Monday, November 12, 2012

Helping Kids Find Books

Helping Kids Find Books
by Susan Stephenson,

If your child is a good reader, most people would think that cause for celebration. But sometimes, finding books for those readers is difficult. Books aren't cheap, especially if you want quality. And many parents want to filter book choice through a lens like "age-appropriate" or "no horror". Just because younger children have a reading age of 12+ doesn't mean books aimed at teens will be suitable for them.

I like kids to be able to choose their own reading material. But I also advocate parents keeping a watchful eye on any of the media their kids consume. As usual, being a parent is a delicate balancing act! Fortunately, children are amazingly resilient. If your child does get hold of reading material you find inappropriate, consider a frank and calm discussion about it. Banning books, demanding censorship and other extreme measures are not, in my opinion, ways to encourage a love of reading in kids. Explaining why you want your child to read books that feed their minds and hearts makes more sense.

If you're finding it difficult to keep up a supply of books to your young reader, here are some suggestions:

* Talk to your local and school librarians. Librarians are a vastly underrated and underpaid resource in our communities. Many local libraries have a staff member who specialises in children's literature. School librarians spend most waking moments immersed in children's literature and LOVE to get books into children's hands. So take your child to have a chat with a librarian. Encourage your child to explain the sorts of books he's enjoyed, and ask for help in finding new titles.

* If you've plumbed the depths of libraries within reach of your neighbourhood, try your local book store. It may be you need to go past local and get to a town big enough to have a decent book store. Find one and chat to the staff there.

* Ask your child to ask his friends or kids from school what they're reading. Encourage kids who come to your house to share their favourite books or even start a book club. How about a Bring-a-Book party?

* Take time to browse with your child among garage sales and second-hand book shops. This mightn't be the quickest way to find new books, but it can be the most serendipitous! Don't forget your local library's sale table.

* Consider subscribing to magazines like Alphabet Soup, or to newsletters from publishers. Both are great sources of information on new and interesting titles for kids.

* Encourage your child to start writing her own book. If she's fallen in love with a series, and refuses to try books by any other author, maybe she would like to create her own story set in that series' world. What a wonderful learning experience!

Sometimes that useful tool known as the internet can help:

1. Check out What Should I Read Next. Enter a book, and it will suggest similar books you might like. For example, I typed in The Warriors, chose one of Erin Hunter's titles, and it gave me a list of books to investigate further. It tends to be US books rather than Australian. I think it's nice to have a balance of books from different countries. Another useful one is which gives you an idea of the tone of a book, or how much violence is in it.

2. Research the publisher of the books your child likes. Go to the publisher's website and poke around there. Often, that will lead to some new books of similar quality. I review a lot of Walker books because they rarely let me down, whereas I rarely review some other publishers as in my opinion, the quality isn't there.

3. Once you find a new title, check it out on the net. Often a writer might have an excerpt published on their own website, and you can gauge the quality of the writing at least. I use Google to find author, publisher and review sites, Amazon Advanced Search for research, Book Depository for adding to my wish list so I can keep a record of what interests me. You don't need to buy from these big sites to make use of their features. Reading a couple of reviews can give you some idea as to whether or not a book will work for you/your child. But sadly, some of the reviews we get on the internet are not impartial. There are review sites that charge authors for reviews!

4. If you decide to buy books online, check out BOOKO, an Australian website that compares sites like AbeBooks, Book Depository etc re cost and delivery charge. I love it!

5. Search for book trailers on Youtube. Sometimes, you can get the flavour of a book as well as learning a little of its content, by watching a video preview of it. I wrote about this process in Find Picture Books on Youtube.

I believe that helping kids access books is a privilege, not a pain. There are so many wonderful resources in our communities and online, all we need to do is plunder them!

UPDATE: Thanks to  Zoya, for this helpful hint posted via my Facebook page. "Perhaps start with their interests too - dogs, horses, even graphic novels for boys. I remember 'Footrot Flats' worked for my brother!"

If you would like more articles about Reading here at The Book Chook, click the Reading button in the blog's right sidebar. Or check out some of these titles:

(Image Credit: BookChook at ToonDoo, frame from Ribbet.)


  1. Love this post! Such great advice and useful info.

  2. Thank you book chook. I am so excited to find an Aussie blog/book reviewer . Thanks for the great post. I have a 16 month old and I sincerely hope she loves books as much as me but I know I will need help and resources along the way. Cheers, Julie

  3. @Jambo Luckily I can see into the future, Julie, and I predict she will love books and all the other joys of literacy!

  4. Well, I am thrilled that you linked into the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

    First of all, let me say ... I second your sentiments around the underutilized and underpaid librarians. We had to fight tooth and nail to keep our school librarian last year, can you believe it?

    I also think it's important to discuss books with your kids. If there are inappropriate or controversial issues in a book, it's the perfect opportunity to bring it up with your kids and ask them for their thoughts and feelings around it. In fiction and non-fiction titles alike there is something to be learned in (most) books. It's not solely for entertainment purposes. Sometimes we are challenged to think about other perspectives and we have to weigh things against our own system of beliefs and values. So, I agree: censorship is not useful and I would even suggest that it's a missed opportunity.

    Thank you for your wonderful list of ideas for how to get books into kids' hands. I really liked the idea of a bring-a-book party. Interestingly, when my daughter has sleepovers, the girls often spend some time reading books before (eventually) dozing off.

    Thanks so much for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop and I'm now thrilled to be following you via email and other ways too! I hope you will join us again next week. Cheers! :D

  5. @Renee C.I can believe it. Libraries can be havens for those without much political voice, so I believe it's up to we library-lovers and voters to support them all we can.

    I'd love to join the blog hop again. I posted about it to the kidlitosphere so hopefully that will bring you more participants too.

  6. @The Book ChookOh, I was wondering how I kept getting people saying they were coming from the kidlitosphere. Thank you for doing that - I really appreciate it! Do you know who the moderator is? I'm trying to join the group but I haven't heard back yet.

  7. These are some stellar suggestions! Thanks for sharing them at The Children's Bookshelf!


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