Readers' Advisory for Youth

What Is Readers' Advisory

Readers' advisory involves matching readers with books. The onus, however, is not on providing just age-appropriate books, or the right reference sources, or only the highest quality literature.What separates readers' advisory from much of the work youth services librarians do is that they are providing materials for reading that is fun and voluntary. Readers' advisors are concerned with three things: discovering readers' interests, finding books to match those interests, and relating books' appeals to patrons.[1]

A book's appeal goes beyond what the book is about (its subject) to encompass the experience the book offers.[2] Joyce Sarick defines the four most common appeals that lend to a book's experience as pacing, characterization, story line, and frame.[3] To learn more about how to detect and articulate a book's appeals, librarians can consult The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction or The RA Toolbox in NoveList.

Readers' advisory isn't limited to just books. Any reading materials that youth enjoy should be included when making suggestions to readers. Librarians should keep in mind that formats like graphic novels, comic books, e-books, and magazines can be just as appealing to youth as traditional books. As such, they should be considered when performing readers' advisory services. Some libraries are also beginning to look at other types of media such as videos, games, and music to connect youth with materials they will enjoy.

Why Practice RA for Youth

Readers' advisory connects youth with materials primarily for pleasure. So why is pleasure reading important?

  • Development of positive assets: The Search Institute identifies pleasure reading as an important internal asset needed for youth to succeed. Public and school librarians can help develop this asset through their services including readers' advisory.[4]
  • Risk-taking: Kids and teens who choose what they read can explore social and moral limits and encounter new ideas, without simultaneously engaging in risky behaviors.[5]
  • Improving reading skills: Stephen Krashen, a well-known reading researcher, contends that the easiest and most effective method of improving reading skills is often the most ignored. What is that method? Enabling kids to have access to their choice of interesting texts to read.[6]

The Challenges of Youth Readers' Advisory

Matching readers with books they'll enjoy is no easy task in any setting, but RA for youth presents some unique challenges. These challenges including dealing with:

  • Sensitive materials: It may be difficult for some librarians to fight the urge to protect young people from sex, drugs, or offensive language found in some books. This can be a particularly tough issue for school librarians, who may face pressure from parents, administrators, and even other teachers to only provide wholesome literature. In addition, what's offensive or off-limits to one reader might be perfectly acceptable to another.
  • Proxy requests: Parents, relatives, or family friends may come to the reference desk looking for a book for the young person in their lives. This presents the problem of serving the needs of the adult making the request while at the same time finding interesting materials for the youth.[7] Adults may not know or may not like what these youths are reading, so assessing interests can be extremely difficult.
  • Difficulty articulating interests: Young people, particularly very young children, may know what they like to read but may not be able to express it to a librarian. Many young people also have no familiarity with appeal terms. Librarians that use appeal jargon during RA interviews with youths may seem like they're speaking another language.

How It's Done

The Readers' Advisory Interview

The readers' advisory interview most commonly follows from either a direct reader request or a librarian recognizing that a young person is looking for a book without success. This is the RA technique that involves the most librarian and reader interaction. As such it can be either the most satisfying or frustrating RA technique to practice. Some suggestions for conducting a successful RA interview for young readers:

  • Hand it over: Let the reader handle the books you are suggesting. If at all possible, let the reader look at the books by himself or herself for a few moments. This allows the reader to decide if the books look appealing as well as to consider any sensitive material away from prying librarian eyes.[8]
  • Avoid jargon: Young people may not know what appeal terms mean. Instead of using appeal terms, try using descriptive phrases to communicate. For instance, instead of asking what kind of frame they are looking for in a book, you might ask if they like books set in a specific time or place.
  • Allow time to answer: Kids and teens likely need more time to process information and form a response than adults do. Pause for a few seconds after asking a question before firing any clarifying questions at your interviewee.
  • Ask why: Asking young people for the names of books they've enjoyed in the past is a good RA question. But knowing a title is not enough--you need to find out why they liked the book. A book may be well-known for one appeal characteristic but your reader may like it based on an entirely different characteristic. Know what appeals to the reader standing in front of you before making any suggestions.[9]

Other Readers' Advisory Techniques

Other readers' advisory techniques may involve less interaction than the RA interview or no interaction at all. Readers' advisory takes many different forms, both in the physical and online environments of the library. Below is just a small sample of the many techniques besides the RA interview that librarians can use to provide readers' advisory for youth:

