Recommending Books Off the Top of My Head
July 13, 2012
Inevitably, a patron will come up to me while I'm shelving and ask me "The Question." No, not, "Do you work here?" That's the other Question. No, "The Question" begins with, "Can you recommend a book" - for a child, for someone who loves mysteries, for a first grader, for someone just starting to read, for someone who's read all the princess books our branch has, and so forth.
There's something about this question that makes my mind go blank at first. It's a strange reaction because I read all the time. I'm a reader who still reads juvenile and YA because they have just as good of stories as the adult selection. Not only that, I work in a library. I should be able to recommend anything at any time, shouldn't I?
Essentially, I need more information before I can recommend a book. So then there are the questions I ask back. First up is the basic "How old are they?", while I try to remember what I liked to read at seven, eleven, fourteen, seventeen, etc. Age is an important factor when recommending. Not so much because a reader should only stick to their age group, but because some teachers and parents go by level and grades when trying to find books for their students and kids. However, I'm always a little leery of trying to recommend to specific age groups. Kids' interest divide early on and vary widely. Some kids are more advanced than others. While one child is comfortable with the Harry Potter series at the age of nine, another child might prefer to stick with the Cam Jansen series. The key is to find the book that fits each particular reader.
Next, I delve a little deeper. What do they like? What are they interested in? And most importantly, do they like to read? Sometimes the parent/grandparent/teacher/babysitter has the answers to these questions, and sometimes they look at me blankly as though they have no idea beyond simply knowing they are looking for a book. At that point, I simply have to guess, which can produce very interesting results to say the least.
The other day I had a grandmother ask me what a third grader would like to read. When I asked her what her granddaughter was interested in, the answer was "Art and softball and princes." I went with art because for once I thought of a book straight away - Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett - but our copy was checked out. I was at a loss for a moment, and then it came to me. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Perfect for a third grade girl who likes art, or at least it was in my humble opinion. The grandmother I was helping seemed happy with it and thanked me for helping her. I assured her it was no trouble and carried on shelving.
There's something about finding a book for someone that is immensely satisfying. It's one of the reasons I love working at the Library. You always hope you've made a difference and given someone a book they will love. I always wonder how the recommended books go over with the intended reader. Did they like them? Was it the story the reader was hoping for? Or, were they hoping for something else entirely? There's always the faint worry that they won't like the books at all, but with that comes the determination that next time I'll come up with something they like even better. There are always more books to try. That's the beauty of a library.