Truth be told, books are the perfect gift no matter what the occasion (or age). I'm lucky. My parents feel the same way ... not a holiday goes by without a book of some sort.
Several years ago I wrote Read and Read Alike: Selecting Books for Older Readers, a post for the PBS Parents' blog Booklights. At the time, my now 16-year-old-and-driving nephew was just 13. My mom was trying to find a book for her teenage grandson. In his early school years, my nephew was a dormant reader. Upon reaching middle school, he had started enjoying books and reading "just for fun."
I've updated Read and Read Alike and posted it now in hopes that as we get closer to the holidays we can guide parents and grandparents alike on how to include books - even if they're on a Kindle or Nook - in their holiday gift list.
Knowing that my nephew loved middle-grade novels by Mike Lupica, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, my mom focused on these books as a priority.
When she got to the bookstore, though, she discovered that there were LOTS of Mike Lupica books for middle grade readers ... and she didn't know what books he had already read.
My mom was going to call her daughter-in-law, but that might not work. Who's to say my nephew kept her up to date on what he was reading.
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, now a high school Language Arts teacher who blogs at The Reading Zone, 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 ________.
In 2009, Sarah was a 6th Grade Language Arts teacher. She is a voracious reader and gets her students excited about reading, too. She wrote a post about middle grade read-alikes for Share a Story-Shape a Future, a literacy blog tour. 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 doesn't surf the web.
When she shops she wants to ask a person for their opinion. Lucky for her, she can take that read-alike sentence to the bookstore to get recommendations.
My grandson likes the sports books by Mike Lupica. Can you recommend some books that are similar to his?
Mom may not Google for anything, but I do. And I found a nice set of library websites 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 thatsame 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.
In a comment on the original post, Booklights reader Shana suggested 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."
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.