Book Trailer Project: Before We Started

This is the first in series of posts about a book trailer project I’m doing with my fourth graders.

Having my students do their own book trailers is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.  That said, I have had reservations, say that so many of the kid-created trailers I’ve seen seem to be more witty parodies rather than presentations of the actual sensibilities of the books themselves. Live action I find particularly dicey, say some of the 90 second Newbery offerings.  As delightful as they are they do not, in my opinion, represent well the books as much as riff off of them in entertaining and amusing ways.   An example is  A Wrinkle in Time in 90 Seconds; those of us who know the story find this extremely fun and those who do not may be curious, but it does not to my mind communicate the ominous quality of the book itself.  Same problem in my opinion is with this one for Charlotte’s Web.

Frankly, I think drawings, graphics, and animation make for a more successful kid book trailer.  This one by twelve-year old Lily for Lauren Synder’s Bigger than a Bread Box does a beautiful job communicating what that book is all about.  I also like this stop-animation one for Island of the Blue Dolphins and this one for Everything on a Waffle.   You may disagree, but I feel these graphic-oriented trailers give a better sense of the books than those by live actors.

Next: Making my own book trailer first.

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4 Comments

Filed under Book Trailer, In the Classroom

4 responses to “Book Trailer Project: Before We Started

  1. Can’t wait to hear more! I’ll be learning from YOU before I try it myself!!

  2. iamjameskennedy

    Thanks for mentioning the 90-Second Newbery again, Monica! I agree that live action student movies can be problematic — the result is often a video that’s obviously shot in the school library or in the stairwell of the school or in someone’s apartment, and thus visually blah (though I do feel that, when subject matter, resourcefulness, and acting chops click, live-action is unbeatable).

    Another advantage of eschewing live-action for puppets, drawing, or graphics is that you’re freed to represent a greater variety of creatures and environments. Imagine doing “Island of the Blue Dolphins” or “My Side of the Mountain” live-action when you live in NYC! Impossible. (Green-screen can only get you so far.)

    As for book trailers qua trailers . . . something occurred to me and I was wondering what your take on it was. Trailers are by their nature commercials, and I’ve noticed many book trailers made by kids often fall (for me, depressingly) into aping the advertising tropes of Hollywood commercial trailers, instead of engaging in a more idiosyncractic way with the text. You know the tropes I mean: “In a world where spiders talk . . . in a time when being ‘some pig’ is a matter of life and death . . . one pig WILL RISE” plus lots of quick cuts of meaningless action, instead of developing coherent scenes. Of course, the very nature of a trailer is to tease, its DNA is marketing not art, but that can make it uphill work using it as a pedagogical tool. For instance, I remembering one time seeing a really impressive kid-made book trailer for Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan” — however, on reflection, it wasn’t really impressive. All it was was in the end was a bunch of explosions and people running around, but impressively done. In the end, it could’ve been for any steampunk action-adventure.

    You correctly identify the danger of the 90-Second Newbery as degenerating into flippant riffing. It feels to me that the corresponding pedagogical danger of making trailers is students’ unconscious regurgitation and valorization of crass marketing rhetoric. Of course, many wonderful book trailers avoid this trap, and I think it’s a great thing you’re doing with your students. But what do you think? Is this something you feel is an issue, or is embracing and imitating the rhetorical structures of advertising part of the exercise (perfectly valid), or what are your thoughts, basically?

    • Boy, James, lots to contemplate here. Let’s see, first of all, as you note children and those helping them are generally working off limited resources and knowledge. My Charlie Chaplin movie project is very dependent on the videographer who knows so much! I can’t imagine doing something with a green screen without her. And think of time — we spend a huge amount of time on it. Not everyone has that sort of time. Or knowledge. Or, you are right to point out, apt locations. So improvising is necessary. And that, I suspect, is what leads more to spoofing.

      I think you are absolutely right that kids tend to imitate movie trailers. Which is why I decided to stay away from even showing them any. (I’ll go into my introduction to the kids in a future post.) My students have on their own used templates to create movie trailers which is understandably a lot of fun if not particularly focused on what it is for.

      I think your final question is an interesting one. Our fifth grade does a focus media literacy study and I can absolutely see a place for student-created trailers that are meant for selling in that sense. But I guess my goal is different — my students are trying to communicate what is wonderful about the book in question as it is — not as something else. If that makes any sense.

      I did not mean to put down the 90 Second Newbery Project which I think is delightful (and have tried to talk my afterschool Book Blogger Club to participate in), but just to note that many of the contenders are parodies as that is, as we both noted above, easier to do.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and getting me thinking even harder about all of this!

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