Top Ten Ways to Match Books to Readers by Dana Johansen and Maureen Mooney Corbo

A child comes up to you, hope in her eyes. She asks the one single question that has the power to strike simultaneous excitement and fear in a teacher, parent, or librarian- “Can you recommend a good book for me?”


We know our students, children, and the books we have on the bookshelves. So what are we worried about? We worry that we will get it wrong. We worry that we will let down a reader. We want to make that divine match, the one that will create a lifelong, passionate reader, so badly that we put a ton of pressure on ourselves.


But never fear! Over the years, we’ve generated a list of strategies that help us match books to readers. When one strategy doesn’t work, we try a different one.


  1. “The Investigation” – Get ready to do some detective work! Ask, “What’s the last book that you enjoyed?” “What was it about?” “What’s your favorite TV show?” This process helps us get a sense of the student’s taste, and it helps students learn the questions they can ask themselves when finding a match.


  1. “You Almost Can’t Listen to Them” – This approach seems contradictory to our first strategy and a bit counterintuitive, but go with us here. Sometimes the investigation process puts blinders on us. For instance, a student says that she likes realistic fiction and loved The Swap by Megan Shull, so we start searching our stacks for a realistic fiction book with multiple perspectives, a touch of hormones, and maybe even another body swap. “Hmm, Freaky Friday? Switched at Birthday?” we think to ourselves. Yet, an exact match can leave the student comparing the books and missing the doggy-eared pages of their favorite title. Instead, match the reader to a genre opposite of what they just read, giving them a new flavor and a little distance from their recent favorite.


  1. “What Are You in the Mood For?” – Just like when you’re choosing a movie, you ask yourself, “What am I in the mood for?” A romcom, superheroes flick, or a thriller? The “mood” question helps students to realize that sometimes you want to feel a particular emotion in a book or change up the pace of your reading.


  1. “Stack of Books”- This was one of Dana’s favorite takeaways from Donalyn’s The Book Whisperer. You’ll significantly improve your odds of matching the right book to the right reader if you give them options. When you try on jeans, you don’t take one pair into the fitting room! Kids love choice. The truth is, more times than not we’re surprised by the book selection a student will make from a personalized stack of recommendations.


  1. “Throw ‘em a Curve Ball”- Just like in baseball, switch it up! Say to students, “Go with me…” as you pull a new graphic novel or the class’s favorite mystery off the shelves for that realistic fiction loving reader. When students know that you’re reaching outside the box, they feel the excitement of trying something new along with the freedom to not like it.


  1. “Sell It Like Goodreads!”- Beautiful, fresh displays draw in all readers. Make your bookshelves an alluring place to “shop.” Do you love reading recommendations on Goodreads? Draw inspiration from this site by having shelves or bulletin boards called “This Just In!,” “Mrs. Corbo is Currently Reading,” or “If you liked Smile you might like…” Books will fly off the shelves.


  1. “Crystal Ball” – Recommend a book match before they ask. Like us, you might have readers who are loving the Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer. Grab the next book in that series and have it “on deck” for that child. Say, “Guess what? I have the next book in that series and it is waiting in this special spot- especially reserved for you.”


  1. “Give it a Try!” Read the first chapter together. Whether it is a teacher and student, parent and child, librarian and student, or two students whispering quietly together in a cozy corner, reading the first couple of pages together is a great way to warm up to a book.


  1. “Create Buzz with Book Talks!” There’s nothing better than a friend’s recommendation. Students often feel compelled to read books suggested by trusted classmates, friends, and siblings, so we need to give them time to talk about favorite reads and to figure out who shares their taste in books.


  1. Top Secret Formula for Book Matching! – Drumroll please…….. Making time for independent reading. Children need time to try a variety of books and make choices. As adults, we can recommend titles; however, the real match comes when the child finds a cozy spot, curls up with that book, and journeys faraway into the story. Give your children time for independent reading. The best matches are worth the time.



Typically found wearing mismatched socks, Dana Johansen spends her time teaching, negotiating with her yellow lab about doggy dinner options, and plopping down on the floor in bookstore aisles to find new reads. She has taught elementary and middle school for more than ten years and currently teaches fifth grade English at Greenwich Academy in Connecticut. Her first book, Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning, co-authored with Sonja Cherry-Paul, combines her love for teaching reading with digital resources. She can be found on Twitter at @LitLearnAct and at


Maureen Mooney Corbo loves creating a culture of reading in her classroom and thinks there are few more rewarding words than, “Just one more page!” coming from her students at the end of a read-aloud. She feels lucky to teach sixth grade English at Greenwich Academy with colleagues like Dana Johansen who provide endless inspiration, a librarian who is a book talk goddess, and students who crack her up every single day. She recently found her ultimate reading spot on her honeymoon in Bora Bora but has been just as happy reading at home with her Game of Thrones-obsessed husband.