The best way to find good books is to seek out your ideal bookshop, use social media and refer to different children’s book awards.
Great books are key to success for teachers of literacy, so finding the best books for the classroom library is essential.
But with so many resources available and new books being released each year, it can be hard for teachers to find the right mix of books to engage their cohort.
That’s why Sharon Callen regularly leans on Rebecca Bird for advice, again gathering her book insights on Episode 65 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy.
Rebecca is a literacy consultant at Pegi Williams Bookshop and has provided the best avenues for finding books, as well as her latest recommendations for teachers.
She first explained the importance of finding your ideal bookshop, where staff are knowledgable and can assist with your specific needs.
“I think no matter where you are in Australia, find a bookshop that’s close to you and that you feel good about and where you can gain a relationship and trust with. This is because I think that with all books, whether it’s picture books or novels, you need to sort of have some relationship with that person, so you’re on the same wavelength,” Rebecca said.
“So you would probably have a bookshop where there’s somebody who’s got a passion for children’s books. Someone that you can absolutely tap into and who would be more than happy to share what they know, what’s coming up, what’s been amazing, things to look out for, and if you’re really lucky, even to sort of tie things in with curriculum.”
Rebecca said social media also brings benefits, in creating a space for a network of teachers and other interested people.
“If there’s no bookshop, then I do think social media is great. I know a lot of people might want to steer away from it because there are a lot of bad things about social media, but I think it’s a really good place to bring like-minded people together,” she said.
“There are a lot of communities online. So obviously there are Facebook groups. There’s lots of library groups on Facebook, and you don’t have to be a librarian and you don’t need to worry that people will think, ‘oh I’m not a librarian so I can’t go on’. If it’s a good group, they’ll be open to anybody who wants to learn and who wants to take that experience from other people and you’d hope that people are willing to share what they know and encourage other people to learn. Because everybody’s learning and everybody’s coming from somewhere.”
Digital platforms have also allowed for greater connection between authors and more avenues for them to provide resources.
“Authors are amazing resources as well. I do think that they are so generous with what they give. And again, it’s mainly through social media that you know what books they’ve got coming out. And they’re very big supporters of other authors as well. They’re always promoting each other and talking each other up. So that’s a really good way to keep abreast of what’s coming out. So figure out the authors that you like, because they will lead you to other authors as well,” Rebecca said.
Another surefire way of finding truly engaging books is through different children’s book awards, such as the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA).
“The Children’s Book Council of Australia Shortlist in schools and libraries, that’s a really big thing at the moment. A lot of people, again who are just coming into libraries, they’ve been told, ‘oh you’ve got to get the Book Week books’. And for some people that’s brand new and they don’t what it is, they don’t how to do it, and they don’t know who’s created the list,” Rebecca said.
“So every year in March the CBCA put out a notable long list, which is essentially the judges decisions on the best books from the previous year. So there are categories for picture books, early childhood, younger readers, older readers, information books, and a category for new illustrators as well.
“So the long list is usually about a hundred books and that comes out first. And it’s really good that it comes out first because a lot of people use that as a guide to things they might have missed last year. So it’s a really good way to go through all of those categories.
“Then the shortlist comes out, where each of the categories have six of the best books. And from there they pick one winner and that is announced in August.”
Using shortlists like these are especially useful for schools and programs that have a strict budget.
“These days, I think with budgets in libraries, most people can’t afford to get everything. I’d say once upon a time, people would just buy the whole short list. Even if they had copies in their library, they knew that they would be used, so they would just buy them. But these days budgets are much more restrained,” she said.
“So it’s more important now to really have a good look at all of the books and see what suits you and your school, because just because it’s a good book, if it’s not a good book for your school, then you’ve spent money on something that’s not going be borrowed or used. And as much as it’s good to broaden horizons and introduce new things, I think that it’s also very important for schools to have books that are really not on their shelves because they’re always being borrowed. You don’t want an award-winning book that was borrowed once.”
Rebecca also recommended referring to the teachers notes, provided by publishers online, if educators are struggling to decide whether a book will be an effective resource for addressing the specific needs of their classroom.
“Publishers are amazing at also producing teachers notes that go with these books. So anybody can access teachers notes from publishers’ websites. If you look up a book and there is such a thing as teachers notes for that book, there will literally be a link on the bottom of the website,” she said.
“That’s a really good way as well, especially with some of the picture books where you might think, ‘oh how will I use that?’ It’s a good story, but if I want to use it in the classroom and you can’t quite get your head around how, the teachers notes might often trigger something. Then you might go, ‘oh that’s right that’s how I can use that’.
“Once you’ve got that figured out, you can think well I can do it for this and this, and I can pull this book in and I can do that. So it’s a good starting point.”
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