Hey everyone! So this past weekend (10/31) I was apart of the “I Am Black!” panel with Authors Michelle Coles (Black Was The Ink, Out Now) & Dr. Martina McGowan (I Am The Rage, Out Now) moderated by DJ Reads (Educator & Bookstagrammer) as a part of Black Readers Con (shout out to the organizers) and there was a question that has stuck with me. I don’t recall it verbatim but it was something to the effect of how would we go about putting books into the hands of kids who are reluctant readers or not interested in reading. If you have been following me on social media then you know that this question deeply excited my Spirit and I jumped at the chance to answer it (No surprise there)!
Putting books into the hands of kids (across the age spectrum and adults, for that matter) is something I am extremely passionate about. It’s truly an art to match books to kids because you are not just establishing a relationship between them and reading but also a relationship between you and that kid. By placing a book that they actually will enjoy in their hands & mirrors them in some way, you are showing them that you are paying attention/listening TO them and that they can trust you. This is extremely important when it comes to placing kids on the path to becoming lifelong readers.
As an educator that prides myself on my ability to observe and learn those around me, I am actually really good (I’m absolutely tooting my own horn here) at book matchmaking (and I don’t have to worry about messy break ups or divorce in the end, lol). I have a process and I’m sure that you are wondering “Latesha, what IS this process you have?” Well, I’m glad you asked (in my head) because I’m about to tell you and I will even number it because I’m that type of person, lol.
1) I have a general conversation with the kid (or adult). I ask them about themselves, their schools/work, families, etc. and guide the conversation so that I can gain as much insight into who they are as a person (currently). I gauge their personalities and the voice that they have, really trying to get as full of a picture as possible. In doing this, I’m able to start thinking of characters that have similar ages, voices, experiences, etc. After a good 5-10 minutes, I would already have at least 5 books in mind based upon the information that I gathered in the beginning of the conversation.
2) After I’ve gotten a gist of who they are as a person, I ask about their specific interests, especially in relations to books. I am intentional in letting them know I’m asking about their interests for the purpose of reading so that it’s not a weird transition. Sure, I could put books in their hands and call it a day but that doesn’t mean that they are the right fit. It’s basically like preparing a person’s favorite meal, you need to know the right spices and how to make it to their tastes…if its not just right, it won’t work and they won’t like it…it would dampen their trust & possibly turn them off to potentially wanting more (in this case, books). So once they tell me their specific interests, I edit the list that was in my mind by removing or adding books to the list and it is likely that that list will have grown by at least 5 more books.
3) Once I’ve got a decent sized list in my mind and feel like I’ve established a great repertoire with the kid/person, I start to pitch the list to them. Yes, I actually PITCH the books to them because in essence, I’m selling them a product that I truly believe in, believe that they will love and that I want them to love. I mention the interests they told me about then tell them the title, author and show them the cover (if I am able) before launching into a brief synopsis about the story that highlights their interests. I also keep it open for questions so that I can play to (hopefully) their curiosity (but if this is a kid, they will be curious) and increase their interest in the book(s) I’m pitching to them. For example, if a kid tells me that they are into ghosts or spooky stories, I would pitch Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega, The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown for Middle Grade, The Taking Of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass and The Girl In The Well Duology by Rin Chupeco for YA or if they say they are into mythology, I would pitch Race To The Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse and The Tristan Strong Series by Kwame Mbalia for Middle Grade, The Wicked Fox Duology by Kat Cho and The Spin The Dawn Duology by Elizabeth Lim for YA. Of course, I can go on forever on this but there is but so much time in the day.
4) After I’ve pitched the books, I ask them what they think of what I’ve pitched to them. I gauge how excited they may sound about a particular title or all of them. If they don’t seem interested in any of the titles then I would have back up titles in my mind, based upon their feedback (because if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready). The point is to make this about THEM and what THEY would like, not what YOU think that they would like. It’s about centering them and creating a safe space within your conversation & the books in which you are attempting to put into their hands, this aspect can not be omitted or else you likely won’t be successful in pairing the kid/person with a book & creating a healthy reading habit. Also, you CANNOT rush the process if you wish to be successful! If they ARE into the titles you recommended, you can speak to their parents about taking them to the library to pick up the titles or purchasing them if they are able. If you are anything like me, then you offer to purchase a copy for them because you believe that much in getting that book into their hands & want to support the author at the same time (I cannot quantify how many books I’ve gifted to kids over the last few years and I wouldn’t want to, it’s a lot and I’m proud of that).
5) The final step is once they have these books in their hands and have hopefully read the books, that you follow up with them and see how they felt about them. Engage them in conversation about the books, ask them questions that require them to recall the story (not in a way that makes them feel like they’re in school, of course, keep it as casual as possible) and get them excited about the story again. If the story has a sequel, then ask them what they think could possibly happen in the next book, really build up that sense of anticipation and readiness for whats to come in the series. Be sure to keep them on notice about the release dates, if you know them so it remains fresh in their minds. They will match your excitement around books, especially if they have established a sense of trust in you, so keep your energy up when you’re having these conversations (I know that’s tough when adulting but do it for the kids or the person you are trying to turn into a reader, they are worth it & they should feel like they are)!
Thinking back to the things I’ve said, I can see why my aunt thinks I should be a librarian (she is one herself… shoutout to my Aunt Liz), lol! In reality though, when you are trying to get kids/adults into reading, you are acting as a librarian or book seller, of sorts. Your passion for the titles should shine through just as much as your interest in the person in front of you & matching them to the books that would speak deeply to them. Kids are incredible BS detectors so they will know if you aren’t speaking the truth or not paying attention to them so stay on high alert and be present with them when you are going through this process. There is a nuance to this and a magic that we are trying to create that should be handled with immense care, so also keep that in mind (think of my name people *insert Halo smiley emoji*)! Intuition guides my bookish matchmaking, mostly, so it allows me to pivot when I need to but it is mostly as i have written. It can be slightly different when recommending for groups of kids but in that case, the recommendations are more general (for those who are wondering).
Y’all, I’m going to end it here but do you have a process when you are recommending/matching books to someone? Is it similar or different from mine? Let me know in the comments or on social media! As usual, You can find & follow me on Instagram @bookishgirlmagic, Twitter @bookishgrlmagic and Clubhouse @bookishgrlmagic where you can find me mostly in book centered clubs/rooms (primarily on Tuesdays and Fridays). Also subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already because it makes me feel like I’ve been hugged by some of my favorite authors! Have an amazing day and happy Book Matching!