The other day I shared a post asking "How Can We Helps Parents to Find Quality Books for the Children?" I received a number of thoughtful responses in the comments on the post, as well as on Google+. Here, I'm summarizing some of the ideas (there's other good stuff in the comments, too, but I'm focusing here on specific ideas):
- Amazon Suggestions. A good source of book ideas for parents is the lists of like books displayed on Amazon, when you search for or purchase books ("you may also like ..." and "customers who bought this item also bought"). This suggestion came from author E.S. Ivy, and it is a method that I have used as a parent. There are acknowledged problems with this approach (broad age categories, a few popular books showing up over and over again), but if you have a book that you know your child likes, this can be a quick way to find other, similar books.
- Better Classification of Review Books: Include narrower age ranges on book reviews, as well as more subject information, suggests E.S. Ivy. Consider using Accelerated Reader classifications for the age ranges, as they may be narrower than publisher classifications. I think that I could make improvements in my own blog in this area, though I do have concerns about making age ranges too narrow on book recommendations. There's such a wide range in reading ability at each age range that classifications are very difficult. But for sure I could do better in providing more easy to search subject classification. Our Learning mentioned experimenting with including more detailed categories in the blog sidebar, and is working on evaluating the effectiveness of this.
- More Lists: Erica MomandKiddo talked in her extensive and helpful comment about making booklists for parents, because she finds those useful herself. They are easier for parents to print out and take to the store or library. I've been dabbling in this already of late, and I do think that people are more willing to spread the word about booklists than about individual reviews.
- Facebook and Pinterest: Build "respected collaborative resources on the media platforms that most moms are on (ie. Pinterest & Facebook)", suggests Bethany @ No Twiddle Twaddle. +Erica Mom and Kiddo shared similar thoughts on Google+, saying "I feel no shame about trying to promote my book lists on platforms like Pinterest and Facebook even though I know those platforms are not widely used by Kidlitosphere folks. They are super-popular platforms with moms and they find books there." I agree with Bethany and Erica that something based on these platforms would be worth pursuing (and I know that people like Bethany and Erica and Pragmatic Mom are pursuing it at various levels, through group Pinterest boards, Google+ communities, the new collaborative Facebook effort The Niblings, etc.). The idea of leveraging Facebook was echoed by mom Jenny from BooksBabiesBows.
- Smart Phone Apps (?). Bethany's comment also made me wonder it some day there will be some sort of collaborative children's book finder smart phone App. Because that's the other place moms and dads spend their time these days, right? Tapping away at smart phones.
- Pooling Existing Resources. "Maybe we can pool resources and come up with a better way or organizing the info that we already have as a first step", suggests author Barbara Mojica. I think that the idea of actually tacking something like this is daunting (given the volume of information, and the freewheeling nature of the Internet), but potentially very high yield. Of course there is overlap here with the idea of doing something on Facebook, Pinterest, or an App platform. The "go where the parents already are" message continues to ring in my head.
- Focus on the Message, rather than the Tools. Read Aloud Dad thinks that rather than trying to give parents shortcuts to the book selection process, "we need to promote the idea of investing time in finding good children's books." His extensive comments are basically a short blog post on the value in parents spending precious time finding the best books for their kids. At Google+, +StackingBooks shared a similar view: "To me a blogger's job is to get to the "good" content and then broadcast it and make it as "discoverable" as possible. The rest is really up to the parent. :)" I don't disagree that parent involvement and investment is key. But I still think that there have to be ways to make the process a bit easier, and to help people get started. Erica responded to this point with "I think it is pretty unrealistic that parents will spend a few hours every week doing so. Parents are busy!! ... Better to help them out with an easy way to find titles so they can spend the hours actually reading! :)" This is pretty much my view, too.
- Search Engine Optimization. The Book Chook also shared extensive comments on this topic (she was the one who brought my attention to the original article). Like me, she's a bit concerned about issuing narrower classifications of books, for fear of "constrict(ing) kids' choices." And she acknowledges that to a certain extent "we are stuck with the transitory, fragmented and idiosyncratic nature of the way we publish information for parents and other book buyers about books." But she does suggest a couple of concrete things, including working on search engine optimization (so that people can find our blogs more easily. What if every blog-posted children's book review was tagged with a standard set of tags? Would you be able to search for those tags on Google? (This last thought came out of a discussion on the Kidlitosphere Yahoo Group.)
- Reaching Out to Other Communities. The Book Chook also talked about "reach(ing) out to other communities. There are parent forums, teacher groups, librarian lists. If we join in their discussions, answering questions where we can, participating rather than promoting, I believe we have a chance of extending our reach." This last point is similar in spirit to Bethany and Erica's thoughts about finding moms where they spend time online, but with a different means of execution.
- An Idea for Libraries. Author and mom Rosanne Parry suggests "a parent component to preschool story time. My own half hour w/ a book person who could help me find what my family needed." There's not much I could personally do in that direction, but it is a neat idea for a library program, isn't it? Help for parents to find great children's books.
- Don't Forget Libraries and Bookstores. Like some of the commenters on the original article, Sara Lane suggests that parents take advantage of the wonderful resources that libraries and bookstores offer to help in selecting books. I certainly agree that this is a good idea. But I would like to also come up with resources to make things easier for parents for whom regular visits to libraries and bookstores, for whatever reason, aren't as good a fit.
This question of how to help motivated parents to find quality books for their children is clearly something that many of us have struggled with. Just as clearly, there is no silver bullet. Some of the commenters would push most of the responsibility back onto the parents, telling them to spend more time, visit libraries, etc. But I still think, and a number of people seem to agree, that there is room for us to do more.
That "more" could involve something as ambitious as building a new collaborative platform to better share information. Or it could take the form of more incremental steps, tweaking individual blog reviews to make them more useful, publishing more themed book lists, reaching out to other communities, and working together on existing platforms like Google+, Pinterest, and Facebook.
I'm going to keep thinking about this. I hope others will, too. I have always believed that by bring great books to the attention of people who can put them into the hands of children, I am making a positive difference in the world. I still believe that. I believe that each book review that I post is a tiny ray of light pointing out into the darkness. But now I'm trying to figure out a way to turn up the wattage of that light. I appreciate all of you who have taken time to help me think about this. I hope that our discussion will continue.
This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.