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In this module, I overview a website used to match student interests, ages, grade levels, and reading practices with potential books for teachers to recommend.
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Getting students to read can be one the biggest challenges a teacher or librarian faces as he or she struggles to instill academic interest beyond the required material on the syllabus. A teacher might wonder what to tell that one eager student who’s always looking for a new book or, more likely, the reader in the class who never seems to take interest in anything. A relatively new website, “A Book and a Hug,” offers a helping hand for both situations. The website was created by Barb Langridge, the host of a television show called “Books Alive” a former independent bookseller and a children’s specialist at a public library. The website offers recommendations for young readers from every grade level, offering assistance both to teachers and students in search of new books to read. In a K-12 context of teaching and learning, teachers and librarians could utilize this website to find new books to use in the classroom or to recommend books to students based on their age level, their interests, or potential connections with other course materials. Teachers can also encourage their students to use the site on their own to find new books and to write their own reviews of the books they have read, while also keeping and sharing lists of their favorite books within a free online account. In general, “A Book and a Hug” has the potential to inform curriculum and instruction for teachers, to promote reading outside the classroom, and to engage students with literature through an expressive and social medium.
Langridge’s own instructions for how to use the site can be found by clicking on the “About” tab (http://abookandahug.com/about). On this page, she explains how to create and account and log in, how to search for books by category and through an “Advanced Search,” and how to set up lists of “Favorites.” The login process is very simple, requiring the user’s name, email address, and an account password. Users must activate their accounts by clicking a link via email confirmation, and then they should be ready to go.
To begin searching for books, users should click on the “Search” button in the right-hand corner of the page, and then choose between a “Basic Search” and an “Advanced Search.”
Using the Basic Search will yield unfiltered results for keyword entries (I obtained 148 results by typing in “cats”), while the Advanced Search allows the user to narrow down results by Category, Reading Level, Title, Author, Illustrator, and Publisher. There are also boxes to check for Fiction/Nonfiction, and then an extremely long list of “Keywords.” From my own use of the Advanced Search, I would recommend avoiding these keyword buttons, since none of them seem to yield any results. However, simply combining “Category” and “Reading Level” queries alone proves fairly helpful in generating a list of potential titles for a user who might not know exactly what he or she is looking for. For example, if I select “Westerns” and “Mature Readers (Ages 14 and up),” it yields a list of 17 books that might suit that fifteen year old student who always wears cowboy boots to class. (Fig. 2)
Many users may find it easier to browse from the home page (http://abookandahug.com/index.php) using the “Browse by Category” and “Browse by Age” tabs on the left-hand side. These panels provide a more intuitive and quick entry-point for the user, although they do not offer the same filtering advantages as the Advanced Search.
For example, if I select “Good for Reluctant Readers” from the Category panel, it yields 1,629 results, starting with a picture book titled 1 Zany Zoo. While it is possible to order results according to their user ratings, author, publisher, etc, there is no quick filter for age grouping. The concern here is that you risk having your middle or high school students clicking on such a heading and then only seeing younger children’s books, so they may dismiss the resource without fully understanding how to perform a more adequate search. However, the extensive lists of categories by genre and age level on these side panels still offer an easy way to immediately view a large number of titles relevant to student interests and characteristics.
Once the user selects a title, he or she can add it to a personal “Favorites” list by pushing the “Add” button above “Book Information.” Below, you will see that I found the novel A Wrinkle in Time by clicking on the “Science Fiction” category. I then added it to my favorites so that I could always find it in my “User Menu.”
Other helpful pages are the “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls” tabs found on the bar across the top of the page. Under the “Books for Boys” section, Langridge has included tips on how to figure out “what kind of guy you have in front of you” and includes four boy-types: “Connectors/Belongers,” “Seeker/Leader,” “Jokester/Thrillseeker/Party Animal,” and “Answerman.” Each type has its own suggestions for book selections. For example, Langridge describes the “Seeker/Leader” boy type: “How to improve their life and the world around them. Looking for ideals. Enjoy Sci-fi and Fantasy. They also may have great hearts and empathy or others situations. They will walk in someone else's shoes. These are the Lloyd Alexander, T.A. Barron, Christopher Paolini readers.” A parallel set of girl types is included as well, with characterizations like the “Investigator/Analyst” who “gets bored quickly, wants to question and find out what authorities think about something. Then she'll decide for herself if she thinks that rings true. May read an issue book to understand the issue, for example, SOLD by Patricia McCormick. Not looking for emotion or connection. She is figuring the world out on her own terms. Highly imaginative.”
These character types seem to be very helpful through their suggestions of authors and genres that might appeal to certain types of students. The “Find Books” button at the bottom of each character description directs the user to a result list of potential books for such a reader, so a teacher can immediately browse for appropriate titles. However, since the website currently includes approximately 6,000 titles, the vast breadth of such results appears intimidating to browsers, again suffering from an underdeveloped filtering system.
To the right of the “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls” tabs is a heading for “Reading Levels,” providing definitions of each reading level from “Babies” to “Mature Reader,” again with links to find books appropriate for each age.
Users might also want to view the “Books Alive” page from the top bar in order to view videos of authors discussing their books, which could be useful in multimedia presentations during class.
