During the spring quarter I have been working with two fourth grade reading groups 4 days a week. One group has recently been reading John Reynolds Gardiner's Stone Fox. It is the story of a boy named Willie who lives in Wyoming with his ailing grandfather on a potato farm and they are facing some hard times. The climax involves a dog sled race. It is a great story and I recommend it for your younger readers. As part of a culminating project associated with our reading of the book, one student named Samantha, chose to create a board game based on the book. The other day while creating questions for the game, she needed to find the name of Willie's teacher. Off hand I couldn't remember it and she couldn't either. If this was a non fiction title I would of had her look in the index, and that was the first thing I asked her, does it have an index? It did not. So rather than hunt for it, I suggested we try to find it on Amazon.com.
Previously I had showed her group how to get more information about the book from Amazon. This includes things such as book reviews, different versions, languages and bibliographic informaiton. A very interesting feature is the ability to search within most titles. Their Search Within The Book feature is pretty amazing. We walked over to the computer, searched for the book in Amazon, found it, hit search within the book, typed in the word teacher, and up came a listing of pages where that term could be found in the book along with an excerpt highlighting the term. We discovered that on page 43, we are first introduced to Willie's teacher, Miss Williams.
In addition to this feature, books that have been indexed by Amazon also return other interesting information. For example, click on Concordance
for an alphabetized list of the most frequently occurring words in a book, excluding common words such as "of" and "it." The font size of a word is proportional to the number of times it occurs in the book. Hover your mouse over a word to see how many times it occurs, or click on a word to see a list of book excerpts containing that word.
This comes in handy when creating a vocabulary list to accompany lessons associated with the book. In addition you will also find other information associated with the book including reading level, complexity, number of characters, words and sentences and some fun stats such a words per dollar and words per ounce.
I don't know much about the Amazon API, but am wondering if folks such as Tom Hoffman could dive into this and create some tools that would allow teachers and students to mine this type of data, but then again , as it is now it is pretty easy to use.