  • Displays: Displays of books can be made very simple or very elaborate, depending on available space and librarian time. No matter how much time or space is available, the keys to creating a good display are ensuring that the books are in good condition and that the display itself is visible.[10] Making the display visible requires that it be placed in the areas where kids and teens frequent in the school or public library.
  • Themed Book Lists: Materials on a themed book list may share a similar subject (ex. books about poodles) or may be linked by genre and similar appeals (ex. mystery books that share a dark tone and fast-paced action). Book lists may also bring together books that appeal to certain age groups or that feature particular cultural groups. Patrons can find these lists at the circulation, reference, or youth service areas throughout the library. Most public libraries also share themed book lists through their websites or social networking presence. Lists may contain just the basic information about a title (ex. name, author, call number), but many also provide brief descriptions of each book's plot and appeals.
  • Readers' Advisory Forms: Readers' advisory forms (like this one from the Somerset County Library System) allow youth or their parents to fill in their reading interests and receive suggestions back from a librarian. The forms may be sent via email, regular mail, or may be delivered in person to librarians. Suggestions based on the forms may take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to generate. These forms represent a compromise between passive and active advisory. They resemble passive advisory in the sense that readers do not need to interact with a librarian or even come to the library to receive reading suggestions. Yet these forms resemble active advisory because they allow readers to give their own input before the librarian generates a list of suggestions.
  • Book Talks: Book talks are like teaser trailers. They let the listeners know a bit about the book's plot without revealing the ending. The best book talks are not reviews; instead, they let the listeners know about a book's appeals so they can decide whether or not they'd like to give the book a chance. The best book talks also feature a "hook" at the beginning to capture the audience's attention. Book talks may be delivered in person at a school or public library, or librarians can record them as audio and video files and put them online.

Techniques for Staying Current

As much as youth services librarians would like to read everything they recommend to patrons, that just isn't possible. So how can librarians stay on top of what's new and what's interesting to patrons?

  • Reviews: School Library Journal, Kirkus, Horn Book, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly are some of the major review sources that can keep librarians aware of trends in youth literature.[11] Blogs authored by youth services librarians may also be a good resource for book reviews.
  • Readers' advisory reference sources: Many resources in the library's collection have ready-made lists of books linked by specific appeals. These are great to consult when a reader is looking for a read-alike for an unfamiliar (to you) book. In print, try consulting Penny Peck's Readers' Advisory for Children and 'Tweens or any of the youth titles in the Genreflecting series; online, try subscription sources like NoveList or the Children's Literature Comprehensive Database.
  • Speed reading: Speed reading allows librarians to get a feel for a book's appeals without making the time investment necessary to read the entire title. There are several different techniques for speed reading books, but most of them require the librarian to sample pages from the beginning, middle, and end of the book. Information about a book can also be gleaned by consulting the cover, the front and back jackets, and any pictures, photos, or illustrations.
  • Observation: For books that you will make time to read or speed read, Booth recommends thinking local. You can find out what's popular among your readers by checking return carts and shelf reading in the youth services area; titles that your young patrons enjoy will consistently show up on return carts and show signs of use.[12] These are also the books to consider making read-alike lists for or including in a display with similar but less popular titles.

RA in Action: What Public and School Libraries are Doing

There are many different ways to provide readers' advisory, but here are some new twists on more traditional methods:

  • Book Bundles: The Mamie Ootid Eisenhower Public Library has taken read-alikes to another level. Instead of creating lists of read-alikes, youth librarians Gigi Yang and Erica Seagraves have actually bundled together books (with rubber bands and tags) that share common themes. Patrons can check out an entire bundle or just the books that they choose. The bundles allow teens to browse and literally get their hands on read-alikes in a way that traditional shelving just doesn't allow.[13]
  • Book Hooks: Olga Nesi, a librarian at Joseph B. Cavallero Intermediate School, created "Book Hook" forms to assist her with matching her students with books they'll enjoy. Nesi and another teacher at the school partnered to teach their students what appeal terms mean and how to write and talk about appeals. They then created the Book Hook form, which asks students to first provide a brief description of a book they've read, and then to list three terms they believe apply to the book's characterization, tone, pacing, and storyline.[14] Nesi keeps the Book Hooks in a binder near the circulation desk, both for students to browse and for her to consult during RA interviews.
  • LibGuides: LibGuides, from the Springshare Company, have been widely used as instructional tools for subject disciplines in academic libraries. But some public libraries are now using the LibGuide templates to create readers' advisory guides for tech-savvy youth. These guides function as a sort of comprehensive online advisory, providing readers with suggestions for read-alikes, other media like video, fan sites, and more. The Vernon Area Public Library District's Diana Presta, for example, has created a visually appealing guide for the Twilight Saga ( Twilight Saga LibGuide ) that teens can view in the comfort of their own homes.



Booth, H. (2007). Serving teens through readers' advisory. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
This is an excellent resource for understanding the unique aspects of providing readers' advisory to youth. Among other topics, Booth discusses how to modify the RA interview, move beyond award-winners, and take RA online to have the best chance of connecting teens with books they'll love.

Moyer, J.E., & Stover, K.M. (Eds.). (2010). The readers’ advisory handbook. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Though not specifically designed for youth librarians, this handbook is a terrific resource. Two chapters, Suggesting Adult Books to Teen Readers and Readers’ Advisory by Proxy for Teens, discuss challenges and opportunities specific to youth readers’ advisory. Other chapters of interest discuss techniques that would be useful to any readers’ advisor, including how to make your own book lists, how to identify read-alikes, and how to read a book in ten minutes.

