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Building Up Your Book Muscle

There are several bookcases in my house storing books I plan to read someday. My goodreads' to-read shelf contains a staggering 1515 titles on it. No matter how much I read these piles never shrink. Author Maud Casey said, "I was born with a reading list I will never finish," and I can relate.

Keeping up with all of the books I want to read for my personal enjoyment or to share with students is daunting and unmanageable at times. Reading a book every day of summer break and at least two or three a week during the school year, my students still out-read me and often ask me about books I haven't heard of or read.

Thinking back to my first few years of teaching, I recognize that I have expanded my book knowledge a great deal over the years, though, and every year my understanding and appreciation of books for young readers grows. Accepting that I will never know about every outstanding book or lauded new author, I feel confident in my abilities to recommend titles to readers who need suggestions.

Many teachers, librarians, and parents ask me how to increase their knowledge of children's books and remain current about outstanding and engaging books for their students and children to read. Here are my tips for building up your book muscle in ways that maximum your efforts:

Dedicate daily time for reading. If you want to increase your book knowledge, you must set aside time for reading. Tell yourself you are doing research!

Read books on your district lists and curriculum documents. If a text is required use for your grade level, you should read it before sharing it with students.

Explore your school's book closet. Many schools have sets of books squirreled away in department or grade level closets--often forgotten or unused.

Read winners from major award lists. Begin by exploring the American Library Association's Book and Media Award lists . Most state library associations create recommended reading lists of children's and young adult literature each year, too. These lists offer an entry point to the authors and high-quality texts available for your students to read.

Befriend a librarian. Librarians know things. They are tapped in to the latest books and resources for using these titles in your classroom. A savvy librarian can recommend grade level texts and help you find books that match students' interests and your curriculum, as well as websites, technology tools, and response ideas.

Ask your students what you should read. If I see several students in my class reading the same book and I have not read it, I will move it up the pile. A book that already has proven kid appeal is a guaranteed must-read.

Browse bookstores and library shelves. Investigate books by authors you recognize or new series books. Check out books in genres you may not know well like poetry and nonfiction, too.

Check out "Readers who liked this, also liked..." recommendations. Books selected by other readers with similar tastes often lead you to books that connect by theme, topic, or author.

Start a book club. Find a few colleagues who share your interest in children's literature and schedule regular meetings online or in person to discuss the books you read.

Follow reviewers' and authors' blogs. Authors often provide sneak peeks and advance information about their new books as well as resources for their titles, and there are hundreds of book reviewers online who review children's books. The Nerdy Book Club blog, which recently won an Independent Book Blogger Award for the Best Young Adult and Children's blog, has an extensive blog roll if you need a place to start. In addition to Nerdy, some of my favorite blogs are:

Watch. Connect. Read.
Sharpread
100 Scope Notes
The Goddess of YA Literature
The Nonfiction Detectives
A Year of Reading
The Brain Lair

In addition to these great book review sites, investigate Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac where Ms. Silvey offers a love letter to one beloved children's book each day. I look forward to reading her entries every morning.

Attend professional development training about children's literature. When attending conferences or workshops, I always look for children's and young adult literature sessions that can introduce me to interesting or new books I might have missed, or show me interesting ways to use books with my students.

Join reading groups and book-related chats on social networking sites. I mentioned several online reading communities in an earlier blog post. A great place to start is the monthly #titletalk chat on Twitter this Sunday at 8 pm ET.

Read book review publications. Ask your librarian if your school subscribes to book review publications such as Booklist Magazine or School Library Journal, or look for discounted subscription rates on publication websites.

Whether you are new to a classroom or library, changing grade levels, or want to ramp up your knowledge, these suggestions will provide you a starting point. Pick one or two suggestions and see how many books and authors you discover.

It isn't necessary or possible to read every book that your students read or a popular author writes. Select the first books in series, the touchstone works by notable authors, or the hot book seven kids in third period are reading. Balance your reading life with adult books and professional titles, as well as children's literature. Show your students what a well-rounded reader looks like through your example.

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