I haven’t completely wrapped my mind around my holiday shopping, so there isn’t much I can offer to you. We have an online store with some suggestions, but frankly, there are folks who are do it much better than I ever could.
- If it’s award-winners and best of’s you want … then go to Susan Thomsen’s Big Lists of Lists. Not only can you grab this year’s picks, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can grab 2008 or 2009.
- If you want to pair a book with “something,” then you’ve got to check out Pam Coughlan’s 105 Ways To Give a Book at Mother Reader.
- At Buy Books for the Holidays, you can use a ready-made list or get tailored suggestions.
So, rather than give you specific book titles, I am going to reprint a December 2009 piece I wrote for Booklights. This is a personal story, but it isn’t a unique one.
originally published on Booklights, 8 December 2009
During a recent conversation with my mom, she said that she would like to buy a book for my 13-year-old nephew, “Sam,” for Christmas. For years, Sam was a dormant reader. Like his dad (my brother) he didn’t like reading when he was younger. Unlike his dad, he has come to really enjoy books just for the fun of reading.
At the moment, Sam loves the middle-grade books by Mike Lupica, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News. Mom wants to get Sam something he likes, so she zeroed in on these books. After she got to the bookstore, though, she realized that didn’t know what books he has already read. [There are 12 titles, three released this year.] My mom thought she would call my sister-in-law, but then realized that she might not know the answer, either.
So what do you do when you want to buy books for a reader who loves a particular author or series but you’re not sure they’re at the beginning or the end of a collection? Thanks to Sarah Mulhern, I had an idea on how to help my mom: look for a read alike. A read alike is a book (or series) that is similar to something that you (or your reader) already likes. The formula is fairly straightforward:
If you like [insert: author, title, series name], then you might like ________.
Earlier this year, Sarah (a 6th Grade Language Arts teacher) wrote a post about middle grade read-alikes for Share a Story-Shape a Future. She is a voracious reader and gets her students excited about reading, too. Her Reading Zone post is filled with read alike ideas. Sarah says she frequently relies on “the wonders of the internet” to find book lists for titles that her kids are excited about.
My mom isn’t going to search on the Web; she wants to ask a person. Using the example above, she can get some recommendations from a librarian or a bookseller by asking this question:
“My grandson likes the sports books by Mike Lupica. Can you recommend some books that are similar to his?”
For those of us who are web savvy, the Internet makes it easy to find read alike lists. With Google, when you search read alikes, you’ll see a number of additional options. I selected “for kids,” and instantly had a list of library systems that keep read alike lists on their website. Here are several I found particularly easy to maneuver.
- The Charles County (Maryland) Public Library has a read-alikes page that lists popular book series. One click takes you to a printable list of read alikes. Suggestions range from books for early elementary readers to young adult.
- The Hennepin County (Minnesota) Library has a series of read alike tools, including the “If You Like” Author Search that offers real reader reviews of books that mention your author of interest. There are some glitches, as a search of “J.K. Rowling” came back with ideas that covered every genre. However, because the site maintains a series of tools, it is easy to overcome that hiccup.
- The New Jersey State Library has a collection of read alike lists on its Youth Services page. Although there are just a half-dozen lists, the read-alike titles each come with a short note about the story. On that same page, you’ll find links to the Pick of the Decade list with the Best Books for Children Grades K to 8 with books, 1995 to 2005. [They aren’t read alikes, but it is quite a nice list.]
Another tool that I found useful is a website called bookseer.com. After you type in the author and title of a book you just read (or may be interested in), your search comes back with recommended read-alikes from BookArmy, Library Thing, and Amazon.com. You can click on a title in the list to get more details about the book, which is a nice feature. Another tool, What Should I Read Next? Is similar to BookSeer.com, but it clearly has a commercial relationship with Amazon.com.
UPDATE: In a comment, Shana offers this information about www.literature-map.com. “[It] allows you to type an author’s name and find other authors that are read by the people who read the searched author. The results are displayed graphically to show you which are most similarly read, least similarly read.”
Between the bookseller in person and me on the web, we should be able to help mom select a good book or two for my nephew. Update: Melinda has already offered John Feinstein’s books!
Read-alikes are a great way to keep kids excited about reading; keep them in their [genre] comfort zone; and, at the same time, stretch them beyond the totally familiar. For the gift-giver, they are a great way to show that you listen to their book talks without the risk of duplicating something they already read!
Do you have a go-to source for finding tailored book recommendations? Add it below and I’ll update this post with your suggestions.