I once handed one of my sure-fire favorites, "Winger" by Andrew Smith, to Gwen, whom I didn't know well. She brought it back the next day and softly said she'd like to try something else. I hit much closer to the bullseye with the 1958 classic "Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare.
Sheesh. How could two books be more different? In my defense, it was the beginning of the year, when most of my 25 new students are asking for suggestions. I was short on time and my matchmaking skills were taxed.
But in recommending books to kids, I have a reputation to uphold. If I hand them a book I say they'll love, and they don't love it, I am less trustworthy the next time I suggest a book. So when I shoot wide--as I did with Gwen--I must double-down to regain my credibility. Here are ways I can do that:
1) THREE BOOKS: Instead of recommending one book, hand the student three. I can't refrain from delivering a blurb for each, and then ask her to read a few pages from each and choose one. Not only does this increase the chances of a good match, it uses the magic of choice to strengthen the reader's investment in the book.
2) ADMIT UNCERTAINTY: I can say things such as "I liked this a lot and Rachel said it was the best book she read all year. But it's definitely not a book for everyone." Or "I'm not sure if you'll like this one. Be sure to put it down if it's not your thing. One of the pleasures of being a reader is deciding what you like and don't like."
3) READ WIDELY: I am pained when I hear teachers--even English teachers--say they don't have time to read. I swear on the Oxford: If you set a timer and read for 20 minutes a day, you will be a reader again. I cannot sell reading if I'm not a reader myself. I display the books I'm reading outside of my classroom. Here are the 36 I posted last school year.
I mentioned "Winger" as one of the books almost every student loves. A few of my other sure-fires are "Blankets," a graphic novel by Craig Thompson; "Out of Order" by A.M. Jenkins; and "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes. Please share with me a title or two of your sure-fires with me!