The idea of putting books together that complement each other is called “Book Pairing.” Book pairings can be made by combining fictional books with fictional books, non-fiction books with other non-fiction books, or fictional books with non-fiction books. Reading paired books together or back to back can lead to a greater depth of understanding on a specific topic for children (and adults).
Some children have very specific interests and they tend to pair books themselves by selecting more than one book on a topic. They do this because books on a specific topic all interest them. But if it doesn’t happen naturally, you can guide them to find appropriate pairings that will help create a positive reading experience.
If you have a child who greatly prefers fiction, consider pairing a non-fiction book with a fictional one on a similar topic. Or if your child prefers non-fiction, try the reverse.
How to pair books for your child in 5 simple steps:
1. Encourage your child to brainstorm a web of “interesting” topics (or maybe you already know a topic that would be of interest).
2. Narrow the web into one specific topic that interests your child.
4.* Search for a non-fiction book on the topic. Remember to read the editorial reviews to see if it is age and interest appropriate for your child.
5. Purchase or check out the books at the library, and let your child read and enjoy! Repeat if desired.
* Steps 3 and 4 are interchangeable, it really doesn’t matter which type of book you start with!
Let your child become an expert
Sometimes if a child reads more than one book on a topic, they will be excited and will want to share with you what they have learned. Let her become an expert and teach you about the topic. If it relates to something you know about, you can share what you have learned as well.
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Some sample book pairings for middle grade readers to get you started:
Misty of Chincoteague with Horses by Seymour Simon
Because of Winn-Dixie with DK Eyewitness Books: Dog
George Washington’s Socks with George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
If your child is reading about a topic that you can learn more about locally or online, go for it! This past weekend, we visited the Yorktown Battlefield in Virginia as a family, which was the setting of the British surrender near the end of the American Revolution. My 9 year old son and I have been reading The Fighting Ground by Avi, which is a fictional account of a boys’ experience in the American Revolution. Since I knew we were going to visit Yorktown, we also checked out some non-fiction books on the topic for him to read ahead of time. One was specifically about Yorktown!
Sometimes the visit itself becomes the pairing with the book. My friend recently took her sons to a re-enactment of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. They made this visit after they had read Steven K. Smith’s fictional book Mystery on Church Hill. What a great way to make history come alive!
Maybe your child is fascinated by butterflies: try finding a Butterflies Alive exhibit nearby! Or you have a budding scientist, who loves reading about how robots work: visit a local science museum! If you don’t have resources like these nearby, explore online and learn more about a specific topic with your child! Intentionally reading books about a topic ahead of time helps kids get more out of the experience, since they come with some background knowledge on the topic.
Another creative pairing idea is to read a book together as a family and then watch the movie adaptation of that book. We try to always read the book first when we do this as a family! Our favorite recent pairing was The BFG. After you have read the book and watched the movie, discuss the similarities and differences between the book and the movie.
Any two books (or experiences) can create a pairing. You do not have to pair fiction with non-fiction, but sometimes crossing genres helps kids experience a new depth of reading enjoyment.