“I just finished this book and I need another one just like it!”
These are some of my favorite words to hear from students, and I take the art of the readalike very seriously.
Another book by the same author is a reasonable place to start. If you like one Gordon Korman novel, chances are, you’re going to like many more of them. (And there must be at least 90 to choose from at this point. I’ve been seeing “author of over 80 books” for years, it seems like, and he just keeps writing.) If you’re really lucky, the book that needs a readalike is the first in a series, and you can keep your reader happily reading through three or four or ten more satisfying stories.
But not all books by the same author qualify as a readalike. Sometimes authors write for a different age group or audience. Sometimes they change format or subject matter.
Jason Reynolds’s When I Was the Greatest and Ghost are decent readalikes for each other (though neither is the first book I’d give a student who asked for a readalike), but As Brave as You Are probably won’t appeal to the same reader. I just finished reading Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead. It’s like nothing else that Rebecca Stead has written, and while I haven’t read everything by Wendy Mass yet, it’s not like the other books of hers that I’ve read either. So just handing that reader another book by Stead or Mass is probably going to be a fail.
Bob highlights some of the other challenges of book matchmaking as well. When a reader finishes Bob and says, “I want another book just like that one!” what do they really mean? What is it that they love so much about the story and want to encounter in another book?
The fairy tale connection is the element that most stands out to me, so my first inclination when a reader asks for a book like Bob is going to be to find another book where there is some kind of link between the real world and the world of fairy tales. I might look for books where fairy tales come alive, where fairy tale characters interact with real people. Or a book that’s about books coming to life.
But that may not be the element that most stands out to my reader at all. That may not be what they’re seeking in a readalike. Maybe it’s the mystery, as no one knows who—or what—Bob is, including Bob himself! Maybe it’s the alternating perspectives as chapters shift from Livy’s point of view to Bob’s. Maybe it’s the unlikely friendship between the two. Maybe it’s the (kind of underdeveloped) setting in Australia. Maybe it’s the theme of growing up and returning to visit a place you once knew when you’re older and feel disconnected from your younger self. Maybe it’s the relationship with Grandma. Maybe it’s the quality of writing. Maybe it’s the illustrations. Maybe it’s the minor theme of coming to terms with being a sibling.
One of the delicate parts of book matchmaking is trying to zero in on the aspects of the book that stand out and appeal to individual readers, on just what they’re asking for when they ask for a book “just like this one.”
For developing readers, the readalike can be a way to hook them into the pleasures of reading. The right readalike reassures them that reading can consistently be pleasurable and worth their time. When I used to assign The One and Only Ivan in my Children’s Literature courses, I had many students who didn’t self-identify as readers tell me, “If every book was this good, I’d definitely want to read.” Give them another book like The One and Only Ivan, and they will keep reading. (And good luck with that. The One and Only Ivan is a really difficult book for finding just the right readalike. I made a stab at it a few years ago, but I didn’t get it right.)
When a developing reader asks for a book “just like The Crossover,” I’m going to give them another book about basketball. Bonus points if it’s also in verse. (Thank you, Kwame Alexander, for writing Rebound!) That developing reader might stick with basketball book readalikes for awhile, until they’re really hooked and ready to expand their reading interests. When an ardent reader asks for a book “just like The Crossover,” I’ll definitely give them Rebound. But I will also offer some suggestions that take that reader a little farther afield.
For ardent readers, the readalike can be an invitation to grow as a reader, a challenge to get them outside of their comfort zone. The Newbery lover who reads and loves The Crossover has several worlds of books that might be new to them to explore and discover: verse novels, sports books, books of poetry, Coretta Scott King winners, and more, all of which might be reasonable readalikes.
I’m currently working on a list of readalikes for Hatchet (it helps that there are five books about Brian!) and I’m still looking for that just right readalike for The One and Only Ivan, so if you have any ideas…..
What’s your toughest readalike request? What was your greatest readalike success?
The image is from a display at the Franklin Park Library. The image is Creative-Commons licensed.