Overall, the website is fairly easy to navigate through its various headings. The categories according to genre, gender, and reading level are sufficiently helpful for browsing, but users may need to take some time adapting to the limited filter system of the search options.
After scouring the internet, I have not been able to find specific lesson plans of teachers using this resource, most likely because it is relatively new. However, I have found the following reviews praising it as a helpful resource. The first review describes some practical applications of the resource in the classroom, while the second hints at some of the ways teachers themselves can help contribute to the resource’s usefulness by writing reviews. The third review also offers a brief description of potential classroom applications, while also praising its ease of access and its large quantity of titles. A commenter on this third page adds, “This tool could be helpful for lots of different educators. I feel like especially the ESOL population because there could be books in their native language. They can find books that they are familiar with in their native language, and relate it to books they may be reading in the classroom.”
· Teachers First Review: http://www.teachersfirst.com/single.cfm?id=10297
· Mean Old Library Teacher Blog:
· Free Technology for Teachers:
Also, I have found a video of the site’s creator making book recommendations on a news program:
· WBALTV Segment: http://www.wbaltv.com/r-video/29301916/detail.html
The abookandahug.com facebook page also has the potential for additional resources. It currently has 255 “Likes,” meaning a fair number of people are following Langridge’s posts about Teacher and Library conferences and webinars, new reviews being added to the site, and user comments on the page’s “wall.” The facebook page has the potential to further enhance the community/sharing aspects of the resource. http://www.facebook.com/pages/abookandahugcom/90637298106
Additional potential resources related to book recommendations for students:
· Scholastic’s “Realistic Ideas to Get Teens Reading” http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/realistic-ideas-get-teens-reading
· Young Adult Library Services Association’s “Teens & Social Media in School and Public Libraries: A Toolkit for Librarians and Library Workers”
o Discusses how to use social and sharing-type online resources to augment or promote reading among students.
· “Goodreads,” a Netflix-like system of rating books based on reader preferences: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/realistic-ideas-get-teens-reading
· Includes approximately 6,000 titles for young readers to discover and review
· Implements a helpful system of categories for student and teacher browsing
o “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls” categories and subcategories (Leader/Seeker, etc) provide effective student characterization tips for matching readers and recommendations. The subcategories especially provide a “multiple-intelligence” style aspect to relating books to reader behavior.
o “Browse by Category” panel provides lists that are “Good for Reluctant Readers” as well as more genre-specific results to recommend to students.
o “Browse by Age” helps teachers locate age-appropriate material for students
· Allows for student sharing of books, engaging social aspect of literacy
o Students can set up their own “User Menu” to keep track of favorite books
o Students can write their own reviews for books
§ Offers potential for instruction/assessment. Students could be required to submit reviews online of their parallel reading books, for example.
o Students and teachers can follow the page on facebook for additional social interactivity, while also keeping updated as new books are added to the site.
· Offers additional resources for students and teachers
o Videos of author interviews can be used to introduce multimodal learning aspects in the classroom, provide context or background information, and encourage students to read more of an author’s work.
· Search options could be improved
o Advanced Search tabs often yield no results as users use more specific keywords and categories. Could discourage students who already feel like there is nothing out there that will appeal to their interests.
o Reading-level, student types, and interests could be integrated better within the search so that students are not discouraged by seemingly inaccurate results.
· Website appearance and name could discourage older students
o Illustration of small child invites young readers, might seem too “kiddy”
o A Book and a Hug implies coddling, lack of autonomy for student users
· Website could improve from more user contributions
o Despite the open option to review favorite books on the site, it seems that no one has really taken advantage of it yet. More contributions by teachers and students should enhance the site’s usefulness and appeal.
This website could be extremely useful as it grows in popularity and with increased user contributions. I would suggest that teachers should recommend this resource to all of their students, and that they could potentially use it as a framework for setting up parallel/outside reading activities in their classrooms. While the books included are limited to children’s and young adult literature (and hence should not necessarily be pushed upon a senior in an AP Literature class), the “tailor-made” approach to matching books with student characteristics should prove useful as reluctant readers can be pushed toward reading in an interactive, social, and choice-heavy way. It can also contribute to the “community of learners” teachers hope to create in their class as students become more invested in building their user profiles and sharing their favorite books.
I would recommend the following actions for any teachers considering using this resource:
· Start with the “Books for Boys” and “Books for Girls” pages. Identifying your students based on reading/behavior characteristics is the first and most important step toward recommending good books.
· Generate your own “favorite” list of books according to the age group being taught, and then share it with your students. Displaying your own interest and appreciation of the resource can lead to a greater likelihood that students will use the resource.
· Write your own reviews to enhance the overall effectiveness of the resource, and consider allowing your students to do the same. At the end of a unit on a particular book, students can practice literary analysis and writing composition skills by expressing and synthesizing their own feelings and interpretation of the work.
· Make sure to provide your own tutorial of the browsing and searching options, showing them the kinds of books that they might find depending on their interests. This can prevent students from becoming discouraged by the underdeveloped filtering options, and should prove to them how easy it is to find books they will actually want to read. It should also make them less likely to dismiss the website for its “kiddy” appearance.
· Promote the resource among other teachers and parents. This resource could become infinitely useful with more teachers, parents, and students using it to recommend books to one another and contributing to it in an expressive and communitarian manner.