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Searching for Truth (With Your Kids)

MaryBeth's picture

Reader’s advisory is one of my favorite aspects of youth librarianship, but it is also one of the trickiest. Adults tend to look for books by title, author, or specific subject, but kids often want books that follow criteria such as length, picture quality, or how it makes them feel. “I want something interesting,” I am often told. This means something very different to a 7 year old than it does to a 12 year old! So, for all you lost parents, caregivers, and teachers out there, I decided to give some advice for how to do what librarians live for – putting the right book in the right hands.


Step One: Ask

The first question I always ask is, “can you tell me any other books you really enjoyed?” Kids might not know what genre they like, but if they mention Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I’ll know they want something reality-based, funny, and about middle school aged kids. If they tell me they like Ender’s Game, then I’ll look at the ever-growing selection of post-apocalyptic or sci-fi teen dramas. As I am culling through the results, I describe the books to the child in one or two sentences to see what the response is. Kids can figure out whether or not they like a book faster than we can read the back flap!

Tip: Periodically check our “If You Like…” lists under the “See What’s Hot” tab on the catalog webpage for comparable books to popular titles.


Step Two: Search

A Google search for “4th grade non-fiction for girls” will give you hundreds of thousands of results. Don’t be overwhelmed! Many of these resources will list the same few books, and that is a great place to start. You can then check out sites like or to find out what ages the book is suggested for, the basic plot points, and any disturbing or questionable subjects that may arise. For a biased opinion, check out the user-generated content on reviews. You can search reviews with only one star to quickly and easily see what exactly is upsetting everyone about a book.

from the National Coalition Against Censorship

Step Three: Review

Don’t judge a book by its review! Difficult content should not be ignored, it should be embraced! Books are the safest most interesting way to approach difficult subjects with your kids. If your child wants desperately to read a book (Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games all come to mind), but you're worried it isn't age-appropriate, instead of saying no, dig a little deeper. Why do they want to read it? What do they think it is about? Kids generally won’t be interested in difficult subjects unless they are encountering it somewhere in their lives.

My suggestion is to read the same book at the same time and ask them questions about how the characters deal with things like drugs, sex, and violence. Ask your child if they think the characters responded appropriately and how would they respond in similar situations. Explain what they should and shouldn't do if presented with a similar situation at school or while with friends. Even if it is a fantasy situation (like Draco Malfoy using his magic for evil), break it down to its most basic aspects (magical bullying).

Tips for Searching Our Catalog:

Regrettably, our computers can’t yet think like humans and sometimes require a few different approaches. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try this!

  • Search keywords. Keywords are usually the nouns, leave out punctuation and little words like the, it, as, for, she, and, etc. The more common a word is, the more results you will get.
  • Search for one word from the title plus the author’s last name. The author's name often helps cull results.
  • Search just for the author’s full name. It is easier to search through all of Danielle Steel's novels than every novel with the word "betrayal" in the title.
  • When searching audio or video, type “audio” or “dvd” plus a search term.
  • In "Advanced Search" you can limit your results by age range. Choose "Call # starts with" from the drop-down menu and enter the appropriate letter: E for picture books, B for beginning readers, J for juvenile, and YA for young adult.
  • Looking for the latest greatest? Check out our “See What’s Hot” link on the catalog page!

Remember the librarians at Westbank are always eager to help!

You can come in and talk to the Reference Desk Librarian at any time for suggestions. Beyond our own knowledge and know-how, we have a wealth of information and suggestions from local schools. You can also check out our displays and browse picture books by subject!

Feel free to email us at Give us your name, email, age group (Adult, Teen, Child), if you are a child or teen, please list your age, and a list of 5 books that you have liked and why.  We will get back to you with at least 5 suggestions within 3 days.