But that is the trouble, isn't it? We attempt to come up with some sort of formula, some magic recipe or package. I have written about this multiple times this year, but as the year comes to a close, perhaps it bears repeating. If there were ONE magic bullet, ONE program, ONE approach, ONE set of standards, ONE of anything, would we not have stumbled across it by now? I would like to hope so.
The bottom line is that while providing access to books and time to read them is important (more likely essential), there is not one way that this works. First, there is not ONE book that meets the needs of all readers even those in the same class. I am often asked to suggest books for individual readers, and I am more than happy to do so once I know a little about the kid in question (age, interests, other books they liked and/or hated). But I still am asked to suggest books for whole class reading. I hesitate to do this because I know that many of those novels I was forced to read were not ones I particularly liked or even admired (and this failure of the book to connect with me or me to connect with the book is why I still do not like the work of Dickens and some others). I know that the former residents of the back bedroom found many of these novels inaccessible (Scarlet Letter, Heart of Darkness to name just two) and, therefore, relied on Cliff Notes and video adaptations (and with my blessings).
So, if there is no formula, what can we do? We can know readers, know the books that will be accessible to them, and know how to bring books to the kids. This is not a formula. It is messy. It requires knowing a wide array of books (I am over 600 books this year), and understanding how kids develop physically, socially, culturally, intellectually, and morally. Often, then, the match between reader and book is an individual one. Occasionally, there are books that appeal to a wide swath of kids (Harry Potter springs immediately to mind). But there still will be kids for whom the latest fad or the most popular series or the bestselling book is NOT the one for them. And so we move on and ask more questions and read more books and talk to the kids, all in an effort to find that touchstone book, that book that becomes one they will recall and reread.
Someone, a former student, asked me today for a YA book recommendation. She was heading off on a cruise and wanted to take a book along. Here was my response: Winger, The 5th Wave, 14 Fibs of Gregory K, Boy in the Porch, Burning Sky, Fangirl, Eleanor and Park, Far Far Away, Hattie Ever After, Living with Jackie Chan, More than This, Nazi Hunters, Out of the Easy, Picture Me Gone, Real Boy, Reality Boy, Relish, Rump, Tangle of Knots, Tragedy Paper, True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp, Two Boys Kissing, Water Castle, When We Wake, Black Helicopters. I could have added even more titles. These are all from 2013; I have read them all (and this is sort of crucial too since I never recommend a book I have not read). These books include a wide range of genres and styles and topics and characters. Somewhere in there might be the right book. Or it might be none of them will do (though I doubt that knowing this former student and her wide open reading tastes).
Matching books and readers is too important to try to boil down to a formula. It is important work.