Enhance Your Library with an Author Study

This school year transformed our middle school library in several ways as we adapted to safety precautions in response to Covid-19. One room in our library is set aside for quarantining books before librarians safely recirculate items to new readers, but, most noticeably, students no longer browse bookshelves or gather in groups to read in our comfortable seating areas. In a time of physical distancing, how can books continue to keep us connected? This blog discusses how students in grades 6 and 7 tackled this dilemma through an Author Study project, which challenged students to enhance library resources and build personal connections to books.

The Author Study project was divided into 3 steps: 
1. Curate 3 book titles
2. Research 3 authors (through author websites and interviews)
3. Create a book review or a video book trailer to be linked in our Destiny online catalog

*View Author Study project for sample videos and activities for the author research.

Curating a Personal Book Shelf

The library online catalog has taken on a new importance as students select books for themselves and as they recommend books for each other. Students used our Destiny Discover online catalog to create a graphical curation of favorite books for future reading. In addition to selecting one book they had already read and loved, students chose a book featured in one of our genre collections and searched for a third book that was an award-winning book title.  These 3 books became the basis of the next step, researching the author.

Researching the Author

Students used a bond phrase search to locate author websites and examined the “About” or “FAQ” section of the websites to gather details about the author’s craft of writing. Fascinating insights emerged, such as authors’ advice on the writing process or examples of how real life situations and people inspire storylines and characters.  One student discovered on Kelly Barnhill’s website that the author’s experience as a park ranger taught her the merits of “taking the worst part of the trail and making it the best” (a life lesson that she uses when the author approaches revisions in her own writing). 

Another student discovered on Rachel Vail’s website that Vail and J.K. Rowling both identified this as an essential writing tool:  “eavesdropping” on other people’s conversations.  In addition to the author websites, students used Teachingbooks.net to locate author interviews. An interview with author John David Anderson revealed that he writes for middle school students because he feels there is so much drama in what middle schoolers experience, and he identifies strongly with those students who are “outsiders.” Anderson stated that “language has the power we give it: it can break and mend, include and exclude, uplift and beat down. We get to decide”  (interview from All the Wonders blog).

Creating Personal Connections (Book Reviews and Video Book Trailers)

Students were challenged to enhance our library catalog by adding rich content (book reviews or video book trailers), which would entice readers to check out recommended books. This Creating a Book Review video explains the steps of adding a review to our Destiny Discover catalog. Rather than just relating a book summary, students were required to share a personal connection to the book.  Here are two sample book reviews by 6th graders:

The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas has a remarkable story plot throughout the book. The Magnolia Sword is a romance/historical fiction book. I have never been a great fan of adventure books, but this made me change my mind. Sherry Thomas did an amazing job of showing the main character, Hua Mulan. Mulan is on an adventure to find out secret plots, and she discovers romance. I really connected with the main character when she was struggling with her personality. She isn’t the typical gentle, soft-spoken daughter;  she is a courageous free-spirited girl. I admired her courage and strength throughout the book. I don’t just see her as a fictional character, but I see her as a person to look up to. (Review by Grace P.)

The book Rebound by Kwame Alexander was a very motivational book. The part that made this motivational and sad was the dad dying. I related to this book well because I have empathy for those who lose something or someone special. Also, I love sports and sports are my life. This book really helped me discover what kind of books I like, other than graphic novels. So now, I read poem books instead of reading a comic book. I recommend this book to people who love sports and who can relate to a story with tragedy. (Review by Luke L.)

Our 7th graders are currently working on book trailers, using Wevideo.  In this project, students evaluate their use of images and audio to respect Copyright and explore options of Creative Commons licensing and Fair Use. As a flipped classroom activity, I created videos about the use of Britannica Image Quest, Fair Use, and Creative Commons to aid this discussion of respecting copyright and adding value and repurposing creative content. Students are looking forward to a screening of their book trailers, and they will help to vote on those book trailers that meet a criteria of excellence, book trailers that will be linked to book titles in our online catalog.

There is a power in storytelling; it connects us and builds empathy.  Now, more than ever, libraries and books are vital ways to ward off feelings of isolation. Encouraging students to become advocates of books and reading enhances our school libraries, but more importantly, strengthens our school communities so that we can navigate today’s stormy waters.

2 thoughts on “Enhance Your Library with an Author Study

  1. This is so exciting, Joan! Thank you for sharing an idea that is so ‘do-able’ and impactful. I have book club later today, and planned to walk them through how to add a book review so I really appreciate your suggestion to extend this by having them include a personal connection.

  2. Joan, thank you for such a great way to keep students engaged with reading. This is a really great and user-friendly feature of Destiny.

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