Passive Programming for Teens: Shelf-Talkers

I had such a great response to my passive programming post, I thought I’d do two complimentary posts for some of our teen passive programming.  These programs have a little more staff involvement but you can easily scale them for what works with your staff time and patron interest and response. Both of these ideas center around the same idea: teens recommending books to teens.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think that nothing can replace a librarian’s expertise and constant booktalking and interacting with teens.  We should be THE source in our library for our teen patrons. But. The fact is there are just some teens who will never feel comfortable interacting with staff or teens who primarily want info/recommendations from their peer group or teens who just pop in, pull books off the shelf, and go on their way.  AND we should be promoting that conversation whenever we can – teens promoting books to each other is amazing and creates a conversation and excitement around books and reading that’s irreplaceable.

So, how do we support this? One is the way we promote and support the Teens’ Top Ten program, which I’ll discuss tomorrow. Today, I want to discuss our first successful idea: our teen shelf-talkers.  We created a small recommended card and are constantly encouraging teens to fill them out.  We hang them up on the shelves themselves underneath or beside the books. What’s great about these cards?

  • Since there’s only room for a few lines, it’s not a lot of pressure on teens to write an in-depth review.  (which many teens feel reluctant or shy about.)
  • You can keep them on hand to quickly bring out during conversations with teens or during programs to capture their immediate thoughts.  Again, since it’s only a few lines – maybe something they’ve already just said – it’s not as intimidating.
  • Our cards read “TAG RECOMMENDS…” TAG standing for our Teen Advisory Group, which is another way to promote this program to teens who might not know we have this group/program.  It also lets anyone who fills out one of the cards feel like a member of TAG, further encouraging them to attend meetings.
  • Even the simplest of summaries or descriptions works because, well, teens see that other teens have read/written about a book and that alone can be an icebreaker or encouragement.
  • These shelf-talkers let the shelves do the talking!  Teens who might feel hesitant to interact with staff can still get recommendations and maybe even see that the library welcomes this kind of input and dialogue. It also makes the entire teen collection feel more open – this is a place where lots of talking about books happens, just look around!

So, let’s take a look at the shelf-talkers!  We’re constantly soliciting these, of course, but our Winter Reading program for teens this year centered around winning prizes by writing the shelf-talkers.  This worked great, we got more entries than ever!  I’ve scanned in a few of my favorite samples.

One of my patrons, Desy, is my dynamite superstah when it comes to these blurbs.  She has a real feel for phrasing the summaries as questions, which of course is very enticing and very much “if you want to find out what happens, read the book!” which really does work in booktalking for many teen readers.  Desy’s good at really short too, which encourages other teens to try their hand at writing summaries. Here’s a handful of her greatest hits.



Another one of my superstars is my teen worker Dillon (who you’ve seen before on this blog and who wants to grow up and be a librarian, wheee!) who has a totally different style from Desy.  She writes slightly longer reviews that try to deeply convey her love for books. This is a great counterpoint and also really works for the teens who want longer recommendations. Here are some of her best reviews.



Here are some of Desy’s and Dillon’s together.  You can tell whose is whose even without the writing. And, yes, this is the kind of thing other teens pick up on too. (it’s hard to say which I love more: Bestest! or the amazing card for Freak Show.)


But even the shorter reviews can work. Here’s a good sample of shorter reviews, some that are just summaries.  These are from some of our younger teens but, again, they still work on a number of levels as I outlined above and (best of all!) encourage all ages of teen readers to get involved.  You’ll also see that we let them write reviews of popular books too. I mean: does anyone need a shelf-talker for Uglies or Divergent ?  Not really.  But the review for Divergent is great and it shows off some love and affection for a popular book/series. The Uglies pitch is just right too.  They both say, “You might already know, but we do too!  Come talk to us!” And THAT’S  just exactly what we want to be encouraging and promoting with these shelf-talkers. (Also the summary for Antsy Does Time might be some of my favorite teen commentary of all-time. Just a reminder that teens always know what’s up.)



As you can see from my scans, we make sure the cards are all on brightly colored cardstock.  The teens don’t fill out their names, but sometimes they sign them with a first name.

