Book Lists & Book Reviews to Help School Librarians Choose Books!

Book Lists & Book Reviews to Help School Librarians Choose Books! - I don't do books...but there are school librarians who do. Here are the booklists and book reviews that help me choose quality books for students, and they may help you, too. #NoSweatLibraryI don’t do books. … Wait…what?!

I realize this is a startling statement from a School Librarian, but let me clarify.

I’ve never been much of a “literary” reader, so I’m not adept at Fiction booktalks or book reviews nor can I “find the perfect book for a student.” As a former science & social studies teacher, I’m definitely a NON-fiction School Librarian.

So, when it comes to the Fiction area of our school library, I rely on book lists & book reviews from other library and education professionals, both to purchase books for our school library and to recommend books to students.

Here are the book list and book review sources I use to help me choose high-quality books for students. I think they can help you, too.

GREAT LISTS OF RECOMMENDED BOOKS

State Reading Lists

I love that here in Texas we have 10 different reading lists, for preschool to adult, all chosen by our Texas School Librarians. Half of the lists offer selections appropriate for the middle school students I serve:

  • Lone Star – fiction & nonfiction for middle school: I get at least 2 copies of all of these every year.
  • Tayshas – fiction & nonfiction for high school: I buy selected titles for our YA collection aimed at 8th graders.
  • Maverick Graphic Novels – for grades 6-12: Nearly 3 dozen titles for middle-school-aged students.
  • Spirit of Texas – by Texas authors & illustrators for grades 6-12: up to a half-dozen choices for middle school.
  • Tejas Star – Bilingual/multicultural for ages 5 – 12: I ask Spanish teachers to select appropriate titles to support our IB second language program.

If your state offers reading lists—either from librarians or literacy teachers—take advantage of those vetted titles and buy two or more copies of every book that’s appropriate for the age & grade of your students.

You may also want to use other state award lists for additional titles to buy. A great source for those is Simon & Schuster’s Current State Award Master List webpage. Just click on a state in the list or on the map for their list of award or recommended books.

Association & Organization Book Lists

There are a few organizations that I trust to recommend great books for students. Here are my favorites:

The American Library Association is a one-stop shop for book lists. Their Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) and their Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) have a variety of book lists:

The American Literacy Association has 3 “Choices Lists” elected by their readers: Children’s Choices, Young Adult Choices, and Teachers’ Choices.

The National Education Association‘s Read Across America has partnered with Colorín Colorado to create 10 lists to promote diversity, culture, and equity, including a list of books whose settings are in each U.S. state. They also offer 6 other organizational sources of book recommendations.

Book Vendors

Many large school library book vendors, such as Follett, offer customized lists or advanced sort features that produce a customized list. For example, you can sort by “popular” books or “best sellers” to find what other school librarians have purchased. I do this in the early spring to pick up titles I may have missed for my final book purchase of the school year.

You can also use the drop-down checklist of professional book review journals, such as School Library Journal and Voice of Youth Advocates, so you can specify starred or highly recommended titles to create your own quality list. This feature has rescued me from having to comb through piles of professional magazines for reviews of the best books to purchase.

There is one publisher with a book review site that I heartily recommend. Brightly, from Penguin Random House, offers thematic book lists & recommendations at 5 different age levels. Their Tween (ages 9-12) and Teen (13+) sections are very helpful for middle and high school librarians.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FROM LIBRARIANS

Book Reviews By Librarian/Teacher Bloggers

School Librarian Bloggers With GREAT Book Reviews! - Many folks review books on their blogs, but School Librarians specialize in books for kids in grades PreK through 12. Here are some School Librarian bloggers that have helped me choose quality books for our middle school library. #NoSweatLibraryA number of School Librarians have created online book reviews for students and fellow librarians to learn about “good reads.” Here is a list of LM_NET and TLC listserv folks I rely on for good book reviews:

  • Richie’s Picks – Richie reads a book nearly every week and posts his review to the LM-NET listserv. If you’ve missed them, you can search the LM-NET archive, but it may be easier to browse Richie’s Pbworks wiki-web site.
  • Pamela Thompson is one of my favorite school librarians. She’s been reading and reviewing books for years and has a huge compilation on her website Young Adult Books-What We’re Reading Now.
  • Mrs. Readerpants is another of my long-time favorite librarians. She has quite a few book reviews on her website, along with some “Genre Personality” information that can be helpful for students to identify their favorite reads.
  • Barb Langridge has a wonderful collection of book reviews on her website, A Book and a Hug. Some have been contributed by teachers and students. She also has a Reader Personality Survey form for young folks to fill out and submit for an overview of their type along with a visual list of books they’ll enjoy reading.
  • Laurie Evans reviews elementary & middle school appropriate books, which she has curated on her website, Blazer Tales. She offers 3 ways to sort and find the perfect books.

