Please, Come In: Using Local Bookstores to Get Students Excited About Reading

I’ve been an avid reader all my life, going above and beyond the required 30 minutes of reading at home. In fact, I've always had a hard time tracking my reading in a reading log. Doing this meant I had to interrupt my reading to write down how many pages I read, the title of the book, and the author’s name. As a lifelong reader, I want every person to enjoy and learn from what they’re reading. As a bookseller at a bookstore in Brooklyn, New York, I want to help students on their journey to a thriving reading life. I believe that teachers can use local bookstores as a resource to get their students excited about reading.

I often hear people around my age or older proclaim that their love for reading was diminished by assigned reading in school. I never had that problem because I knew of other options. In my mind, there was a difference between reading to study literature and reading for fun. Sure, I didn’t always enjoy the book—I’m looking at you, Holden Caulfield—however, my mom couldn’t (and still cannot) walk past a bookstore without peeking inside. I spent hours of my adolescence in a bookstore, walking through the aisles, looking for something interesting, and then sitting down with a book in hand. I essentially rounded out my reading life by choosing authors such as Ellen Hopkins, John Green, Ellen Wittlinger, and Ron Koertge. I kept up this habit even when I was not with my mother. I think this is how I became comfortable in bookstores.

Books Are Magic bookstore in Brooklyn, New York, where Girls Write Now writer and HMH intern Danni Green works.

I want more young readers to see bookstores as a place they can be. To that end, I believe that students should take regular school trips to their local bookstore. I want young readers to know that “reading at home” doesn’t always have to mean reading at home. You can venture into a bookstore, browse the stacks, pick up a title that intrigues you, sit down, and read. Bookstores have booksellers, and booksellers love books. We know the joy of connecting with a really great book. For the students who finish books as often as they breathe, there are two ways we can support them:

  • We get advanced readers’ copies of upcoming releases, which gives a student something to look forward to.
  • We read a wide range of books and know of books that are lesser known. For readers who are having difficulty reading, we can recommend they read books similar to shows they like or books that are on their reading level. We can also recommend books that are in keeping with other narrative-focused media. For example, if they have a favorite show or movie, we can connect them to a book that is similar in plot or genre.

Students benefit from representation and role modeling. Visiting a bookstore allows them to get acquainted with the staff and the sections of the store. They can see themselves as readers outside of school. They can see that it is possible to enjoy reading as an adult. That familiarity is a powerful bond. They are able to connect to other people who understand the misguided notion that you will go to sleep after “one more chapter.” I would like to see more young people come into my bookstore. I get excited each time I have the chance to gush about my love and enthusiasm for a book. I want young readers to experience that same delight.

I recognize that the ability to spend disposable income for books is not a reality for many children and families. A way for teachers to support these students is to frame the trip to a bookstore as a way to gain familiarity. The purpose is to feel comfortable asking for recommendations, talking about books, and seeing themselves spending time in a bookstore. Local bookstores are community spaces. They are hotspots for cool, engaging events for readers of all ages. As a student, I didn’t have the luxury of owning many books, but being used to going into a bookstore made me know that it was an open and welcoming space. Stories and a love of stories is a bridge across many divides.

School trips can normalize the experience of going into a bookstore and talking to people who can help with finding a great book. With that familiarity and normality is the awareness that books are a worthwhile and viable way to spend your money. 

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Danni Green contributed to our Shaped blog as an HMH intern through a collaborative program with Girls Write Now, a nonprofit organization based in New York City.

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