How to Evaluate Books for Young Readers

The five rules educators need to follow before evaluating and recommending YA books

Amani Salahudeen

January/February 2022

Reading is one of the best forms of escapism. With Covid-19 still not off our backs, it’s a way for students to learn about different cultures, get off social media, and increase one’s vocabulary and comprehension. Educators should know what their students are already reading to understand them. Students who read frequently have lower stress levels than students who do not read. This activity also enables them to embrace their cultures and sometimes transport themselves to a whole new world.

It can be difficult to get students to exchange binge-watching the next Netflix episode of their favourite show with reading. Many shows are adapted from books, and thus students can learn a lot more by reading than they can by watching. Binge-watching might be tempting, but it can neither improve their mental health nor their communication skills. What teachers need to do is find a way to make reading fun too. For example, if students complete X number of books, then their class earns a pizza party or a homework pass. However, in the rewards category, especially Islamic schools should be wary of corporate promotional sponsorship, which is usually aimed at drawing children toward their (often) unhealthy processed foods.

Regardless of whether students listen to audiobooks or actually read a book, all reading is valid. The main objective is getting them to read and to be engaged with the material while reading it. Annotating their books helps them keep tabs on what they are reading, which teaches them how to take notes while they read and helps them understand what they’re reading. Often, students will read a book relatively fast and then forget what they have read. Annotating with different coloured tabs will help them recall a specific scene or chapter.

Students who love to read experience abundant benefits. As educators, English literature teachers (or even homeroom teachers) should recommend books. While pursuing a Master’s in Education and gaining practical experience via substitute teaching, I’ve created a list of five essential rules that educators need to evaluate and recommend YA books to their students.

Know your students’ comprehension level.

This is critical, for some students read above their level and others read below it. The rest read at the standard level. There are multiple options for children who read at various levels.

Incorporate your students’ interests.

Do your students prefer audiobooks, graphic novels or physical books? Whichever one they prefer, encourage them to read and foster their love of reading. Get them involved in the classroom library by assigning them such tasks as stamping books out and checking them out if your students are in middle or high school). The book’s format doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they discover their favourite books or read a new author? Doing so will cause their horizons to expand. Perhaps they will even discover a new favourite author.

Diversify your shelves.

As your students come from all backgrounds and cultures, remember to curate your classroom library appropriately. Ensure that you have authors from different cultures and religions so your students can learn to appreciate one another’s differences. Students should learn to embrace their identities and that being different is not a bad thing. Educators who take the time to have a variety of books will help shape their students into well-rounded individuals.

Utilize the correct pedagogy.

Pedagogy is the practice of teaching an academic concept. In addition to fostering a love of reading, select books that will keep your students engaged. Teach them how to determine what makes a book good literature. It’s not enough for students to just like reading; they should be taught how to critically analyze what they read.

Did the book win any awards?

This is another way to ensure that you’re providing your students with quality books. There are many such awards for YA fiction novels, among them the William C. Morris Award, Pura Belpre Award, Coretta Scott King Award, Alex Awards, Odyssey Award, Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature and the Carnegie Medal. For example, S.K. Ali’s “Saints and Misfits” won a Morris Award, the APALA Honor Award and the Middle East Book Honor Award.

Furthermore, broaden your students’ horizons by stocking your classroom library with a variety of books. Get your students reading YA fiction involved by asking them to suggest books that should be acquired. Assign students on a rotating basis to be the classroom librarian. Make them part of the process of deciding which books should be added or discarded. Perhaps the discarded book could be given to a student, after receiving his/her parent’s consent or donated to a local library.

A classroom library is essential to a student’s success in mastering the English language. Label the books alphabetically, have a suggestion box so students can request specific books and allow them (at the teacher’s discretion) to snack while reading. Letting students read outside of class helps them develop a love for reading and use their imagination. With the right guidance from a teacher, students can also learn how to analyze literature and write a report based on what they have read.

Students who read are more likely to be able to focus longer than those who don’t read. They also have stronger memory skills, can remember what occurred in the book and can often better understand the world around them. Reading exposes students to other writing styles and voices, allows them to empathize with others and can lower their blood pressure and heart rate. Reading has other benefits as well, among them relieving their depression, helping them become better writers and increasing their knowledge.

Following these five rules ensures that students will become well-rounded individuals. If they read diverse material and authors, it would be impossible for them not to become better people.

Amani Salahudeen, who is pursuing a Master’s in secondary English education, has a B.A. in journalism and professional writing from The College of New Jersey. 


  • Gregory, M. (2008). “Planning and Organizing,” from Creating a Classroom Library. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from
  • National Council of Teachers of English. (2006). Resolution on preparing and certifying teachers with knowledge of children’s and adolescent literature. Urbana, IL: NCTE.