Half-Remembered Children’s Books: Search Strategies


This pathfinder offers strategies and resources for finding half-remembered children’s books; books you enjoyed reading, but cannot recall the author or title. There are many elements (besides author or title) that you can use to find an entry about the book in an index, review, encyclopedia or bibliography. The first step is to clarify everything you do remember about the book. Think of the process as filing a missing person report. There are many other “features” of your half-remembered book besides its name that you can use to describe it.

This guide will cover how to use one or more of the elements listed below to search for a book in both print and online resources, and conclude with information on two subtopics: “Professional Associations and Organizations” and “Finding Out of Print Books.”

  • Characters – Who was the story about? Who was the main character or “protagonist”?
    • example – Dorothy Gale is the protagonist of the Wizard of Oz.
  • Setting – What time and location did the story take place?
    • example The Hobbit takes place in Middle Earth in the distant past.
  • Plot – The story – What was the story about?
    • example – Plot of Peter Pan: With the help of Peter Pan and a pixie named Tinkerbell, the three Darling children fly out of their window to Neverland, where they have adventures with lost boys, pirates, Indians and mermaids.
  • Subject/Genre – How can the story be categorized? Some common genres are science fiction, mystery, fantasy, humor, animal stories, family stories, and historical fiction.
    • example Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a fantasy novel.
  • Series – Was the book part of a series?
    • example The Chronicles of Pyrdain by Lloyd Alexander is a five book series.
  • Do you know a book that is similar in some way to the one you are searching for?
    • example The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo is similar to The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban.


During your search, it is important to keep in mind that even within the particular forms and formats of children’s literature, books often overlap or fit into multiple categories. There is debate about what falls under the category of “children’s literature.” Books that were originally written for adults have often gone on to be considered children’s classics, like Robinson Crusoe. Conversely, there are books written for children that are widely read and enjoyed by adults, like the Harry Potter series.

This guide focuses on using a variety of children’s literature reference resources in print and online as a starting point for someone who is looking for a book they enjoyed reading, but cannot remember the title or author. It is not intended to be exhaustive or all-inclusive. This guide does not include information on easy reader books, pop-up books, non-English language books, or books in the public domain. If you are searching for a book over a hundred years old, try searching books in the public domain that are available for free online. Here is the URL for the “Online Texts” section of the IPL:


This guide is organized into the following subdivisions:

  1. Key Search Terms, Subject Headings, Call Number Ranges
  2. Print Resources
  3. Indexes and Abstracts
  4. Online Resources
  5. Related Areas

1) Key Search Terms, Subject Headings and Call Number Ranges

Three Major Formats of Children’s Books

  • Picture books – Illustration plays a major role in the story, and takes up most or all of each page; usually about 32 pages long; aimed at an audience of younger readers.
  • Middle Grade Novels – Children’s novels that rely on text alone to tell the story. Illustrations, if any, do not play a pivotal role in telling the story.
  • Young Adult Novels – Novels generally aimed at a teenage audience; may involve contemporary and/or controversial subject matter.

Example Subject Headings for Finding Children’s Literature Reference Materials in your Local Library

(Note: In different libraries, children’s literature reference materials may be shelved in the children’s department reference section or in the adult department non-fiction or reference sections. There may even be a separate area for educators containing these reference materials. Ask a librarian if you need help locating materials.)
These subject headings were obtained through searching the Jacksonville Public Library catalog, URL: http://jpl.coj.net/ and the FSU catalog, URL: http://www.lib.fsu.edu/

General: Literature – Juvenile:

  • Children – Books and Reading
  • Children’s Literature – Stories, plots, ect.
  • Characters and Characteristics in Children’s Literature.
  • Children’s Literature – Encyclopedia (or Encyclopedias)
  • Children’s Literature – Reading Material Selection

Reviews or literary criticism:

  • Children’s Literature, English Book Reviews
  • Picture Books for Children – United States Book Reviews
  • Children’s Literature, Juvenile Literature
  • Children’s Literature – History and Criticism
  • Young Adult Literature – History and Criticism

