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.
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.