The Art of the Readalike: Slice of Life #sol18


“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.


when i was the greatest

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.”

one and only ivan

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.


33 responses to “The Art of the Readalike: Slice of Life #sol18”

  1. elsie Avatar

    Those who think they are not readers are lucky to land in your class. You know so many books that they will find that just right story to hook them into the world of reading. Ivan is a tough book to find a readalike. What about The Tale of Desperaux? I love the plethora of books in verse, especially Kwame Alexander’s books for those reluctant boys.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I really like the idea of Tale of Desperaux (which I totally can’t spell!) as a readalike for Ivan. I still haven’t read Wishtree yet, so not sure how that one fits. I think my favorite students to work with are the ones who let me know right up front that they aren’t readers and don’t intend to change that. I just want to cackle maniacally and say, “We’ll see about that!” But that would be weird, so I don’t.

  2. tbreitweiser Avatar

    Such fantastic books! I can hear your voice through your post talking enthusiastically about books!!! Yay you!!! You have lucky students!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Book matchmaking is definitely my favorite part of my job!

  3. Mukhamani Avatar

    This is really interesting and it is true that we enjoy the same type of books. Then after some time we change our tastes 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Great point about how our reading tastes change over time.

  4. wahooteacher Avatar

    What an important post! I really appreciate this post because it underscores the importance of knowing books and readers. We have to explore and understand what it was about a particular book that hooked the student if we’re going to make a good match. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Absolutely! My son had a 7th grade teacher who I thought was going to be a good fit for getting him to read as she had a decent classroom library and definitely personally recommended books to kids. But then I discovered that even though she knew a lot of books, she didn’t know the students at all, and basically recommended whatever new thing she’d read to everyone indiscriminately. And that doesn’t work either! My son never found books he liked in that class because she didn’t get to know him as a reader.

  5. margaretsmn Avatar

    I have had similar dilemmas in my class. For the One and Only Ivan, I would suggest The Tale of Despereaux. Any Kate DiCamillo books, for that matter. One of my students was on fire for Jason Reynolds this year. Kwame helped me find other books, but I was surprised when this same boy loved Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog. Sometimes our kids find the readalikes for us.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’m surprised at how often Love That Dog is a good fit for whatever students are looking for! I’ve even had success giving it to a student whose favorite book was Yummy. I have thought about Flora & Ulysses as a possible readalike for Ivan. Tale of Despereaux is actually the better fit, I think. But all Kate DiCamillo books are marvelous!

  6. edifiedlistener Avatar

    This is so interesting because when I think of “my reader” I’m thinking of my 10 y-o (and me, too since often I’m in the market for books I will enjoy reading aloud). And the dilemma is a happy one to have. We’ve worked our way through a couple of series this year – Shredderman and The Land of Stories 1-6. I think I enjoy this assignment of selecting books and surprising him. Looking back at this past year we covered a lot of reading ground together. When I imagine doing this for a room full of kids, I tip my hat. I also wonder how kids sell books to each other. What does that look like in your experience?

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      “My reader” is also often my son. Have you and your son read Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom? Might be a good fit for him! Now I mainly work with preservice teachers, and their reading interests are all over the place–much more varied than my high school students. Many of them don’t need or even want my help–they have very secure reader identities and they know exactly what they want to read, how to find what to read next, and they have trusted recommenders already in their lives. But the ones who aren’t yet hooked as readers can be challenging to figure out. It’s actually most powerful still when students are the ones selling books to each other. Donalyn Miller has this idea of identifying the “epicenter” readers in your classroom and using them to get the word out, and I find that really does work best.

  7. readingteachsu Avatar

    I like be your take on read alikes and the way you weave some beautiful reviews into this piece. Also like the idea of progressions, a pathway up to a stretch book. This sounds like a wonderful summer project, I’m in.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s hard for me to stop recommending books even when nobody asks for a recommendation! This post was supposed to be a short reflection on readalikes, but then I started thinking about books to pair together and I was off!

  8. arjeha Avatar

    Finding a readalike is an art that you have mastered. Lucky the student who comes to you looking for one. As you point out it is difficult to know what a person likes about a book when s/he is asking for one just like it. I like going into places where they have signs saying that if you like this author then try a book by this (a different ) author. I have been introduced to some new authors I might not have tried this way.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I always enjoy those displays too. I found myself looking hard at the photo I used at the top of the post to see what this library matched with Fault In Our Stars–a few titles I wouldn’t have thought of!

