How many times have you heard that question? Countless!
How can you answer that question successfully? Practice reader’s advisory!
What is reader’s advisory? It is simply (though sometimes it doesn’t seem so simple!) the suggestion of fiction or nonfiction books to readers by either direct (in-person individually or groups) or nondirect (lists, displays, etc.) avenues. It is that age-old responsibility of the librarian to make the best effort to connect the right book to the right student at the right time. To do this effectively, it is vitally important to know the collection, know the students, and know how to make the connection.
Reader’s advisory is somewhat different from helping elementary school students find materials for homework assignments where the goal is usually clear. The librarian’s role in reader’s advisory is to reach the personal interests and needs of the individual student, and this can sometimes prove challenging. The books may be of any genre so a good understanding of the choices that fiction, such as science fiction, historical fiction, or adventure stories, has to offer is important. Choices about horses, airplanes, or skateboarding through the nonfiction collection, however, may appeal to other students. Most of all, it is important to remember that when your students come for help in their reading choices it means that they trust your advice and respect your opinion. After all, some of them may indeed think that it is your library and that you have read every single book!
SETTING THE STAGE
Considerations for recommending books from the school library means that you need to know your collection. Not that you have read every book, but that you have good knowledge of what is available generally and across genres.
Read review journals in print or online, such as Booklist (
Seek student input about what types of books they want to read. As a school librarian, I tried very hard to make it a practice to ask students about their interests, hobbies, and things they liked learning about most. I always kept a notebook with a running list of requests so that it was easily available when I placed a book order.
Match reading interests with the library collection, particularly as you purchase new selections. Find out what students like and what they don’t like. Spend library funds wisely with a balance to the curriculum for support, but also with some funds set aside to nurture the interests of students.
Review and read new materials as they are added to the library collection. If you don’t have time to read a whole book, then read the jacket flaps. And, do this, too for titles already in your collection.
Award-winning literature is often suggested to students. Check out the incredible “Database of Award-winning Children’s Literature” of 112 awards from six English-speaking countries (
If you haven’t already, explore the eBook market for your school library.
And, connect with the public library…
- Have a good relationship with the public librarians in your community who serve youth. Talk with youth services librarians and ask what popular trends they have noticed in the reading selections of the community’s children. What types of books have they noticed that are most requested from young people in the community?
- Make sure that you have access to the public library’s catalog for reading materials that your school library either has checked out or may not own.
- Invite the youth librarian from the public library into the school for booktalks on the latest in reading materials. Make public library booklists, bookmarks, and program information available in the school library for students and teachers. If the public library has access to eBooks make sure your students know about this possibility.
MAKING THE MATCH
Ask questions! When students seek direct help in finding a book, the first thing to note is whether it is for a school assignment or for reading pleasure. If the book is for a school assignment, then questions regarding the requirements of the assignment become very important.
If the book is for reading pleasure, then the following are good places to begin as they may help determine interest and reading level (and remember to smile and to listen to what the student has to say):
- What was the last book you read?
- What kinds of books to you like to read? (scary, funny, animals, sports…)
- Do you like to read books in a series?
- Would you rather read a made-up story (fiction) or a true (nonfiction) book?
- Do you have a favorite author (or illustrator)?
- What kinds of things are you interested in?
- Do you have any hobbies?
- What grade are you in school?
You can also be casual with the approach and make friendly comments:
- Can I help you with anything?
- I see you are browsing. Can I suggest some of our new titles?
- Was there something special you were looking for?
- Can I show you some of the good books?
- (Pick up a particular book and say…) This was really funny! (scary, fun to learn about)
- Do you play any sports? Do you have a hobby?
Above all, LISTEN! So as the school librarian, she has heard the student’s reply to selected questions above; as the listener, she has begun to hear what matters. This is important because it gives the librarian a direction for future success in matching the student with a book he/she will enjoy. Do remember to tell students to come back if a book doesn’t work for them and let them know you’re more than willing to try again.
REEL THEM IN!
Many students won’t ask for help to select a book in a genre or on a topic that they would be interested in. There are a number of ways, however, that we can “reel them in” indirectly. Some of the ways that students can be reeled in are as follows:
Suggested by Gig Yang in “Book Bundles: Readers Advisory in a Package” (VOYA 22, no. 2 [June 2010]: 132-134). “A book bundle is three books that share a commonality: the plot, a quirky character, a time period, or even a cover design.” Put the three books together with a large rubber band and a tag that indicates the commonality. Read the article for many suggestions and for directions, and tailor your subjects of bundles to students in upper elementary grades.
BOOK DISCUSSION GROUPS
Organize a “lunch bunch” discussion group or maybe even an online book discussion group with students. In addition to the book being discussed, take the opportunity to also suggest other titles in a subtle reader’s advisory way! One of the best resources online is from Multnomah County (OR) Library at the “Talk It Up! Book Groups for Kids” page (
Post suggested reading lists on the school library’s website or link to sites with reading lists. Link to the local public library’s Children’s and YA pages. The New York Public Library has excellent booklists for children (
Bookmarks are easy to create and reproduce. They can be custom-made with themes, genres, and new favorites. Make some using the ATN Read Alikes Wiki page (
Countless booktalks are informal and one on one. Make sure to have a good collection of titles in mind to share.
Provide booktalks to large groups on new books and books on a particular theme or genre. Then leave the selection of books (and similar ones) on the table after the talk is over.
For help in finding booktalks already written, use Nancy Keane’s Booktalks: Quick and Simple (
Students may also booktalk favorites with each other in small groups. Or students may booktalk favorites they read at a younger age with children at younger grade levels.
Place selections of books at the entrance to the library, at the ends of stacks, in high-traffic areas, and stacked on the circulation desk. As a school librarian, I would leave the cart of books checked in that day on a cart near the circulation desk. Students would often check out a book someone had just checked in—and I didn’t have to reshelve it! Instead of shelving, I would also just stand books up at the ends of shelves or on the tops of shelves. I believe in the power of face-out shelving!
Create a school librarian/teacher/staff display in the library. Change it up! Ask for favorites from teachers and staff every month. Include all the personnel in your building for this display—they can all provide reader’s advisory indirectly in this way. When I taught in Texas, our custodian loved having his favorites on display for students to check out!
Search Pinterest for ideas for library displays and bulletin boards featuring reading suggestions (
A READERS’S ADVISORY SUGGESTION
For additional ideas, lists, and resources, locate Penny Peck’s Readers’ Advisory for Children and ‘Tweens (Libraries Unlimited, 2010). As the book summary suggests, “It offers great suggestions for talking about books with age groups who may not be very experienced at articulating what interests them. Peck also provides an overview of different genres and formats of interest to children. Check out the multiple themed book lists included.”