Cultivating Reading Interest with Book Tasting


INCE 2009, I’VE been using an activity that I call “book tasting” to help teens select books for independent reading assignments. While I am sure I am not the first to do this kind of activity, the term “book tasting” seems to appeal to our teens. Book tasting has been extremely successful in pairing up students with texts that speak to their interests. My primary teaching partner in book tasting has been Susan Lester and her 10th grade Honors World Literature/Composition students. Susan and her class have been part of our Media 21 cohort, an approach to participatory learning that emphasizes an inquiry stance on learning and multiple literacies (see http://www. theunquietlibrary.libguides.com/media21).

Susan and I have worked together since the 2009-10 academic year to develop a collection of book sets (fiction and nonfiction) on issues including the HIV epidemic, ethnic wars and genocide, famine, environmental issues, women’s rights, apartheid, and children soldiers in countries and/or regions in Africa. We have expanded the selections over the years to include contemporary titles related to these issues in other regions of the world. We have also included topics such as immigrant rights, poverty, human trafficking, and privacy issues in a post 9/11 world. As we began our first major project in September 2011, I placed the selected books on carts that were ready for


students when they arrived in the library. I explained to the students that we were going to use that day and the following to “taste” and immerse ourselves in the books by selecting at least five titles and then taking 10-15 minutes to look at each book. Students were encouraged not only to select five books of their choosing from the carts, but they were also offered the option of nominating any additional selections using our OPAC (Destiny Quest), NoveList, or Amazon as discovery portals for additional book choices. Students used a form to record choices, notes, and evaluate how “read-worthy” the book might be with one being “Ugh, I can’t get into this book” to five being, “I could really sink my teeth into this text.” In this variation of book tasting, students have the option of sampling more than five books if so inclined. Once they finish their book tasting, they complete their final evaluations. Susan and I then looked at their forms and grouped students in literature and inquiry circles in one of the following ways: ▶Groups formed around a common reading, or ▶Groups formed around a common theme or issue. These groups may all be reading the same book, or each member could be reading a completely different text but still be unified by the threads of a common theme/issue. A group could also be doing mixed readings in the sense that half the group is reading one text, and the other half is reading a different selection. Once groups were formed, we spent about two weeks immersed in our texts. We used a combination of collaborative reading responses by group, Fishbowl discussions, and individual responses to the texts to scaffold conversations for learning and as fodder to help students formulate their research topics and inquiry questions for a digital research composition begun in October. Susan and I hoped that this learning structure would give students a more organic series of learning experiences and provide them more freedom, ownership, and participation in the unit of study. That hope came to fruition by the end of the year in interesting and rich ways that neither we nor our students anticipated. But, it was not without a learning curve for students. This variation was a restructuring of previous book tastings and in which we used a Publisher template with the appearance of a menu that I had created. Previously we had actually required students to sample every book from the menu, but for this version of the activity, we really wanted to open that up to allow more choice, and the students seemed much more engaged with the texts that were sampled. Students confirmed that the flexibility we provided helped them choose meaningful texts that were the springboard for their inquiry projects.

I created a book tasting LibGuide for the Spring Semester 2012 book tasting that served as our springboard into a unit of inquiry on war and veterans (see http://theunquietlibrary. libguides.com/lester-springbooks and Figure 1). Although we had hard copies of all the books except for two on the menu, I wanted students to have a portal for our book choices and book review tools. In the “Book Tasting” LibGuide, I included widgets for NoveList and NoveList K-8, which we access through GALILEO, Georgia’s Virtual Library (http://www.galileo.usg. edu/welcome/?Welcome). In this way, students could read book reviews for their choices and/or browse suggested “read alikes” or browse additional books by topic if they chose to do so. I also used the “books from the catalog” feature in LibGuides to create a visual list of books so that students could peek at the covers on our large screen in one of our library commons instructional areas before heading over to the book cart. For the two books we didn’t have, though students might be interested in reading, I could hyperlink to the books in Amazon (although I could have easily pushed them to any other source like Goodreads reviews or NoveList) so that students could get a preview since “books from the catalog” allows addition of a hyperlink (which is handy when creating a list of eBooks from a database like Gale Virtual Reference Library). Finally, I included a widget for our Destiny OPAC and a LibGuides built-in widget for Google Book search. This LibGuide page gave students a virtual Fig. 1. Book Tasting LibGuide.

portal for learning more about a book and reading reviews after browsing the hard copy of the book. For this book tasting, I followed the principle of “less is sometimes more” by giving students a blank 3 x 5 index card after we reviewed the LibGuide. I instructed students to use one side to jot down notes to themselves about the books they were browsing; on the other side, students indicated their top two book choices (see Figure 2). Susan and I collected the cards at the end of the class, and I used them to quickly and easily compile a roster of students and top choices. Since we had enough copies of what everyone wanted and enough money left in our budget to purchase the few additional titles we needed, we could give every student his/her top choice. The students’ choices were as follows: ▶2 students chose Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two ▶2 students chose Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam ▶1 student chose Faith of My Fathers ▶3 students chose Fallen Angels ▶4 students chose Purple Heart ▶1 student selected House to House (self-selected through browsing/discovery rather than a selection from the original menu) ▶1 student selected Sunrise Over Fallujah ▶1 student selected The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family ▶2 students selected The Things They Carried ▶3 students chose Soldier Boys ▶3 students selected What Was Asked of Us ▶1 student chose I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story

how to form Fishbowl inquiry groups for March. While Susan and I initially thought we would group students around theme, text, veteran group, or war, the students voted to keep their Fall 2012 groups, even though this meant groups weren’t formed around any particular common denominator. Happily, the results were extremely positive as students used their face-to-face discussions and reading mindmaps to make rich connections between multiple and diverse texts as focal points. Students used their texts and Fishbowl group discussions to discover an issue or topic they wanted to research related to war and/or veterans. This personal investment in the topic was extremely important to students and impacted their level of engagement in their inquiry projects. In conclusion, everyone in our Media 21 learning community was happy with the way the book tasting played out. Students had room for choice, discovery, and exploration without any organizational structures that were overly fussy or complicated. By scaffolding their choices, we were able to form a semi-structured book tasting format to one that was more open-ended over the course of the academic year.

While I implemented this activity with teen readers, it can easily be adapted to any age group or library setting. This past spring, my Georgia colleague Andy Plemmons, school librarian at David C. Barrow Elementary School, used book tasting with 5th graders to whet their appetites for reading (see http://barrowmediacenter.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/ book-tasting/). The University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives also hosted a book tasting at the Iowa City Book Festival this summer (see http://blog.lib. uiowa.edu/speccoll/2012/07/20/book-tasting-event/). I invite any librarian to use this recipe and adapt it for his/her own library “kitchen.” Students can sample texts—-fiction, nonfiction, picture books, poetry, graphic novels, or some combination around a theme—and select books that will help grow their favorite reading “dishes”!◀ Buffy J. Hamilton is a school librarian at Creekview High School in Canton, GA. She is the 2010 GLMA/GAIT Georgia School Library Media Specialist of the Year and one of four winners of the American Library Association‘s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) 2011 Cutting Edge Technology Services Award. She blogs at The Unquiet Librarian (http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com ). Email: buffy.hamilton@gmail.com

After the book tasting, we sought student feedback on Fig. 2. Student book tasting choices (original photograph by Buffy J. Hamilton).



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