EPISODE 174 | In the dynamic world of homeschooling, BookShark stands out for its meticulous book selection criteria that cater to diverse learning needs. From crafting relatable characters in children's books to leveraging literature as a gateway to understanding history and culture, BookShark's approach intertwines educational strategies with emotional connections to enrich the homeschooling experience. By prioritizing character development and cultural relevance in their curated book lists, BookShark empowers homeschoolers with a well-rounded program that educates and fosters a deeper appreciation for literature and the world around us. Learn the how and why BookShark chooses books in Part 2 of BookShark Insider with Janna and Maddie.

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Podcast Transcript

Janna  00:04 Welcome to Homeschool Your Way. I'm your host Janna Koch and BookSharks Community Manager. Today's episode is part two of BookShark Insiders, with Maddie Suter, BookShark’s school liaison, if you didn't get a chance to listen to part one, make sure you check out Episode 173 BookShark Insider, let's jump into this part of the episode or Maddie and I start to discuss the criteria for choosing books for BookShark. I think another really important question that has been asked over and over again is how do we select the books in our BookShark levels? And we're going to kind of do a very brief overview because obviously, you'd have to be trained as one of our product development teams to be able to select books. But I think it's a great question, especially because we do you have books that have gone out of print, that we have found a publishing company that will continue to print for us. And that for some people is a little confusing. Like if it's gone out of print, there's a reason and then we say, well, we have this criteria as to why we think it's still a good book. So let's talk about that. I think number one. And this goes along with, you know, delving into history and living books and with science is realistic characters. So when we go to pick a book that's going to go into either replace a book in our level because we are updating and revamping and knowing better and doing better or if we're creating a new a new level, a realistic character. So just personally for humanity, what would that be?

Maddie  02:17 When it kind of goes back to what we were talking about before, right with how do we make history relatable? And so a realistic character, like you said, if we're revamping that character may not be as realistic now as it was 10 years ago, right? And so I think that that is definitely one of the most important criteria as, hey, is this character? Could this be a real story? Right? Could this character really have existed? Even if we're basing, you know, the book is based on a true story? Or, you know, how do we make this character feel? Does the character feel real? Right? Or is it? Okay, well, that's the cool story. But I don't really believe it, right? Because, those books are great, not when you're using them to teach. I think that having a realistic character and making that character feel real, really kind of draws you into that book and makes you want to keep reading.

Janna  03:18 Yeah, and I think it also makes you kind of become the character. So for me, a realistic character is if I could, if I'm so immersed that like I'm reading it as it is me, it's happening to me, which happens a lot in books, and that is why I end up laughing and crying and getting angry. And all of my emotions are connected to it because I definitely see that either it could have been me or somebody I know or my children, and it becomes less of a story of something that happened long, long ago. And a story of oh, that could still happen today. Or, how do we see that that has happened to us now in different ways? So I, I think that's I'm really proud that that is definitely one of the things that we do in order to pick a book. The second one is solid character development. And some people might be like, Why does that matter? But I think it's kind of like, see, number one.  

Maddie  04:16 Yeah, it is because I mean, we've all read books, right? Where we just can't get into it, or you read the first couple chapters and you're like, oh, like it just doesn't, it's flat. And that character development is a huge part of that. Because, I mean, I will say our product development team is amazing. And I don't even know half of what they do because they're just so incredible at picking these books and making them work with what we're teaching. But that is they have to part of character development is to have to change, right? I mean, if let's say it's, you know, a hero When the story is right, that maybe starts out is not such a nice guy, right, and then ends up as the hero, that is solid character development, right? Or, you know, hey, maybe we, you know, when you're thinking about, you know, young children, right, we're learning about how to share and how to, you know, be a nice person, and maybe we weren't. So we weren't sharing in the beginning. And now, you know, I mean, that character development, if that doesn't happen, you don't really have a story, right? Because you think about all movies and books, they all have this, they go, they have the very tippy top, and then it kind of you have a little dip, like, Oops, maybe not, you know, and then they learn their lesson, right? And it's this, that's what makes a story so good but those two really go hand in hand. Because if you don't have realistic characters, then you don't really have character development, either. Because they're not realistic things aren't happening in the book, right? So those two really kind of go hand in hand.

