes Bay Bridge &    jailed at Gitmo by Bay w/out legal rights #titletalk #engchat

6. Pixar: Once upon a time, Marcus, a seventeen-year-old high school student, regularly hacked into his school’s security system so that he could override it and, thereby, manage to slip out of school undetected by the administration during the day. Every day, Marcus manipulated the school’s computer system and incurred the wrath of the assistant principal who was determined to “bring him down.” One day Marcus and some friends hacked the system and traveled to downtown San Francisco for an event, but the Bay Bridge exploded just as they entered the subway, causing them to reverse course and head back up to the street against the flow of bodies. Because of that, the authorities working with Homeland Security determined that Marcus and his friends bombed the bridge and arrested them as enemy-combatants. Because of that, Marcus was tortured and detained without legal representations on Gitmo by the Bay. Until finally he and his accusers came to a final reckoning, which I shall not reveal to avoid spoiling the novel for future readers.

In the Pixar Pitch, I have bolded certain phrasing to emphasize the formula inherent in the pitch. Students raised concern about how to pitch a book using the Pixar Pitch with out spoiling the ending. This is why I wrote the ending so that I didn't give it away. This is important since students "pitched" their books in class. 

Avoiding spoilers is less important if teachers meet with students one-on-one or use the pitch as a summary activity. I think it would be a great way to have students respond to a variety of texts, including:

1. A chapter in a text
2. A nonfiction essay
3. A class discussion
4. A video presentation
5. A short story
6. Etc.

Of course, the real test of a lesson is how it works with students. 

Porter pitched Blink by Malcolm Gladwell:

Question: Is our sub-conscious as influential as we think? "There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis," (Gladwell).

Rhyming: Are you thinking about blinking?

Subject Line: Blink: The Power of thinking without thinking.

Cameron pitched The Fault in Our Stars by John Green:

One-word: Cancer

Twitter: Your life could end any day now, so do you live life while you can or give up on life altogether? 

Pixar: Once upoon a time, there was a boy and a girl who both had cancer. Every day, they didn't know if they were going to be alive the next day. One day they met each other. Because of that they became lovers. Because of that they decided to go on a trip together. Until finally, that trip turns their lives around more than they can even imagine. 

Kasey pitched Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan

One-word: Dedication

Rhyming: Who knew sacrifice could be so nice.

Pixar: Once upon a time, the O'Mara family got a shocking phone call. Their oldest son Ben had been blown up by an IED in Afghanistan. Every day, the family would travel to see him. One day, his little brother Cam would learn how to ride bulls to make his hospitalized brother proud. Because of that, it brought more stress and arguments to the family. Because of that, Ben did nothing with his life. Cam was sick of watching his brother sit around in a wheel-chair and give no effort to life. Until finally, Cam bet Ben that he would move a qualified ride on a bull that had never been ridden, only if Ben would do something with his life. ---Read Story! 

For longer descriptions of each pitch type and its uses, pick up a copy of To Sell is Human.

Dizzy Dean's wife once offered an observation about her famous husband and ad men: "You know what some of these advertising guys are trying to do? They're trying to get Diz to speak English." The world of selling offers teachers myriad ways to encourage students to speak about books. 

Play ball, pitch books!


  1. I love this idea, Glenda. I have not read Pink's latest. Looks like I should add it to the TBR pile.

    1. Thanks, Chris. I'm planning to include this, w/ attendee participation, in my NCTE presentation, unless, that is, I run out of time. I'm planning to record some of the upcoming pitches my students will be giving.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I ordered the Pink book last week and this is making me impatient for its arrival on my doorstep!