Here are other librarian & teacher bloggers who do regular book reviews, including student reviews which can be insightful for buying multiple copies of books. You may recognize a couple names as nationally-known authors:

  • Nerdy Book Club is a group of 4 teachers, including Donalyn Miller of Book Whisperer fame, who write reviews of books for elementary through high school.
  • Pernille Ripp is a middle school teacher who’s a passionate promoter of reading. Each year her students compose Our Favorite Books, a list with reviews of their favorite reads for the year.
  • Books in the Middle are reviews from 5 librarians and teachers who work with middle school students. Their reviews cover a wide range of topics/genres.
  • Literacy with Lesley is written by a teacher with 40-years experience in reading & writing. She regularly reviews books & compiles book lists on various topics, and has a wealth of ideas for book clubs.
  • Libres is a website of professional book reviews by librarians & teachers in southeastern Michigan. They’ve been receiving publisher copies and reviewing books for 4 decades and once reviewed, the books are donated to schools and libraries in their geographic area.
  • Gaijin School Librarian, aka Ashley Hawkins, hails from a high school in Brooklyn NY where she writes book reviews and recommended lists for manga graphic novels and anime. She has links to other places to find manga information.

Other sites recommended by fellow librarians:

Book Talks & Book Trailers

There’s nothing quite like a book talk to get students interested in books. Since I’m no good at booktalks, I rely on other sources to interest students in books.

One of those resources is the public library’s Youth Services Librarian. Our school boundaries encompass 2 different public libraries, and both allow crossover access for our students. I have the benefit of 2 wonderful ladies who I invite to our school 4 times a year for booktalks and to promote public library activities to our students: early fall after school begins, and before our winter, spring and summer breaks. It’s a WIN-WIN for me, for them, and especially for our students.

Combining the best of booktalks and online book reviews are online video booktalks. Here are two you won’t want to miss:

  • Naomi Bates has written book reviews for years on her blog, YA Books & More. Now she’s upped her presence to a vlog—a video blog—where she booktalks a new book nearly every week. You can also use the playlists on her YouTube site to show a series of video booktalks while your students are browsing for books!
  • Colby Sharp, one of the “nerds” from the Nerdy Book Club, has an amazing YouTube site with lots & lots of video booktalks!

Students love book trailers, and so do I. They’re like movie previews only better, because you can create a QR link code and tape it onto the book so kids can use their smartphones to view the trailer when they pull a book off the shelf. Here are two good resources for book trailers:

PROMOTE READING WITH FIRST-LINERS & BOOKMARKS

Easy Reading Promotion with First-Lines & Topical Bookmarks! - As a NON-Fiction School Librarian, I read aloud the first-lines of fiction books so students know why reading the first page is on our checklist. And I create 21 different topical & series bookmarks to give students additional choices for story types they already like. #NoSweatLibraryOne way I help students find a book that appeals to them is with my IT IS FOR ME checklist, where the F is for the First page of the book. When I get new books in, I scan the first pages to find really catchy first lines. At a library visit I read these first-lines to students to emphasize why opening the book and reading the first page is worthwhile.

Though I’m not so good at book reviews or booktalks, I put special effort into creating “if you like this, you’ll also like…” bookmarks for students. I have templates for 21 different topical & series bookmarks, which I place in Demco acrylic displays on top of the circulation counter. Our Fiction area is organized by Subjects using color-coded sticker labels & transparent label covers. so I copy bookmarks to cardstock that matches the color for the Subject so students know where to go to find the books.

Many School Librarians love reading books from their school library and doing booktalks & book reviews. For those of us who don’t, we can benefit from these folks and return the favor by blogging about what we do do best!

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An Easy System To Help School Librarians Weed Fiction Books

An Easy System To Help School Librarians Weed Fiction Books - As School Librarians we want to provide students with a stimulating collection of Fiction stories. Though we dread the task, it's necessary to periodically get rid of titles that are no longer in line with our school population's interests. To help, here's my easy method for weeding Fiction books. #NoSweatLibraryIf a School Librarian had to list the 3 most dreaded tasks, weeding would be right up there with inventory and overdue books…right? I’ve written about my 6-step process for weeding Dewey books, so now it’s time to tackle weeding Fiction books.

When I began as School Librarian at my middle school, it was only 2 years old, and we still had 3 years of higher funding to build our collection, so my first 3 years I didn’t do any weeding at all. Needless to say, by the 4th year, the Fiction section looked pretty well stocked, but I wasn’t satisfied with some of the titles on the shelves.

Often new school libraries are stocked with a vendor package of book titles purportedly chosen for the grade levels of the school. I discovered that what they actually do is clear their warehouse of old books that have been sitting there awhile and throw in enough new titles so the average age of the collection isn’t some time in the Stone Age. No wonder kids couldn’t find anything interesting to read!

So, that first time I weeded Fiction was, to say the least, a learning experience, and it helped me develop an easy system for weeding Fiction books that has served me for a decade.

WHAT TO WEED IN FICTION

When weeding books from the school library collection, we first need to decide our purpose:

  • We can weed for currency, that is, remove old publication date books to update the average age of the collection.
  • We can weed for relevancy, that is, remove books that haven’t circulated for awhile to increase appeal of the collection…and boost circulation.

