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Selecting books as presents for readers

A book given to a reader should represent a present, which will eagerly be opened and savoured, according to noted educator and author Margaret Mooney. In fact, she lists many traits of a book to be considered as we offer books to readers.

She states: 'A book has something worthwhile to say to you and should transport you into a new world. ... A good book encourages you to think about not only what you know but also about what you feel.'

Mooney stresses that a book should help you see yourself as a reader and is as exciting to finish, as it was to begin. Most importantly, it is not what the book teaches that matters, but what the book leaves as a residue with the reader.

How can we present books to readers so that they have the experience of being given presents? Much of the challenge lies in our knowledge of text features and forms and how to present and support our readers as they navigate the reading of a book.

The complexity of text determines whether the reader will receive the book as a present. We need to know a great deal about books as we select them and expect readers to enjoy them. Without simplifying this complex knowledge, there are some basic factors that determine a book's complexity. For starters, we need to know the common forms of books. There is fiction, which includes narratives, poetry, verse and rhyme and plays. There is informational text inclusive of expository, persuasive, procedural and transactional writing. No matter what the book, structure or content, we must ask ourselves as we present books: 'How will this book help the reader know more and how much support is needed to ensure successful gaining and use of information is the outcome?'

A combination of the introduction and repetition of basic vocabulary or words that can be decoded, the number of words, lines or sentences on a page, the text illustration match and the perceived relevance of the content are only some of the considerations of text complexity. Even if a text is assigned a level, it does not determine whether a text is suitable for a particular reader, group of readers or grade level.

What might be a challenge for one reader may be a support for another reader. Mooney summarises: 'Knowing how to review a book to determine its relevance for the competencies, background experiences and knowledge, and interests of readers is a requirement for the selection of any text. It is only then that we can make appropriate decisions about the suitability of the text for a reader at a particular time or for the approach we will use in assigning the text.'

Many factors contribute to the complexity of a text and should be included in any review of a book that is to be given to a reader. As we endeavour to create readers who see books as presents, we must consider that careful review of the book is essential. A few factors to be considered are the cover, title page, table of contents, content, form, language, style, illustrative material and typography. And this list is not conclusive!

Many questions can be considered when determining a book's complexity. For example, does the title reveal a clue, theme or topic of the book? Does the cover illustration reflect the title or give a clue about the author's view or writing style? Is there a blurb and does it introduce content or the author's view? Can extra information be implied from the illustration on the title page? How is the table of contents organised? Are there chapter headings matched with page numbers? If the book is informational, is there sufficient detail for readers to plan their reading?

The content of a book requires a great deal of consideration. What previous knowledge of the topic does the content assume the reader has? Is the content presented in illustrations along with text for clarity? Is there stereotyping in the content? How many characters are in the topic, are they credible or change through out the book? How is the main idea or theme played out? Are there lots of time changes to scene changes? How is new information revealed and transitioned from one incident to another?

Form determines the writing style of the author and should follow conventions of the form style. The language of the text should suit the topic, theme and form. Can the reader easily decode the language? How often is new vocabulary introduced? Is the tense consistent? How much of the book uses natural language and book language? Is the writing style consistent? Is the print or type appropriate in size, consistent with appropriate spacing? Is the text laid out in manageable chunks and normal print conventions followed?

As we select books as presents for our readers, it is necessary to know what a book offers in order to match that book carefully to the reader. This knowledge can help us determine the amount of support we may need to provide the reader in order to ensure the book becomes an enjoyable experience.

Mooney concludes by saying: 'A well-chosen book will leave readers with a residue of learning about their world and the wider world and also a deeper conviction that reading is a manageable and a worthwhile activity.'

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Published November 01, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated November 01, 2011 at 9:40 am)

Selecting books as presents for readers

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