Janna  05:58 Well, life is a struggle, we all want to, I think we all work really hard to make our paths really smooth. But as adults, we all know that it is in the struggle, where we actually learn and develop our character. And so to read that to our children to make it relatable, and say, Hey, see, this character was having a really hard time with this. And they overcame that. And you can, too, I think it just, it really is encouraging for students to hear that you know, in the things that they're learning, and then how that applies to history. This is an age-old human problem. There's always an issue that we have to overcome. And yeah, it may take us a couple of tries. And we may fail along the way. But you know, nobody typically likes to read a story that doesn't end just all good, right?

Maddie  06:51 It's all or it's all just, it's all good. It's all great. Everything's fine. Right? I mean, that's not really fine, either, right? Because that's not realistic. Like you said, the road of life is bumpy. And that's okay. And that I think those lessons that we learned are super important. And learning that through literature is super special because you like you said, maybe some of our students are going through something similar or, you know, they can kind of take something from those books and, and apply them in their own life, even though it's a book about that happened during the Civil War, right? I mean, life, life happens in a similar kind of pattern. Right. And so a third grader during the Civil War may have some of those same thoughts and feelings as a third grader in 2024.

Janna  07:43 Yeah, yeah. And it's hard to, it's hard to think about, like, unless you actually stop and think about it, right? Like, you don't really, you're not really aware of it, and you're like, oh, wait, this does kind of work. And the third criterion that we want to talk about is the context really enriches the reader's cultural experience. And I love how these all kind of work together. Because because of our amazing book choices, I have learned so much about different cultures. Anyone who has talked to me either on the phone or in a convention booth knows that I love level AF, which is the eastern hemisphere. And the stories and the knowledge that I gained from reading through that and going through it twice with both sets of my kids was just, it was actually like life-changing to hear that there's a reason behind these things that happen. Because if you're culturally unaware of how different people groups do different things, you're gonna go, Well, why don't they just not do it that way anymore? You know what I mean? Like, we're ignorant to their history, and why they choose to do the things that they do, even though if, from our perspective, they could do it differently and a lot easier, right? But that's not what that's not what they're choosing. And there's a reason why they're not choosing that. So being immersed in the culture of what you're learning, whether it's early American history or ancient civilizations, you're having these stories that are just like, wow, I had no idea I had no idea why the country Pakistan, and how the country Pakistan came about until I was in level F. And I read through the books and got the context and was like, Oh, well, now it makes perfect sense. But it didn’t before.

Maddie  09:36 Right? And it's kind of a cool way you can travel the world and travel it's like books or can be like a time machine right? You read them and understand and have a little bit better understanding of the people around you and the world around you. And I think that that only happens when you have you know, content that not only talks about the story, right because the story is important, but let's also talk about why this story even happened in the first place, right, because of culture or time period or, you know, whatever it may be, I think it's not, you know, the story is a big part of it. But let's also understand why this is happening in the first place.

Janna  10:19  Yeah, yeah. And the implications of how it's happening. Like, that's the other part that I think is so, so impactful. It's like, okay, we see there, these conflicts in different countries that have gone on for centuries. And as a young country, we kind of go like, why isn't everyone just getting over it? You know, like, I don't, we don't get why they're still fighting over these things. But when you are seeing the implications of historical events, and then putting a character to it, and then learning about it through almost like first person, as you're reading those stories, it really does expand your worldview. And as an American, I love learning about other cultures. I don't think that was something that was encouraged as a kid. I don't think that was even something that was like, talked about, I mean, we're very, like, nationally centric, right? Like, we just talked about America, you learned a lot about America. But, man, there wouldn't even be in America without Europe, and there wouldn't be a Europe without the, you know, the ancient civilizations. And so I, yeah, I could go on and on about this one. But I think it's a really, it's definitely a really important one. Okay, so then the next one is intriguing and multiple, multi-dimensional. And I think you can speak to that because you really expounded on that a little bit before, but, but tell us why that is important.

Maddie  11:47  I mean, it again, it's amazing how all of these points kind of go together, right? Because if the book is flat, nobody wants to read it. Right? I mean, and, and multi-dimensional, I think the multi-dimensional plot is the keyword, right? Because you don't want to just focus on one piece of the puzzle, right? Because a book is like a puzzle. It's all these different pieces that come together and create this or like a patchwork quilt, right, it's like it, all these pieces that sort of maybe don't seem like they fit together come together and make this beautiful story. And it has to be multi-dimensional, it has to have layers that has to draw the reader in and, you know, again, part of multi-dimensional is characters' location, you know, all of the things that we just talked about, if those are not, you know, if they're all the same, right, if it's like, okay, well, it's this person in their house that you know, and the house is blue. Okay, you know, I mean, I think that that, that piece is so important. And that multi-dimensional piece kind of makes makes it intriguing, right? But all of those things don't happen without the first three that we talked about. So I think it's, you know, they all really kind of go hand in hand.

