Years ago, I used to take my sons, now adults, to Hicklebee’s Book Store in San Jose. It’s an independent children’s bookstore, full of treasures signed by authors (rocking chairs, photographs, books, and other items), stuffed animals, games, and, of course, books. While I browsed, my boys would select something for themselves. One year I said no more toys. They had to select a book. My oldest son was eleven that year and surly about choosing a book. The owner of Hicklebee’s, Valerie Lewis, selected a book off the shelf. To my son’s dismay, she opened the book and began reading out loud to him, right there in the store! His shock and embarrassment quickly faded, and by the time she turned the page he was craning his neck to see the page. By the middle of the second page, the book was in his hand and the bookseller had vanished, off to do her magic with another reluctant reader. THAT is the power of book recommendation! The book? Holes, by Louis Sachar.
Two years ago, I read an amazing young adult book and told my class of fifth graders about it as I read it. I enthused about the strong female character, the impossible situations she found herself in, and her incredible drive to survive in spite of everything. Before I knew it, half the class had bought it, still in hardcover, and the other half was lining up to borrow it. By then I had read the second in the series, and was eagerly anticipating the third, due out that summer. Students competed in my blog contest that summer to win a copy of the third book. What was the first one? Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
Over the last couple of years, I have seen an oddly illustrated cover appear on a lot of my students’ desks. I say oddly because the cover art does not appeal to me at all. Yet student after student picked this book from the library or showed up with their own copy. Last spring I bought a copy for myself. When I finished it, I immediately went out and got the rest of the series and read them one right after the other. Students said, “Oh, Mrs. Ulleseit, you haven’t read those before? They are so good!” The book? The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart.
This year, as I begin Reader’s Workshop with my students, I realize that a huge part of the program’s success will rest with book recommendations made by students to each other. And “Oh, that’s so good!” is not enough. I must strike a balance between enthusiastic generalities and laborious book reports. If students can write short book reviews like I have on this site, other students will read them and pick up the book. If they do a really good job writing them, I will post them here on my site. I can’t possibly read every single young adult book out there, so why not get some help? If you’ve read a great book lately, write up a quick review like the ones I have posted and send it to me. I’ll add a picture of the book’s cover and post the review with your name on it. And maybe I’ll get some ideas for books to read, too!