How Do You Find Good Books to Read?: Slice of Life #sol18 20/31

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Last week, I asked the preservice teachers in my Children’s Literature course to write to me about their wonders, curiosities, and burning questions about Children’s Literature. We’re a little over halfway through the semester, and I wanted to know what else they really, really wanted to know, so that I could shape the last few weeks to focus on their needs.

Sometimes I don’t get much in response from students when I ask them what they still want to learn. I’ve liked the class so far. Whatever you want to teach sounds fine to me.

But not this group. This group has thoughts and ideas and lots and lots of wonderings about children and reading and books and teaching. Many students wrote a full page of questions and curiosities!

Some of them are easy to answer. Can you recommend some fantasy series for me? Yes! Here’s a stack just for you!What are some good early readers? Let me introduce you to Elephant and Piggie and Mr. Putter and Tabby and also Michele Knott, who has some wonderful early reader book lists and recommendations in her #Road2Reading series. Do I need to be concerned with reading levels if my students are reading a lot of books? No!

But some of them are really hard to answer. We’d need far more than the remaining seven weeks of the semester to tackle how do I develop a reading curriculum? or how do I teach kids who can’t actually read the text because of a disability? Please enroll in the new course I’ll be teaching in the fall, Theory and Practice of Teaching Reading.

And some of them are deceptively easy but actually kind of hard. Here’s one I’ve found unexpectedly challenging: how do I keep finding good books to read for myself and my students? 

For me, finding good books is one of those bookish habits that’s now so natural and automatic that I can’t remember ever not knowing how to do it. For me, the problem is always just the opposite: I have far too many ways of finding good books. I tend to spend more time reading about books than I do reading the actual books themselves. I could speak for days about how to find good books to read and share dozens of websites and blogs and Twitter accounts they should be following. But I realize that wouldn’t be helpful to my students. In an effort not to overwhelm or confuse them, I think I’m going to share these tips:

Let one book lead you to another. Look for books by the same author, books that customers who bought this book also bought at Amazon, books that have won the same award, books that show up on the same book lists, books that are readalikes.

Find an epicenter reader whose recommendations you trust. Epicenter readers are one of my favorite ideas from Donalyn Miller. They’re the voracious readers who read, read, read–and share what they read.

Find one site you consistently follow and use for recommendations. A new discovery for me is the Read Aloud Revival podcast, which interviews authors, reading experts, and readers themselves to make recommendations. I will also recommend the Nerdy Book Club and Unleashing Readers to my students.

Read book reviews. I hope my students will choose one journal to follow. I will recommend The Horn Book and School Library Journal.

Follow annual “best of” book lists. There are so many good ones. I love the lists put together by the Amazon editors and Kirkus Reviews. The Children’s Book Council collects and links to many of the “best of” lists.

What strategies and sites keep you in good books? Whose recommendations do you always trust? What advice do you have for my preservice teachers who want to keep growing their reading lives?

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34 thoughts on “How Do You Find Good Books to Read?: Slice of Life #sol18 20/31

  1. You are one of my sources for books. 🙂 I think teachers just need to be aware of books that are being talked about. They need to visit bookstores and libraries to see what’s new. Teachers I work with are just not aware of authors. It really makes me sad when they don’t know any of the award winners.

    • I can’t believe I forgot the most important one: VISIT BOOKSTORE AND LIBRARIES! Good thing I read your comment before class, Elsie. Like you, I really count on my online PLN for reading recommendations. I don’t know what kind of reading life I would have without the wonderful It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? group. Right now in class, we are working on identifying and developing favorite authors. It’s been fun for me to come up with a list of prolific authors that could become favorites for my students.

  2. I love this post. Like you, I’ve had ways of finding books. But for preservice teachers who are looking for books for their classroom, I’d also such some Twitter chats–#titletalk is a good one. It’s a monthly chat on Sunday nights, I believe.

  3. So many good sources for teachers to check out. With so many books out there it is good to have sources that can and do take care of recommending books that will fit our needs.

  4. Great post! Oh my, I love making my lists — almost as much as I enjoy reading the books!! Following a large number of K-12 teachers/librarians/readers/authors (on Twitter, blogs, and Goodreads) helps me see repetitive patterns books with good reviews emerge. I also like walking into local libraries to see what’s on the display racks as newly purchased. And being in a secluded area with low-budget libraries (that rarely have fresh-off-the-press books), I have resorted to reading a lot of newer books on my kindle through Overdrive since I can easily filter my results. I don’t get to comment much, but I wanted you to know that I’m enjoying looking over your “slice” blog posts in my email inbox. These are so so so wonderful and I would love to attempt this next March. 🙂

    • Yes me too! I LOVE making lists! We did a reading challenge project a couple of weeks ago in Children’s Lit that took up most of my reading time for the week–I just kept researching and adding books to my list, all of which seemed amazing to read then but now my enthusiasm has waned and I’m on to other things. I might have to slice about my addiction to making (but never following through on) reading plans. And a big YES to slicing next year. I’m going to pester you next year for sure! I also follow a large number of teachers and librarians on Twitter and blogs and find most of my reads there. I know I tend to overwhelm my preservice teachers: follow this person and that person and this other person. I am trying to dial it down a bit this year.

