I can be a pretty competitive person. Just ask anyone who has played a board or card game with me. I also like a good challenge. So when I first saw the Hub Reading Challenge in Spring of 2012, I couldn’t resist. What could be more fun than a challenge revolving around reading excellent YA books? Count me in! But over time, the Hub Reading Challenge has become much more than that for me.
First, that graphic novels list looked like it would be useful. I’d been thinking that I needed to learn more about GNs, but never knew where to start. So the fun challenge now had a professional benefit. May I could use it to expand my Reader’s Advisory knowledge in other ways. I decided on a mini-challenge of reading at least one title from every award category. If I was going to read outside my usual comfort zone, here was a ready-made set of recommendations from other librarians. I couldn’t think of a better starting point.
So I’ve known for quite a while that participating in the Challenge was good professional development for me in terms of my knowledge of YA literature and Reader’s Advisory skills. I didn’t realize until this year, my third participating, how it has affected the way I evaluate books.
I first started writing book reviews on a very small scale while in grad school. It was a requirement in my Children’s Services class, one I enjoyed since I liked to write. (Yes, I can tell you’re shocked.) I followed the standard format and tried to be objective. Soon I was writing reviews for the library website as well as this blog. But I shied away from reviewing any books I didn’t really like. After all, the library’s goal was to promote the books, so I focused on positives.
What changes? As I reflected on titles for the Challenge weekly check-ins (both on The Hub blog and here), I found myself looking for why the books I didn’t care for were on these lists. What objective criteria was I missing? Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit.
**Before I go on, let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with rating and reviewing a book based on how well you liked it! Or didn’t. All I’m saying is that I’ve gradually begun to take a different course, one rooted in my view of the Hub Challenge as a professional development tool. **
I try to determine what it is that I didn’t like and how that is integral in the appeal of that book for a certain audience. Maybe it was too violent for my taste, but that contributed to making it an exciting adventure story that iwll appeal to fans of books like The Maze Runner. Or, for example, I’m really struggling with listening to Crap Kingdom. If not for the Challenge, I wouldn’t finish it. (The competitive side is still there.) If I rate it on how I like it, I’d give it 2 stars. But this story is well-suited to its audience. I can see seventh, eighth, and ninth graders loving this, probably more boys than girls. I’ll probably give it four stars in the end because of how suited it is for the audience for which it was written. It wasn’t written for me. And I’m thrilled to have this book to recommend to boys in that age group. I’ll probably book talk it at Middle Schools this Spring,
Since I’ve transitioned into a professional library position last year, I find it harder to find time for Challenge reading. I’ve got ARCs begging for reviews and books to read for my Teen Book Group. So I’ll be happy just to complete my 25 this year (not counting the 10 Nonfiction and Morris short-listed titles from the Winter Challenge). But I do take some pride in the fact that each year I have read more of the Challenge titles before the award lists were published, or at least made mental notes that I needed to read them. That tells me that I am getting more in tune with YA literature all the time. Of course, that also means that next year’s Challenge will probably force me to range even further from my comfort zone. That can only benefit my teen patrons!