Let Amazon help you better navigate your local library

Amazon: We're Going on a Book Hunt Summertime is my favorite time at the library. This hack originally appeared in 2011, but it's the perfect time to bring it back to light. — Asha

"I don't have anything to read!"

Such is the lament of a kid who speeds through books like I speed through magazines. I've got a quick reader, and his appetite for good material is insatiable.

I've already discovered the best reading hack of all — our local library. The library has saved us hundreds of dollars on books my son reads in a matter of days, not to mention space and time that would have gone to storing and organizing those books.

The trick, however, is to find a good source of fresh material and recommendations. We live in Portland, Oregon, home of the famed independent bookstore Powell's, always a great source of staff recommendations. Our library has good librarians and booklists of all sorts. But what has worked best so far is to lean on Amazon's well-built "let us show you other things to spend your money on" functionality.


  1. We go to Amazon and search for a title my son loves.
  2. We then examine that book's page for leads to other, similar books (read on for details).
  3. We log onto the library website and put those books on hold and have them delivered to our local branch.
  4. As the books arrive my son reads them, noting which ones he liked best. (We might buy those, as he like to read favorite books over and over.)
  5. We plug new favorite titles back into Amazon to widen our search for new material.

Here's what we explore on a given Amazon book page:

The "Customers who bought this item also bought" and "Customers also bought books by" sections. These are the first places to hunt. We let the collective experience of other readers guide us to new books and authors we might like.

The reader reviews. People take the time to write amazing reviews on Amazon. Often they will compare the title to other books they've read. We've found many a book by reading a well-written review.

Listmania lists and reader guides. A Listmania list is a collection of books or Amazon products users put together by theme. A guide is a narrative version of the same thing. Both are good ways to seek out new titles.

Similar items by category and subject. Wide-ranging, but helpful.

The author link. We check out other books the author has written. Many children's book authors write in a number of genres, which is a good way to break out of a rut of say, fantasy novels.

So far our Amazon research has yielded a slew of new titles. Not all have panned out, but that's the beauty of checking them out at the library first. Also, the research skills my son is gaining are priceless.

How do you find new books for your kids to read?


  1. heather says

    I also have a boy who devours books. We use Amazon just like you described! It is also helpful to read the reviews. My son is able to read books well above his grade level. The information in reviews often helps me decide if the story is too old for him, even though I know he could read and comprehend it. He is 7 by the way.

  2. MRogers says

    I use Amazon also, but I actually came across the book “How to Get Your Child to Love Reading” by Esme Raji Codell at my library and have been poring over the pages and pages of book recommendations. She has recommendations for all age levels and recommendations for all kinds of different topics — counting, the seasons, food, time, history, etc. There are also some activities suggested that you can do that tie in with a certain book. I only just came across this book, but looks like it will be keeping me, my son (and our librarian!) busy for a while!

  3. says

    That’s what I do too! I have found that by using Amazon for recommendations, it’s saved us a bunch of time. And, like you, we just put the titles on reserve and wait for the email that tells us our books are in. This is especially helpful with my 5th grader who currently has to read books for school within a particular genre and at a specific reading level. Thanks for sharing this with others who might never have thought of this!

  4. says

    You’re right I also love to use Amazon for this feature! Also, if you have an 11-year old boy who loves to read, you should check out the Conspiracy 365 series from Usborne Books/Kane-Miller. This is a 12 month series that will keep him turning the pages for at least a couple weeks!:) Check it out at: http://www.myubam.com/ecommerce/conspiracy365.asp?sid=NEW

    If your local library doesn’t have it yet, encourage them to contact an Usborne Consultant and get it in their collection. It will be a movie series in 2012!

  5. Anissa says

    I’ve actually created a few Amazon wishlists (you can make them private) for books I want to read and books I’ve read, so I can better keep track. Plus Amazon emails you w/ other items you might like based on those (even more accurate if you rate the items when you do read them). It’s perfect as I can check it on any computer vs keeping a database.
    I mostly use my small branch library as a place to have books sent. I love interlibrary loan so!

  6. Kendra says

    Anissa, I was just coming over here to mention the wishlists! I tend to get bogged down by the series I’m reading or the ones my kids think they’d like to get into. I find that Amazon is really easy to navigate–more than my local library’s website. So I page around, perhaps finding every book in the series or by the author that we’re into at the moment. And I put them all into a private wishlist I call “Library Books to Request.” I delete them from the list after I’ve read them. Also handy when you’ve heard a great book review or read something terrific at the doctor’s office (it’s happened!) and would like to remember it for later. Add it to your Amazon wishlist!

  7. says

    I miss card catalogs, I used to look for one thing and find SO many others while thumbing through. Amazon and ordering books from the library online is a great combo, but it’s also a good idea to spend some time browsing the stacks, finding something you like and then looking to see what is near it. It’s taking some planning, but I’m getting back to roaming the library from time to time.

  8. heather says

    I use amazon wish lists for that purpose too! So much easier to navigate than my library’s website.

  9. says

    I had to make sure I kept the “To Read” list separate from my real wish list — and I made the library list “private,” so no one would get confused and buy me a gift off that list.

  10. the librarian mom says

    The many libraries (including Multnomah County) subscribe to a database called NoveList — you can access it from home using your library card to log in. It’s on the alphabetical list here, http://www.multcolib.org/ref/books.html

    You can type in a book title that you liked and get suggestions (on the right side of the screen when looking at the book you liked). You can also look for recommended reading lists and author ‘read-alikes’ on the main page.