  5. I love all these ideas – and I second (or third, or fourth) the idea of the epicenter & PLNs. Even from this SOL18 I’ve gotten a bazillion ideas. Just finished The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus (did you recommend that?) and have so many on hold at the library that I think they might cut me off!

    • I was not the one recommending The Right Word, but it is one of my favorites (and booktalked and shared in Children’s Lit earlier in the semester!). I actually do max out my hold shelf pretty frequently at the library! A few years ago, I was very proud to be the number one patron at my town library, which isn’t even the library I use most often! (I have cards at four libraries and use them all–AND in two different states, which is kind of fun to say.) And you’re right: I’ve found some new books to read from the Slice challenge too. (Just requested that my library purchase Helen Thorpe’s The Newcomers based on Carol’s slice yesterday: http://carolwscorner.blogspot.com/2018/03/slice-19-newcomers.html)

  6. I’m like you when it comes to reading about book more than I read books. I’d tell those students to join NCTE and ALAN, and attend the conferences, too. Also, Penny Kittle’s Book Love Foundation might be a wonderful way for them to build their collections once in the classroom. I have purchased some good picture books from recommendations from TWT, but as a high school teacher I look for picture books grounded in stories w/ strong themes and/or characters, as well as picture books that feature a research component, such as a bibliography or explanation of methodology in the book. Mrsday75 mentioned “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” by Jen Roberts and Melissa Sweet, and it’s a book w/ research, as are many by both Jen Roberts and Melissa Sweet.

    • I agree with Glenda. Last time I heard Penny Kittle she referenced several books that she uses with her high school students – two of them were amazing poetry books.

    • They read Book Love (one of my fave PD books) in Adolescent Lit, though it’s a different group of preservice teachers. My institution supports a group of preservice teachers to attend NCTE every year, which has been an amazing PD opportunity. I usually don’t promote NCTE with my Elementary Ed majors, and that’s a mistake. I’ll remedy that for sure. I’ve been sharing Donalyn Miller’s work a lot in this school and they’re intrigued by the slideshows she posts online from her presentations about the best books of the year. Lots of good reading ideas there!

  7. Love that we share this in common – teaching a children’s literature class.
    Such a powerful question – how to continue to find wonderful books to share with students.
    Two other possible resources:
    1) Mr. Schu’s book release calendar – it’s a google doc that is shared fo free, and folks can check out familiar authors/illustrators, favorite series, and new authors/series
    2) Instagram – love how Susan Dee, John Schumacher, and Jillian Heise share the books they are reading/loving

    • It’s one of my favorite classes to teach. I used to focus only on the literature, but then realized that many of our Elementary Ed majors still needed to discover and grow a readerly identity for themselves, so now it’s a reading workshop where I wedge all the content around our reading lives, time for reading, book talks, etc. I didn’t know Mr. Schu had a release calendar! Off to find that as I know it would be helpful for me. And I think I’m ready to dive into Instagram mostly for the cats but also for the books!

  8. I love this post! It’s so important to know how to find books, and to stay current on what is out there. I love comparing the March Book Madness with my collection. I usually end up adding several titles to my collection after participating.

  9. Fantastic post! I am a huge fan of Nerdy Book Club and Donalyn Miller. Pernille Ripp often posts what she’s reading on Instagram too.

  10. I always forget that finding books doesn’t come naturally for some people. I had to leave a teacher Facebook group because it was driving me crazy that people were always asking “Can someone tell me a good book to read to my class?” I have a huge list waiting! How can someone not know what to read??

  11. I agree with what you’ve already written. Three other ideas I have are: to look at the new books shelves at libraries–I always find good books I want to read; stay on top of whatever the state’s awards are (in Connecticut we have “Nutmeg nominees”–one wins, but all the other nominees are always great too. I know lots of other states have similar awards); and look at what kids are reading. Even if not many of my kids find books outside of my classroom library, I always have a few that bring books from a local library or a bookstore. I read Because of Winn-Dixie because a kid forgot it in school. –And one more suggestion is that I look at the Scholastic book orders. I don’t learn a lot about the books and I can’t really tell the quality, but it does keep me informed about what books are out there. When I hear about a book in a lot of places, it clues me in that I should maybe read it.

    • Great point–when we see a book show up numerous times, it’s one we should maybe look for. I often find that I need to see a title a few times before I reach the tipping point and request it. I love the idea of looking at the Scholastic catalog and the state awards. Always good books. And yes, asking kids for recommendations and seeing what kids are reading is also huge. My high school students LOVED it when I read a book they recommended.

  12. I love the idea of an epicenter reader. One of my favorites is Franki and Mary Lee’s YEAR OF READING. I also love, love, love the CYBILS award list. If a person just read the finalists in categories that interested them, that would give them a good starting point.

  13. Oh, this is very good. And, like you, something I don’t think much about either. I’m going to be teaching children’s lit next spring I hope (🤞🏾) so will keep these ideas in mind for my students.

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