Michaela Langeness is used to being asked for recommendations for what to read by friends. But this year, her book reviews will have a much-wider audience.
Langeness, an eighth-grader at Boeckman Middle School in Farmington, is one of 80 students at her school participating in this year’s Young Adults’ Choices project, sponsored by the International Reading Association (IRA).
“I like that you can pick out what other kids will be reading,” Langeness said. So far, she’s read “The Twistrose Key,” a fantasy book, and given it a favorable review, she said.
With just nine schools in Minnesota reviewing books this year, getting to participate is an honor, said Barbara Theirl, media specialist and coordinator of the project at Boeckman.
“There were a lot of people competing for it,” Theirl said. “We felt really, really special that we were selected.”
The project asks students in grades 7-12 to read and review 415 new young adult books during the fall and winter. In the spring, the IRA tallies the results and creates the Young Adults’ Choices Reading List, a well-known compilation of 30 of the best books for youth.
Theirl said students have been “very excited” about the project, which any seventh- or eighth-grade student can participate in. “We talk about it a lot to keep it going,” she said.
In October, Theirl received a selection of 65 to 70 books for reviewing, spanning many genres. Some were so new they weren’t available in bookstores yet, she said.
After checking out a book the old-fashioned way — filling out a card that sits in a pocket in each book — the students read it and fill out a short online form about their thoughts.
The form is simple, asking for a rating on a three-point scale and a few sentences about why the student would or wouldn’t recommend it. Each book must be reviewed at least twice.
“That was definitely one of the sells for the students. You have to write a summary, but it’s short,” said Chad Prigge, a seventh-grade English teacher at Boeckman who is encouraging his students to review the books.
Science fiction and fantasy books have experienced a popularity surge in the past few years — especially those with “world gone bad in the future” themes — and there’s a good representation of those titles in the mix, Theirl said.
But teens also enjoy other genres, from realistic fiction to historical fiction and nonfiction, too, she said.
“It’s all about getting kids to read and like what they read,” said Cathy Heller, the project’s regional coordinator and the media specialist at South View Middle School in Edina. “You know, there’s a book for everybody.”
Angie Hernandez, a seventh-grader, read and reviewed “The Beautiful and the Damned,” a science fiction thriller. Though she usually goes for historical fiction, she loved the book, she said.
“I read it in like two days. I liked how there was action and you just read on and on until the end,” she said.
Michael Lee, another seventh-grader, is reviewing his third title. He normally likes action books, he said, but has been turned on to new genres after reviewing his selections.
“It’s amazing what happens when you read new kinds of books, because now I’m so open,” he said.
Kids choose what to read
The Young Adults’ Choices project is one of three book awards programs the IRA does every year, said Heller.
Middle and high schools in Chaska, Minneapolis, Edina and Lakeville are also participating, she said.
“My job is to get the books to rural, urban and suburban schools,” Heller said. “What I like about this program is the students get to choose what they want to read.”
Theirl plans on letting students keep the books when the review process ends in January. She’ll have a pizza party to wrap things up, she said.
Prigge said that, like many teachers, librarians and kids, he looks at the IRA Young Adults’ Choices Reading List each spring when it comes out. It’s a valuable resource in trying to find books to recommend to middle schoolers, because “we’re dealing with a high percentage of reluctant readers,” he said.
This spring, when he consults the list, it will be neat knowing that his own students contributed to it. “How cool is that?” he said.
Prigge said that later this year, he wants to buy copies of the books that made the list for his classroom. He plans on including his students’ personal reviews of each title, taped in the front cover, and having the student reviewer autograph the book, too.
“It’s awesome when your voice can be heard and has value,” he said.
Lee and Hernandez said they’ll be eager to see which books they reviewed make the cut. “If [the book I read] doesn’t go on there, I’ll probably be like, ‘Noooo!’ ” Hernandez said.