Where Do You Go to Find Your Reading Community? by Jennifer Walker

I recently had the pleasure of learning with Dr. Jennifer Buehler, President-Elect of ALAN. Dr. Buehler asked our group of educators, “Where do you go to find your reading community?” As I thought about my response to Dr. Buehler’s question, I also wondered if she had issued this as challenge of sorts, questioning if all educators actually had a reading community, or even a solitary reading life.


Throughout my life, reading has risen and fallen in my list of priorities.  As my to-do list became overwhelmed with lesson plans to be created, countless student essays to be graded, diapers to be changed, the joys of reading did not even seem like a possibility.  I began to think of reading as a guilty pleasure, an activity to save for the few glorious days spent lying on the beach each July. By reading some great blogs and spending our few date nights sifting through the Teen section at Barnes and Noble, I was able to keep abreast of the newest titles, successfully hiding my dirty, little secret from my students and colleagues.


Like other small joys that I had let slip through the busyness of life, I began to miss reading, like an old friend or a favorite cozy, sweater. I realized I needed a Weight Watchers approach to reigniting and rebuilding my reading life.  It wasn’t enough to say that I wanted to be a reader. I needed daily inspiration from passionate readers. I needed to be surrounded with resources and amazing titles and authors. I needed to be held accountable.


Here is the story of my journey to find my reading community and renew my passion for reading.

  1. Join or create a book club. Making a monthly commitment to read and discuss books is very motivating. No one wants to be the member who dropped the ball and didn’t finish the book…although I have been that member on many occasions.  My book club is an amazing group of English teachers, two professors, and one school secretary who loves books. There are few things more inspiring than a wonderful group of readers, great books, amazing discussions to help tackle your reading list.
  2. Join an online reading community. I love tracking my reading on Goodreads.  It makes me feel accomplished every time I review my virtual bookshelf. The best aspect of sites such as Goodreads is that you can connect with other readers.  When I see that my friends have given a title five stars, I add it to my to-read virtual bookshelf. It is an easy way to find new titles to add to your reading list, and to curate the books that you have read.
  3. While I am more of a stalker on Twitter, I stalk some really amazing authors, readers, and professional communities.  Some of my favorite people and communities to follow are Teri Lesesne, Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, John Schu, Matt de la Pena, Andrew Smith, Rainbow Rowell, YALSA, American Library Association, School Library Journal…and the list goes on and on and on.  A few of my favorite hashtags to follow are #nerdybookclub,  #weneeddiversebooks, #tothegirls, #bookaday and #titletalk.  All of these will provide you with far too many new titles to add to your reading list.
  4. Blogs and Podcasts. I am constantly encouraged by amazing educators who are devoted to sharing their reading lives with millions of followers. I have no idea how they find the time to keep up with their postings, but I am indebted to them as they are a constant source of titles, authors, and reading inspiration. Some of my favorites (other than the incredible Nerdy Book Club) are Connect. Read., Educating Alice, Teen Librarian Toolbox, Someday My Printz Will Come, Read. Write, Reflect., and Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog.  I also adore the podcasts of Jennifer Buehler, Text Messages: Recommendations for Adolescent Readers, and author Sara Zarr, This Creative Life, in which they interview YA authors and share titles to add to your to-read lists.
  5. Follow the Awards. There are numerous awards celebrating authors and titles for children and teens. These booklists of award winning titles are a perfect place to find inspiring titles.  My favorite award lists to follow are the Coretta Scott King, Printz, Alex, Morris, and of course, the Newbery Awards. After reading that YA author Jason Reynolds was awarded the John Steptoe Award for New Talent, I instantly downloaded The Boy in the Black Suit and have now added this amazing voice to my favorites list.
  6. Surround yourself with other readers. Some of my favorite moments are spent talking with readers about reading.  These friendships and conversations are invaluable.  If you don’t have the time to meet monthly with a book club, find time to chat about books in the hallways between classes and in the teachers’ lounge.  My reading life is rich because of my friendships with such amazing teachers as Nicole, Haley, Rene’, Abby, Charmayne, Meg, Eva, Tony, Donna…the list just goes on and on.
  7. This may seem like a no-brainer, but read with your students. I know that it is so tempting to grade papers and to respond to emails while your students are reading, but taking this time to read with your kids allows you to steal a few minutes of reading time, and shows your students that reading is a valuable, worthwhile activity.  My students always wanted to know what I was reading, and these titles were usually the first ones to fly off of the bookshelf. Post your reading lists on your classroom doors so that students can see what you are reading, share shelfies on your school’s Instagram or Twitter accounts, do anything to make your reading life visible and real to students.


Now that I have shared my journey, I now ask you, “Where do you find your reading community?” Happy reading as you continue on your own reading journey!


Jennifer Walker taught high school English for fifteen years, and now supports teachers and administrators as an educational supervisor with the Mahoning County Education Service Center. Jennifer is a National Board Certified Teacher, a Fellow in the National Writing Project and the 2010 Ohio Teacher of the Year.  She is a passionate reader and her favorite reading community is her three boys who are beginning summer vacation with Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree. You can find her at http://jenniferwalker72.blogspot.com and @jennwalker72.