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Farmington students get to weigh in on hot lit picks

Seventh graders Matt Simon, Xander Smaby and Taylor Wexler are part of a group of approximately 130 Boeckman Middle School students participating in the International Reading Association’s National Young Adult Choices Project.

Boeckman Middle School student Xander Smaby was hoping he’d be able to spot the next big storyline in young adult books when he signed up to participate in an international book review panel at the school.

So far, though, all he’s read was a book of poems that were written to reflect what a dog might be thinking. Smaby refers to the book as the “dog poems” book, but he still enjoyed reading it.

Whether or not the dog poems book will become a best seller remains to be seen, but Smaby’s comments will be taken into consideration by the International Reading Association. Smaby and about 130 other BMS seventh- and eighth grade students are evaluating new books through a special program this fall.

The middle school is one of a select few around the world chosen to participate in the IRA’s National Young Adult Choices Project, BMS media specialist Barbara Thierl said. The project puts new books into the hands of young readers. The readers will read a minimum of two books through the project — there are 65 or 70 books available — then complete an online survey. The goal is to compile a list of 30 books that will move on as the best young-adult books of the year.

The books are so new Thierl checks them out the old-fashioned way – by using library cards. The students have to sign out the books, and Thierl stamps the date on the cards. It’s the only way she can keep track of the books.

“We have to do this because the books aren’t in any system, anywhere yet,” she said. “That’s how new these books are.”

Seventh grader Taylor Wexler has read through one book so far, and she’s really enjoying her second, a book called, “Brianna on the Brink.”

“She’s going through things I can relate to in my life,” she said of her current book’s character. “I like that in books. I like that the author was trying to create an image of a person a lot like me.

“Without this program, I don’t think I would have found this book,” Wexler added.

The program will go on through November. Thierl plans to have it completed — with all students interested in participating being able to read and evaluate at least two books – by the end of December. In order to meet the demand, Thierl stresses that students return the books as soon as they’re finished so others can get their reading in, as well.

“It’s like a candy store. They just can’t get enough,” she said.

The books cover a variety of topics. Eighth grader Haley Berg read an autobiography on filmmaker Andrew Jenks. She liked the book because she has an interest in film. Seventh grader Matt Simon read a fantasy book called “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.” As soon as he turned that book in Monday, Smaby grabbed it up for reading this week.

The students understand they’re participating in a pretty unusual project, and that their opinions matter when it comes to a book’s success. Thierl thinks that accounts for the project’s popularity.

That, and that the fact Boeckman students really like to read.

“It was a very exciting thing to get here. We have kids who are really, really voracious readers,” she said.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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