Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

On Book Recommendations and Whose Voices We Give Power to

I get asked for a lot of book recommendations, it is part of the life of someone who reads voraciously and publicly. I share a lot of book recommendations in real life every day with my students as I do a 1-minute booktalk, with colleagues as we swap books, on this blog where I compile the books I use for various units, on Instagram where I share the ones I have loved, in my Facebook group for my book, Passionate Readers. I don’t mind handing over recommendations, after all, I am so grateful for those who recommend books to me and have throughout the years.

And yet, I am also reminded of why I can recommend so many books. I read a lot. Sometimes more than at other times. I try to read widely. Broadly. I try to keep up with new books and those that I missed the first time. I try to follow the recommendations of others who discover books that I have not yet come across. Whose passion in reading is a gap of mine. I try to fill my gaps and find more knowledge when it comes to the books that I can potentially place in the hands of the readers I am entrusted with because being asked for recommendations by the very students I teach fuels me to read more. Fuels me to think of the kid that is in front of me and potential books that may help them re-connect or stay connected with reading. I have seen what being able to recommend the right book can do. I have seen certain books help them out of slumps. But I also know that recommending books can be a slippery slope. That if I continue to be the only one recommending then the voices of my students are not heard and the identities of them as readers, and, indeed, as human beings, will never be fully independent. Yes, I can recommend, but it is so much more powerful when a child is able to recommend to their peers or when they can successfully find books to their liking by themselves. And so it is a fine line between recommendation and discovery. Between asking students to study their own patterns and discovering their own gaps in order to help them read more broadly and see other people’s experiences that perhaps do not mirror their own.

I see this play out too when we, educators, turn to each other for specific book recommendations for that child we cannot seem to find a great book for. That often we educators, who teach future readers, are not keeping up ourselves with reading. Are not aware of what is out there now in these years when it comes to the incredible books that beckon our readers, and that is a problem. Because too often I see the same authors recommended, a new canon of books exclusively by white authors touted as the must reads. I see the same books recommended time and time again, I see the same titles used as read alouds, as novel studies, as book clubs. I see books that certainly have been worth our time never be replaced because we, the adults, deciding the books, haven’t kept up with our own reading. And I am not sure what to do about it other than discuss this pattern and recommend more books.

This is not to say that we cannot turn to each other for recommendations, but it is to say that we, as a profession, need to read more broadly and more overall in order to serve the kids we teach. In order to change our own understanding of what quality literature is and also what the gaps are in our curriculum. In order to see that the canon, whether traditionally established or not, needs to be questioned, disrupted, and that we also produce our own canon year after year. That when we are asked for book recommendations we audit ourselves and think of whose work we highlight. Whose books we hold up as the best. Whose voices we give more power to when we pass the recommendation on.

I try to see the children who come to me for recommendations as the invitations into reading that they are; see it as an invitation to read more. To pick up another book in the hopes that I can pass it on. To study my own gaps; what am I not reading and why not? Why is it hard for me to think of a title for this kid? For this particular reader? I treat my book gaps and lack of recommendations as a research project; which are the books that should be read? Which are the books I can use in class? Pass on? Recommend? I dedicate my limited time to reading as many books as I can in order to better my practice and become more than I was.

And so while I will continue to recommend books, I will also remind myself that I have much more work to do. That recommending a book isn’t the only step in the journey. That I should track what I recommend so I can see what I don’t. That I should continue to listen to the voices of those who spend so much time helping me see my own book gaps. That I have so many more ways to grow. That before I ask others, I will look at my own reading habits and make a plan so I can continue to grow myself. After all, my students are not the only ones who are still figuring out who they are.

To see who I turn to for recommendations, please go here

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.. If you like what you read here, consider reading my latest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students

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