Finding a good book is just as profound as the act of delving into a story. In fact, Read to Them’s staff is constantly on the search for books that students, teachers, and families will all enjoy. It’s a long and careful process, one that wouldn’t be possible without the tireless efforts of Read to Them’s Book Selection Committee.
The Book Selection Committee (BSC) is currently composed of nine people: three Read to Them staff members, a member of Read to Them’s board of directors, and five educators from three different states. Together, this group dives into the ever-expanding pool of children’s literature to further enrich Read to Them’s library of titles.
“First and foremost, we are looking for great stories,” Sara Hudson, Programs Specialist at Read to Them and BSC member, explains. “Books that make you sigh at the end, books that get you immersed in the narrative, books with characters that you want to spend the day with. We are also looking for books that will resonate with a whole school community.”
The BSC’s goal is to find titles that will keep the Intro, Sweet Spot, Intermediate, and Middle School book lists balanced. It is hoped that new books selected and recommended for Read to Them will be diverse and increase the opportunities for students to see themselves reflected on the page. It’s also important that new books are available in Spanish for schools with Spanish-speaking families.
“We are also always looking for new authors with fresh voices to add to the list,” Hudson says. “Renée Watson is one such author. We are adding Ways to Make Sunshine in August to our Sweet Spot list, and we are looking at some of her other books for middle school readers.”
The Book Selection Committee spends six months working to produce each new slate of titles. This diligent process begins with a getting-to-know-you meeting among the members where introductions are traded and any new committee members are welcomed aboard. A second session is held to showcase the books under consideration, a list of titles that accumulates in a stack of approximately 75 titles. During the third meeting, the potential titles list is narrowed to around two dozen titles.
During the first pruning, every contender is read by at least two people. By the third, pivotal meeting, the remaining books are read by the whole committee to prepare for the final cut.
Hudson explains: “Committee members submit scorecards for the books they read with their impressions of the book on different characteristics – plot, characters, je ne sais quoi, and any red flags that the committee should consider.”
There are multiple reasons a book might not pass from one stage of the selection process to the next. For instance, a book may seem promising to one committee member, but fall flat among the rest. The book could also be too long, such as a 350 page text for a Sweet Spot contender. A prospective title could also be axed if it doesn’t work for One School, One Book. One such title was Gene Luen Yang’s Dragon Hoops, a graphic novel with wide appeal to many readers, but isn’t a good fit for a school-wide reading event.
“We have to be cognizant of the wide range of life experiences of a school population,” Hudson says. “Some topics might be too challenging for a school-wide reading event. We want those books in school libraries, classrooms, and the hands of readers. But, we also need to respect the needs of our schools.”
Once any major red flags clear the BSC’s judgment, a final meeting is held to reach an agreement on the five or six titles that will be added to Read to Them’s available titles.
Though there is much debate over which titles make the final cut, Hudson reassures that: “The debate process is spirited and lively, but also respectful. We have had good luck on coming to a consensus on our final list.”
The BSC aims to select titles that everyone is enthusiastic – not divided – about. Read to Them aims for this enthusiasm to be immediately accessible to school leaders who consider suggested Read to Them titles and pick up new ones, too.
Some books that didn’t quite make it through the last round of selection are carried over for consideration in the next cycle. Many are strong contenders, but their content or theme didn’t quite fit with the other top selections. In a time when children’s literature is richer than ever, though, there’s hardly a shortage of new, poignant work to pair up and select from.
“It truly is a golden age for children’s literature,” Hudson reflects. “Today’s authors write with such authenticity, compassion, and respect for their young readers. They take their responsibility to these young people seriously, and they are writing books that truly will change lives. Students and families will have deep and meaningful experiences reading these books together.”
Do you have a title, series, or author in mind? You can use the book suggestion tab on the Read to Them website to suggest prospective books you’d like the Book Selection Committee to consider. Or, if you’d like, reach out with your suggestion via Read to Them’s social channels on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.