Selecting a Good Read for Your Book Review

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SWABT select an appropriate narrative work (a novel presumably) to review for their Book Reviews.

Big Idea

students need guidance to select appropriate independent reading

Background and Context

8 minutes

Several weeks before the Book Review is due in class, I need to help students select a good book for their reviews.  Clearly, they will need good fodder for the best writing!

For this iteration of my course I will emphasize fiction for the Book Review project, as they have been reading non-fiction and they will continue to read lots of non-fiction for their research essay -- due as the penultimate paper for the class.  Besides, anyone currently teaching English knows of the wealth of YA of late -- so many good “series” born of Harry Potter and, more recently, The Hunger Games.  It is easy to put books in the hands of kids who will actually read them!

I’ve had luck using two free, web-based tools -- one I like but one I LOVE!  I use goodreads and shelfari, which is owned by Amazon.  I like goodreads, but I LOVE shelfari.

I also use a pay-site called novelist, which is very rich and very powerful tool for choosing books, but it does require a District or school license through Ebsco.

Finally, there is something to be said for the good old-fashioned “book talk,” given by your school librarian.

I use all of these resources in order to help students pick a good read, and I detail these in the sections that follow.

Using goodreads and shelfari

18 minutes

Goodreads is an extremely popular reading, social-network that launched in January of 2007.  In recent years as I have asked students to search background on popular books to read, goodreads has hit most often.  I’ve found the discussions there to be, generally, articulate and informed, and I have personally enjoyed some of the titles, named in the annual “goodreads awards.”  Goodreads is easy to use, and I encourage you to simply allow students to browse around in the various categories and among the many lists, etc.

Shelfari launched in October of 2006 and was acquired by Amazon in August of 2008.  While I think goodreads is more popular world-wide, I find shelfari’s key feature -- the “shelf” -- to be an excellent, graphic and eye-catching way to promote reading for your students.  Users can create personal shelves (as part of a public profile), and users can also create public shelves -- a great way to promote classroom-based or school-wide reading.  I’ve used both types of shelves, and I try to keep my personal shelf current.  Last fall (2012), I created a “book group” for my Adv. Comp. students to discuss their choice books, which is an easy way to create accountability for your course’s summer reading requirement.  Also, when I was a Department Chair, I used shelfari to promote the school-wide reading list; here’s an example in .pdf from an older “summer reading program shelf.”

Just as with goodreads, students can “poke around” at shelfari and locate book choices.

Using novelist

14 minutes

Finally, my last e-resource for book selection is the excellent Ebsco product Novelist.  Check with the IT people at your school or your librarian for Novelist availability, and, if your school is not a subscriber, ask for this database!  From the classroom computers, students can easily login to the password-protected site and search for new reads in a variety of ways.

As students use the three e-resources to find potential titles, I ask them to keep notes on an index card.  Once we are done with our searches on our computers, we make our way to the library for a “book talk.”

Assistance from Your Librarian: The "Book-Talk"

20 minutes

As a final step for book selection, I take my students to our LRC and visit with the librarian.  My school is very fortunate to have a fantastic library staff, and both of our librarians are highly competent women who actively promote reading.  This is easy to see if you visit the library’s homepage.

Once students are in a library classroom, our librarian takes over, and she gives a “book talk” highlighting several current reads.  She divides several stacks of books into different genres and sub-genres (science fiction, realistic fiction, romance fiction, non-fiction (general), sports-related, etc.), and she “browses” these stacks with students as they think about a book to check out.  Usually, students are also able to consult their index-card-list, created in my classroom while at the computer.  

Once students have checked out a book of choice, they go to their next class at the bell.  I ask them to log their book for homework or during the first few minutes of the next class period.  They bring their books to class on the following Friday for their first period of Silent Sustained Reading (SSR).