Indexes, abstracts, and bibliographies:

  • Picture Books for Children – Indexes
  • Children’s Literature English Indexes
  • Children’s Literature, American Indexes
  • Children’s Literature – abstracts – Indexes
  • Children’s Literature – Bibliography – Indexes

Call number ranges:

  • Dewey Decimal Classification (mainly used in public libraries):
    Ranges obtained from the following source:
    Online Computer Library Center, Inc. “Summaries DDC.” DublinOhio:
    Online ComputerLibraryCenter, 2003. (p. 9, 17).


    • 028 – Reading and Use of other informational Media
    • 800s – Literature
      • 809 – History, description and criticism
  • Library of Congress Classification (mainly used in academic or university libraries)
    Ranges obtained from the following source:
    Library of Congress. “Library of Congress Classification Outline.”

    • PN1008.2 to PN1009.5 – Juvenile Literature
    • Z – Bibliography, Library Science Information Resources (General)

2) Print Resources

While not created specifically for finding half-remembered books, these resources are useful because they offer additional ways of accessing material besides an author or title index. This list only includes a small number of the many children’s literature reference books available. Ask a librarian at your local library for help finding these or similar titles. To facilitate finding each resource, the Library of Congress call number, Dewey Decimal call number, and the ISBN have been provided. An ISBN is a serial number on the cover of every book published, which can be used to search library catalogs or online bookstores. Newly published books are issued an “ISBN-13,” a new form of the ISBN. ISBN-13 are listed when available.

Overview Sources

  • Zipes, Jack, ed. Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
    ISBN: 0195 146565, ISBN-13: 9780195146561
    Library of Congress Call Number: PN1008.5.O94 2006
    Dewey Decimal: 809.28203
    Contains over 3,000 entries on authors, illustrators, genres and topics related to children’s literature; international scope.
    The alphabetical index of entries can be accessed online through the Library of Congress.
    Here is the URL for the Library of Congress Catalog page: http://catalog.loc.gov/
    Do a basic search for the title “Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.” Next to the word “Links,” select “Table of Contents.”
  • Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
    ISBN : 0198602286
    Library of Congress Call number : PN1008.5.C37 1999
    Dewey Decimal : 809.89282
    Contains entries on authors, illustrators, titles, genres, characters and topics related to children’s literature. Entries are considerably shorter than in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.

Key Works

  • Sutherland, Zena. Children and Books.New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 1997.
    ISBN: 0-673-99733-2
    Library of Congress Call number : PN1009.A1 S879 1997
    Dewey Decimal: 809.892
    Covers Children’s Literature through the mid 1990s; includes a subject index; “Adult References and Selection aids” section concludes each chapter with an extensive further reading list containing bibliographic information and selected summaries of books within each chapter’s subject, topic or genre.
  • Axel-Lute, Melanie. Quotation Index to Children’s Literature. Englewood , Colorado : Libraries Unlimited, 2001.
    ISBN: 1563088096
    Library of Congress Call Number: PN6081.Q593 2001
    Dewey Decimal: 808.80083
    Covers books considered classic or popular; does not include obscure titles or references; contains keyword index. Introduction gives detailed information about organization of the resource, and explains, quote, “This is the place to find out where ‘Always winter and never Christmas’ and ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents’ come from. It will help identify books that are set in fictional towns like Who-ville and Chewandswallow and those that feature characters like the Lost Boys and the Assistant Pig-Keeper” (p.vii).
  • Lima , Carolyn W. and John A. Lima. A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children’s Picture Books . Westport , Conneticut: Bowker-Greenwood, 2006. 7th ed.
    ISBN: 1591582326 ISBN-13: 9781591582328
    Library of Congress Call Number : Z1037.L715 2006
    Dewey Decimal : 011.62
    Contains a “Bibliographic Guide” with complete bibliographic information, and an extensive “Subject Guide” that arranges over 22,000 picture books into over 1,000 different subject headings. The only place to find cross-references is in the complete list of subject headings that precedes the Subject Guide. Does not include plot summaries.

