Reading Deeply and Widely

Jenn Useted, the Library Media Specialist, loads up her book cart and wheels it to Mary Dillon’s sixth grade classroom for one of ten book talks she would give that week. It’s just after lunch; students clear food wrappers, wipe their desks and get out their readers notebooks, excited for Useted’s personal book recommendations.

She knows what tweens like: realistic fiction, fantasy and graphic novels that feature young people like themselves. She takes care to offer students stories in which they can see themselves as well as discover startlingly different life experiences.

Useted’s top picks that day include:

  • “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper, a novel about a girl genius who has cerebral palsy and cannot speak or walk
  • “New Kid,” a graphic novel by Jerry Craft about a student of color starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real
  • “Refugee” by Alan Gratz, a novel about three young adults—a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany, a girl in 1990s Cuba and a boy in Syria, 2015—who each must journey in search of refuge
  • Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series by Sayantani DasGupta. In book 1, “The Serpent’s Secret,” a New Jersey girl of Indian descent finds that her parents have vanished and there is a rakkhosh demon in her kitchen

Besides talking books, Useted also gives the students a refresher on how to check out books while the library is still closed due to COVID and how to use Soros, the e-book library students have access to.

“Our whole world is shifting to make diversity more of a priority,” said Useted. When she buys books for the middle school’s library, she takes special notice of a book's characters and their experiences as well as its author. Katonah-Lewisboro’s school librarians each diversified their collection with those criteria in mind.

When Useted heads back to the library, her cart is practically empty. The books are in the hands of eager readers.