As a reading and writing teacher, I do my best to stay "in the loop" when it comes to books that my kids are or will be reading. If you haven't already noticed, this means I read a LOT of children's literature. In fact, I have not read a book for "grown ups" in quite a while. I guess you can say I fianlly caught the "reading bug" when it comes to children's literature (aka "kidlit"). This, however, is the way I prefer it.
When I was younger, I was "genre-ist". In other words, I was prejudice against all books that were not Babysitters Club, and anything not written by R.L. Stein. Although I was a reader, I had tunnel vision. A big reason for this was that I never had a teacher that helped steer me towards other genres as I developed my reading preferences. Of course I read the occasional Science Fiction and Historical Fiction books, but usually it was under the circumstance of needing to complete an assignment of some sort. In fact, the only time I remember stepping out of my comfort zone as an independent reader was when I read A Wrinkle in Time. I didn't like it...until I was in my early 20s and decided to read it for a Children's Literature class in college. Looking back, I feel like I missed out on a lot of really great books.
The reason I am giving you a peek into my reading past, is because it is a big part of what drives me to push my students into as many different genres as possible. In her book The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller explains how she tries to do the same with her students. It's important to expose them to as many different kinds of books as possible. Will they latch on to one genre for the majority of their reading lives? Maybe. But at least they will know what else is out there, even discover additional genres they are willing to delve into now and then.
In order to help guide my students, I read as much as I can. It is so much more meaningful to a child when they receive a recommendation for a book, series, or author from someone who has actually read those books. It also gives you the upper hand because you can discuss the books in more depth with students. Is it feasible to read every book in your library? No. I would not have time to teach or have a life if I did. However, it IS feasible to read at least few children's books a month. A while back I emailed Donalyn Miller to see how she gained so much knowledge about the books in her library to make quality recommendations to her students. Here is what I gleaned from her response (and began to do myself):
Reading one book by an author will help give you a sense of their writing style, which in turn will give you some ideas about which students may respond well to that author. Reading the first book in a series accomplishes the same thing. It is also helpful to get to know and follow blogs that review children's books (see the list of blogs I follow to find some great ones). This is a quick way to find out about books that provides more information than you may get from the back cover or inside flap. I have also found that following other teachers, librarians, and authors on Twitter is an amazing resource for keeping up-to-date on trends in reading, as well as hearing about great new books.
Here is my final piece of advice: find a way to get your hands on some Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of books that are not yet published. This is a great way to not only be more informed about current books, but also stay a step ahead of your budding readers. NetGalley is a site I joined for this exact reason. The copies I get are digital, but if I really like a book or think my kids will, I make a note of its publication date so I can get a copy for my classroom library. The best part is I already know the content, so I do not have to hesitate when bringing it into my classroom. Getting books is super easy. All you have to do is sign up if you are a teacher or blogger, browse through their books, and request the ones that seem interesting to you. Then, NetGalley contacts you when your request has been granted. Once you get your copy, you can either download it using Adobe Digital Editions or (get this!) some titles can be sent directly to your Kindle! How cool is that?!?
I am very much enjoying my rekindled love of children's and young adult books. I feel like I am making up for all I missed as a kid, and it helps me to be a more effective teacher. Not only am I better at helping my students select books, but my love of reading is very apparent (and hopefully somewhat contagious) when I talk about books. I highly encourage you to also catch the bug...if you haven't already.