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Finding the Right Book for the Reluctant Reader

"I don't like to read" really means that "I don't know where to look."

Let’s face it, not every tweenage girl joined Team Edward or Team Jacob, and not every boy found himself searching for the secret portal to Hogwarts. Sometimes finding the perfect book for students isn’t as easy as securing a copy of a top-trending collection. When students are digging in their heels over reading, we need some tricks up our sleeve to get the right book in their hands and allow their journey in reading to begin.

The First Step

The first step is to ask about a favorite book or have them choose a book they enjoyed reading or having read to them. A student that isn’t a fan of reading may say there is no favorite, but if you keep at it, you should be able to pull something that gives you a starting point. If you need to defer to a favorite program or movie, these can also give you the information needed to begin the search.

The Most Important Question

Once you’ve established a favorite, or at least a likeable book, movie, or show, the next question holds the key. What did you like about it? The answer given here is the most telling factor for a new (or first) favorite in the making. They can’t get away with a simple, It was good. You’ve got to do a little digging here. Hone in on whether character(s), setting, plot/storyline, genre, and/or writing style drew them to the original top pick. Our easy-to-use chart gives you the follow-up questions for whichever facet a student chooses. These follow-up responses will be the springboard for determining the key component(s) of the next great read for even the most reluctant reader.

What did you like about it? The Follow-up Questions that Uncover the Connections The Must Haves for the Next Read
Character(s) What character qualities did he/she have? Look for books with a strong-willed adventurer, a free-spirited loner, a mischievous prankster, etc. to fit this initial character profile.
Did you find similarities between yourself and this character (e.g., age, hobbies, family, etc.)? Zero in on common threads like teenager, baseball player, single-parent family.
Did the character(s) have help or solve conflicts alone? Find titles with characters who approach conflict in a similar fashion.
Settings Does the story take place in a realistic or fantastical setting? Narrow search to fantasy vs. realistic.
Was the time period significant to you & a key in drawing you to the book? If yes, stick to books in this general time period for starters.
Was the setting urban, suburban, or rural? Make the next selection match accordingly.
Plot/Storyline What was the main conflict in the story (i.e., man vs. man, self, society, or nature)? Choose titles with the same type of main conflict.
Was a lot of action centered around the conflict, or did the events unfold in a more daily-life fashion? Find novels with like levels of action/adventure.
What were the big questions that kept you reading? Choose a next read with similar levels of suspense and/or similar issues at stake.
Genre & Writing Style What was the genre of the book (e.g., historical fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, nonfiction)? Stick with this genre.
From what point of view was the story told? Select a novel that is also first, second, third-limited, third-omniscient, or third–objective.
How often was dialogue used? How long were chapters? Key to take note for author’s style, and the student’s preferences.
Were pictures used to tell any part of the story? Find selections accompanied by illustrations and/or photos if noted.

Piecing Together the Answers to Make a Selection

It’s time to put these answers to work and determine the best title(s) to foster that love of reading. If you’re an avid reader yourself, you may have a bevy of titles that come time mind when a student notes being drawn to a character that is a middle school loner with a love of baseball (Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures) or when a fantasy lover describes an enjoyment of books told from multiple viewpoints with short chapters (James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series). On the other hand you may need to take the responses to a second source.

Bridging the Gap to Unknown Titles

If a student’s responses don’t fit a title with which you’re familiar, there are a few tricks to finding the right book. You can focus on a single element, such as, author’s writing style, or you can broaden the scope to include setting attributes, character qualities, and key conflicts. Take your information and try one of these three resources.

  1. Media Specialist—Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to have a helpful media specialist in the building. These folks are the lovers of all things books and can surely turn the student responses into a title or two that hit the mark. You can also turn to a local library branch for assistance.
  2. Search Engine—There are a few websites that can offer you some help. What Should I Read Next1? lets you pop in a student’s favorite book title and search for a related read. The Library of Congress2 also has a great list of resources to assist in a variety of search methods. You can input student responses on a site like World Cat3 or go to an online message board like Book Sleuth4 and ask avid readers for help.
  3. Online Book Sellers—Whenever I’m purchasing a title from Barnes and Noble or Amazon, I can’t help but peruse the “Customers who bought this also bought” section. Like-minded readers may have already unearthed the next great read, and inputting the title of a student’s current favorite is all the information needed! Browse the secondary purchases and see if any titles could be a match.

Having an open dialogue with your students about books and reading is the best way to uncover that next great read. As you discern what makes a title their favorite, the questions on our easy-to-use chart will help you take students beyond "Because it was good" and elevate them to ecstatic readers ready to take the next literary plunge.

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the trainings and tools (for teachers and for families) that we offer.

Additional Resources & Works Cited

1. What Should I Read Next

2. Library of Congress

3. OCLC WorldCat

4. BookSleuth

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