How to Rec-It

How to Rec-It: Building a Book List

Hi friends!

Today’s post is gonna be a little bit different–instead of recommending books I’m going to be talking a little bit about how to recommend books in the first of my new series: ‘How to Rec-It’.

One of my favorite things in the world is creating book lists. So let’s talk a little about how to build them.

Now, you could be building a book list for any variety of reasons. Maybe you’re a teacher/librarian/bookseller giving a booktalk. Maybe you’re writing a blog post. Maybe you’re making a reading list for your neighbor’s kid because your neighbor knows you like books. Whatever the reason, here are some tips.


step 1.jpg


Always the most important step–determining your audience is crucial to a successful book list. Now, this can be highly specific or very broad depending on what you are making the book list for. If you are a teacher, maybe you are book talking to your class of 25 teens. If you’re a blogger, it’s not so easy to determine.

But why is the audience important? Can’t I just make the book list I want?

Well, yes and no. Look, if you’re going to be building a book list it should be for others, not just for yourself. Otherwise you are talking at a wall.

For all of the examples below, we are going to make a list of 10 books. Lists can be of whatever length required, but much longer than 10 is going to make this post a ridiculous length.


Example 1: So let’s say you are a librarian and you are being brought into a high school to give a book talk to 100 teens about the best young adult books published in 2017. Likely, this is going to be a variety sample. You’ll have teens who exclusively read fantasy. You’ll have teens who won’t touch something that is non-realism. You’ll have teens who don’t read at all. Your list for this audience will have to blend.


It’s actually the same concept if you are making a book list for a blog–you’re going to get a variety of people.


Example 2: So say you’re a blogger making a book list that’s the best YA sci-fi that exists. You’re still going to want to cover a wide variety of sci-fi. Throw some dystopian on there, some thriller sci-fis, some virtual reality, some future set stuff. Maybe even throw in a few books that straddle that sci-fi/fantasy line.


As for making a book list for a small sample you already know…


Example 3: You’re a teacher making a book list to talk to your class of 30 about. You know that this group of students shows no interest in the classics you are required to teach, so you decide to make a list for them of retellings that they might like better and be able to connect to the literature. This is a targeted list–it’s seeking to fulfill a need you see in a specific group.


step 2.jpg


You may already have ideas of what you want to put on your list. Excellent! Write them down!


Example 1 (librarian): The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Example 2 (blogger): Warcross by Marie Lu, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Want by Cindy Pon, Proxy by Alex London, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Example 3 (teacher): The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie Nelson, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, Exit Pursued by a Bear by E K Johnston, Jane by April Lindner


After doing that, crowdsource–talk to your friends! Check out blogs or goodreads! Browse the web for any similar lists that have been made! Now, with regards to that last one, I don’t mean take someone else’s list book by book. A lot of times, if you’ve already made a preliminary list, you’ll have a little venn diagram with a list of a similar topic. But maybe there is a book on there you haven’t thought of, but you did already read it! Maybe your friend reminds you of that book you loved when you read it in April! Maybe you added a book on Goodreads that you haven’t read yet but really want to!

Add these books. Even if you haven’t read them yet. We’ll edit down the list later. But you have to have a starting ground.


Example 1 (librarian): The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson, Among the Red Stars by Gwen C Katz, Spinning by Tillie Walden, How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Jane Unlimited by Kristen Cashore

Example 2 (blogger): Warcross by Marie Lu, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Want by Cindy Pon, Proxy by Alex London, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada, This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, Legend by Marie Lu, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson,  Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff, Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Example 3 (teacher): The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie Nelson, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, Exit Pursued by a Bear by E K Johnston, Jane by April Lindner, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Speak Easy Speak Love by McKelle George, The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd, Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne, The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Scarlet by A C Gaughen


step 3


Seems self explanatory, but recommending a book is tough when you haven’t read it yet. Especially if you will be face to face with your audience on a regular basis–you are going to be accountable for your recommendations. If you lie and say you’ve read something you haven’t read, that’s not a great look.

So read through the books on your preliminary list. This is going to help us determine if there’s any books that can be eliminated to get down to 10 books for the final list.


step 4



Example 1 (librarian):

So here was our longlist:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson, Among the Red Stars by Gwen C Katz, Spinning by Tillie Walden, How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Jane Unlimited by Kristen Cashore

Let’s say you read all 13 and loved each and every one! Excellent, it’s a great problem to have. But now you have to cross three titles off your list. Hmm.