  9. Trina Haase Avatar
    Trina Haase

    I love your list of readalikes! A readlike that I have struggled with is a book called Caged Warrior by Sitomer. I have students (especially high school boys) who have loved this book, but I haven’t been able to find anything that compares.

    1. Amanda Potts Avatar

      Ooh – I’ve never even *heard* of Caged Warrior – now I have to add that to my list!

      1. Trina Haase Avatar
        Trina Haase

        I hadn’t either, until I conferred with this student!

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Do you have the sequel, Noble Warrior? Sitomer has a bunch of other novels that might be good fits. Eric Devine’s Tap Out would probably be a good one. Maybe also look at Matt de la Pena’s Ball Don’t Lie and We Were Here; G. Neri’s Yummy; Jason Reynolds’s When I Was the Greatest; Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe; Jo Knowles’s Living with Jackie Chan; probably some of the Walter Dean Myers’s titles would work like Darius & Twig or All the Right Stuff; and what about books written by MMA fighters? There are quite a lot of them at this point, and that might be a good hook for some of the boys.

      1. Trina Haase Avatar
        Trina Haase

        Thank you for this! One of my students didn’t like the sequel and then he just wanted books about fighting… I didn’t know about Tap Out. I will have to take a look at some of your other recommendations!

  10. Amanda Potts Avatar

    I love finding readalikes, though the ground I cover is somewhat different from yours. One of my toughest is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Some kids like other McCarthy novels, but others are in it for the father-son relationship, and that’s more complex. I’m going to ask my sons for their suggestions about The One and Only Ivan. They may have ideas.

    1. Brian Rozinsky Avatar

      Book that reminded me, in some respects, of _The Road_: Peter Heller’s _The Dog Stars_.

    2. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve been thinking on this one, and it’s tough! I don’t think McCarthy’s other books are very similar to The Road, so I’m not sure he makes a good readalike for himself! Here are a few ideas though: The Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd; Shipbreaker and Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi; How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff; The Children of Men by P.D. James; Under the Dome and The Gunslinger by Stephen King; I Am Still Alive by Kate Marshall.

  11. Brian Rozinsky Avatar

    The world of read-alikes is complex and has neither bottom nor finish line, yet can provide such integral opportunities for so many searching readers. Your descriptions made me recall Teri Lesense’s book _Reading Ladders_ and its underlying philosophy.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The complexity of it is fascinating! Reading Ladders is also a great book.

  12. karpenglish Avatar

    I really enjoyed this post because of how it made me re-examine reading. Because of the specific nature of my current job, I rarely have to help students find books that are readalikes, and I don’t feel I have the skill. Furthermore, I think I am probably the least self-aware reader in the world, which is odd, because I am reading all the time and read practically everything. But I could not tell you what I look for in a book or what I like about a particular book to save my life. Your description of all the possible different things that students respond to in Bob and many of the other books that you mention gives me food for thought.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s hard for me to figure these things out for myself as well! And I’m the worst at trying to articulate it or use words to sell the book. I think it’s actually very intuitive for me, and I enjoyed trying to articulate what I think the process is in this post.

  13. karpenglish Avatar

    P. S. I was just introduced to Jason Reynolds’ work this morning via a short essay he wrote from called “Ten Things I’ve Been Meaning to Say to You.” It’s brilliant and I want to read it to every teenager I know. Here’s the link:

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I missed this essay at Powells, so thank you for sharing it! I really enjoyed it!

  14. […] Some thoughts on bookmatchmaking and the art of the readalike […]

  15. Ramona Avatar

    Okay, I’m reading this a week late. Trying to scan posts for ideas for this week’s SOL. I do have a book I would recommend as a readalike for The One and Only Ivan. Maybe I’m only thinking of it because it has a character who loves elephants. And because it’s a book I love that doesn’t get much love. And it’s about a young boy struggling with trying to protect someone he loves. Have you figured out the title yet? Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobsen. Maybe I’m totally off the beam on this one, but I’m always happy to suggest this title.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I’ve never read Small as an Elephant! Requesting from the library right now. Thank you for the suggestion! I thought I had a bunch of ideas for today’s slice, but now that I’m sitting down to write, my mind is blank! Off to scan too!

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