J is for JUXTAPOSITION, or the pairing of texts. How do we help make the connections between and among books? One of the characteristics of readers is that they can and do make connections as they read. I was actually surprised when I saw this report some years ago. Making connections was just something that I seemed to do automatically. When I listen to people talk about books, I am making mental (and sometimes physical) lists of other titles that would make for interesting juxtapositions. And, of course, I spent a couple of years talking and writing about Reading Ladders, too, where I discussed how to help readers do this juxtaposition on their own.
If you read the various listservs, you will often see someone posting with a question similar to this one: one of my kids is looking for a book like _______________ (fill in the black especially with the latest hot trends: paranormal, dystopias, steampunk, etc.). Other posting to the listservs include lists such as "If they like ______________, then they will like _______________). We have blurbs on book covers that allude to other books. Recently, someone referred to Libba Bray's new book, THE DIVINERS, as Marjorie Morningstar meets Silence of the Lambs (and you need to pre-order this book, folks because it rises up to all the pre-pub noise it is making).
So, how do we make this linkage something that happens on the subconscious level for readers? I suggest that first we need to make connections apparent to them. In our booktalks and blurbs and other talk about books we need to mention related books. When I was doing booktalks in schools, I would always try to give kids 2-3-4 other books they might like if the book I just talked about was checked out of the library. When I blog about books (at http://www.ls5385blog.blogspot.com), I will often mention another book to pair with the one being blogged at the time. I respond to requests on Twitter and Facebook and email about book pairing recommendations. Often, readers of this blog make those suggestions as well.
One note: sometimes I like to make the connections more obscure. It is simple to suggest another book by the same author or another book in the same genre or format. However, if we really want kids to develop as readers (and it seems that is the focus these days), then we need to extend some challenges here as well. No, that most certainly does NOT mean more and more complex books (save me from CCSS). Sometimes it means recommending books all along the range from picture books to adult fare.
For instance, I just finished reading an ARC of THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER by Jasper Fforde. Fforde is a British author of books for adults, and this is his first foray into YA. Enter into the world of the UUK (the Un-United Kingdom) where magic is regulated (and has, therefore, almost disappeared). Jennifer Strange is a foundling who is bound in servitude to the magicians who work for Kazam. They rewire houses without any construction debris, make deliveries via flying carpet, and unblock drains. Not glamorous at all, but it almost pays the bills. And then Jennifer discovers that she is the Last Dragonslayer. Now the fun can begin.
What to juxtaposition?
1. The adult books of Jasper Fforde especially the ones featuring the Nursery Crimes Division: THE FOURTH BEAR, THE BIG OVER EASY. Fforde's other series of books center on Thursday Next and take place smack in the middle of novels. Titles include: THE EYRE AFFAIR, THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS , and SOMETHING ROTTEN.
2. Other novels with dark, tongue in cheek humor. DEAD END IN NORVELT comes to mind immediately.
3. Other books about dragons and dragon lore. SERAFINA is one that might make an interesting juxtaposition.
4. Other novels written by British authors or set in England: PETRONELLA SAVES NEARLY THE ENTIRE WORLD.
5. Now, your turn.
My favorite juxtaposition comes from my pal Lois Buckman. She spent a great deal of time pairing fiction and nonfiction titles several years ago. Given the incredible emphasis on nonfiction spurred by CCSS (I will not get sidetracked tonight, I promise), this is another good way to connect books in interesting and different ways.
Now, I need to go and do some more reading and connecting.