One way you can do this is to break things down into categories to see how many of each genre you have:

Contemporary: The Hate U Give (1), The Upside of Unrequited (2), We Are Okay (3), Little and Lion (4), Turtles All the Way Down (5)

Fantasy: An Enchantment of Ravens (1), Wild Beauty (2)

Mystery: Allegedly (1)

Historical: Among the Red Stars (1)

Graphic Novel: Spinning (1)

Non-Fiction: How Dare the Sun Rise (1)

Un-genre-box-able: They Both Die at the End (1), Jane Unlimited (1)


One of the first things to notice about this list is there are five contemporaries and zero sci-fi. That means contemporary is exactly half your list while sci fi has no appearance. It’s understandable for contemporary to be overrepresented, but 50% is a little overkill. So what can we get rid of?

Well, let’s look at the contemporaries. John Green basically sells himself at this point, so he’s probably the least in need of a book talk boost. So let’s scratch off Turtles. Now, you’ve still got four left in this category. Think back to your audience. And think about how you’ll be able to pitch these books to them. You’re going to be talking to one hundred teens–some of whom it’s super hard to sell on a book. So maybe let’s scratch off the book that you haven’t quite figured out how to pitch it yet past EMOTIONS! GORGEOUS! POWERFUL! In my case, this is We Are Okay, which I loved but am dreadful at pitching to people.


Contemporary: The Hate U Give (1), The Upside of Unrequited (2), We Are Okay (3), Little and Lion (4), Turtles All the Way Down (5)

Fantasy: An Enchantment of Ravens (1), Wild Beauty (2)

Mystery: Allegedly (1)

Historical: Among the Red Stars (1)

Graphic Novel: Spinning (1)

Non-Fiction: How Dare the Sun Rise (1)

Un-genre-box-able: They Both Die at the End (1), Jane Unlimited (1)


Now that we’ve narrowed down contemporaries, let’s look at fantasy and that un-genre category, which have two books each. Let’s see if we can narrow those down to one. Maybe when you look at fantasy you think well, but let’s look closer. Both of these books are amazing, but Enchantment of Ravens did hit the NYT list. And Wild Beauty is about queer teens of color. So if choosing between the two to introduce to a bunch of teens, I would go with Wild Beauty.

Now with that un-genre category, maybe you decide you love both too much to get rid of. It happens. Plus, They Both Die at the End gives your list a guy/guy relationship, which the other books on your list don’t have. And being able to compare Jane, Unlimited to a Choose Your Own Adventure book is too good of an opportunity to pass up.


Contemporary: The Hate U Give (1), The Upside of Unrequited (2), Little and Lion (3)

Fantasy: An Enchantment of Ravens (1), Wild Beauty (2)

Mystery: Allegedly (1)

Historical: Among the Red Stars (1)

Graphic Novel: Spinning (1)

Non-Fiction: How Dare the Sun Rise (1)

Un-genre-box-able: They Both Die at the End (1), Jane Unlimited (1)


Okay, we still need to add a sci-fi. Sci-fi isn’t really your genre, but luckily the blogger from Example 2 made a great sci-fi list! So go through and find a great 2017 release, read it, and add it to your list!

You found: Want by Cindy Pon

Congratulations!


Contemporary: The Hate U Give (1), The Upside of Unrequited (2), Little and Lion (3)

Fantasy: Wild Beauty

Mystery: Allegedly

Historical: Among the Red Stars

Graphic Novel: Spinning

Non-Fiction: How Dare the Sun Rise

Un-genre-box-able: They Both Die at the End, Jane Unlimited

Sci-Fi: Want


But wait, your list now has 11 books. Well, sometimes this happens. In our 2017 list of the best books, my friends Allison, Shauna and I ended up with 51 books instead of 50. Usually in a book talk situation you are given a length of time rather than a specific number of books, so this is manageable. We’re done with this list for the rest of the post!



