One of my projects this week has been to load the reviews we received from North Junior High School, Saint Cloud, Minnesota. Ms. Johnson’s class [Language Arts 2] participated in our Use Your ABCs program, a classroom literacy project that is designed to give readers-in-need a chance to practice their reading and comprehension skills, and also get books to classroom libraries.
I’ve already written a note to Ms. Johnson about how great these reviews are. There are several things that are clear:
- Covers matter, and so does the blurb on the back. More than two-thirds of the students commented that the cover and/or summary influenced their decision to pick Book X from the pile.
- First chapters need to be strong. One of our questions for reviewers is whether/not their perception of a book changed after the first chapter. Some students were won over after a “boring first chapter,” but it was clear that in many cases that initial experience influenced the rest of their reading.
- They know the audience – and when they’re being talked down to. There were a few books where the students complained that the vocabulary was at their level but the content beneath them, and vice versa. These weren’t the high interest/low readability books, but books whose portrayed audience didn’t match the content.
The quality of the reviews themselves are excellent, even for books that weren’t to the students’ liking. Here are some of the insights they offered. To read their complete input, click the book title. It will take you to our website. It is interesting to see how their recommendations weren’t always in sync with what the adult (librarian, teacher, parent) thought the target audience would like.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. “I picked [this book] because of the name and the cover. The cover looks funny and the name is great. Borrow this book. It was really good, but I wouldn’t waste my money buying it. It is a one-hit wonder.”
After Gandhi: 100 Years of Nonviolent Revolution by Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien. “[This book is] filled with great stories and information. I learned so much from this one book. After the first chapter, I was wanting to learn more about Gandhi and the things that he did.”
Cousin John by Walter Paine. “Buy [this book]. All schools should have this for a fun book to read for kids who are all caught up with their work and for fifth graders to read for a class project.”
Discovery of Glow by Jennifer Jazwierska and Candice Bataille Popiel. “[The first chapter] was very boring, but then I kept on reading and it got really good. It was a very good book, but easy to read. I liked the pictures and the ending was very good.”
Dodger and Me by Jordan Sonnenblick. “After the first chapter I was beginning to love the book and wanted to NOT stop reading. I liked this book because it was super funny and kept me entertained.”
The Dragon’s Child by Lawrence Yep. “I started enjoying the book from the beginning. I got hooked on the book and wanted to keep reading it. It is about real life, which is pretty cool to me. If you don’t pay very much attenchen (sic) to the book, you could get lost.
The Illustrated Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. “I thought [the book] might be for younger readers, and the vocabulary got more advanced later on. [I liked it] because it twists old classic fables and makes a funny book for older readers.”
The Legend of Willow Springs Farm by Jan E. Culbertson. “[This book] was very annoying to read because it kept saying ‘Alyssa said’ or ‘Bianca said.’ It was a good story idea. After the first chapter I wanted to be done reading the book. I learned to keep searching til you find what you need and don’t give up.”
Listen! by Stephanie S. Tolan. “This was an alright book. It was kind of easy but the story line was good. The book could be more exciting or harder.”
Little Leap Forward by Guo Yue and Claire Farrow. “I liked this book mostly because it was from a child’s perspective, so it made more sense than it probably would have if it was from an adult’s perspective. I would buy this book because it has information about China in the 1960s. It would be something I would want my grandchildren to read to see how different the world was or if it has always been that way.”
Mudd Saves the Earth by Linda Salisbury. “[This] was pretty funny and the characters were rather crazy. [One of the cons is that] some of Mudd’s ideas were not made clear and I did not understand what he was trying to do until afterward. I liked that when there was a tougher word in the context, a definition was given.”
Peeled by Joan Bauer. “I would recommend it to anyone from the age of 13 to 16; some older people may enjoy it as well. [I learned] a few new words here and there, but nothing major.”
The Return of Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac. “After the first chapter of the book I was kind of confused but I was starting to like the book slowly. This book [has] a lot of action that made me not want to put the book down during the last couple chapters.”
The Secret of the Sacred Scarab by Fiona Ingram. “I liked how there was adventure and with adventure came excitement and suspicion. The author also did a very good job explaining all the scenery and things around Egypt. There was lots of detail and I liked how everything just kind of flowed together.”
Notes like “I learned so much from this one book” and other this-book-got-me-hooked comments are a wonderful testament to the attention authors give to crafting stories to engage middle-grade readers.
Thank you all. You helped make this a great week!