Kids at DDG Booksellers show off
their favorite summer books.

Inspired by Karlene Rearick’s summer reading program at the Alphabet Garden in Cheshire, Conn., which creates a window display with flowers with the name of each child in the center and the books they read on the petals, and challenged by a friend to use children’s reviews to sell more books, Kenny Brechner, owner of Devaney Doak and Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, came up with what he regards as the 18-year-old store’s most successful summer reading program to date. If Goldilocks were testing out a summer reading program, Brechner says, this year’s Spread the Word for grades K to 6 would be just right. It captured the attention of both children and parents—and sold books.

To get out the word, Brechner worked with two local elementary schools, W.G. Mallett and Cascade Brook, who agreed to authorize the program as a summer reading option for their students and to send home an announcement in students’ backpacks. Each participant was asked to fill out a review slip, which DDG provided, for each book they read over the summer, and then drop them off at the store. The slips were printed on heavy white cardstock so that they could be used as book marks and then placed inside each reviewed book to form a display on a table near the front of the store. As an added incentive, Brechner held a weekly drawing for participating students to win a prize. He also gave out a grand prize at last week’s store party to mark the close of the program. Plus, each child who completed six or more reviews was automatically awarded a $5 gift certificate to DDG.

The review slip Brechner has kids fill out.

“Parents uniformly said it got their children interested in reading,” Brechner says. “And adults who are browsing have been fascinated by the display table.” At the same time, he adds, “The kids took such pride in it. When they brought in a review slip, they wanted me to read it on the spot.” Among his favorites were reviews for Brandon Mull and Brandon Dorman’s Fablehaven—“Read this book now. It will keep you reading until 2 a.m.”—and Walter Moers’s Rumo—“It is really awesome.” One child described The Wizard of Oz as “very interesting and cool! All of the creatures have good spirits! Enjoy reading!”

While most kids liked the books they read, says Brechner, a surprising number did not, as he discovered by the check boxes they marked at the top of each review. Each review sheet included a place for students to indicate whether You should or You shouldn’t read this book because he felt that to encourage them to give their opinion of the book rather than simply recite the plot. “The idea of handselling is synonymous with opinion,” says Brechner, who has used a similar technique in his classroom work during the school year.

There was very little overlap among the books that the kids reviewed. Brechner attributes that to the fact that many children stopped by the store to see what had already been reviewed—and to see their own review cards on display. “The table’s been a big hit,” Brechner says. “The kids come in and go, ‘There it is.’ Interestingly adults looking to pick out books as gifts have used it as a resource many times.”

By program’s end, Brechner received 166 reviews, with 20 children completing six or more. “A really nice thing,” he says, “is that several parents told me that a child who wasn’t a big reader had really gotten motivated by the program.” Brechner’s only advice for other booksellers, who might want to try something similar, is to bear in mind that kids like to write in pencil, which can be hard to read—but worth it.