Peck, P. (2010). Readers' advisory for children and 'tweens. Denver, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
This resource offers some great suggestions for talking about books with age groups who may not be very experienced at articulating what interests them. Peck also provides an overview of different genres and formats of interest to children. Be sure to check out the multiple themed book lists included in this resource.

Multiple titles from the Genreflecting Advisory Series. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
These resources are useful for finding quick titles for youth that like to read in a particular genre. Several of the books in this series are intended specifically for kids or teens (audience noted in the individual resource's title).

Free Readers' Advisory Resources Online

What Should I Read Next?
Search by author or title in this database of 75,000 titles to get book recommendations and suggestions for what to read next.

Kent District Library "What's Next" database for series books
Search series books by author, title, series, or genre.

Children's Picture Book Database at Miami University
Search this database of over 5,000 picture books by keyword including topics concepts, and skills.

The Lexile Framework for Reading "Find a Book"
Looking for leveled texts? Search by Lexile or grade level and topic or category. Displays popular books in lexile ranges, allows one to limit by age, keyword, page count, book type, and language.

Based on the Book - Mid-Continent Public Library
Compilation of over 1,250 books, novels, short stories, and plays that have been made into motion pictures. View lists by movie title, movie release year, book title, and book author.

The Center for Children's Books Annotated Bibliographies
Lists of annotated bibliographies by topic for children and youth recommended by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

No Flying No Tights: A Graphic Novel Review Website
Find recommended graphic novels for children and teens, including "Best Of" lists and genre tags.

Teen Reads
Find news and reviews on the latest releases in young adult literature.

Provides an archive of YA award winning material and selected book lists for young adults 12-18.

Literature Map

Type in the name of the author and an interactive map of authors will come up with other authors' names in relationship to how similar they are to the original author.

Finds books based on your reported interests. Also allows members to review books and makes those reviews searechable. Login required, but free.

How to Do a Book Talk
Offers general information about book talking, including how to select materials for and how to deliver your book talks.

Subscription Sources

NoveList Plus/NoveList K-8 Plus
These subscription resources, available to public and school libraries, are extremely useful for finding read-alikes. Entries for most books also include appeal factors such as pacing and tone. Readers' advisors may also want to check out NoveList's RA toolbox to brush up on their skills.

Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD)
This resource contains records as well as reviews for children's and young adults' books. The database offers multiple ways to search for books, including by reading levels, awards received, language, and genre.


Two middle school librarians, Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan, provide reviews for children's and teen's books. Past reviews are archived and can be accessed by category limiters such as grade level or theme. This resource is updated at least twice a week.

Reader Girlz
Three young adult authors provide the latest news and reviews in young adult literature.

Reading Rants!
Middle school librarian, Jennifer Hubert Swan, provides numerous reviews on a variety of teen books. Additionally, she provides an extensive collection of unique book lists and her favorite top ten book for each year.

Youth Services Corner
Whitney Winn, an MLIS-degree holder with an interest in youth librarianship, hosts this blog. She periodically posts reviews of YA books she is reading. In addition, she maintains a list of books that have received multiple starred reviews from the major youth literature review sources. The blog is typically updated on a weekly basis.

Curator: Beth Kerns
Contributors: Laurel Halfar, Kara Ryks, & Sara Schlageck
  1. ^ Booth, H. (2007). Serving teens through readers' advisory. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  2. ^ Booth, H. (2007). Serving teens through readers' advisory. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  3. ^ Saricks, J. G. (2001). The readers' advisory guide to genre fiction. Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.
  4. ^ Search Institute. (2006). Developmental assets and library connections. Retrieved from
  5. ^ Mackey, M. (2003). Risk, safety, and control in young people's reading experiences. School Libraries Worldwide, 9(1), 50-63. Retrieved from Wilson Education Full Text.
  6. ^ Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5), 18-25. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.
  7. ^ Moyer, J.E., & Stover, K.M. (Eds.). (2010). The readers’ advisory handbook. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  8. ^ Peck, P. (2010). Readers' advisory for children and 'tweens. Denver, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  9. ^ Dickey, J. & Jones, P. (1994). Finding a good book: Skills and tools for helping students. Book Report, 13(1), 15-20. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier.
  10. ^ Booth, H. (2007). Serving teens through readers' advisory. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  11. ^ Peck, P. (2010). Readers' advisory for children and 'tweens. Denver, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  12. ^ Booth, H. (2007). Serving teens through readers' advisory. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  13. ^ Yang, G. & Seagraves, E. (2010). Book bundles: Reader’s advisory in a package. Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(2). Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Full-Text.
  14. ^ Nesi, O. (2010). It's all about text appeal. School Library Journal, 56 (8), 40-2. Retrieved from Library Literature & Information Full Text.