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Discovery: The power of finding what I didn’t even know I wanted

By Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator

Can you guess America’s most-ordered ice cream flavor?  It’s not butter pecan, and it’s not blueberry cheesecake, and it’s not mint chocolate chip. (These, however, are my most-ordered flavors….) A year-long study by GrubHub revealed that the most-ordered ice cream flavor in America is…(drum roll please)…vanilla.

My daughter’s “vanilla” was the Olsen twins. When she was young, she loved books that were in any way tied to Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen. She is their age and in essence grew up with them. She wanted to know all about them, so she read everything she could that included these twins. My goal was to open her world to other flavors of strong female characters in books—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, Ramona Quimby’s adventures, Nancy Drew’s sleuthing, and all of the girls featured in the historical fiction of the American Girl series—to take her interest in girls like her and expand the horizon. I wanted to give her choices, knowing sometimes she would choose to come back to her favorite vanilla.


How can we help kids discover things they might be interested in but not even know it yet? We have Baskin-Robbins to thank for opening up the world of ice cream flavors (which by the way is now, nearly 70 years later, over 1,000 flavors). And we have tens of thousands of children’s books published every year. We know learner interest matters.  (A great article on strategies for empowering student choice is here.)

Matching kids to books of interest is what great librarians have always done.  But a librarian isn’t always there when a child finishes a book and begins looking for the next one.How can we introduce kids to titles that may be of interest to them?

At Renaissance, we believe the key is using learning analytics to inform suggestions, and then putting those suggestions right in front of students every day. Our database includes reading records for more than 10.7 million K–12 students from more than 36,000 schools worldwide. That means we have:

  • Data to know each student’s reading level so we know where they are on the spectrum of learning to read and reading to learn.

  • Data to differentiate by interest, enabling us to know what students care about and in turn choose to read.

  • Data on the grade level of each student so we can suggest books that are developmentally appropriate.

  • Data and research around target reading ranges so we can suggest a personalized range for reading success.

  • Data around what other kids, with similar characteristics, choose to read so we can make book suggestions based on kids like them.

When used together, this data allows us to offer each student personalized suggestions for the next book to read.

The “Top Books for You” shelf greets students each time they log in to Renaissance Accelerated Reader®. These suggestions complement what librarians do every day—get kids excited about the next book to read.


Whether books or ice cream, we want kids to know there are thousands of choices out there, and we want to encourage them to try new flavors now and then. My daughter expanded her reading interests and has grown up to become her own strong female character in her own story of life.  When she has ice cream, she frequently chooses vanilla.  And that’s perfectly fine.

“Eat Ice Cream. Read Books. Be Happy.” ― Carew Papritz

To learn more about Accelerated Reader 360, click here.

Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator
Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator
Sue has more than 25 years of experience in education-related endeavors. She taught middle and high school English for several years and then went into higher education publishing where she focused on teacher education.


  1. Beverly Goff Franklin says:

    Great idea! I often recommend to students too, but it does not always have children in mind. Will this feature start immediately, or is this something that will be included with the AR 360 upgrade? thanks, bgf

    • Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator Sue Pulvermacher-Alt says:

      Thanks for the feedback! We are rolling this out gradually to all hosted AR customers. See my reply to the comment below for more information.

  2. Kathleen Benites says:

    I was impressed by this new feature, but it does not come up on my students’ page. Is this only on the 360 version? I logged into my son’s page, and it looks like it has for many years with the vocabulary testing now on the bottom. How do I fix my system to show these suggestions, since I agree I am not always there to help students decide what is the next book they might want to begin reading. Thanks for your help.
    Kathleen Benites

    • Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator Sue Pulvermacher-Alt says:

      Kathleen, thanks for the feedback, and sorry you don’t see this yet. We are in the process of rolling out the book discovery feature to all Renaissance-hosted AR customers. If you do not yet see the “Top Book Ideas for You” shelf, contact technical support at (800) 338-4204 or [email protected]. A representative can confirm that you’ll be receiving it and tell you when it’s scheduled to be active for you.

  3. Kristy Sturm says:

    Has this already begun? It is a great idea to suggest books to students. I love this!

  4. Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator Sue Pulvermacher-Alt says:

    Thanks for your comment. We love it too! Yes, we are in the process of rolling it out to all hosted AR customers. See my reply to the comment above for a bit more information.

  5. joan perry says:

    This is indeed a very nice way to expose children to the world of independent reading. Aggressive readers will find their way to building a library of accomplished readings, but new learners will need help in identifying the books that will grab their interest. If these books have an audio feature, then parents can participate too, as the reading is done at home as an independent reading activity for 30 minutes. It’s an excellent idea to increase the love of reading!

  6. Paula Meier says:

    We love the “Top Books for You” feature here at school. Still my favorite. I also teach my students how to use AR BookFinder, a must have for all serious readers.

  7. Pam McCaw says:

    Love the new “Top Books for You” feature but would also like to see it on the AR app. Will this be available in the future?

  8. Sue Pulvermacher-Alt, Former Educator Sue Pulvermacher-Alt says:

    Thank you for the suggestion. It is not in current development plans, but we’ll add it to the potential enhancement list for the iOS app.