Like most librarians, we at Chasing Reference love to read- just take a look at all our What We’re Reading posts. Reading and sharing books is one of the joys of librarianship, and the art of Reader’s Advisory (RA) is a vital part of nearly every librarian’s position. RA can be a wonderful puzzle, carefully pulling together the threads of a reader’s interest to find just the right book for them. When you work with children, as I do, RA becomes a fascinating blend of both reference and RA, as children sometimes need help finding a book that meets certain homework and school criteria.
In a normal RA interview, one where you are simply helping a child find a good, interesting book to read, we ask all the basic questions- from finding out a favorite book or a favorite topic, to whether they like action or humor in their stories. Sometimes, we ask the child about their favorite activities, movies, and T.V. shows when they aren’t sure what exactly they like to read. From this conversation, we help them carefully navigate the shelves until we discover a book that catches their imagination.
When homework assignments enter the RA equation, it becomes not just a search for a good, interesting book, but a good, interesting book that meets certain criteria. The most common criterion is genre. Children are often given assignments to explore books across the spectrum, in genres they normally would never read. Our challenge as librarians is to find them a book they’ll love in the genre required. Perhaps a realistic fiction lover who needs to read a fantasy would like a fantasy based solidly in the real world, like Small Persons with Wings or Matilda. A sports fan needing to read a mystery might enjoy The Last Shot. We pull the threads of a child’s interest together so they leave with something that is homework specific and interest engaging.
When assignments are not genre specific, they sometimes are bound by lexile ranges. Lexiles, for those unfamiliar with them, are a means of measuring a book’s reading level. So when a child has an assignment for a book within a certain lexile range, the task becomes finding a book that is not only engaging and interesting to the child, but one that falls into the right lexile range. Lexiles are not readily apparent, either, so our search for a good book often leads us to explore databases for options. Both Novelist K-8 and Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database are wonderful resources to use when encountering Lexile questions. Both offer detailed summaries of books, listing their lexile range. Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database also offers a means to search by lexile, genre, and grade to find just the right book. From the lists we gather, we can then search our catalogs to find the book in our library.
Another interesting requirement we often face in RA with children is page count. Often, children are required to read a book that meets a certain page count- for example, a book over 100 pages, but less than 250. While catalogs and databases both list page counts, they can’t search page counts, so RA becomes a bit of a scavenger hunt to find just the right book, meeting all criteria- both interest and page count- on the shelf.
When it comes to RA with children, no matter the challenge of requirements and criteria, one thing remains constant- our enthusiasm about sharing books and connecting our readers to just the right book for them. Homework assignments provide us with a wonderful opportunity to introduce our young readers to a wide variety of new books, perhaps even leading them to their new favorite, in a genre they never even knew before. The joy of discovery makes it all worthwhile.