Talking Books with 7th and 8th Graders

Every year, the School Services team at my library curates a list of 10 leisure reading recommendations targeted at the 7th and 8th grade readers in our district. This involves an immense amount of reading. I scan reviews for this age group and when I find something promising, I read the book cover to cover before it goes on the list. We dedicate this time and effort for a few reasons:

  1. Content. For individual RA with these young teens, we often recommend books with swear words, sexy times, and violence – since we know who’s doing the reading, and we know whether or not they can handle it. But when we’re making a list for the 1,000+ 7th and 8th graders in the district? We need to keep it gentle, because we can’t estimate sensitivity levels for all those students. We want a list for everyone, not just for the mature readers.
  2. Quality. You would not believe some of the trashy turds that Kirkus has given starred reviews to; you can’t always trust the reviews. Reading every book guarantees a list with quality we can be proud of.
  3. Presentation Depth. When I visit junior high schools with these books, I get a whole class period (about 45 minutes) to talk about them. If I’ve read them, I have a heck of a lot more to say than if I’ve just skimmed reviews.
  4. Variety. Reading a full book gives you a sense of what that book is: adventure, mystery, realistic, horror. But beyond genre, you also know which books have a romantic subplot; which ones have immigrant characters; which ones are set in your home state; which ones have a high explosion:text ratio. Armed with that info, you can balance the list so there truly is something for every reader.

As you’ll see in this year’s list, we stick to new titles – books that were published in the last 3-5 years. In my eyes, the newer, the better! We steer clear of Caudill nominees (since my library is in Illinois, all the students get plenty of exposure and incentive to read those books without our help) and most other major award winners – unless of course those winners are announced after our list is finalized and printed. Here’s the list for 2017 – I’m so proud of it. I love these books and I’m so excited to give them to our readers!

  • The Blackthorn Key, by Kevin Sands
  • The Great White Shark Scientist, by Sy Montgomery
  • The Art of Secrets, by James Klise
  • Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner
  • The Reader, by Traci Chee (personal favorite!)
  • March: Book One, by John Lewis
  • Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale, or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, by Adam Gidwitz
  • The Impossible Rescue, by Martin W. Sandler
  • The Nameless City, by Faith Erin Hicks

This Month(s) in School Services


To promote the 2015 SRC, my library pulled out all the stops. Hundreds of work hours went into the promotional video (which is a triumph – the rain of rubber duckies makes me giggle every time). Throughout May, we trotted out to all the schools in our district and presented an assembly to every student in grades K-4.

6 librarians | 3 cities | 14 assemblies | 5 schools | 2276 students

programming: sometimes you're Ariel, sometimes you're Eric.

programming: sometimes you’re Ariel, sometimes you’re Eric.

What I learned: I have a very casual approach to presentations – even those in front of large audiences. I am comfortable with ad libbing and going off-script. Over-rehearsing bores me. I should do programs with other extemporaneous presenters, not with the more rigidly scripted and shy librarians. When you’re doing presentations, know your style and own it! And more importantly, communicate that knowledge to your co-presenters. I had 6 people in my group, but most libraries will only have one school liaison, maybe two. If you’re stuck presenting with someone who has a different style, talk about it beforehand so that you can reach a compromise that pleases both of you.


SRC launch: 6/6

SRC Kickoff Party: 6/14 Hundreds of people came to our free concert / free ice cream / free craft party. It was a crazy, but 100% satisfying day. We love seeing this many happy patrons!

School loans ongoing: A few designated teachers of summer school classes and preschools still receive teacher loans during the summer, so we are still pulling books and prepping loan totes.

SRC: Something for everyone!