Janna  13:07 Yeah. And the depth of the literature then makes it so much more than I mean, I always classify there are some books that I like to read that I consider just like brain candy, I don't have to think really hard. I'm just being entertained. And while I think there is value in those types of books, I read them all the time. And we see that kind of too, depending on the student's maturity, right? We want them to love to read, so we're gonna give them that fun, you know, just not super complicated. You know, it brings love, but it's like, okay, but we want it we want to keep them coming back. And then as they age up, and they're going through our levels, you're getting into some very complex character development very deep cultural tensions that run centuries and it's things that you know, you wouldn't you don't necessarily think on a day to day basis, right? You're not You're not really contemplating these different concepts in your everyday when you're getting up going to work, getting your groceries, making dinner, and being entertained for a little bit before you go to bed. But reading through these books and letting someone else have picked them, which I really, really love as a homeschool parent. I really love it. Someone else did all the heavy lifting. So the next one is emotionally compelling. I mean, yeah, we've kind of it does feel like it's like the stepping like we're getting to like the culmination because you have to be drawn in, you have to connect. Otherwise, why do I care? Why do I care if the character reaches their goal or, or finds their, you know, Paradise, or whatever it is?

Maddie  16:58  And I think you're so right. I mean that you know, the character development, the multi-dimensional plot, all of that moves into a story that moves, you write a story that makes you go, Oh, my gosh, I'm so glad that they, you know, they completed their goal, or they did you know, and it's like you said earlier that feeling like that story is happening to you, you feel all those emotions, right? And so, if it's done, right, if all of those, you know, four things that we've talked about are done, right? When the character, you know, stumbles, you go, Oh, gosh, and it hurts your heart a little, you know, and I think that is, it's in those moments where the learning really sticks, because you go, Oh, my gosh, I feel for that character, like they're a friend, right? Or like it was me or my parent or my sibling, or you know, and it's that piece that makes a student go, oh, you know, when a conversation, you know, when they're older, and in the workforce, you know, and they're maybe talking to a friend, and then, you know, American history comes up, and they're like, Oh, my gosh, I read this great book when I was in fourth grade. And, you know, I think those are the moments where, even if it's, I mean, it's not always in the forefront of your brain, right, but they kind of get shoved away those because when you have an emotional connection to a story, you remember it. Right. And so that's the piece that makes that learning really, really stick forever.

Janna  18:35 Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, like I said, I can remember a story that I read in fourth grade, it was about World War Two. And I was stuck in that time period, for decades, just reading anything I could, because it was something that hadn't happened to me. Right. But it was something that I carried such a heaviness for that it happened to other people. And I think that is something that you can't create empathy without being intentional. And I think these books are so intentional to help create students who can think outside of their immediate needs and surroundings and go, Oh, that's pretty sad that that happened to them, right? Instead of Oh, well, why do I Why does it matter didn't affect me, right?


Maddie  19:24 And I think and I mean, I read a book in third grade that to this day is still one of my favorite books. And in my 20s I finally was able to go and see the place where the book was written and I still it was emotional for me as an adult. And I read the book a long time ago, right? But it was emotional for me because I remember feeling the feelings of the characters when I was reading this book in third grade, right, third, or fourth grade. And I think that and I still I mean, I could probably recite The story to you by heart, right? Because it's one of those books, I still have it sitting on my bookshelf, it's well-worn and well-loved, right? But those things stick with you. And as you said, they stick with you for decades. I mean, sometimes forever, right? I mean, because, you built this emotional connection, it's like when you make a friend, right? Even if that friend isn't always around, you still have that emotional connection to them. Because you've built, you've built different, you've had different emotions, and you've built this, you know, this friendship. And that's I always used to literally, my books, my friends, because they were, you know, it felt like they were my friends. It's all these stories and all these I mean, I was that kid, my mom used to have to tell me to turn the light off and go to bed because I couldn't put the books down, right? But I mean, and still, as an adult, I just love I love a good book. And like you said, that brain is some of the brain candy. I love that too. But every once in a while, I just want a really good historical novel or something that teaches me something because it's a workout for my brain.

