April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Reading as the Main Course: A Book Tasting Event

English teachers at Sayre Junior/Senior High School in Sayre, PA, used inspiration from Pinterest to dish up reading as the main course at their second annual Book Tasting Event held on October 17.

Amanda Wagaman, instructor of ninth grade language arts, stumbled on a “pin” on the social media platform that depicted a library decorated as a restaurant. She shared the concept with the department which has been working to increase the ratio of self-selected reading to whole-class texts in the curriculum. Members of the department embraced the Book Tasting Event as a way to get students to “sample” a variety of literary genres in order to find their preferred “tastes” in reading.

Junior high students excitedly enter the restaurant-themed library.

Junior high students excitedly enter the restaurant-themed library.

This year’s event featured over 500 newly purchased books available in the high school library. In response to the Common Core emphasis on literary nonfiction, high school librarian Kent Muench included high-interest nonfiction among the collection, with Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow rising to the top. Unbreakable by Kami Garcia was among the favorites for fiction.

Librarian Kent Muench is head chef for the day.

Librarian Kent Muench is head chef for the day.

The day of the Book Tasting was filled with reader enthusiasm as students attending with their period English classes entered a restaurant–style setting, obtained menus to record their favorite featured texts, and discussed books with peers. Students who arrived with canned goods to benefit the local food drive were entered into a raffle to win their choice from an assortment of books. Department members wore cook’s aprons with the school librarian playing “Head Chef” for the day. Popcorn and animal crackers were provided to add authenticity to the “tasting.” The yearbook staff held a fundraiser stand delighting customers with coffee and hot cocoa.

The department planned for the second annual event to top the previous year through on-going collaboration with the local public library. Holly O’Neill, teen program coordinator for the Sayre Public Library, set up a booth to bring awareness to resources and programs for young people. O’Neill’s demonstration addressed 21st-century literacy as students learned to use their library cards to borrow ebooks, access language-learning tutorials via Mango Languages, and conduct scholarly research with POWER Library.  A number of attendees were inspired to fill out an application for a free public library card.

Sayre Public Library teen coordinator Holly O'Neill signs a student up for a library card.

Sayre Public Library teen coordinator Holly O’Neill signs a student up for a library card.

The public library also collaborated with the yearbook staff to offer a “What Do You Geek?” photo booth as part of the national Geek the Library campaign sponsored by OCLC and supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Students had their photos taken with signs declaring what they geek—in other words, what they are passionate about. Select photos were chosen to appear in the local library’s “Geek” display to bring awareness to the benefits of public libraries.

Another addition to the Book Tasting was the newly approved Sayre High School Book Club which offered a display seeking new members and promoting upcoming events such as the Battle of the Books competition. Some teachers used the Book Tasting as an opportunity to encourage book talks.  Eighth grade language arts teacher Rianna Powers had students create and wear chef hats decorated in quotes with a synopsis from a recent read. As part of a class project, students were required to discuss their themed hats with event attendees.

8th grade students give hat-themed book talk to department-chair Amanda Jenkins.

8th grade students give hat-themed book talk to department-chair Amanda Jenkins.

The annual Book Tasting has already exceeded the department’s hopes for increased literacy. Sayre High School Library’s reports for an approximate 500 student population (grades 7-12)  show that two years (August-November) prior to the Book Tasting circulation averaged 645 checkouts, whereas the recent two years (August-November), with the implementation of the Book Tasting, circulation has averaged 1,221 checkouts, resulting in an 89% increase in book circulation for the school, based on checkouts by population.

A student records his favorite reads on his menu.

A student records his favorite reads on his menu.

To help cut costs and expand the Book Tasting program, the department looks to gain support from local business sponsors and grow even stronger ties with the public library to continue to improve literacy in the “small school with a big heart.”

Amanda R. Jenkins is the English department chair of Sayre Junior/Senior High School in Sayre, PA.

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  1. Dorothy Martin says:

    Nice job! Any examples of how the “menus” for the tasting were composed and what they looked like? What were the expectations for the students and how much time were they given to complete the task? Also, how was the “traffic” managed in and out of the event? We have a 6 – 12 school, and I would love to try something like this. Thank you!

    • Hi, Dorothy–

      If you email me at ajenkins@sayresd.org I can get you a copy of the menus. There are very basic and merely used by attendess to compile a list of books that caught their attentions.

      The class period are 42 minutes and by the time students arrives they had about 30 minutes to browse. This year, with the photo booth and the presentation by the local public library students had 20 minutes (self-guided) to browse, chat, fill out menus, and snack.

      Our department does a good job of addressing expected behavior and requiring “x” number of potential books (listed on the menu) to read so that students are on-task and engaged.

      The traffic manages itself because each English teacher brings their period classes so we only have so many students in the library at a time. Keep in mind, we are a small school. :)

      I hope you give this a try!

  2. Kathleen Connally says:

    Great event! I also saw this idea on Pinterest and was wondering how this might work for elementary school libraries? Congrats on your success.!

    • Hello, Kathleen–

      I think the “cuteness” of the restaurant theme lends itself well to appealing to a young attendees of an elementary school age. I think it would provide a great opportunity for teachers to instruct students about “genre” and how there are different KINDS of books.

      Maybe instead of traditional genres the tables could be organized in more kid-friendly themes. I personally use non-traditional genre organization for my classroom library that includes “twinnies” (more than one copy of book that can be read with a friend), “It’s the end of the world as we know it” (dystopian), and “inside the bunder” (military). I notice that it has gotten my students more interested because it serves as a guide that more readily is understood and connects to their lives.

      Another option would be organizing the event around grade-appropriate texts with one half of the library being lower grades, section of chapter books, up to novels for upper elementary.

      I hope you take this on!

  3. Karen t says:

    I also did a book fair in the evening and combined it with our evening book fair to increase attendance at both. I really like the idea of the food drive.