Example 2 (blogger): Warcross by Marie Lu, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Want by Cindy Pon, Proxy by Alex London, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada, This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, Legend by Marie Lu, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff, Invictus by Ryan Graudin, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland & Michael Miller


So for this example we can’t really sort by genre, since they all fall under sci-fi, we should find a new way to narrow down the books on our list. Firstly: let’s look for any books that have already had a ton of success. The Darkest Minds and Legend both fall under this, with Warcross we still have a Marie Lu book and with Proxy we still have a dystopian. So let’s cross those two off the list


Warcross by Marie Lu, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Want by Cindy Pon, Proxy by Alex London, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada, This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, Legend by Marie Lu, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson,  Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff,  Invictus by Ryan Graudin, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland & Michael Miller


Now, you might say, Illuminae has also had pretty good success. But let’s look at the other books on the list. Illuminae has unique formatting on it’s side. So let’s keep it on the list for now.

So what are we going to do now? Let’s see if there’s a way to classify these, even if it feels like a stupid category


Virtual Reality: Warcross

Techy: Rebel Seoul

Science-y: This Mortal Coil

Minimal science: We Are the Ants

Historical: This Monstrous Thing

Time Travel: Invictus

Dystopian: Proxy

Spaceship: Illuminae, Shadow Run, Empress of a Thousand Skies

Investigative: Want


Now, we can see that we have three spaceship-bound sci-fis. So let’s get rid of one of them.

In this case, Empress is written by an author of color, and Shadow Run features a genderfluid side character. So with that, and with Illuminae already being super successful, let’s cross it off the list.


Warcross by Marie Lu, Want by Cindy Pon, Proxy by Alex London, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada, This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, Invictus by Ryan Graudin, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland & Michael Miller



Example 3 (teacher): The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie Nelson, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, Exit Pursued by a Bear by E K Johnston, Jane by April Lindner, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Speak Easy Speak Love by McKelle George, The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd, Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne, The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Scarlet by A C Gaughen


Now, when you were reading you noticed you had two Jane Eyre retellings, so let’s get rid of one of them. Brightly Burning is one of the only sci-fi retellings on the list, so we’ll keep that over Jane. Now, Prom and Prejudice and The Madman’s Daughter are both older titles, and you just found out that they are the only two books that aren’t in your school library’s collection. Since you want your list to be books that are easily accessible to students during school hours, let’s take those off too. You’re down to nine books. We’ll fix that in a minute.


The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie Nelson, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, Exit Pursued by a Bear by E K Johnston, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Speak Easy Speak Love by McKelle George, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne, The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Scarlet by A C Gaughen


step 5


Now, some of this we’ve done as we went, but we want to make sure your list is as representative of as many identities as it can be. “But why sacrifice quality” oh shush you aren’t I promise. Let’s look at list number three:


The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie Nelson, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, Exit Pursued by a Bear by E K Johnston, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Speak Easy Speak Love by McKelle George, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne, The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Scarlet by A C Gaughen


Notice anything?

These books are all by white authors. Now, go back and research–what’s that? You didn’t find very many by authors of color?

Well, you found a few right?

The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You by Lily Anderson, and then Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson features some authors of color.

Excellent. Well The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is wonderfully fun, and Feral Youth is a collaborative story/anthology so let’s put both on the list. And to get our list to ten, we’ll take off Speak Easy Speak Love, since Only Thing is also a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing. And you can also mention Not Now, Not Ever is a companion novel to Only Thing!


The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters, The Duke of Bannerman Prep by Katie Nelson, The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand, Exit Pursued by a Bear by E K Johnston, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Speak Easy Speak Love by McKelle George, Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne, The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, Scarlet by A C Gaughen, The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson, Feral Youth by Shaun David Hutchinson, et al.


Now, do not shy away from letting your students know that you are aware your list is pretty white. Especially when you are making a list specifically to make older books by white folks feel more accessible to teens. Do not just ignore the issue. Bring it up. Discuss it. And then get to work on another list for your students featuring contemporary authors of color. Maybe just give them Jason Reynolds’ entire catalog as well.


step 6

Good job you did it! Organize your list however you like, but make a handout with the books and write them in the order you’ll be speaking about them if you’re presenting it. Alphabetical, by genre, by theme–you get to pick!

Do you have any favorite book lists? What would you like to see lists of?

❤ Rachel

 

 

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