Do you do this kind or ANY kind of shelf-talking or teen recommendations in your teen area?  How do your teen patrons respond if so? Have you had teens positively respond to feedback from other teens in a way they don’t to feedback from staff? Tomorrow, as I said, I’ll do a post about how some of that “teen recommendation” interest/appeal drives our Teens’ Top Ten promotion and display. In the meantime,  are there any questions or details about this displays/programs I didn’t answer or that you want more info/samples about? Let’s talk about it all! (Comment here, send me an email, or talk with me on Twitter!)


What To Read Next: Percy Jackson

If your patron base, ages 7-18, is anything like mine they are either on the giant reserve list for one of your library’s copies of The House of Hades or already dying to talk about every single detail with you.  If your patron base is like my patron base they are already fiend’ing for the next Rick Riordan book and their bleary-eyed parents are staring at you with wild-eyed desperation, asking, “Please.  Please something … anything … else.” (and this is a feeling I totally understand because, oh my, how I absolutely adore these amazing books.  Rick Riordan, thank you for making me feel 12 again and thank you for the wonder.)

And so, for every parent and librarian who has been asked that very thing, I bring you my What To Read Next guide for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series.

This list is divided into a few categories for ease.  By and large, these recommendations are focused on Percy fans ages 8-15.  If you have older teens who love Percy there are even more read-alikes and, hey, maybe I’ll make an epic post of those too!  Meanwhile, some of these books may be a good fit, but I’ve matched my recommendations with the bulk of my Percy readers.  These are the titles I most frequently recommend and have the most success with.

Please feel free to share this list widely!  You can make displays, make brochures, and encourage all the “what next” fans in your life to give these books a shot. Let’s start with my favorites!

My Top Three Percy Jackson Read-Alikes

These are really great read-alikes that are also truly well-crafted, interesting, and engaging books that can gateway readers into whole new directions.  I’d love these four even *without* Percy and I bet most of your readers will too.

Savage Fortress

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Excuse me but did you say there is a slightly nerdy English-Indian boy who loves video games who turns out to be chosen to save the world from the rise of the Ravana, the demon king from Hindu mythology? YOU DID? And the HINDU GODDESS KALI IS ALSO THERE AND A BAD-ASS?  Really?  And there’s a sequel OUT TODAY that’s blurbed by Rick Riordan?! Can this be real life??!!  Love this series, love Ash, love the action, love the use of Indian mythology, love everything about this – a superb Percy read-alike featuring a POC lead.  Oh wow, true love.


The Cronus Chronicles: The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu

First in the The Cronus Chronicles this is the story of two cousins who save the world from a deranged demigod and discover that Greek gods are real.  There are adventures in the Underworld, angry Greek gods, and Prometheus too.  One thing great about this series is that the Olympians aren’t so kindly inclined to humankind – which changes the whole feel and pacing and gives our heroes new stakes and challenges. And, also, it’s written by the incomparable Anne Ursu so the prose and craft is beyond compare.

city fire

 City of Fire by Laurence Yep

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND RIGHT – BUY THIS SERIES! This series is criminally under-rated and it deserves a huge audience. First in the City Trilogy this is the book that proves if you’re as talented as Laurence Yep there is literally nothing you can’t do.  THIS is the book that shows the lie of “well, you can’t mix genres or mythologies and you probably shouldn’t write about other cultures if you’re not a member of that culture and god make sure it’s not historical, kids hate that and, and, and…” because this series does all that and it does it well and it’s wonderful and engaging and exciting and original and OMG IS PELE IN THIS?  AND THE SILK ROAD?  AND POLAR BEARS?  AND MAGICAL ARTIFACTS? AND A DRAGON IN DISGUISE WHO IS A PINKERTON AGENT?! (hyperventilates).  It’s an alternate-historical fantasy with magic and myths colliding and combining in all kinds of exciting and interesting ways.  There’s a ragtag crew who come together to discover their strengths and save the world.  These books are not just unbelievably well-crafted and radically creative but also reader-pleasing-whizz-bang page turners.  On so many levels, they are a perfect fit for your Percy fans and a great gateway for them to all kinds of other titles. Get these books for your library!  You’ll love them and, more importantly, your readers will love them!


The Chronicles of Pridyan and The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

There is no writer who means more to me than Lloyd Alexander.  Many of his books are Percy read-alikes but surely the best fits are The Arkandians, his frothy Greek adventure involving the Oracle of Delphi and The Chronicles of Pyridan, which offer readers a glimpse at Welsh mythology.

