Remember that saying, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover?” Well, up until a few years ago, I actually still did that in bookstores. It is overwhelming to enter a place that has so many possibilities and to have limited time to choose something that I used the easiest and most accessible strategy I had!
Just shortly after Covid restrictions were lifted and we were able to go physically to the local library, I felt like I had much more time to think and explore different types of books and genres that I might be interested in reading. Our library is such a cozy and child friendly place that my kids could go to their section and I could wander the stacks. I would use my phone to read reviews, read the first page or so, maybe think about the synopsis, the author, and really think about the books I was choosing to read. Sometimes I would even consider my state of mind – did I just come out of a heavy story? Did I need something lighter? What was I in the mood for?
As school started this year, I really wondered how much time I had spent teaching these reflective strategies to students. I know I taught strategies for choosing a ‘good fit’ book in primary (I can read the words, just right vocabulary, interesting), but I didn’t really pull apart strategies for junior and intermediate grades. I know I didn’t give them enough opportunity to think reflectively about their relationship with reading and their identities as readers.
Enter book tastings. This fun and engaging way to introduce new books to students allows them to try out some strategies for book selections and reflect on themselves as readers.
A book tasting is an activity that allows students to ‘get a taste’ of different texts. There are a few different strategies for setting up a book tasting and here I am going to outline my own thinking around the activity. Remember though, like any good meal, if you choose to try it in your classroom, add your own ‘flavour!’
Set the table first. Some educators really work to create an atmosphere, including tablecloths and place settings, but the essentials are a ‘menu’, a pencil, and a high interest selection of books that best suit the readers. You might want to find out prior to the book tasting what types of books they are interested in reading (e.g., graphic novels, non-fiction, dystopian, fantasy, etc.) or perhaps a topic they are interested in learning about (human rights, climate change, famous people, etc). It’s great to have this take place in the library where they can check the books out right away or to use books that you plan to have students engage with for activities like literature circles in the classroom. The ‘menu’ would have the list of books to be sampled and space for writing notes or rating their preferences in order, depending on your purpose for hosting the book tasting.
There are lots of ways to ‘taste’ the books. The whole activity should take about one period or less to keep the time moving quickly for the students. It should be enjoyable and honour that it can be a long time for some students to sit still and focus. Plan on students spending about five minutes exploring each book.
The actual ‘tasting’ can be done in different ways, depending on your purpose. If you want to have students freely engage with a variety of books then set each table with a few books and students get the opportunity to sample them at their own leisure. Explicitly explaining some strategies would be helpful, for example, look at the cover, read the synopsis, read the first few pages, think about your current mood, is this an author you enjoy, etc. If you want to try a more guided approach, have the same books at each table and lead some conversational dialogue. Ask students what they think of the cover and what type of book they think this would be. Take a moment to read the first few pages together. If possible, look up the author’s website for information about who is writing this text and what is their message or intention for greater depth.
The specifics of hosting a book tasting might look different, depending on the educator’s style; however, the purpose of hosting a book tasting is most important. A book tasting is a fun vehicle to have students reflect upon and practice their strategies when choosing a book to read. It’s promoting conversation about reading, to think about ourselves as readers, and to build a reading community together.