How do you discover good books for your kids?

130624 ella readingLittle Miss E is a six year old with an addiction.  It’s one I am extremely happy to encourage, but am struggling to feed. 

Where, oh where can I easily get good children’s book recommendations?  How can I hone in on books she’s likely to appreciate without wasting too much money and storage space on titles she doesn’t like the look of, will never read again or whose stereotypical stories / characters or poor writing make me cringe at what they are telling her? 

And much more importantly, where should someone look who isn’t at all interested in the book industry, so doesn’t spend their time surfing for relevant blogs, websites, twitterati, etc.?

When Miss E’s skill and interest in reading blossomed on starting school, she inevitably pounced on the ubiquitous Rainbow Fairies series – unsurprising given they and Horrid Henry were the only real choice in her school reading boxes that weren’t Biff and Chip or factual D&K books.  It’s a great series to get girls reading, but goodness me I disliked those books – as I talked about in a post last year on gender-divided children’s books.

More importantly, I was also at a loss as to where to look for good ‘next steps’ to offer her at her level or just beyond.

The library?  Ah, yes, the library.  I’ve done my best with it, but I can’t say it’s been a brilliant experience.  Hard to browse, zero recommendations, a terrible online service, popular series’ rarely in stock, let alone anything a bit different, two kids scattering loudly to the four winds if I actually tried to look for something.  Oh, and the inevitable email reminders of books overdue and carrying said books in the car for weeks before guiltily slipping in to scan them at the furthest point from the librarian I can find.

Our local bookshop?  Our Waterstones is great, but I never have time to properly browse the spine-only shelves or find a member of staff mosying about to ask for recommendations.  Let alone the challenge of managing Master T past the stands without him swiping copies that his cross-ness at me not giving them to him risks bending so much I have to buy them anyway (good strategy Master T).

Friends?  The gold dust.  But most people I know have the same problems as me.

Amazon? Probably the option I go for most.  I can do it at home, there are loads of reviews and, though I hate to admit it, the books come at a cost that means if she doesn’t like it I haven’t wasted too much money.  But I have a nagging feeling the recommendations are pretty limited.  So often the same titles come up – usually the first page of which are other titles in the same series.

And yet, Amazon says it has over 113,000 paperback children’s books for 5-8 year olds, and a further 85,000 for 9-11 year olds.  On browsing a substantial publisher’s children’s book catalogue, I found a whole slew of series, let alone individual titles, I’ve never even seen.  When I came across the publisher Nosy Crow, I had never heard of their books and now their Rescue Princess and Goddess Girl series are two of Miss E’s favourites, re-read time and time again.  Had I not interacted with Nosy Crow I wouldn’t have found them, and that feels wrong.  Not to mention all the other amazing books we might be missing before she’s past the stage of appreciating them.

And don’t even get me started on finding books for advanced readers with age-appropriate themes.  I’m sure it’s the same for the opposite way around too.

So what’s the answer?  Hours in the bookshop?  More requesting of specific titles or asking for advice at the library?  Book review sections of newspapers?  Signing up to lots of book blogs?  Constantly asking every parent I meet?  Putting this into the ‘too hard’ bucket and sticking with same old, same old?

I guess in reality it’s some combination of those.  I’m keen to find the smartest way though – time is a precious commodity and there’s always plenty more on the to-do list.  Below are some sources I’ve discovered for myself – I’d love to add anyone else’s suggestions.

I recently came across www.lovereading4kids.co.uk, which seems like a good start.  Easy to navigate by age range, a mix of best sellers and classic reads, it seems to offer what I’m looking for.

Some of the children’s book blogs I’ve discovered are very helpful for reviews, although I’ve found more that are focused on picture books and ‘YA’ than on primary school age.  Here’s a few:

http://bookauhubooknook.wordpress.com/ (children’s book reviews, helpfully organised by age band)

http://didyoueverstoptothink.wordpress.com/ (children’s book reviews)

http://girlsheartbooks.com/ (book lover blog for girls aged 8-14 years)

http://storyseekersuk.wordpress.com/ (mostly picture book reviews)

Nosy Crow’s blog has been great for recommendation lists, such as the ones below (check out the comments for even more suggestions).

http://nosycrow.com/blog/kate-s-twelve-favourite-children-s-books-because-it-s-still-121212

http://nosycrow.com/blog/and-now-best-books-for-10-year-old-boys

http://nosycrow.com/blog/books-for-girls-and-books-for-boys-gender-skewed-packaging-and-content-in-children-s-publishing

http://nosycrow.com/blog/best-books-for-seven-year-old-boys

http://nosycrow.com/blog/best-books-for-10-year-old-girls

I’m not sure if sites like Goodreads might help.  I posted a broad recommendation request earlier and have had a few come in, but it doesn’t appear to be the site’s main purpose.

Any ideas anyone?

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5 thoughts on “How do you discover good books for your kids?

  1. I work at Barnes and Noble and we have a lot of parents come in with the same question you have. Each individual bookseller has different recommendations, but we are also aware that parents don’t always have the time to come into speak to us. Most of us do recommend goodreads to the parents. It not only gives recommendations but it keeps track of the books read as well. Say she read a book and didn’t really like it, you give it 1 or 2 stars and goodreads won’t recommend anything like it where as say she really likes a book you give it 4 or 5 stars and goodreads will give you recommendations based off favorites and more by those authors. It’s one of my favorite sites. Another good website is http://www.arbookfind.com The only problem with this site is you have to already have a book picked out, but it gives you the point reading levels for the book. I don’t know about your schools, but the schools in our area give kids the choice to pick their books, but it has to fall into a certain point range so arbookfind.com is really good for that. I’m not sure I was much help, but I hope I was at least a little.

    • Thank you for this – bizarrely I hadn’t thought of using good reads for her directly (ie logging her books and ratings), maybe because she’s only six so I’m still quite wary of her engaging with the Internet. But I can see that working so will give it a go, thanks!

  2. I’ve been thinking for a while about starting a site that collects book blogs together as there are so many great ones out there, and this has given me more thoughts along those lines… I mainly do picture books too but have a look at Playing by the Book; Library Mice; Read it Daddy; Little Wooden Horse; Story Snug in addition to the ones you’ve already mentioned. I’m probably missing loads I should mention. To be honest, in my travels I’ve not noticed anyone focussing on early primary age in blogging but I’ll have a look. I was going to say Nosy Crow too, but you’ve already found them! I have an awesome local independent book shop that does great recommendations. Indies and bloggers are the go-to for decent recommendations in my opinion.

    • Thanks for the blog tips, I will take a look. Liking the idea of a compilation of book blogs, could it be even more fab if theres a way of bloggers tagging for age groups or themes or something so you can categorise and become a ‘go to’ site for recommendations? Hmm, I’m sure you could do something there :). No independent bookshop nearby unfortunately. Tale of our times…

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