    • Popular Series Fiction
      Two reference books for series are listed below. Popular Series Fiction for K-6 Readers contains entries on over 1,000 popular children’s book series. Popular Series Fiction for Middle School and Teen Readers covers slightly less titles, but includes a wider variety of formats, including graphic novels. Both works contain a genre/subject index, a title index, and an author index. Each entry includes bibliographic information, a list of major characters, and a series plot summary.Thomas, Rebecca and Catherine Barr. Popular Series Fiction for K-6 readers: a reading and selection guide. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.
      ISBN : 1591582032
      Library of Congress Call Number: Z1037 T4654 2004
      Dewey Decimal : 011.62
    • Thomas, Rebecca L, and Catherine Barr. Popular Series fiction for middle school and teen readers: A reading and selection guide. Westport , Connecticut : Libraries Unlimited, 2005.
      ISBN : 1591582024
      Library of Congress Call Number: Z1037.T4655 2005
      Dewey Decimal: 016.823008

Periodicals and Journals

Another search strategy is to look for a book review. There are many journals and periodicals that publish reviews of children’s books. Three major journals are listed here.

    • IPL – Children’s Book Magazines
      Section of the IPL pertaining to children’s book magazines.
    • The Horn Book
      Has published critical reviews and articles about children’s literature since the mid 1920s.
      Features: annual best books list called “Fanfare;” annual Boston Globe-Horn Book awards for “Picture Book,” “Fiction and Poetry” and “Non-Fiction,” categories.
      Online Access: Limited content for non-subscribers. You may be able to access previous issues through your local library. The URLs for the articles that are accessible for free online are listed below:

    • Publishers Weekly
      Features: Has division devoted to children’s book reviews, current news, and trends in the children’s publishing industry.
      Online Access: articles online date back to 1997; online book reviews date back to 1987.
  • School Library Journal
    Features: aimed mainly at school librarians, or media specialists. Publishes children’s book reviews and other articles on a variety of subjects.
    Online Access: Limited content is available on the website for non-subscribers. The website offers a 30 day free trial, or you may have access to the journal through your local library.

3) Indexes and Abstracts

Both resources in this section are online subscription databases. If your library has a subscription to NoveList or to Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, access may be limited to those with valid library cards or restricted to use within the walls of the library.

  • NoveList
    Their “About Us” section explains the database: “provides subject heading access, reviews, annotations, and much more for over 135,000 fiction titles.”
    Features: “Search Our Database” section contains “Describe a Plot” which allows searching by plot; “For Readers” section contains “Author Read-alikes” which allows searching for writers whose work is similar in some way to a specific author. If you know a book that is similar to your half-remembered book, do a title search for the similar book, and select subject headings to search books with similar subjects.
  • Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database
    Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database contains “over 280,000” book reviews; offers a free seven-day trial.
    Features: “Themed Reviews”; many options to limit or expand a book review search, (such as genre, age or grade range, language, publication date.) Each entry contains bibliographic information, a plot summary, a picture of the book cover illustration, and multiple reviews from different sources.

4) Online Resources

Sites Specifically for Half-Remembered Books

Both of the following websites depend on people to identify the book.

  • Loganberry Books: STUMP THE BOOKSELLER!
    Loganberry Books, a used bookstore in Ohio, has a service called “Stump the Bookseller” that seeks to reunite people with half-remembered children’s books; costs two dollars to post a stumper request on their website, but the cost can be deducted from a future purchase of a book from Loganberry Books. You can search the “Book Stumper” archives for free.
  • Bowers, Andy. ” ‘Book Stumpers’ and the Search for Lost Memories: Web Service Helps Readers Recover Favorite Childhood Works.” National Public Radio. 25 Jan 2003.
    A National Public Radio article about “Stump the Bookseller.”

