Book Match: Matching Books to Students through a Reading Interest Survey
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Book Match: Matching Books to Students through a Reading Interest Survey

PROMOTING SUMMER READING WITH BOOK MATCH

I'm not sure where I saw it. Maybe it was on an old TV show or in a book I read in high school, but I heard about students filling out a survey to be matched with fellow students of the opposite sex at their school. If it was ever real, I'm sure it wouldn't happen today. But it got me thinking that I could do something similar to match students with books. I know that students could enter topics on their own in Novelist, an online catalog, Amazon.com, and read-alike or book-related websites, but a survey could add something more personal and give an overall view of a student's interests through asking questions a computer might not be able to solve. I hoped students would feel special receiving book recommendations based on their lives and past favorites. I called it Book Match.

I created my own reading interest survey, even though there are many others out there from which to choose. Offering it as a voluntary option for students looking for summer reads, the survey was e-mailed to teachers. I thought I would pilot the program at the end of the school year because I was excited about it and wanted to give it a try. I also wanted to encourage summer reading. At first no one responded, but within a couple of weeks three teachers gave me stacks of the forms for a total of 155.

THE SURVEY SAYS . . .

Originally I imagined the Book Match suggestions on a business card that students could easily put in their pockets to take to the library or book store over the summer or even when they returned to school. Then I considered a larger format that would allow me to include book descriptions. It would have helped students decide whether they wanted to read a book, but there was just not enough time to write book summaries for two to five books per student when I had to respond to 155 surveys. I wanted to offer this service but not make it a full-time job. So I went back to the business card idea. Using a business card template from Microsoft Publisher, I printed the student's name and the book suggestions on the front. On the back I offered a disclaimer about mature content and shared tips on how students could find out more and get additional suggestions. In the future I will add that we will keep their survey on file if they ever need additional recommendations.

MAKING THE MATCHES

The survey had a combination of open-ended questions and lists from which to select different interests, such as hobbies, sports, and genres. A version of this survey was originally included in my book Booktalking Nonfiction (Scarecrow Press, 2013). If I did not know a book that featured "sports players that are undercover spies, secret agents, or superheroes," as one student described, I went to Novelist and found a book in our collection or one that I could purchase inexpensively or trade online. In this case I immediately thought of The Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein. But Novelist also suggested Dull Boy by Sarah Cross. I am sure you can think of more, just as I will think of more for the next student who wants the same topic. Whenever Novelist didn't get me the best results, I based my suggestions on various answers in a student's survey. I tried to find one recommendation for their perfect book, one based on a favorite TV show or interest/sport, one that is a read-alike to a favorite book of theirs, and one based on a combination of answers. The problem was that I wanted to keep recommending more. The three teachers who participated told me their students were excited about the survey, and most took it seriously with only a few marking random topics. But even for the boy who jokingly wrote "SpongeBob" for all his responses, I found a book written by one of the creators of the series. I took them seriously even when they weren't serious. They would either think I believed a boy liked weaving and knitting (which I might have believed if it hadn't been for the fake title he made up for a weaving book) or that they couldn't stump me and I didn't shy away from a challenge.

I was glad that I included the list of popular books in the survey, so I would be sure not to recommend a title they had already read. I did not use the page number option as it added too much time to the process. Several students said the perfect book already exists: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. For those girls I suggested Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon. There were a lot of requests for zombies, sports, and romance, and some wanted them all together. There were many requests for dystopian societies, for which I suggested The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau because they had pretty much read everything else we have, and this one had not yet caught on.

READ-ALIKES BASED ON TV SHOWS

I enjoyed matching favorite TV shows with books such as The Luxe by Anna Godbersen for all the fans of Gossip Girl and a variety of zombie books for the Walking Dead fans. Some requests were quite challenging:

  • The perfect book would be about "how two characters find romance but first have to get to know each other for over a year."
  • A story about "a girl who has a hard past [and] who becomes social with romance and humor."
  • "A skateboarder who tries his whole life to be pro."
  • The book would have to be "long and have a story line about love but [would also have to be] scary and freak me out."

And it might sound sad that many students are interested in suicide, death, and drug addiction, but as one girl put it, "They all made me realize how thankful I should be." Another student enjoyed books that show "teenagers with real problems and how they overcome them." Some students even wanted books on history or astronomy, and many wanted true stories about people.

FLEXING YOUR RA MUSCLES!

When I looked back at some surveys and my responses, I thought of other titles or saw categories I missed, but as I said, this cannot be a full-time job. Students can always come back for more or fill out another survey the next year or at any time. It turned out to be really good practice for honing my reader's advisory skills. It helped me remember older books I no longer booktalk and find new books to purchase that I thought the students might love.

If you think this would be too much work for you, there are ways to simplify it. The questions that gave me the most insight were similar to what you would use in a reader's advisory interview: what TV shows they like to watch, what they read recently that they liked and why, and if the perfect book existed and what it would be about. If nothing else, go with just that last question because the perfect book does exist for every student.

It took about 20 hours to select and create the template, match the students, and type up the suggestions. If you are pressed for time, shorten the survey to a few questions or just focus on one or two when responding. Have the students fill out the survey, but teach them how to use the Novelist database to find their own recommendations. This takes away the personal touch and the personal knowledge of the librarian, but it is useful if time is an issue. Based on their responses, you can teach students how to determine which keywords to use and how to maneuver through the database or other online sources. You could print a form and write in your suggestions or only ask one class per month. You could only suggest authors rather than book titles, and limit yourself to two suggestions. It all depends on the time you have. I am considering adding a section where students can describe themselves, since so many students wrote they wanted books about teenagers like them.

ONLY A LIBRARIAN

The survey forms are always available in the library, so students can participate at any time. I plan to start in the fall so that students have more time to look up the books and read them, and I will have more time to process the forms. At first I was only able to finish four to five in an hour. Some would take me one minute while others would take twenty. Booktalks and personal conversations are still the best way to help students find books they love. But the Book Match surveys add a way for those reluctant to approach a librarian for quality suggestions. And imagine how cool it is to tell someone what you like, and then be handed the answers to your reading needs! Where else can you get such personal attention except from your librarian?

About the Author

Jennifer Bromann-Bender is the librarian at Lincoln-Way West High School in New Lenox, IL, and former head of youth services at a public library. She teaches library services for children at a community college and is the author of many articles and books with a focus on booktalking and storytimes. Her latest book is Booktalking Nonfiction: 200 Surefire Winners for Middle and High School Readers (Scarecrow, 2014).

MLA Citation

Bromann-Bender, Jennifer. "Book Match: Matching Books to Students through a Reading Interest Survey." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, educatorsupport.abc-clio.com/TopicCenter/Display/1949195?productId=2002&topicCenterId=2257524&subId=2269763. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

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