January 13


Pushing Your Reading Boundaries by Kate Olson

Can you recommend a book to me? Please? But do so from a distance and with a shield in place!


  • I don’t read books about magic…….except Harry Potter and Exit West and Half Magic and…..
  • I don’t read science fiction…….but I really want to read Dark Matter
  • I do NOT want to read about death…….but Scythe and The Book Thief are my favorites…..
  • I never read steampunk…….but man, I loved Etiquette and Espionage
  • I don’t read fantasy…….except for The Land of Stories and Court of Thorns and Roses and ….
  • I love romances…….except for Regency and really hard core bodice rippers…
  • I love historical fiction…….but not really about male historical figures, except for Hamilton and…….
  • I read a lot of nonfiction…….but only when I’m in the exact right mood….


Aren’t I the absolute most frustrating library patron EVER? All of the above are statements I would say about myself, but then upon further reflection I would make those disclaimers. Really, anyone who recommends a book to me does so at their own peril!


But wait. Doesn’t that sound like so so so many of our students? As a school librarian, I recommend books day in and day out and it can get so frustrating! Choice is supposed to be THE ANSWER to all reading problems, and I have almost 12,000 books in my library and WHY CAN’T EVERY KID FIND A BOOK THEY LOVE????


Here’s why. Because we really don’t know our reading selves as well as we think we do. My contradicting statements above are the perfect case in point, aren’t they? This is why I really really do believe in the power of some sort of “forced” reading in everyone’s life – adults included! I’m the queen of picky reading, abandoning books, and shunning advice from powers above, so this is super weird coming from me, but listen up…..


There really is power in being given a book to read, not being allowed to abandon it, and being exposed to new worlds, genres, and styles. As I tell kids every day, if nothing else, it will help reinforce what you don’t like! Rest assured, I’m talking ALONG with choice, don’t worry. Here are numerous examples of ways I have included some “forced” reading into my life, and in doing so, have really pushed my reading boundaries:


  • BOOK CLUBS ~ I have found some lifelong favorites when they are chosen for book clubs I am a part of. Whether face-to-face book clubs or online book clubs, these are social groups that instill some sense of obligation to read a book chosen by someone else. The timeline, the discussion, all of it lessens the chance of abandonment and makes me push to read a book just a little bit more deeply. Some of my current favorites are the @belletrist and @saltwaterreads book clubs on Instagram and the Diverse Books Club on Goodreads. In addition, if you aren’t on top of Book Club Central from the American Library Association, please check it out!

  • AWARD LISTS ~ there is nothing I love more than book award lists. From the National Book Award to Newbery, from Printz to the Kirkus Prize, I adore finding new titles this way. I always figure that a lot of smart people MUST have found something redeeming in these books, so perhaps I will too! I always find titles that I never would have picked up on my own and enjoy trying to figure out what made these books stand out to the committees above every other book published that year.


  • REVIEWING ~ I review for School Library Journal and also receive books from publishers to consider for review and feature on my blog and social media accounts. My SLJ titles are the ones that I take the most seriously and are almost all titles that push me out of my comfort zone. Many of them are outside of my genre preference and require me to read with an objectivity that I don’t often use in my personal reading life. These review titles are my biggest professional development resource right now as they make me really work my reading brain. Regarding the other review titles I receive, my obligation to the publishers pushes me to at least attempt books I might not otherwise choose, but I do admit that I don’t always finish every single one.


  • CLASSES ~ Isn’t it a shocker that being forced to read a book for a class instilled a love for said book? No, I didn’t love every book I have had to read, but there are some that have really stuck with me.


  • BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB ~ I just joined this subscription service last year, but am so happy that I did! The limited selection forces me to pick titles I may not have picked up at the library, and the fact that I am paying for the books prods me to read them. We just subscribed to OwlCrate Jr for my 12-year-old daughter, and so far I can not recommend this highly enough to anyone with a fantasy-loving tween. She is definitely finding titles she wouldn’t have picked herself!


  • BATTLE OF THE BOOKS ~ this may be a thing unique to librarians, but the annual Battle lists we get from our state association have really guided me to some new kid lit titles and have pushed me to read some older titles I have missed. In addition, I was so lucky to be able to participate in a Librarian Battle of the Books this year and read many titles I ended up loving. The obligation to my team pushed me to follow through and read thoroughly.


So here is my challenge to you ~ find a book, any book, that you wouldn’t have chosen based purely on preference. Set a deadline. And read it. And then analyze that experience. And do it again. Then come find me and tell me how it’s going ~ I would love to hear!


Kate Olson is a PK-12 librarian in the Bangor School District in Wisconsin, as well as a reviewer for School Library Journal and founder of Kid Lit Exchange. In addition, she is a book reviewer working with a wide range of publishers and authors, and also offers critique services to authors. She can be found on her blog The Loud Library Lady, on Instagram as @theloudlibrarylady and on Twitter as @theloud_library.