Adults, Books & Reading, Library Life, Professional Development

This Librarian Read: Better with Books by Melissa Hart

Every summer, I make it a goal for myself to read at least one professional development book. I normally read this book in August, as a way to gear myself up for the upcoming school year. I haven’t quite decided yet on what my pick will be for this summer, so I thought I would share last year’s selection in the meantime:

Better with Books by Melissa Hart

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Better with Books by Melissa Hart is a fantastic resource that suggests 500 diverse contemporary fiction and memoir recommendations for tweens and teen readers. Each chapter is broken down by a different topic and it explores the issues surrounding that topic, along with listing recommended books to read. Published only a year ago, the reading recommendations in this book are all titles that have been published within the past ten years, making the content current and relevant with tween and teen readers. Though some of the data that is shared throughout this book is based on U.S. statistics, most often, parallel situations are on-going here in Canada, so the content of this book is still very insightful and helpful for Canadian readers.

The book lists are broken down into the following chapters:

  • Adoption and Foster Care
  • Body image
  • Immigration
  • Learning Challenges
  • LGBTQIA+ Youth
  • Mental Health
  • Nature and Environmentalism
  • Physical Disability
  • Poverty and Homelessness
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Religion and Spirituality

For more details about this book, visit Melissa Hart’s website here.

Why You Need To Read This Book

It is a great collection development resource for librarians: When I first assessed my library’s collection, it was not filled with as much diversity as what it should have and I knew that there was a lot of work ahead in order to get this collection to where it needed to be. I ended up using this book to help inform my collection development, using it as a tool to research different middle grade and YA novels that could be added to our library.

The suggested books help develop empathy, awareness and compassion: Hart makes an excellent point in her introduction about how “reading novels can help us become kinder, more caring individuals.” Reading a range of diverse books that explore a variety of real-life topics helps develop empathy, awareness and compassion. Hart gets into a bit more detail about this, but overall, books are a powerful thing, and so, we need to make sure that we keep putting books like these into the hands of our youth.

It is NOT just a tool for librarians: This is not just a great resource for librarians, but I would also recommend this book to teachers, CYCs, and parents too! Anyone in any of these roles are always looking for ways to teach and model to youth how to become the very best that they can be. What better way to do this than through the power of books and reading?

I also appreciated Hart’s comment on connecting with children as parents using books:

Adults are busier than ever before. I get that. Some of us may work two and three jobs, as my mother did, to pay for housing and good. Children may come home after school to empty houses, to daycare facilities, to four hours of homework a night. Still, if we can make time – even ten minutes a night – to read with our kids aloud, the benefits are remarkable.

I don’t have any children of my own, but someday I hope to, and this here is what one of my greatest fears are sometimes in becoming a mom: the busyness of it all and wondering how on Earth I’m ever going to fit in all of life’s lessons in between. I try to remind myself that books were how I learned a great deal of things when I was a child and they are also how I continue to learn as an adult, and so why wouldn’t this be how I intend for my future children to also learn? Again, the power of books is priceless.

Suggested books give readers windows and mirrors: Books should always give their readers windows and mirrors. This is an analogy that has been used many times before, especially in the library world, but for those of you who are new to it, let me explain it further:

  • Books should be like windows, allowing readers to see into the lives of others and their lived experiences.
  • Books should also be like mirrors, in that readers should be able to see themselves and their own lived experiences in the characters that they read about.

The idea of windows and mirrors is an ongoing issue in children’s publishing today, and though this has improved in recent years, there is still much work that needs to be done (refer to the infographic below). This is where the work of libraries and librarians is so important. We need to ensure that the books we put on our shelves allows any reader that walks into our library to be able to say that there are books here for them that act as both windows AND mirrors. That is the goal and this book is a great tool to help get library collections reflecting this.

Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Retrieved from

If there is one book you read before heading back to your school library this fall, I highly recommend that you put this read at the very top of your TBR piles. Also, if Melissa Hart could please keep publishing these books every couple of years, that would be greatly appreciated by this librarian!

Have you read this book yet? Share below!

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