Janna  21:09 Yeah, yeah. Another thing that is on our list is verbally beautiful. So a book that, you know, you mentioned, the word flat a couple of times there, built into our program is one of the things I have always loved is our Wordly Wise, which is vocabulary. And because I am an avid reader, and really encourage my children to read, I will use words that I don't think are showy. I just think that's the word that I feel like using and my kids will be like, what does that mean? Now? I'm grateful that they ask. But I'm always like, What do you mean, first of all, why can't you grab it from the context of what I'm saying that’s okay, if you need me to tell you what it is, and then I give them like the simpler version of it. And they said, why didn't you just say that I said because we live in a world where we have beautiful world choices. And we don't have to use the same word over and over and over again, we can use the thesaurus and change out some words and make it flow and make it easy to read so that we're not stumbling, and it doesn't feel choppy. And so these books that are chosen, are really chosen because of the way they flow, not only in the character development, the multi-dimension of the plot and all of these things. But literally, the sound, the cadence, because we are talking about some of these are read-alouds. And they need to sound aesthetically pleasing.

Maddie  22:34 And I think I mean, I love what you said about it not being showy, right? It's not you're not throwing in words, just because you know, a better word for because or, you know, because you know, a better word for colorful, right? But the way that the author chooses their words really does affect the story, right? Because there are no pictures. So you have to have these beautiful descriptive words. And sometimes that word. Yeah, I know that there is a simpler term for what I'm trying to describe. But maybe you're emotionally connected to it, and you want to give it more oomph. Right. I think that. And again, I mean, it goes back to being flat, right? I mean, like you said, it's got to be, it's got to be entertaining for our ears and our brains. And I think, I mean, our books are just so well picked by our product development team that, I mean, I think all of our books have that beautiful, you know, storytelling, you know, a combination of all of these things that we've talked about while still being the cadence, and I mean, everything is just so well done, that none of our stories are boring.

Janna  23:53 Yeah. And for those stories that we have heard, like, oh, we couldn't get into it. My kid didn't like it. I mean, everyone has their different preferences, right? You think about food, like, some might get salty, some might get sweets, I might get spicy, some like it bland. I mean, it's okay that you don't love every single book that you read. I will say that 9 times out of 10. In the eight years that we've been doing this, there are books where we started and I was like, oh, okay, I don't know. And I either switched to the audio and enjoyed it so much better. Or I push through my rule was always like, get through 100 pages. Let's get let's give it a chance. You know, don't judge a book by its cover. But also, don't judge a person within the first meeting. Right? So like, let's give it a chance. You'll have a first impression in those first couple chapters and you're like, Are you kidding me? But give it time to develop and then make your decision and we're not in you know, you may not you may stop reading a book and that's okay. You may replace it either with a movie or a different book, and that's just part of making it your own. But I would say There are very few books that we just we couldn't get through. And if there was a time where we just stopped, and we picked it up later, and then we ended up loving it, we were just in a different mood in a different place. Because the stars were aligned is differently. I'm not sure. But it worked.

Maddie  25:14 Do you? Have you found that? Because you know, you'd like you said you have your two different groups, right? So you went through level F twice, you've gone through most of our levels twice? Have you found that if there was a book that you either really liked or really didn't like, the first time and then had a different feeling on it the second time,  

Janna  25:35 For sure, because when you start it the first time, it takes a while to get into. But when you start the second time, you're already excited, because you know, that that like, Oh, this is gonna be a good one. And one of the ones that actually happened to us is called the great and terrible quest. And when I first started reading it, I was like, Oh, I'm the kind of looking at the kid and they're just like, man, and I'm like, okay, but by the end of it, it was so good. So when I picked it up the second time with my younger daughter, I was like, Oh, just hold on, it's gonna get good. And, you know, I really enjoyed it the second time through, you know, I mean, can I guess I can't speak for many children. But yeah, definitely,

Maddie  26:19 I think that is also something to kind of, keep in mind when you're reading these books, especially if you know, you're a homeschool parent that has, you know, a second wave that's coming through, you know, the books, you can also even really like a book the first time and then the second time you're like, maybe not, you know, I think like you said, you can be in a different mood, you can be in a different, I love you getting through the first 100 pages. And if you still, if you still are having a really hard time getting through it, it's okay to just drop it and come back to it, you know, and say, Okay, maybe we'll try this again. And if you try it again, and you don't like it, that's okay. Because everybody's different, right? Education is not one size fits all, every human is different, right? And everybody has different experiences and different, you know, pieces that they're kind of, you know, from their lives that they're working with. And so it's okay to not like a book, but I love you give it a chance, right? Because some books are a slow start. And some books, you get to the end, and you're like, Oh, that's not how I thought that was gonna end. And I maybe wish it would have ended a little bit differently, right? So giving it a chance and trying to kind of see if that, you know, if all of those like the comedians, the character development that draws you in, maybe it's the, you know, the descriptiveness of the, you know, the setting, or whatever it is, maybe there's just one thing that catches your attention and pulls you in, but it might not be until the third or fourth chapter.