    Each title has plot description, subject headings and professional reviews (BookList, School Library Journal, etc).

    You can make lists and save them to your own computer or you can create your own account in Novelist and save lists there.

    A great resource that you pay for with your property taxes! Check it out!

  11. says

    Awesome! I’m always amazed by what I find when I poke around on the Multnomah County Library site! (That’s my local country library system…I love it.)

  12. says

    Great post, Asha, but I’m surprised you didn’t mention Jon Udell’s amazing Library Lookup tool. This great site helps you generate a bookmarklet that you can click when you’re viewing any book on Amazon to send you automatically to the book’s entry on your library’s site, where you can reserve it right away. Saves a ton of time and works like magic once you have it set up: http://jonudell.net/LibraryLookup.html

    If you’re a tad geekier or lazier or both (and who isn’t?), you can grab a Greasemonkey script that automatically inserts links right on the Amazon page itself to take you to this entry. (Search http://userscripts.org for Library Lookup to get started.) With my library card number saved in my browser, I’m just two clicks away from having any book I like on Amazon show up at my library waiting for me — absolutely revolutionary for the way I use libraries.

    By the way, if you haven’t discovered the Mac menu bar item called Library Books, it’s another must-have. Auto-magically tells you what you have checked out and when you have books due. Amazing for years, and great support. Find it at http://librarybooksapp.com. Also available as an iPhone app now.

  13. Melissa says

    I work in a public library and Amazon has been (among many) of my title finding hacks for years. Very helpful when the subject matter is esoteric and the subject-headings are illusive (or just incomplete in the library catalog).
    When looking at Portland’s library catalog, they using LibraryThing’s tags at the bottom, which has a similar book and tag feature of items in the library catalog. Children’s books often are not as complete in LibraryThing’s records (which are culled from their .com site where you can catalog and review your own collection), but you might ask at the children’s desk at your local branch and see if your library has enabled your user’s to add tags (I can’t tell from here without a library card). If they have, your son may really enjoy being one of the people that changes the face of the catalog by contributing content.

  14. says

    The site http://www.librarything.com is an excellent source of many types of recommendations (automatic per-book, human-suggested per book, per collection) and has thoughtful reviews. I use it to keep track of what books I own and have read. Encouraging your son to write reviews might be a good exercise for him to practice writing and to reflect on his reading.

  15. says

    about libraries – they are not just for kids anymore :)
    i have recently discovered that our local library has downloadable titles: think audio book that can be put on ipod or burned on CDs to listed to in the car.
    i have been catching up on my “reading” (read – “listening”) and have found several authors that i would definitely recommend to others

  16. says

    I too have recently discovered free audio downloads that I can check out from our library online from home and am loving that! Last week I noticed they’ve even added a feature to check out Digital Disney E-Books for free that I believe otherwise cost money to view without a library connection!

    Regarding the books that you buy for your son because he likes to read them over and over again — I have hardly purchased a book in the last 4 years even though I’ve gotten over 90 “new” ones to me… I use PaperbackSwap to get them and use their Wish List feature exactly how you use the Amazon lists. It’s not quite the same as Amazon regarding the suggestions, but it does give recommendations based on each title and then you can trade books you already have to get the new ones you want! I absolutely love it! Here’s the link for PBS: http://bit.ly/f7CDkZ and also the link for SwapaDVD (which does the same thing with DVDs!) http://bit.ly/1nH1C Regarding the private lists – I keep my “Movies I want to see” list on RememberTheMilk.com because I know I won’t go see them in theatres, but I can’t add them to an Amazon or SwapaDVD “remember” list until the DVDs are set to release. So this way, even months later, we never have to think too hard about what movie to watch!

  17. says

    In fact, I started with LibraryLookup, but the page looked like it was no longer in use and I got redirected elsewhere. Will dig in again!

    Thank you SO much for the other pointers — amazing and a huge expansion on what I’ve written here.

  18. Heather G says

    We’ve used Amazin for that. But also Good Reads (I think Amazon has even acquired Good Reads, but I’m nit sure.) My boys like seeing the list of books they’ve read. They’ve enjoyed every book good reads recommends to them.

  19. aprilshowers says

    I use Goodreads.com for this same purpose. You can “friend” others who have kids with similar ages to see what they’re reading as well. And if you update it with your eldest kid’s ratings you can remember what they liked for when a younger sibling reaches that age.

    They also have a direct link to your library. I’ve never actually gotten it to work for Boston’s system but maybe you will have better luck!

  20. says

    Hi Asha,

    We agree that it can be very tough to find just the right books for all of your little readers. Our company, Zoobean (www.zoobean.com) is also an affordable and easy option to help solve this exact problem. We have children’s librarians (our “curators”) on staff who serve as personal experts for parents. Basically, you sign up for our service, and we send personalized book (and app) recommendations based specifically on your child’s reading level, age, interests, and more. They’re already curated by amazing librarians, and we also send accompanying unique reading guides (and app companions) for each and every selection to help parents make the most out of every book.

    Please do check us out!

    Jordan aka Chief Mom and co-founder at Zoobean

  21. Katie says

    Hook up with your local library’s Youth Librarian – they live and breath to find just the right books for your family. Get to know him/her by name and always ask for them when you visit. You’ll develop a relationship and soon be flooded with books that make your heart sing!

    And HUGE, happy thanks to everyone who mentioned Multnomah County Library (my library as well). We are the bomb!