The Fun Begins
It’s that time of year again! When our school closed on Friday, March 13, 2020, I had just finished preparing all of the March Book Madness materials and was excited to come into the library on Monday to start our annual tournament of books. We all know what happened next. For those not familiar with the NCAA Division I March Madness, it’s a single-elimination tournament of 68 men’s college basketball teams that compete in seven rounds for the national championship. March Book Madness, a literary offshoot of the colorful, lively sporting event, is my favorite library activity. This year, though we’re still not open to regular student traffic, I was determined to get the game rolling. Coming up with a creative adaptation has prompted me to expand my use of digital tools, which will continue to be helpful once we’re back to an in-person environment.
Planning for the Tournament
As in past years, my first step in planning this tournament was to choose the 16 book titles to fill the bracket. I read all year long with my eyes open for titles that will attract teen readers. Last year’s bracket never got publicity but I didn’t want to recycle it entirely because part of the excitement of March Madness, whether it’s basketball or books, is the anticipation of the unknown and the excitement of the selection. I decided to go with all young adult books this year, mainly because our students are more stressed than ever and those of them who are even attempting to read for pleasure want books that are accessible. I kept a few titles from last year’s bracket and chose a mixture of new ones from diverse genres. Then I made sure that we had the books in the library. A nice result of March Book Madness is that in the weeks after it’s over, we get checkout requests for many of the books in our bracket.
To create the tournament bracket, I make a copy of last year’s Google Doc bracket and then added the new books. For my initial bracket a few years ago, I searched images of brackets and blank books and arranged them on a Google Doc. It takes some time but once it’s done, the hardest part is over and the template can be recycled each March. Google Drawing is an easy way to customize images of basketballs or other icons. I make another copy of the document to use as an active bracket and update this one daily as we go through the tournament. I generate Google Forms for each pairing asking the simple question, “Which book would you rather read?” For the first day of the tournament I post the rules on Canvas, along with the link to the form for day one, and the voting begins.
While there’s no doubt that having March Book Madness in the library is ideal, the digital version has its own form of excitement. Each day, as I watch the votes pour in, I see the results go from being close, to a landslide, back to neck and neck, until finally one book emerges the winner. Just like the end of the Michigan vs. Ohio State game in the Big 10 tournament this month, some book face-offs aren’t decided until the last minute. When I’m on Zooms for research lessons or after-school clubs, students ask which book is in the lead for that day, eager to see the final results. I keep voting open until that night, when I disable the response button on the Google Form. When I arrive in my library each morning, I post the results of the previous day, with an image of the updated bracket and the link for that day’s voting. I record students’ e-mail addresses, and enter them in a raffle for a copy of the winning book.
While it may seem that a contest of books doesn’t serve its purpose if the students don’t actually read the books, I’ve found that requiring the students to read the books discourages participants. In a typical year, when the library is packed with students, I’m able to book talk the books to hundreds of students each day. My enthusiasm is contagious and they seem interested in the titles. I always have several students express how surprised they are that there’s a book about zombies, surfing, or whatever topic sparks their interest. Introducing them to a world of reading in which books can be about anything gets their minds away from their assigned school reading and moving toward reading as a choice to enhance their enjoyment. I’m hopeful that in the coming months, as we slowly return to normal, students will visit the library asking for one of the March Book Madness books.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is a library media specialist at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal and Woodbury Magazine. She co-hosted Bookscreenz Podcast with her daughter, Annabelle. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, the beach, and spending time with her husband, three children, and dog. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.