Janna  27:57 Yeah, yeah. And I think that really wraps up that read a bill that it's really readable, that you do really want to either reread it from once you get to the end and go, Oh, maybe I missed something, maybe my focus was on the wrong place as I was reading this because I'm completely confused or caught off guard. Or, you know, the other thing is, I just feel like some selections of our books, people really scratched their head about and, and I actually like that, because it stretches us, we can't always be given candy, we have to be given things that cause us to think things through a different way that aren't always simple, you know, up and down, like sometimes you need to go round and around and around and to get back down. And because you have all these other aspects of the culturally relevant and the character development and realistic here, because you have all of these things, I just feel like, we have built our literature-based learning on trustworthy criteria that people can trust that if we did pick a book, whether you love it or hate it at the end, it has value for the level that it's put in. And so definitely give it a chance. Before we go Maddie, the other thing that was asked by our customers was about the warehouse and office where we're located. And although we are closed to tours, what is something that we're kind of toying with about doing for our customers?

Maddie  29:25 Yeah, so, um, we are close to the public, but I think, you know, some of the things that we've talked about is, you know, could we do maybe a video tour and you know, have shown the process of because, I mean, if you think about it, look at how many books we have right on that our warehouse is huge. And so I think for customers being able to see that, you know, that process of wow, look at all those books and then to see the high bay with all of the boxes and boxes and boxes of books. I mean, it's a pretty cool process. So I think there's definitely, you know, there could potentially be a space for us to, you know, maybe you and I go in and record, you know, picking and packing and, you know, showing the receiving process and just all of it, because I mean, I would be curious, right? I was curious, when I was hired, I was like, Where do you people's looks like, because there are so many. So that's definitely something that, that we've kind of been toying with, is doing a video tour of and, you know, all the way through the process of when once we once the order comes through to us, how does it get from our website to your front door?  

Janna  30:38 Yeah, yeah, I think that would be a lot of fun. The other thing is, if people have an opportunity to come to a convention that we are attending, you can see the different levels in the different books. So we don't have all of the books for every level, but we have samples of every level, and then all of the books for Level A and Level D. And so that is a great way to get in, kind of pick up and get into your hands like, Oh, what am What am I going to look forward to? Or what does this really look like? Because, you know, some things do seem so flat, when they're on the computer screen, but when you can make it intangible.

Maddie  31:14 And I think the other amazing part is that Janna and our convention reps are there, you can talk to them. They're moms that have used the program with their kids, they have some amazing suggestions that, you know, I mean, I would have never thought of and they have real-life experience using the program and have suggestions like, hey, just read the first 100 pages of the book, or add that worldly wise in because it's amazing, right? I mean, when you look at our website, you don't you know, you see everything that's included, and you can customize your package and all of that. But I really think that if you can go and be in person and look at the materials and talk to one of our amazing convention reps. It will really help. Even if you're a current BookShark user, just you know, even if you've used BookShark for two or three years going and talking to somebody has, you know, it can kind of change, maybe it changes the way that you do your day-to-day, right, you add something in here, you know, shuffle something around. So I think that is another huge benefit of going to the conferences, and you can find our conference schedule on our website. Right, Janna, you can?

Janna  32:27 Yep, yep, under our about tab, and then it says convention schedule. So that is current and up to date. Maddy, thank you so much for taking the time to come on and answer these pressing questions of our not only customers, but potential customers, people who were thinking about BookShark and now that they have kind of gotten a better idea of what the methodology is behind it. Maybe they'll have some other questions to ask us in the future.

Maddie  32:53 Absolutely. Our customer service team, our convention reps, and our advisors are always happy to answer any questions. So take this as a don't hesitate to reach out we're always happy to help.

Janna  33:04 We are, we are and we'll be putting in the show notes how you can get in touch with all of those departments; customer service, our reps, and our advisors so make sure to check the show notes. Thank you guys so much. Until next time, bye-bye. 

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