Monday, February 11, 2013

Guest Blogger - View from the school library

Janet Hutchinson is a colleague and kindred spirit when it comes to children's literature.  She also works a day and half in the library in the school which her children have or are attending here in Calgary.  Her experiences there provide her (and me by extension) the opportunity to see what teachers and kids do with the books we promote.

Do I see future book reviewers?

Back to the girls

The grade 6 teacher, Jane and I cooked up a little scheme. The Doucette Library has lots of really good fiction titles. Her Grade 6 girls were going through the school library titles faster (almost) than I could buy them. So we agreed that I would bring in some titles for them to read – and in turn, they could write reviews and recommendations for me.

I selected about 20 or so books – I tried to pick a range of titles, some new, some old, some I had read, but most I had not. I took some old School Library Journals in to the class so they could understand the basic elements of a book review. I talked about how, even with all the time in the world, I couldn't read everything and so I relied on magazines like the SLJ to guide me in purchases.  But that sometimes adults don’t get it right, so here was their chance to tell me what to do. And then I handed out a sheet with 5 questions on it. In addition to the title and author, I wanted them to give me a 100 word plot summary, tell me if they liked the book (or not) and why (or not). Then I wanted to know – should I buy the book for the library? And how many stars would they give the title?

The reviews were interesting – and I now have a bit of a shopping list for my next order. Here, in no particular priority are several of the 4 ½ and 5 star books – and some of the feedback I received.

Bird in a box by Andrea Davis Pinckney
Emma said “This heartbreaking book will draw you in and you will keep reading it until you are done. I love this book because it is intense, sad, scary, happy and exciting all in one. A bit of love mixed in made it perfect. This is the best book ever. You should defenitely(sic) buy it.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Boyea
Anna: “This is a suspenseful and awesome book. I can really relate to some of the characters in the book and I love the way it is written. I give this book 5 stars!!”

May B by Caroline Starr Rose
Gabby’s comments: “I like this book because it was very dramatic and she has an amazing personality. I like how she deals with problems. You should (buy this book for the library) because I finished that book in about 3 hours.”

Nature girl by Jane Kelley
Caroline said: “Jane Kelly gives a great storie(sic) on a laugh out loud survival book. I liked it because I myself am a nature girl, so it was a great book for me.”

The boy who saved baseball by John H. Ritter
Carla: “I liked the book because when one problem was solved, another one came up. It was very realistic. It was so interesting that I wanted to read it all night.”

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams
Caroline: “Gangsta Granny is a laugh out loud book……this book will make you smile! I liked it because it reminded me how much my granny means to me.”

There were, of course, some books that were less than successful, although I was a little surprised that the reviews were all generally positive. Of the books that I took in and reviews I received, only two were “Do not buy”. One was The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones. The reader’s comment? It is a sequel and without the first book, this one was hard to understand. Fair comment (maybe I would buy the first book Charmedlife instead.) And the second book was Keeper – the reader did not like it because the book “switched back and forth from past to future”. This was one book that I had bought for the library based on journal reviews…..
What I found completely charming in all of this? When I went to take the books back, so that I could return them to the Doucette, there were groans and moans – everyone wanted to keep reading them. So I left them – at last check, they are “almost” all done. And they want to do it again.


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