PALMYRA, Mo. -- One of Stacey Conrad's missions in life is to turn children on to reading.
"I don't care how they read -- just as long as they read," said Conrad, librarian at Palmyra High School.
Conrad is constantly recommending books for teens to read. As she becomes more familiar with students, she will often pull students aside and suggest they try a certain book.
"Then I can hand them books and hook them," she said. "My favorite phrase to hear from a student is, ‘Oh, my gosh. That book was awesome. What else have you got for me?' "
After a while, many students start coming directly to Conrad asking for recommendations.
"They use me more than the card catalogue," she said.
Conrad has some special insights into what makes a good read for high school students. She serves on a nine-member state committee that reads, reviews and nominates young adult books for the Gateway Readers Award.
Each year the program recognizes the best books geared toward young adults in Missouri. The committee comes up with a list of 25 top books, then a team of students winnows the list to a final 15. At that point, teens across the state vote on which book should win the Gateway Readers Award.
The winning author will be invited to make an appearance at the annual conference of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, which sponsors the award program.
Conrad, a member of the association, is in her third year as a member of the book-review committee. She initially served as a one-year "rotating member." But because she showed strong skills at reviewing books, she was bumped up to the executive committee that runs the group. She now serves as vice chairman and will be chairman next year.
Conrad said she likes being involved in the award program. For one thing, she is inundated with "tons and tons of donated books, which is awesome."
The books are provided by publishers hoping committee members will give the books consideration. Most of the books end up on the shelves of the Palmyra High School library. Any duplicates -- or books geared for younger readers -- are given to other libraries.
Conrad said PHS has received about $15,000 worth of free books during the last three years.
Conrad reads as many as 120 submitted books each year to decide those that should be considered for the top 25 list. That's right up her alley, because reading is one of her favorite pastimes.
"I love to read," she said. "My parents always encouraged me to read. I was that kid who was told to go outside and play and not sit inside and read. So I'd sneak a book outside and go over to my favorite tree and read under the tree. That was me."
As a school librarian, Conrad has developed an even greater appreciation for good books -- and for recommending them to students.
"My favorite thing is to find a book that a student will read completely through," she said. "I really feel that if you are a good reader, you have a basis for being successful in life. So my goal is to find something for everyone -- something that will keep your interest long enough so that you can finish it."
In addition to serving on the Gateway committee, Conrad writes a blog called "Notes from a Literary Matchmaker," viewable at literarymatchmaker.blogspot.com. The blog lists book reviews for teens.
"I try to put a book review out every week," she said.
When not reading and reviewing books geared toward young adults, Conrad likes to indulge in some adult fiction. "I do like my romances, and I like fantasy and science fiction," she said.
However, most such leisure reading takes place during the summer. Once school starts each fall, Conrad is back sorting through piles of young adult books.
"Then we read and read and read and read," she said.
More information about the program is available at gatewayaward.com.