Books Like… From the Desk of Zoe Washington

So you read Janae Marks‘ debut and loved it — now you’re on the hunt for books like From the Desk of Zoe Washington? Welcome!

Presenting … a new series on the blog: READALIKE TIME, starting with books like From the Desk of Zoe Washington!

I enjoy getting readalike suggestions from other readers, but recommending readalikes can be a bit of trial and error. It goes beyond surface similarities — recommending books by Black authors to someone who enjoyed another book by a Black author, for example. It involves understanding what the main themes are in a book someone enjoyed (and which of those themes they liked in particular!) and then recommending books to match that. Sometimes, what people like about a book isn’t the themes explored, but perhaps the writing style or the format or even the kind of character!

Each time I review books, I catch myself wondering which type of reader would enjoy this book. Finding the right readalike is important, especially for new or reluctant readers, as it make or break their reading streak. That’s why I decided to start this series!

For each readlike, I will briefly highlight at least three strong similarities with the beloved title, and sometimes differences to keep in mind. If you or your kids loved Janae Marks’ debut middle-grade book, here are more books like From the Desk of Zoe Washington.

Books Like From the Desk of Zoe Washington

A few of these books may seem very different from ZOE on the surface, but let’s take a closer look:

Blended

books like from the desk of zoe washington - front desk

Similarities:

  • Female African-American protagonist (Isabella is biracial but presents as Black)
  • Blended family (Isabelle’s parents are both divorced and dating other people)
  • Middle-class Black family
  • Racism and police harassment
  • Isabelle is a pianist, and Zoe swaps music with her incarcerated dad

Differences:

  • Isabelle also has a half-sibling, Zoe doesn’t

Front Desk

Similarities:

  • Strong-willed female protagonist
  • Mia persists with her goal despite her mother’s initial disapproval
  • Similar element of writing as Mia also writes letters and wants to be a writer
  • Mia fights against racial prejudice and injustice
  • Mia works running the motel with her parents like Zoe works in the pastry shop

Differences:

  • Mia and her family are Asian immigrants
  • This book is set in the 1980’s
  • Mia’s family are poor, compared to Zoe’s middle-class family
  • Mia doesn’t have any real interest in cooking like Zoe does

The Parker Inheritance

books like from the desk of zoe washington - the parker inheritance

Similarities:

  • Investigative element as Candice and Brandon try to get to the bottom of the mystery
  • Friend drama
  • Candice and her mother are spending the summer with her grandma, Zoe’s grandma is also very much in the picture
  • Candice’s parents are separated
  • The story covers a bit of racial relations — and the mystery is related to a letter like Zoe’s

Differences:

  • There’s a bit of bullying in this story, which isn’t a strong theme in ZOE

Stand Up Yumi Chung

books like from the desk of zoe washington - stand up, yumi chung

Similarities:

  • Yumi doesn’t cook/bake like Zoe, but her parents own a restaurant and there’s a lot of food talk!
  • There’s quite a bit of lying and sneaking around which comes to bite Yumi in the butt as well
  • Strong-willed female protagonist
  • Conflict between parental wishes and the child’s passion
  • Parents who are willing to admit mistakes and be flexible

Differences:

  • There’s a big focus on Yumi’s relationship with her sister, and Zoe is an only child
  • Yumi’s parents are not well-to-do; their restaurant business is struggling

Up for Air

books like from the desk of zoe washington - up for air

Similarities:

  • Blended family
  • Annabelle also goes off on her own to find her father who hasn’t been in life since forever
  • Plenty of friend drama in this one, and Annabelle also has a best friend of the opposite sex

Differences:

  • Annabelle is a swimmer, Zoe has no real interest in sports
  • This upper middle-grade book mentions crushes, body image issues, and has a character recovering from an eating disorder
  • Annabelle has learning difficulties

Some Places More Than Others

Similarities:

  • Female African-American protagonist
  • Amara’s family are upper middle-class
  • Lots of Black history, although not so much of a focus on racism
  • Amara gets to bond with her grandfather
  • Family secrets

Differences:

  • While there is a touch of mystery about the cause of the rift between Amara’s dad and grandfather, I wouldn’t tag this as a mystery book
  • Amara’s parents are very much together — and she’s expecting a baby sister too
  • Amara takes a cool trip to NYC
  • This is a much quieter, less high-stakes novel

Ways to Make Sunshine

books like from the desk of zoe washington - ways to make sunshine

Similarities:

  • Female African-American protagonist
  • Ryan is just as spunky as Zoe
  • Ryan also loves cooking and coming up with her own creations
  • This book touches on Black hair, microaggressions and beauty standards
  • There’s also a focus on friendships
  • There’s an element of mystery as Ryan and her friend try to track the owner of a vintage accessory
  • Ryan’s grandma is also in this story!

Differences:

  • Ryan is younger — and this book might be better for a slightly younger audience
  • No blended family here as Ryan’s parents are together
  • Sibling drama and moving houses in this one

Chirp

readalikes for from the desk of zoe washington - chirp

Similarities:

  • Strong element of mystery as Mia and her friend try to figure out who’s sabotaging her grandmother’s business
  • Presence of a grandma bond
  • Also set in the summer
  • Interesting food element as Mia tries to sell the town on eating crickets

Differences:

  • Mia is a gymnast
  • This story also tackles sexual harassment
  • Mia’s parents are still together

Roll with It

readalikes for from the desk of zoe washington - roll with it

Similarities

  • Ellie loves baking and watching baking shows!
  • I loved Ellie’s grandmother in this story
  • Ellie’s father is out of the picture, although for different reasons than Zoe’s

Differences

  • Ellie is in a wheelchair
  • Ellie’s mother struggles financially
  • While her grandparents are in the story, Ellie’s grandpa has Alzheimer’s.

Your turn! Which books like From the Desk of Zoe Washington would you recommend and why? I’d love to hear from you. Also, I would love your help with this series. Which middle-grade, chapter books, or picture books, or even YA books would you love readalikes for? Let me know!

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