The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

I know,  you don’t want to think of this as an “oldie” but it came out seven years ago.  Set in 793 and using real historical events (Viking raids on Britain) these feature Jack, an 11 year old boy who discovers all the myths he’s grown up hearing are all true in this awesome trilogy featuring trolls, mermaids, elves, hobgoblins, dragons, and Norse gods and goddesses.

The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr

A seven book series began in 2004, this  is about two twins who discover they’re actually descended from a long line of djinns with magical powers.  Throughout the series they learn about their powers and the responsibilities and tasks of djinns throughout history.  Their adventures take them through history and myth and everywhere from ancient Egypt to Bablyon.  This one is still popular at my library and Percy fans like the magical powers, the wacky adult mentors, and, of course, the myth and legend elements.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers

With their connection to Egypt and Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Theodosia series (four books) now has extra appeal for Riordan fans.  The first title was published five years ago (before author LaFevers broke into the YA world with the epic His Fair Assassin series) and this is a fun series set in 1906 and featuring Theodosia Throckmorton – who has a dry sense of humor to match Percy’s and his same sense of daring bravery.  There’s Egyptian curses and artifacts, dark magic and spells, and plenty of secret societies and big  battles between good and evil.

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff

For older, more sophisticated readers – Sutcliff is a treasure.  Of her many books, this is a standout.  It’s a evocative, powerful retelling of The Odyssey, perfect for readers who want a realistic look at Ancient Greece.  And baby, if you can get a reader hooked on Rosemary Sutcliff – they’re set!


Riordan’s next series will be a retelling of the Greek myths and that’s sure to be a hit but in the meantime, I’ve had plenty of kids ask me for the “real” myths and the “true” stories.  This is definitely a subject they don’t mind digging into it.  (Riordan’s incorporation of even obscure myths/mythological figures encourages this, really)  So, it’s always good to have some of these on hand, especially when they have cool new covers.

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles by Padraic Colum

One of the very first Newbery Honor books, this one focuses mainly on Jason and the Argonauts and dovetails perfectly with Percy’s adventures. The prose is a little GRAND but it was originally written for children, so it’s not as dense and obscure as other mythology titles.  It uses Jason as a frame story for lots of action and stories, which helps.

Tales of the Greek Heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green

Green is one of the first scholars to retell these myths in accessible ways.  Here’s what you really need to know about this: buy the 2009 Puffin Classics edition of this.  It has an intro from Rick Riordan.  Tell the kids that these are some stories Rick Riordan loved/read when HE was a kid.  This book will circ.

The Goddess GirlsHeroes in Training by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams

The gods/goddesses/characters from myth all attend middle school together.  Yes, really.   The Goddess Girls has 11 titles so far – with a super special – and more forthcoming.  Heroes in Training is four with more forthcoming. Both series are rarely, if ever, on our shelves.  I know, this might make the purists among you clutch your pearls, but kids love them. And the simpler text and glossy covers make these perfect for younger readers of the Percy series.

Treasury of Greek Mythology by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Christina Balit

A real treat for your visual learners, this lushly illustrated, oversized volume is another good intro to even the details of Greek myth. There’s a commitment to artistic style here that’s really engaging and an awesome connection to astronomy as well.  It’s simply gorgeous and perfect for Percy fans to sink right into and pour over and over and over and …

The Olympians by George O’Connor

I honestly don’t know if this graphic novel series is EVER on my shelves. There are five volumes so far (Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon with Aphrodite coming in December) and each one traces the exploits of the titular God.  The illustrations are top-notch, the stories are tightly paced but still full of detail.  This is a surefire hit for your graphic novel fans and even older readers will be pulled in by O’Connor’s design.

The Mighty 12: Superheroes of Greek Myth by Charles R. Smith, illustrated by P. Craig Russell

Perfect for even the youngest fans, this book features energetic poems about 12 Greek god, each accompanied by exciting, full color illustrations.  A quick read, of course, but an interesting way to approach it and good for kids looking for more visual engagement.


These are stories that have elements of the Percy Jackson canon – either retold Greek legends or stories with similar action, adventure, and mood set in ancient times.  Retold tales are, of course, a staple of YA and Greek myth is no exception – so a lot of these stories might skew a little older, but that’s not all bad.  I’ve avoided many of the more romance-y/contemporary ones in favor of titles that might have a little more direct appeal to Percy fans.  You can match some of these with older readers – maybe even some that are looking for a gateway into YA.