Reviews and Abstracts

The websites listed below each have unique access points to reviews and/or abstracts. Some of these websites allow you to select keywords from a list or drop down box, which could generate useful search terms for subsequent searches.

    • Children’s Picture Book Database at MiamiUniversity
      Contains: over 5,000 picture book abstracts. Each abstract contains bibliographic information, a short summary, list of keywords, and a link to the book’s record in the Miami University Library catalog, which may be useful to find call numbers and/or subject headings.
      Ways to Search: Choose a keyword from an alphabetical list, or by “Areas of study” (topic). You can also perform a Boolean search.
    • All Readers.com
      Contains: movie and book reviews, including middle grade and young adult novels.
      Ways to Search: Select “Do a search by Plot, Setting or Character.” The genre choices are “Sci-Fi/Fantasy,” “Romance,” “Literature,” “Mystery/Thriller,” “Biography,” and “History.” I tried five searches for titles of children’s books in various categories, and got mixed results – three out of five times the book title was on the result list. If your search does not yield desirable results, try revising your search terms. (How you categorize a setting, plot or character may not be the same as the person who wrote the review.)

    • The Database of Award-Winning Children’s Literature
      Contains: Comprehensive list of award winning and honor books for over 70 children’s book awards.
      Ways to Search: Fill in one or more of search fields: “suggested age of reader,” “format,” “setting,” “genre,” “historical period,” “multicultural,” “gender of protagonist,” “ethnicity/nationality of protagonist or tale,” “includes languages other than English,” publication year” (range), “keyword or phrase,” “author/ illustrator/ translator,” award. Organize results by title, author, illustrator or year of publication.

Picture Books and Illustration

  • IPL’s Kidspace – “Picture Books”
    Section of IPL’s Kidspace pertaining to picture books.
  • The Magic Pencil – Children’s Book Illustration Today “The Magic Pencil” was a 2003 exhibition of children’s book illustration held at the British Library in London, featuring thirteen contemporary British illustrators. Clicking on each name provides a profile about the illustrator with brief biographical information and a sample of his or her work.

IPL Cross-References

5) Related areas

Professional Associations and Organizations

The organizations listed here deal with Children’s Literature in different forms.

  • IPL – Children’s Book Associations on the Net
    Section of IPL pertaining to online children’s book associations.
  • ALA – American Library Association
    50 E. Huron
    Chicago, IL 60611
    The ALA has several divisions focused on library service to young people, and publishes the journal Booklist, which includes children’s book and media reviews.

  • Children’s Literature Association
    P.O. Box 138
    Battle Creek, MI 49016-138
    Seeks to “encourage serious scholarship and research in children’s literature” and is responsible for several scholarship, research and book awards, including the annual Phoenix Award for a 20 year-old children’s book that “did not receive a major award at the time of publication.” Publishes both Children’s Literature Association Quarterly and Children’s Literature Annual, which contain scholarly articles.
  • CBC – Children’s Book Council
    12 West 37 th Street, 2 nd floor
    New York, NY 10018-7480
    The “nonprofit trade association of publishers and packagers of trade books and related materials for children and young adults.” Contains a directory of links to author and illustrator websites, reading lists, news/events, information about the children’s publishing industry, and more. Sponsors “Children’s Book Week” in November and “Young People’s Poetry Week” in April.

    • Children’s Book Week
      Links include various organizations, “Children’s Literature and illustration collections and resources,” “North American Publishing industry links,” “Book fairs and festivals,” and “Industry publications and popular review sources.”

Finding Out of Print Books

Here are some resources to aid an out of print book search. Even if you do know the title and author, books that are no longer in print can be difficult to locate. You can also ask your librarian about the availability of getting books through Interlibrary loan.

  • AddAll Used and Out of Print Search
    Search the offerings of many online bookstores at once. Search fields include author, title, keyword and ISBN number. You can organize results by title, price, or dealer.

Created by Melissa Tison on December 1, 2006