Reader-to-Reader: Sharing Book Recommendations Builds Community | Donalyn Miller

During the pandemic, social readers have lost outlets for discussing books, but we can encourage students to keep their reading momentum going with personal recommendations.

Whether chatting with my sister during our crochet lesson or attending my online book club, I’m always seeking book recommendations and am eager to promote books, too. I don’t think I’ve finished reading a good book until I’ve enthusiastically suggested it to another reader. For many, the social aspects of reading feed our reading motivation and interest. We love talking about books almost as much as reading. Discussing books with others provides authentic reflection and response opportunities and fosters reader-to-reader relationships.

You can see the relationships between readers evolve and deepen over time by observing how their book recommendations change. The longer you know someone, the better your book suggestions to each other become.

As a middle school teacher, it took time to learn about my students—their interests, hopes, preferences, and past reading experiences. At the beginning of the year, while conferring or helping them find books, I usually suggested titles with wide middle school appeal, like Rita Williams Garcia’s One Crazy Summer or Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now.

As I got to know my students, though, my suggestions became more personal—considering not only what I knew about books and middle schoolers, but also what I knew about each child. I reflected with students on their previous reading experiences—what resonated with them and what left them cold? I suggested books aligned to their personal interests, such as fashion, soccer, or dragons. I considered their schedules and how much time they might have for reading. I thought about my students’ families and the personal details they had shared.

Building relationships with students strengthens our ability to encourage them to read and lead them to books they enjoy. No reading list or assigned text connects kids with reading like a considerate, personalized recommendation from a trusted reader does.

It’s fascinating to observe the relationships that forge among kids who share books and reading experiences with one another. As they learn more about themselves as readers, their appreciation and acceptance for the reading behaviors and preferences of their peers changes, too. Kids become the primary source of book recommendations in a reading community that includes and celebrates everyone’s interests and needs. All reading is valuable. All readers are valued.

Reading communities that promote books and independent reading support young people’s growing ability to self-select books. Unfortunately, many young readers report that their teachers and caregivers underestimate how hard it is for them to find books to read (Scholastic, 2019). Infrequent readers show the most difficulty, because they have the least experience consistently seeking and finding books they like. Talking with young people, educators can identify some common barriers to finding books even when meaningful access is present.

Some students have few opportunities to browse for books in the library. Either their teachers do not regularly bring them to the library, or the librarian’s program or lesson leaves only a few minutes to find and check out books. Frequently, young people indicate they lack confidence using resources to find books such as library databases or review apps like YALSA’s Teen Book Finder App and Database.

Many young readers show limited knowledge of books they might read. When students gravitate toward the same popular books or avoid particular topics, formats, or genres, you can infer that they lack positive reading experiences with a wide variety of books. In some instances, the lack of current book knowledge or entrenched biases and prejudices held by teachers, librarians, or caregivers limits young people’s ability to find and read certain books. It doesn’t matter how enticing the school library’s graphic novel section is if some teachers won’t allow students to check them out or read them for class. It doesn’t matter how many outstanding LGBTQ+ young adult books publish this year if no one buys them for kids to read. They can’t discover books they never see.

Young people benefit from regular opportunities to browse, sample, and share books with their peers. Offering these opportunities has become more challenging during the pandemic, as librarians and teachers have necessarily limited students from browsing books in groups or passing books to each other. Continuing to promote books that students might read, and encouraging them to share their recommendations, can increase student’s reading enthusiasm and encourage more reading.

Create a culture of booktalking at your school by encouraging administrators, staff, and community members to share books with students. These booktalks can range from formal presentations such as video commercials to spontaneous testimonials in the library or classroom. Dedicate regular opportunities for students to share and promote books to each other under low-stakes circumstances—no grades or projects—just reader-to-reader conversations and celebrations. Start each class meeting with a short booktalk from you, then a student. Perhaps, you can set aside the first 15 minutes of one live Zoom meeting a week for booktalks and sharing.

Wandering bookstores and libraries, reading descriptions online, picking books from an assortment and flipping through them, reading a few pages, examining the illustrations or index—readers learn about books and about themselves as readers by browsing. Readers have lost access to many in-person outlets for examining and evaluating books, such as book sales outlets and libraries. Many librarians have connected students and families with databases, apps, and websites that provide book recommendations and reviews or created Instagram or YouTube accounts for promoting books. Teach and encourage students to keep a to-read list of any titles that interest them. Provide time for students to discuss the books they might read next. Making reading plans helps students visualize themselves as readers in the future.

During the pandemic, social readers have lost outlets for discussing books with others, but we can still encourage students to read and keep their reading momentum going by finding opportunities for young readers to share and promote books with their school communities.

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