King of Ithaka by Tracy Barnett

One of my favorite retellings, period.  This is the story of what it would be like to grow up as Odysseus’s son.  The outsider POV really lets you into the story of The Odyssey while also giving you a chance to see it in a totally new way.  Odysseus’s son, Telemachos, is a great character who is figuring out who HE is while living with the burden of myth and prophecy – just like Percy.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline Cooney

A teen girl comes along for the ride when Helen runs off with Paris in this book that looks at the Trojan War and, of course, contains elements of The Iliad.  Again, I liked it because of the POV: the outsider/teen POV really works in making the story accessible.

The Stickman Odyssey by Christopher Ford

There are two volumes in this graphic novel series so far and I’ve already had to repurchase the first one because it was worn out from repeated use.  This is, as you might guess, a reinvented/retelling of The Odysessy using stickman figures.  Yes, it’s as silly as you imagine.  Yes, it doesn’t quite hew exactly to the original Homer.  But, boy, it is a hoot.  This one is sure to provoke giggles.

Snakehead by Ann Halam

A rip-roaring retelling of the myth of Perseus, Percy’s name sake and fellow demi-god, who is charged with cutting off Medusa’s head.  (and, as Riordan cleverly lets readers know, he’s the only hero to have a happy ending). Snakehead is quite good and I think it deserves a much a wider audience.  Perseus really develops/learns here as a character in the way he does in myth.  Andromeda is also a fully-realized character here, another big bonus.

Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver

First in a new series from the super talented Paver, this book is set during the Bronze Age and has lots of Percy hallmarks like magical animals, sea adventures, powerful magical artifacts, and a boy and girl duo who bicker/banter and find a way to work together.  Love this one and can’t wait to see where this series goes.

Quicksilver and Quiver by Stephanie Spinner

I am guessing there are only two of these because they didn’t sell, which is a shame because they’re both great. Quicksilver is about Hermes and Quiver is about Atalanta. What I like about these is that they aren’t just retellings – they’re also explorations of the myths/Gods in specific situations and from their own perspectives.


And now the books with perhaps the most in common with the Percy series: mythical adventures from all kinds of cultures that crash into the life and destiny of contemporary kids.   This genre is certainly where we’ve seen the most expansion in publishing and they are often the easiest sells to your kids looking for read-alikes.

Loki’s Wolves by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr

From YA writers Kelly Armstrong and Melissa Marr, this is the first in a series about a group of kids wh0 all know they are descended from Norse gods (Norse mythology is where it’s at!) but are surprised to discover Ragnarok is coming and they’ve been chosen to stop it, this is a really great Percy read-alike for the group dynamics, the wisecracking, and the end-of-the-world action intensity.

The Secret of the the Sirens by Julia Golding

First in The Companions Quartet, this volume follows Connie as she discovers that not only do mythical creatures exist but that there’s a secret society dedicated to bonding with them and protecting them: Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures.  Better still, Connie is the only universal companion and she has a great destiny.  This is a well-loved series at my library and I too LOVE it: true middle grade, wonderful, subtle messaging about the importance of protecting and enjoying the natural world around us, and tons of cool mythical creatures and adventures. YES.

The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

A group of teens must save the world and their own lives by tracking down mystical artifacts contained in the seven wonders of the Ancient world.  This is not only from an already popular writer of The 39 Clues series but blurbed by Riordan, which makes it fly off my shelves with very little booktalking.  These circulate quite well at my library.

The Flame of Olympus by Kate O’Hearn

First in a trilogy, this British import is about a girl who discovers a Pegasus on the roof of her building and gets involved in the quest to return him to Olympus and save the the Gods. It’s blurbed by Rick Riordan, a surefire hit.

Middleworld by J&P Voelkel

In an adventure trilogy using Mayan and Central American myth and legend as the set-up, a teen boy must brave the Mayan world of the dead to save his parents and stop the Lords of the Dead from taking over our world.  This one has been popular with my Percy fans who want lots of action.

Now’s your turn! What Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan read-alikes have I missed?  What are some titles you recommend to your Percy fans?  What other types of titles in this (sub)genre would you like to see published?  How have you successfully interacted and booktalked with your Percy fans?

And if you liked this post/found it useful: what kind of read-alike or genre guides would you like to read next?