Blogger shares power of positive reviews

Monterey student offers insight for the ‘confused grandparent’ in search of a literary gift

Avid reader and Monterey Middle School student Sidney Hurst

Sidney Hurst is a novel kind of kid.

The 12-year-old is a regular rescuer of the “confused grandparent” found at her regular haunts – bookstores.

“She helps people in the book store all the time,” says mom Sherry Hurst. Sidney also aids neighbours, friends, anyone really looking to buy a tome as a gift for a child, without a clue where to start.

“Often this happens with grandparents. They would stand there looking confused,” says the Monterey Middle School student.

A voracious reader, she knows most titles in books for readers in the 9 to 13 range as she’s allowed to read a year ahead.

“(Reading) is something interesting to do. For a long time I didn’t have my own device and that’s what I did when friends were playing games,” she says. “I really like it when I’m really into a story and can picture it in my head.”

When faced with someone seeking a book, she asks a few questions and makes suggestions. It happened enough that two years ago dad suggested she blog her thoughts.

“It’s been a great project for her, and lasting,” Sherry says. “We want it to be something she enjoys.”

Sidney originally posted once a week, but the added school workloads between Grade 4 and Grade 6 means adjusting the blogging schedule. Now she posts when she can.

“When I first started my reviews weren’t very good at all. They were very short and didn’t have very much information,” she says. “It’s gotten a lot better.”

While she’s allowed to pick up titles deemed fit for readers a year older than she is, mom still keeps tabs. With the challenging pile of reading material Sidney can devour these days, Sherry uses the online resource Common Sense Media to ensure the material is age and situation appropriate for her daughter.

“I couldn’t stay on top of what she was reading anymore,” Sherry says.

Over spring break Sidney devoured two series – Divergent (Veronica Roth) and Breadwinner (Deborah Ellis).

“I like them both equally. They’re very different from each other,” she says.

When she was younger, the sixth grader (seventh in the fall) preferred fantasy. These days she’s evolved toward realistic fiction, but it has to be interesting – not something that could easily happen to her in real life.

And she doesn’t like diary books.

“I don’t want to read about something I could write myself, or do myself,” she says.

Obviously it’s important to read, for school and life, but “reading is fun,” simple as that, she says. A 12-year-old’s budget allows for only sporadic trips to the bookstore.

“I love getting new books but I don’t get there as often as I would like, so I do read quite a bit from the library. What I will sometimes do is read a book at the library and I love it so much I want it to be in my collection so I’ll go buy it,” she says. “I need to have it so I can read it again and show it to my friends.”

In recognition of her hard-working ways, Sidney won a 2016 Oak Bay Young Exceptional Star award. Her nominator cited her blog work, academic prowess, phenomenal organizational skills and near-perfect test scores. A straight-A student, she also takes piano outside of school and learns cello and percussion at Monterey. Sidney also competes on Monterey’s Book Battle team, where students read appointed novels and face off against other schools in a district-wide Trivia Bowl.

“I really like school in general, I guess that’s partially because I get good grades,” Sidney says with a laugh.

The avid reader admits she’s not much of a fiction writer despite happily completing three Story Studio writing workshops in three consecutive grades at school. “I’ve done those but I’m not good at writing them on my own. Maybe this summer,” she says.

Her blogging on the other hand, continues to flow.

A standard review includes a summary, quick review of why she liked the book, author name, page count, appropriate reader age and a link to purchase the title. The Monterey Middle School student posts her positive book reviews at sidbookreviews.wordpress.com.

“I don’t write bad reviews,” Sidney says. “Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. Different people have different opinions.”