I always weed Fiction for relevancy. If the purpose of our Fiction collection is to promote independent reading, then we want books on the shelves that are interesting to students. Relevancy means students are drawn to a book—for whatever reason—and will check it out. Relevancy allows older, popular “classics” to remain, but removes undesirable old publication date books, accomplishing both purposes.

Weeding for relevancy means deciding on the date range and circulation numbers of books we want to remove. Many librarians weed Fiction books with under 10 checkouts in 5 years, and you may want to do that, too. I choose to weed any Fiction book with 0-5 checkouts during the past 4 years. How do I justify these numbers?

In our middle school, we have every-other-week library visits with ELA classes for book checkout and sustained silent reading (SSR) which we call DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read). I’m poor at probability, but here’s my reasoning:

When weeding Fiction, we need to decide the cut-off date and circulation numbers for our report. For my report I choose to weed any Fiction book with 0-5 checkouts during the past 4 years. Here's how I justify these numbers...

  • A student can check out 3 books at a time, so a book has 3 chances of being chosen by 1 student during a single library visit.
  • ELA visits the library 15 times during the school year, so a book has 45 opportunities to be chosen by a student during a school year.
  • We have roughly 650 students, so each book has 29,250 chances to be chosen within a school year.
  • As a 6-8 middle school, each incoming group of students has 3 years of visits to choose Fiction books, so each book has 87,750 opportunities to be chosen during a 3-year period.
  • I allow an extra year, just to be sure, which puts it over 100,000 chances for a book to be chosen. If, after that many opportunities it hasn’t been checked out, it’s cluttering the shelf and preventing other books from being noticed.

I choose 0-5 checkouts because my minimum appeal number is 2 students/year. I figure, if a student likes a book, they’ll tell a friend about it. If that happens each year for 3 years, the book will be checked out 6 times and I’ll leave it on the shelf. Fewer than that isn’t worth the shelf space. Even if a book had high circulation after initial purchase, when it’s checked out fewer and fewer times within any 4-year period, then it’s lost its appeal and needs to go.

WHEN TO WEED FICTION

The When & How for a School Librarian to Weed Fiction Books - The flexibility of weeding Fiction books is that we can do it at any time with "mini-weeds". Here's what that is and how this School Librarian does it. #NoSweatLibraryThe flexibility of weeding Fiction is that we can do it any time. Think about it: any books that aren’t on the shelves—that is, checked out or on re-shelving carts—are being used by students so they don’t need to be weeded! And it isn’t necessary to weed the entire Fiction collection every year, so that’s why I do mini-weeds.

What’s a mini-weed? If we set up a schedule to consistently weed small sections each year, we’ll regularly rotate through the entire Fiction collection. We can start with the books on one side of an aisle. If time presents itself during the school year, we can do another side of an aisle. Eventually we’ll complete the schedule.

HOW TO WEED FICTION

To set up my weeding report, I identify a certain range of Fiction books. Before I reorganized Fiction into Subjects, I set the range for the Call Numbers on one side of an aisle, like FIC AAA – FIC CRU. During Fiction reorganization, I assigned a book’s Subject to our system’s Home Location field, so now I set my report for the Home Location Subject I want to weed. In either case I have the report sort by Call Number so it’s in alpha-author order, the same as the books on shelves.

For the actual weeding, I take a bookcart and a printout of the report to the location, then simply go down the aisle, pulling books off the shelf to the cart. I don’t bother crossing off the list; I just indicate where I stop in case I get interrupted. Once I’ve gone through the entire report, I take the cart to the circulation desk and scan the book barcodes into DISCARD. Last, I remove identifiers and pack the books in boxes, ready for pickup by the district warehouse, which does our book disposal for us.

The weed report goes into the trash. Even if there are books on the list that didn’t get pulled, they’re either checked out or on the book re-shelving cart, so students are reading them and they don’t need to be weeded. Even if a book is mis-shelved, some student has put hands on it, so it’s still of interest. If not, it’ll get weeded next year!

WHAT IFS

What about lost or missing books? They’re extraneous to the weeding process; because they’re already off the shelves, they’re a matter for inventory, not weeding.

Many School Librarians share stories of horrified teachers and administrators seeing them throw out weeded books. Here’s a possible explanation you might use to justify what you do.

Books are like great food, but instead of feeding the body, they nourish the mind. When we encounter food in our kitchen or—gasp!—at the grocery store that is past the expired date, we know that food is no longer healthful for us.

The same is true of a book: when it’s past the time that it’s accurate or relevant, then it’s no longer nourishing, and in fact, can be damaging. That’s why we weed: to be sure our school library is providing wholesome and beneficial sustenance for the intellect and the soul of our students.

If you’ve been holding back on weeding for whatever reason, I hope this article stimulates you to jump in. It’s actually quite a satisfying process, knowing you’ve “pulled the weeds.” Students are better able to notice the remaining books on the cleared off shelves, so they read more and our circulation improves. And isn’t that the whole point of a library?

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