Feb 9, 2014

Matching Books to Readers: Be a Book Cupid!

Despite best laid plans to put this blog on hiatus for a few months, I find myself having something to say about picture books every week. News, other blog posts, and books themselves shake me by the shoulders and insist that I get my thoughts out into the world.
This time a confluence of  events all pointed to the critical process of matching books to readers, mindfully and intentionally. No, I don't mean Lexile readability levels or key vocabulary or   content.
Qualities that make matches magical, ones that allow both the book and reader to benefit to the max, are as indefinable as the chemistry underlying soul mates.

In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I want to share a few "book Cupid" thoughts.

Knowing both books and readers well is the best place to start. Age, interests, background, and style contribute to compatibility. Use caution, though, in considering them as "veto" factors.

I recently attended a reading conference which brought that point home. In one session preschool teachers were improving their skills and understanding of the uses of wordless  story books to develop early literacy with four-year-olds. Later that day I watched a demonstration using the same wordless books with middle grade readers to develop high-level comprehension and writing skills. Identical books were motivating, effective, and entertaining with widely different readers.

What made both matches work so well was knowing the books, the readers, and the intention behind their pairing. In much the same way as meeting a first date, expectations make or break the experience.

Which brings me to my "virtual" friend and fellow picture-book-lover, Richa Jha. We met through social media and our friendship developed despite differences in  age, culture, and experience. Richa has worked in children's publishing in India and is a young mother, in contrast with my longer life here in  midwestern US as a teacher. Nevertheless, we are kindred spirits when it comes to our belief in the importance of quality picture books in the lives of children.

Richa currently lives in Lagos but wrote and released two picture books in English intended her home market. This post about one of Richa's recent picture book releases, THE SUSU PALS, shares two very different online opinions from US readers. The linked post thoroughly explores the  concept of openness and expectations, of approaching books with a receptive rather than a disparaging eye. It's worth taking the time to read it.

Readers of any age can dig beyond the surface (even in wordless books), examine details, consider characters, and explore connections to themselves and the world through books. It's a red letter day when any reader recognizes a soul mate in a given book. Thankfully, the reader-book relationship isn't monogamous, and shouldn't be. Opening the cover of every book with an expectation that the pages have something to offer of value is a virtual guarantee that something of value will be found there. Including among those openings books that reflect other cultures expands the reader's world in the best possible ways. Expectations are key.

The best thing we "book cupids" can do is foster that attitude and offer unlimited introductions to books reflecting our wide and wonderful world.


  1. There are a couple of things you've said here, Sandy, that I know I couldn't have ever have expressed better - reader recognising a soul mate in a book; knowing the intention behind pairing books and readers. However, the most important takeaway from this lovely post is this - 'The best thing we "book cupids" can do is foster that attitude and offer unlimited introductions to books reflecting our wide and wonderful world.' And as you pointed out in an earlier post of yours - assigning one day in a year to celebrate this diversity is not what we in kidlit should strive for.
    I love the thought behind playing book cupids! Never did think of it like that before! :)
    Truly honoured, Sandy, to be mentioned as part of this post. And fortunate to have found in you a rock solid 'virtual' friendship! :)

  2. Lovely to hear from you, Richa, and thank you for such kind words about the post, and the blog in general.
    The internet and social media are providing a wider world view for young folks (and all of us) but those sources are generally instantaneous and often unreliable. Sharing diverse literature with young readers provides stable footing for evaluating wider world views with objectivity and openness.
    Virtual hugs to you,

  3. Hi Sandy, Richa pointed me over to your post and your website. I'm from Mother Daughter Book Reviews. Thanks for mentioning our post in your post. I love the concept of being a "book cupid". I think what you say is very true that expectations really matter and reading a book with an open heart and mind is important and it only follows that we teach our children to think about the world that way too! Nice to meet you. :-)

    1. Renee,
      Happy to meet you, too. Your post was enjoyable on many levels and I was happy to offer it to my readers. it's lovely of you to stop by, and I appreciate your kind remarks about the post. Children learn so many indirect lessons from us while we think we are "teaching" them, as teachers or as parents. So often what we fail to share with them says we aren't open differences ourselves.
      A sad but limiting truth, I'm afraid.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.