What I Learned from Reviewing a Book Every Day for Three Years by Janet Dawson
“I’m thinking of starting a blog where I’ll review a new children’s book every day,” I mentioned to a colleague. She kind of chuckled and shook her head, clearly unconvinced that this was possible. Was she right? Why would I…or anyone…want to set myself up to have to read and review a book every day?
I had been a librarian at two elementary schools in Billerica, Massachusetts for 15 years. I knew teachers liked learning about new books, but often didn’t have time to research or read them. I started emailing a review each week to some of my colleagues who signed up for this service. Pretty soon, I was adding a second review, and I still felt like there were books I wasn’t getting out there. What if I could do seven reviews a week?
On February 20, 2015, I took the plunge, starting a WordPress blog called A Kids Book a Day (www.kidsbookaday.com), and I haven’t missed many days since. Sometimes I’ve thought of stopping, but I don’t want to let my subscribers down! Mostly, though, I know I could never do my job the way I want to without my daily reading and reviewing. I’m now the K-8 librarian for the Hampden-Wilbraham regional school district in western Massachusetts. I oversee six libraries, do book talks for all grades, and make recommendations to teachers and students.
How has reading and reviewing a book every day changed the way I do this job? I can’t emphasize enough how knowing about a lot of books has contributed to student reading in my schools. Through book talks and book clubs, I see how enthusiastic kids are about new books when they’re introduced by a knowledgeable adult. I recently reread Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer, and I was struck by how her students were influenced by her knowledge of literature. It’s not enough to provide the time for students to read and have a large school or classroom library; there must also be someone who knows books–a lot of books–to guide students in their reading choices.
I know and appreciate that teachers are overworked, and I don’t expect anyone to read as much as I do. That’s the reason I started my blog: to give teachers a tool they can use to learn about new books. They know their students’ abilities and interests better than anyone, and it’s my hope that through my blog and other sources of information about new books, we can work together to connect students and books.
Blogging has forced me out of my comfort zone of reading. I’m a fan of realistic fiction and nonfiction, but I want to review as many genres as I can. I have to push myself a little to read fantasy, poetry, and mysteries, but I’m rewarded when I can make recommendations to fans of those genres at my schools. I’m probably never going to be a big fantasy reader, but I’ve come to enjoy poetry a lot more.
The more I’ve read picture books–both fiction and nonfiction–the more I’ve seen the value in sharing these, particularly with older kids. I’ll booktalk a stack of picture book biographies or poetry books, then stand back and let the kids swarm. This has developed from my reading enough picture books to know what to bring to the classroom.
It’s been said that books can be a mirror and a window. In my three years of daily reading, I see more than ever, books that are a mirror and a window to readers of different races, sexual orientations, and income levels. There are more books each year that have characters who are African American, Latino/Latina, refugees, immigrants, and LGBQT. And this diversity is becoming less self-conscious; often mention of race or sexual orientation doesn’t come up until well into the story.
But there is still work to be done, and yes, we need diverse books in even more areas. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read and reviewed that feature Native Americans characters. It seems to me that there are fewer characters with roots in Asia than in Africa or Latin America, and not enough books about Muslim kids in America.
Margaret Fuller said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” Who will tomorrow’s leaders be, and how can we influence them today? I believe it is by exposing them to books that open up the world for them, that help them to empathize with people whose lives are different from their own, and that help them to achieve a greater understanding of themselves. If reading and reviewing a book a day helps me to carry out this vision, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do it.
Janet Dawson is the K-8 librarian for the Hampden-Wilbraham School District in western Massachusetts. For the last three years, she has reviewed a new book every day on her blog A Kids Book a Day, www.kidsbookaday.com.