Portland students 'taste-test' books to expand horizons

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PORTLAND — Book “tasting” is an innovative way to encourage kids to keep an open mind about trying books they might not otherwise choose to read and can open up “an infinite world of possibilities,” according to Eva Platt.

Platt is the librarian at Ocean Avenue Elementary and recently she piloted a book-tasting event with some fifth-graders at the school.

“Book tasting transforms the library into a restaurant of delicious books to (try),” Platt said. “The library becomes a restaurant that serves all kinds of different books, hopefully books that the student might not have thought to read before.”

She said the goal is simple: encourage students “to look at a lot of books in a short amount of time.”

“The book tasting helps them keep an open mind when choosing books,” Platt said, and shows students “that there are many different kinds of genres, writers and types of books” to choose from.

Platt, who came across the concept by reading articles posted on various library forums, said the tasting held at Ocean Avenue Elementary encouraged students to expand their knowledge of genres such as fantasy, classics and historical fiction.

“It was a huge success,” Platt said. “The students went away with books from these great genres that they wanted to read and wouldn’t have otherwise selected.”

What Platt said she likes the most about book tasting is that “the idea can be adapted for a variety of learning and reading targets, which is what makes it so fantastic.”

She said the project was made even more special by “a wonderful parent volunteer,” Kerri Nicholas, who has one son in fifth grade and one in fourth grade.

“Kerri made incredible menus and even attached spoons to the pencils the students used to review and taste each book,” Platt said. “Her attention to detail and her help really boosted student interest and buy-in.”

She said the kids were prepared for a typical library lesson and were “thrilled to see the tables all set up with reserved seating, complete with centerpieces and menus.”

Nicholas said she jumped at the idea because “I wanted to do something out of the ordinary and interesting with books.”

Like Platt, she was pleased with the response.

“The students were surprised, intrigued and totally game for something out of the ordinary,” Nicholas said. “I heard many students say they didn’t want to give their book back because they wanted to (continue) reading.”

For the tasting, Nicholas said she and Platt, along with fifth-grade teacher Theresa Moran, transformed the school library into the Good Reader Cafe.

“We dimmed the lights and (Theresa) and Eva and I wore aprons to look like chefs and servers. We welcomed the students and spoke with our best British accents and the kids followed suit,” she said.

Each table held a platter featuring between 10 and 15 books of different literary genres.

“Goodwill was very helpful and gave me a great discount on the books after I told them what the books were for. Theresa and our library also contributed books to the platters,” Nicholas said.

Each menu had an appetizer, entree and dessert section, which included space for the students to write their thoughts on the three books they sampled, she added.

“I love reading and have been reading to my kids since they were babies,” Nicholas said. “(Reading) is not only important for expanding the imagination and language, but countless studies agree that consistent reading is a gateway to success in all subjects in the classroom and in life.”

She’s hopeful that book-tasting events will be expanded to other city schools.

“I actually have all of my instructions and materials saved for anyone who is interested in holding their own book tasting,” Nicholas said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Ocean Avenue Elementary School fifth-graders Zofia Kuzma, left, Nick Jones, Isaac Zelonish and Hannah Derrig participate in a pilot book-tasting event at the Portland school.