Jennifer Lewis

Middle Grade Mafia reads a lot of books and we think we have  good taste in children’s literature, but what do we know? We’re adults. Children’s books are supposed to appeal to children. We wanted to know what kids like to read and why .From time to time, MGM will be interviewing the real experts in children’s literature…the media specialists.

Our first “From the Stacks” interview is with Jennifer Lewis, the media specialist at Indian Knoll Elementary in Canton, Georgia.

Middle Grade Mafia: How long have you been a media specialist? Why did you choose that career path?

Jennifer Lewis: This August, I will start my twentieth year of teaching and sixth in the media center.  I enjoyed being a classroom teacher, but I pursued my school library degree because my true calling is in the library.  I love exploring new technology and helping teachers use it in their classrooms, collaborating with teachers to plan engaging lessons, and of course sharing great books with students!  I believe that I have the best job in public education!

 MGM: What are some of the most popular series/authors with your students? And why do you think these books have such appeal?

JL: My students love: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans, Maximum Ride by James Patterson, Timmy Failure by Stephan Pastis, The Ranger’s Apprentice by John Flanagan, Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, NERDS by Michael Buckley, Warriors by Erin Hunter, The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, and Bone by Jeff Smith.  All of these series are either humorous or full of action.  This is what my students are looking for in a great book series!

 MGM: Is there a series or author that you wish your students would read but they don’t seem interested?

JL: Yes, I love the Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall but it is a difficult sell for middle grades students.  This is a lovely, quiet series that reminds me of the Noel Streatfeild books I loved as a middle grade student.  I think it doesn’t appeal to students because it feels very old-fashioned even though it is set in the present day.

Also, students gravitate toward series books.  But there are so many great titles that are not part of a series.  I try to encourage my older students to expand their reading horizons with a book tasting each year.  Sometimes just giving them the opportunity to read a few pages of a book they might not pick up on their own is all it takes to get students interested.

MGM: Pretend you were talking to a publisher and fill in the blank. “I wish there were more books about _______?”  You can have more than one answer.

JL: Please give us more books that have the complex stories we expect from middle grade novels but are a shorter length!  Our students need great stories but sometimes aren’t ready for an expanding page count.  This could be due to a short attention span or because life is crazy busy with after-school activities. I remember when I was in 4th – 8th grade, books of about 200 pages were common.  Harry Potter changed everything.  While I still have students who love and can sustain a book of 300+ pages, many can’t!  So hopefully publishers will start to take note of what we want.   I’d love to see more authors craft great novels of about 200 pages (similar to ones written by Jennifer L. Holm and Barbara O’Connor).

MGM: How do you think your students would fill in that blank?

JL: My students crave more books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid!  They love the humor in the stories and the illustrations as well.  They just can’t get enough of this type of book!

MGM: How do you feel about graphic novels? Positives? Negatives?

JL: I LOVE LOVE LOVE graphic novels!  I have eight shelves of graphic novels in the media center and they are constantly a disaster because kids love them too!  Graphic novels contain complex storylines and use challenging vocabulary.  However, students are not overwhelmed by these books because of the illustrations and the way the text is segmented on each page.  The only negative I can think of regarding graphic novels is that they aren’t published quickly enough to satisfy readers.  It is so sad to see students’ faces when they ask for the seventh book in the Amulet series only to be told that it hasn’t come out yet (although it’s now on my order list for the fall!).

MGM: Thank you, Jennifer. It’s great that you took some time from your summer break to share your valuable insights with us.

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