“I hope you don’t think this is weird, but can you suggest something for me to read?”
She went onto describe herself as a voracious reader who was always looking for a good book to read. I didn’t bother to ask her why she thought I might be a good person to make a recommendation, but it might have been because of the several stacks of young adult novels I keep in my car to give to the teachers in local schools I visit or leave in my backseat in the hopes that my son will pick one up and read it so I can ask him what he thinks (that recently worked with Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff—but he told me later he wished I had told him it was a book about sports). But I digress.
I handed her my copy of 13 Days of Midnight, which I had just finished. 13 Days, by Leo Hunt, is about a boy who inherits his father’s collection of ghosts. It was a pretty good book; I finished it (I never feel obligated to finish a book), and it made me think about depression in a way that reminded me of Silhouetted by the Blue by Traci L. Jones another book in which a parent’s depression has detrimental consequences for their children. Which leads me to the subject of my blog post and a question I hope you will answer in the comments section:
I am asked this question all of the time. What book would you recommend for my son? I’m teaching a unit using lit circles; what books should I include? Frequently, someone posts a question to the NCTE Teaching and Learning Connected Community listserv (If you can't access this, it is time to join NCTE): I need a book that features a [insert any number of character types here], I need a book for my seventh grade unit, and so on. Let me be clear, I love these questions. And, I take them quite seriously. Usually, I can just look at my shelves in my office or recall something I’ve read that left a great impression on me, or ask my librarian colleague Charity for a suggestion, but sometimes I have to search.
2. Many of you have Goodreads accounts. Charity, my go to librarian, has managed to link her Goodreads account into her email so every time she sends me an email, I get to see what she’s currently reading. But there are so many resources on this site, many of them generated by readers. And some of the reviews are so helpful in making a decision about whether or not to pick up a book.
3. State awards. Many states have annual awards for books that are popular among their readers. In Louisiana, the list is put together and then students from all over the state vote for their favorite. One of the best things I did this semester was require my students to read one of the books for middle or high school students and create a book trailer for it. I’m particularly proud of our state as this website is full of resources, including promotional materials and book talks.
4. Professional journals. I have been a subscriber to the English Journal even before I got my first teaching job. I love the young adult literature columns, and Mark Letcher’s column on adaptations of Shakespeare inspired me that year to create a weekly topic on that (students were asked to read one of the books he mentioned in his column). Jim Blasingame and Sybil Durand’s column in The ALAN Review is another place I look to for good books. The ALAN Review also features quick book reviews online at ALAN Picks, moderated by Bryan Gillis and a very thoughtful column called Under the Radar in which cj bott, James Bucky Carter, Sean Kottke, Jon Ostenson, Daria Plumb, and Jennifer Walsh examine books from smaller presses as well as topics that are less explored in mainstream publications. School Library Journal and Young Adult Library Services are also great places to look for book reviews and thought-provoking articles on YA literature.
5. Highlight books from smaller presses. Another good spot is Purdue’s journal First Opinions, Section Reactions.
6. And social media with inspiring stories like this one from the Huffington Post that I found retweeted on Little, Brown School’s twitter account.
Now, it’s your turn. Where do you find books to recommend? Post your comments below and feel free to self-promote.