Every year I eagerly await March Madness. Lifting me out of the mid-winter slump, the NCAA basketball tournament excites me with its college colors, team logos, energetic players, and unpredictable outcomes. Similarly, the March Book Madness tournament I started at my school four years ago brings an upbeat vibe to our high school library. Like the lively college logos, the dynamic book covers in my bracket add a spark of color and charm to the season. And like the basketball game results, there are always surprise literary winners.
Reading and Teens
A fact about reading and high school students: they don’t do it a lot. According to a survey by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 55% of 15 year olds in the U.S. said they only read if they have to (2021). From the anecdotal evidence I’ve collected throughout the years, I know that if I create a tournament where all participants are required to read the books, I would have only a handful of students join in. My solution has been to make a bracket of 16 young adult novels, curated to appeal to a wide variety of personalities, and have students vote based on which book sounds more interesting. This way, they all can take part in the contest and learn about books they may never have had the opportunity to see. This decision pays off each year; soon after the tournament ends, a steady flow of students, including many who are not my regular readers, come to the school library to check out books from that year’s bracket.
As a high school librarian, I always keep young adult books on my radar. I make sure to read new ones often, looking for stories that will spark conversation and interest. From my large pool of titles, I narrow it down based on what I think would be student favorites. Admittedly, the color and charisma of the covers also come into play at times. As March approaches, I make a copy of my Google Docs book bracket template and begin filling in images of the books. I also create a Google Doc with links to my Goodreads reviews. By the end of February, I have my finished bracket and I’m ready to start promoting the novels.
When it’s time for the opening day of the tournament, I have it announced over the loudspeaker in the morning and post it to the school library’s Canvas page, where I include the full bracket and a link to a Google Form for digital voting. I arrange all of the books prominently on a library display, letting students browse at their leisure. Throughout the day, I walk around the school library, giving book talks about each book and collecting students’ votes. Each day, two books compete and the one with the most votes moves on to the next round. We start with the Sweet 16 round, move on to Elite Eight and Final Four, and then end with the Championship face off. I enter every voter into a raffle and one randomly chosen student wins a gift card and a copy of the winning book.
In the Works
Each year I look for new ideas that will make March Book Madness more engaging. As I’m writing this, the Selection Sunday show is on TV and college basketball players are cheering for their teams as they receive word that they made it into the tournament. I think about the animated conversations in my library each March that are focused on the NCAA March Madness games. With that in mind, I plan to make a display of books based on each team’s state. I could pair Gonzaga (Washington) with Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Justina Chen; Texas Tech (Texas) with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; Rutgers (New Jersey) with Love in English by Marie Andreu; and so on for all the 68 teams in the tournament. My hope is that if learners see their favorite teams on a display with books next to the familiar logos, they’ll pay attention to these titles, even if the books have nothing to do with sports.
March Madness is a time of adventure, when fans crave the unexpected and viewers revel in the energetic atmosphere on the courts. Transferring this energy to the school library and adding books to the mix is a great way to steer teens’ attention toward the dramatic, joyous world of fiction.
OECD (2021), 21st-Century Readers: Developing Literacy Skills in a Digital World, PISA,
OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/a83d84cb-en.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.