It can be especially tough to purchase books for middle school students. Although there are only three grades at the school, the difference in maturity and development levels is every bit as varied as in elementary school. Maybe more. We choose books for students ranging from our youngest 6th graders--who are often still 10--to our oldest 8th graders--who might be 15. There's quite a difference there, developmentally.
The media center has to provide engaging, thought-provoking, high-quality books for all MPMS students, regardless of age, reading level, interests, cultural differences, or maturity levels. It can be tempting to take the easy road and buy only "safe" books, to ensure that students are never surprised by material they aren't ready for. But, if we did that, many 8th grade students would never voluntarily walk through the door. It's important to provide the books older students crave, too.
This is why, at their very first visit to the media center, we talk with the younger students about how to choose the best books for themselves. I often think we don't give young children enough credit for their ability to do this. They are actually pretty savvy about finding books. We discuss what criteria to use when choosing a good book, and things to look for to tell if a book will be the right one for them. Things like: the title, the cover, the summary on the outside of the book, using the five-finger method, looking for favorite authors or genres, asking for help from a teacher, librarian, parent, or friend. We tell students that, if they begin to read a book and find it's not the right book for them, they can always return it the next day and find something else. I use myself as an example; I just don't like scary books or books with a lot of violence, and have stopped reading plenty of books when I've found they are too intense for me.
Our goal is for students to learn to choose literature for themselves. That's the pathway towards being a life-long reader. Sometimes it involves allowing students the leeway to make a mistake for them to learn how to choose great books on their own. We are especially fortunate at MPMS to have such a fantastic collection of books--about 20,000--to help ensure that we provide the right book for the right student. Parents, keep discussing their books choices with your students. Read along with them, steer them toward great books, and get in touch with us if you ever have questions about how to help students choose good books.