Meet Sarah, one of our dedicated Book Collections Team
We are very proud of the team we have here at Badger Learning, from the hardworking people who pack the boxes to the lovely ladies who create the collections in our Product Development Team. I caught up with Sarah, one of our Product Developers, to ask her about her role here at Badger…
How did you become a book buyer?
I always knew I wanted to work within the book industry so I went to university and gained a degree in English Literature. During this time, I also worked in a library and became a student ambassador promoting higher education to children of all ages. When I finished university, I interned at three publishing houses (Random House, Penguin and Hachette) across many departments so I gained a good idea of how the publishing process worked. During my final internship, I was lucky enough to secure my current position at Badger Learning where I have worked as a buyer and product developer for the past six years.
What is the best part of your job?
Ahhhh, I know it sounds cheesy but it really is knowing that I am providing amazing and important books for teens to read that are potentially life-changing. When a teen reads a book from my collection and has that ‘oh, it’s not just me’ moment or the fact it helps them work through some difficult emotions or makes them smile when they are having a terrible day – that is the best and most rewarding part of my job.
How are books selected for your collections?
1) We meet with publishers on a regular basis and view the upcoming titles around 6 months in advance of publication. There is no set time that we buy, as we sell all year round, so we are on a constant rolling schedule. This means we offer the freshest books with the latest trends on a consistent basis.
2) After we have all the information on the books we then request proof copies or manuscripts. These are early versions of the books which editorial departments use – we need these because we read EVERYTHING! I easily read over 200 books in a year. A lot of people are surprised that we do this but how else can we ensure you are getting the best and most suitable books for your school? We have ruled out a book aimed at primary-aged children because it contained S**T on the second to last page which would not have been spotted if we hadn’t read it page-for-page. I have seen a book suggested on a popular book recommendation website for 10-12-year olds and been totally shocked because the content was something I wouldn’t have given to anyone below 14!
3) After reading the book we assess it for school suitability. Unsuitable content plays a large part in choosing books for primary aged children but choosing books for secondary is completely different. I allow swearing, violence, scenes of a sexual nature, underage drinking etc... why? Because it reflects real life! We know teens are experiencing these things in reality so why not let them experience it safely through a book? My only comment would be the issue within the book has to be resolved. The book has to almost act as a reassuring guide, so that if the reader is experiencing the same events and emotions as the character, there is a clear solution and an example of how to get help. This is particularly important in books tackling mental health issues, with a dramatic increase over the last few years in the number of teenagers being referred for specialist mental health help.
4) Once we are happy that the book is suitable for a school setting we then have to decide if it is going to attract pupils to your library. Here I have to put my own interests aside, as although I might not enjoy high octane spy thrillers there are thousands of teenagers who do. My primary concern is that the book is written and edited well. We work with uncorrected proofs so the odd spelling and punctuation mistake is fine but general plot disasters are a complete no go. Character development is also key – the voice must ring true for the intended age group. I also have to keep in mind current trends of the publishing world, current topical issues that are in the news, even things like popular Netflix series! The important aspect is that we get teenagers engaged with books and, although the classics have their merits, it is up-to-date, relatable books that draw them in and keep them coming back.
5) Once we have decided the book is a right fit for our collection we then place an age grouping on it and I make a note of any content so that I can offer a content guidance sheet to librarians if they request it. This makes their life a lot easier as they do not have to read every book they purchase. They can recommend the book to the correct audience and they can rest assured that no untoward content will land in the hands of an unsuitable reader.
Overall, the process is a lot more demanding than people assume. There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a good book, let alone choosing a good book for a school environment. Here at Badger Learning, we take all of the mentioned factors into consideration when buying, so you can guarantee that you are getting a well-thought out collection that we have spent hours curating. This ensures librarians have more time for the other 101 tasks they are sure to have!
Finally, what is your favourite book so far in 2018?
Just one? Hmmmm… it would have to be The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Written in extraordinary prose that explores a huge range of issues teens are facing today from strict parents to body-shaming, it truly is one of those books that should be placed into every teenager’s hands. Acevedo is a master storyteller and Xiomara, the narrator, is one of my favourite characters I’ve ever come across. Sassy and smart, raw and honest, her powerful words really spoke to me, even as an adult, and I am convinced every teen will find something to take away from this beautiful work of fiction.