Want to read a good book? Here's how to choose one

If you're between 8 and 15 years old, this article is for you. Let's say you're in a mall, just browsing around. In a store you see a book with dragons and other exciting stuff on the cover. It looks good. A perfect companion for a summer afternoon, you think. So you buy it. The purchase puts a $2.95 hole in your pocket. But that's all right. With all that action pictured on the cover, the book must be worth the price. So you take the book home and start to read, only to find that it's a dud, a total dud. Where are all those dragons? The closest thing you can find to a dragon is a toad in Chapter 3 -- and that's as far as you plan to read. Unfortunately, the book's cover didn't give a true picture of what's inside. And you blew a chunk of your allowance on the purchase.

Next time, put a few of the following hints into practice and you'll come home -- either from store or library -- with a book suited to your tastes.

Straight off, scan the first page or two of the book. Does the start of the story pull you into the book? If you're reading nonfiction, does the factual information fascinate you?

Now make a second check on that first page. Can you read it fairly easily? You don't have to know all the words, but you should be able to handle the vast majority. After all, this is fun reading, so it should be fun. Leave the heavy going for school material.

After you've checked out the first page, go to the middle of the book (not the end). Read a page there to make sure you can still handle the vocabulary. If you can't, and the book promises to be a stumble-as-you-go venture, forget it. Choose another book.

Always look at the author's name. Have you read anything by him or her before? If so and if you liked it, you'll probably go for this book, too. Even if you thought the author's first work was a nothing, you still might want to give this work a try. Who knows, the author might have improved. Or maybe your tastes have changed.

The librarian at the public library definitely should be on your ``friend'' list. She doesn't bite. Get to know her. Tell her what your interests are, what you want to read about. Chances are, she'll immediately rattle off a string of titles, both old ones and new releases. But if your special likes happen to be out of her realm, she'll steer you to the right library section where you can look around and find your own book.

While you're checking out the books, remember -- don't be taken in by a jazzy cover.

If you want to test these hints, there's a whole list of first-rate books for teens in the center section of today's Monitor. Tomorrow, a list will feature books for pre-teens and very young children.

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