Be Advised

How do you choose your leisure reading? Do you browse the aisles of your local bookstore or library? Perhaps a good friend or colleague keeps you supplied with a list of titles, or maybe you belong to a book club. I read Twilight when it became popular among the grade 7 and 8 girls I taught. Several years earlier, my mother asked me to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone because her Christian school library committee was determining whether to house J. K. Rowling’s series in their collection. Last year, in order to engage in conversation with my neighbor’s son who loves the Warriors series, I read Into the Wild by Erin Hunter. As I venture further into the world of children’s and young adult books, I’ve encountered dystopian fiction, graphic novels, and even app-enhanced books.

What about you? Have you read Hunger Games? Do you regularly read teen fiction? What about dystopian fiction? Are you lured by the media frenzy surrounding these popular works, or do you dismiss the hype and choose not to read them? We can enter into real and meaningful conversation with our students about their books only after we purposefully read “their” books.

As teachers and administrators, we are presented with the opportunity to be readers’ advisors to the students we teach. In the world of librarianship, readers’ advisory involves guiding a reader to new books based on what they enjoy reading. A readers’ advisor acts like a tour guide, someone who knows more about a place and topic than do his/her followers. Some guides know all the facts and bore the tourists to tears, while others display a love for the history they describe and make a connection with the people on their tour.

One memorable tour guide I met led me on a lively tour through the Louvre. I’ve forgotten most of what I learned about art that day, but I do remember her ironic commentary on how the French saved the Italians from destroying their own art work; in her memorable words, the Italians don’t deserve to ever get it back! We teachers know our students well, and the onus is upon us to know their literary landscape as well—both the well-written books as well as crass populist works like Captain Underpants.

My opening examples show a reactive approach to engaging in conversation with our students. It is also within our purview to introduce them to things that are similar to what they’ve already read. At least several times each week at the public library where I work, someone I have never met will ask me to recommend “a good book.” I always respond with, “What was the last book you read that you enjoyed?” From there I use information tools, the same ones at everyone’s disposal, to guide them to a few possibilities. You can try this out digitally at Kingston Frontenac Public Library’s blog: <>. Anyone can develop the skills for reader’s advisory, something that many teachers I know already possess as a result of their years of teaching and reading with students. Here are a few “readers’ advisory tools” available to help you recommend a book:

  • Your ears. Listen carefully to the reasons why a student enjoyed reading a particular book. Was it the characters? the genre? the reading level? the amount of dialogue or action? One child enjoys The Zucchini Warriors by Gordon Korman because of the humor, while another likes the setting in a boys’ boarding school.
  • Google. Just type in “If you liked Hunger Games” and up pops Web sites with lists of other dystopian teen fiction. Try it for any author or book series for children, teens, and adults.
  • Expert Advice. Seek out your school librarian, a public librarian, or check out your public library’s Web site. There may be an address for e-mailing questions; those are usually checked every business day and answered in a timely manner by librarians who deal with readers’ advisory questions every day. Check out London Public Library’s “I Like to Read” site for kids: <>.
  • Professional Literature and Reviews. Quill & Quire, School Library Journal, and your local newspaper publish online and print reviews of new books. “Top 10” lists provide you with an idea of what’s popular and available among students in your class’s age group.

After opening with devotions, I asked the grade three students I was supply teaching to share with the class the book they were currently reading or one they recently enjoyed. I wrote down the titles, and saw a diverse array of interests and reading levels. It gave the students an opportunity to learn how to recommend a book. If I did this again, I would demonstrate how to orally summarize and recommend a book. The students relished the chance to be an expert on something about which I, as the teacher, had limited knowledge. Their interests allowed me to explore new genres of fiction and learn more about things like Pokémon, hockey teams, and dinosaurs.

What good books should all educators read? Whatever their students are reading!