The question you were afraid to ask: how do I know which books are good?


image credit:

If you’re my soulmate/long-lost twin/time-traveling clone,* you probably got into youth librarianship because of a deep love of young adult literature. So the question, “What books should I get?” isn’t even one you’re asking. Of course you know what to get. How could you not know? You just… know. What books shouldn’t you get is more like it! There’s Shannon Hale and John Green and Madeleine George and Ursula K. LeGuin and Sherman Alexie and J.K. Rowling and Lemony Snicket and Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater and THAT IS NOT EVEN GETTING INTO THE NONFICTION and while you’re rhapsodizing over there, I’m going to talk to these nice people about resources they can use to find really great books for their students.

*If the last, can we start sharing work duties? That would be excellent!

  1. Librarians as resources
    1. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) list-serve. Absolutely sign up for this—not only will you get e-mails about resources, great books, activities, booklists and more, but you have the opportunity to be in conversation with YA librarians all across the country.
    2. Follow YA librarians on Twitter! Great accounts to know: @YALSA, @SLJournal, @aasl, @jenniferlagarde, @GwynethJones, and @plemmonsa, to name just a few of my favorite library Twitter gurus out of a great, great many. Librarians are wonderfully active on social media—follow the hashtag #librarylife to find more.

The more you participate in—or are even just lurking on—the conversation, the greater your awareness of trends, titles and beloved books will be.

  1. Lists to look out for:
    1. YALSA’s annual “Best of the Year” and “Best of the Best” book and media award lists:
    2. The Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) booklists:
  2. Review publications and websites
    1. The Horn Book: this publication is pure gold, publishing quality reviews of quality books for children and young adults.
    2. Booklist: review publication of the ALA. Requires account for full access:
    3. School Library Journal, the world’s largest reviewer of books and multimedia for youth and teens:
    4. Kirkus Reviews:
    5. & honestly? Seems pretty basic, but I love Goodreads. Reviews and lists are user-created (rather than written by professionals), so take with a grain of salt, but their UI is really friendly, and they have a wealth of information:
  3. Awards
    1. All of the following awards are given to books of merit for young people. A librarian worth her salt will at least be aware of these lists, if not have the winners in her library:
      1. Michael L. Printz Award
      2. Margaret A. Edwards Award
      3. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
      4. Pura Belpre Award: for Latino literature for children and young adults
      5. Coretta Scott King Award: from the ALA, this award recognizes “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values” (
      6. Stonewall Book Award—Mike Morgan and Larry Romans Children and Young Adults’ Literature Award: sponsored by the ALA’s LGBT Round Table
      7. Tayshas—this is an honorary YA booklist sponsored by the Texas Library Association’s (TxLA) Young Adult Round Table (with unfortunate acronym YART). Not in Texas? Check with your state library association and see what they offer!
  1. Your community
    1. This sounds terribly obvious, but: if you want to know what your students want to read, ask them. Before beginning the project I wrote a simple Google Survey and had the math teacher administer it for me. Each student was asked the following:
      1. If you could add anything to the library, what would it be?
      2. How many books do you read per week?
      3. Which genres do you most like to read?

And that was that. I generated a huge list of desired titles, authors, series and nonfiction topics. In addition, I had a sense of who my community was and what they wanted.

One of the best pieces of librarianship advice I’ve ever received is to keep a wishlist. As you look through these lists, take notes! This will guide you in your purchasing ventures. Also, in the rare event that you come into a financial windfall, such as your principal chucking money at you at the end of the fiscal year (or a lovely and unexpected donation!), you’ll want to be ready to say, decisively, “Yes, I want these titles,” before that money gets snapped up by the football team.

Did I miss anything? Share your favorite resources or library Twitter handles below:


2 thoughts on “The question you were afraid to ask: how do I know which books are good?

  1. Pingback: Awash in a sea of books? You need a collection development policy! | The Skybrary

  2. Pingback: Students save the day! Mature content and the dual-audience library | The Skybrary

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s