Hardcover or paperback? Fiction or nonfiction? Ebook or online? Audio or print? Encyclopedia or Google? In a world full of choices, the promotion of teen literature reaches new heights.
Libraries across the country rise to meet the challenge. Many kick off Teen Read Week, Oct. 14-20, with scheduled events such as scrapbooking, masquerade parties and public readings.
"This is an annual promotion sponsored by the American Library Association's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)," says Katy Neville, youth services librarian with North Carolina's Wake County Public Libraries. "Each year librarians who work with teens are encouraged to promote reading 'for the fun of it.' This year, we are promoting YALSA's Teens Top Ten. Selected groups of teens nominate titles to be voted on by teens across the country as the year's top ten books."
A recent chat with Neville at Cameron Village Regional Library in Raleigh dispels the myth that many teens refuse to read, but she agrees that the competition for teens' attention is fierce and evolving.
Q: Is it true? Do teenagers refuse to read?
Katy Neville: No. Not at all. A lot of it depends on the individual teen. They don't have time, they don't know what to read. Plus, schoolwork doesn't leave a lot of time for leisure reading.
Books definitely have some pretty fierce competition, such as gaming and social networking. This is the generation that has grown up with computers. Many are doing their reading elsewhere – online.
The majority of readers in their teens are girls. They are encouraged more to read. Most students are being educated by women. Female teachers make up a larger percentage of the work force. There are also more women who work as librarians than men. So, overall, women are selecting books for teens to read. Women aren't always tuned into what young boys are interested in.
Boys seem to be hardwired from a very early age. They are most interested in non-fiction, including how-to books. Books of interest also include military history and sports. Many boys think, "If I read this, will I be able to build this or do this?"
Girls tend to be much more interested in fiction than boys. Again, boys are interested in "guy stuff." There are authors writing fiction for boys, but there are so many more novels published for girls.
Q: Should we worry about it?
Neville: I don't know if we should worry about it. We should seek out books that are really good and target them to both genders equally. I think that it is important to talk with teens, find out what they really think about reading and engage them in the process of teen literacy. That way, they'll want to own it.
Neville: I think that a big part of the solution is to be aware of what teens like to read and then engage with them about it, support them in it, help them grow their enthusiasm about reading. And anyone can do that: parents, teachers, librarians.
Q: What proof do you have that teens read?
Neville: Monday morning the display was decimated! We put books out to promote them and the books disappear – at every branch. The librarians are talking to kids and teens about books.
It depends on what else is going on in their life. We need to get the idea into teens' minds, reading for pleasure is fun.
We also have to remember that reading isn't just about books. I think teens are really doing a lot of reading online: blogs, MySpace, fan sites and things like that. Maybe this isn't the best quality writing, but teens are reading it.
Q: What ages are teen readers?
Neville: We promote our young adult collection to readers from age 12 to 18. The majority are middle schoolers, up to age 15. At age 16, teens have more responsibilities and time commitments such as after-school jobs and social activities. The core of teen readers is ages 12 to 15.
Q: What do teenagers read?
Neville: Actually, a lot of everything – there's a big push for fantasy series in the publishing industry. It can be attributed to the popularity of "Harry Potter."
Also popular are realistic fiction series or "soap opera" series and continuing stories. These are directed more toward female readers. Teens, like kids, love series. If they find something they like, they want more.
Q: Young Adult (YA) literature. What is it?
Neville: It has evolved a lot since the first young adult novel published in 1967, "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton.
Young adult fiction is fiction written for teens. Most novels involve characters in their teens. These characters have issues that teens can connect with. Books are definitely very character driven. Teens are discovering what makes them unique. Most of the books are about personal growth.
Q: How do teenagers utilize the library and its resources?
Neville: They're here for all different reasons. Some are here after school, waiting on their parents to pick them up after work. Students use computers, play games, read magazines, socialize and some even do their homework.
Q: What is the most checked out teen book?
Neville: "Eragon" and "Eldest" series by Christopher Paolini. Everyone's waiting for Book III. The "Clique" series by Lisi Harrison is tremendously popular.
Q: Who is the most popular teen author?
Neville: Anthony Horowitz offers several spy-action adventure series that are really good for guys. A popular author among girls is Meg Cabot, who writes "The Princess Diaries" series.
Q: Are comic books popular today?
Neville: Yes. DC Comics and Marvel Comics have a pretty good following. What's really hot among teens is Japanese Manga – a style of graphic novel written in Japan. An example of popular manga is the Naruto Series.
Q: How popular are book series?
Neville: If they find a wide enough audience among teens, you won't see the end of a series. The reader demands more.
Teenagers make such a connection to the books, or a connection between books and friends. Series can become popular by word of mouth.
Q: Did the "Harry Potter" series have any effect on teen reading?
Neville: I think so. The first one came out in 1999, and at that time the target reader was in fourth or fifth grade. The series has continued for nine years, these readers have grown up with Harry Potter. It has created readers who have gone on to read more. I think that "Harry Potter" is one of the greatest things that has happened for teen literacy in a long time.
Anything that gets kids reading and keeps them reading.
Q: What can parents do to encourage reading?
Neville: Parents can model reading behavior. No teenager wants to be told what to do, but if parents model the behavior, teens will catch on.
Parents can also start conversations about books, magazine articles and newspaper articles. Parents should definitely get an idea of what their teen is reading.
Q: What can schools do to encourage reading?
Neville: There is so much quality literature written for teenagers that teens could connect with more passionately, but it's being kept out of the curriculum. Why should a teen be fed a Charles Dickens novel or Shakespearean play? Yes, these are classics, but give teenagers something they can connect with as part of their curriculum.
I think the standard curriculum for classes is a huge turnoff. The language is archaic. Characters are so far removed from a teenager's everyday experience. Poorly selected, or heavily traditional reading lists can "put the nail in the coffin" of teen enthusiasm for reading.
For additional information, go to web site: http://www.wakegov.com/teens/teenstoptenbooks.htm.
Karla Mass is a content producer at McClatchy Interactive. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org