I've been pondering the disconnect between award books, what parents and teachers want kids to read, what publishers think are "good" books, what is being published and promoted and what teens actually want to read or will read.
Recently, I attended a presentation for young adult books and I have to say, the presenter gave the most attention to those books that are "well-written" and probably not noticed by teens. While certainly teens need to read award worthy books, do they WANT to read them? Will they enjoy them? Would they pick up an award winning book if it wasn't part of an assignment or a grade or a college requirement?
When I browse the teen section at B & N, I know instantaneously which covers will appeal to the most teens. Then I pick up the book and look at it more closely. I also watch teens in their own habitat (browsing books). I study their book choice behavior. It tells me a lot about what teen readers/browsers will pick up. If the book has a medal on the front of it, it is rarely even considered. In fact, it is shunned by most.
When I read a book, I approach it as a teen or my teenage self (yes, we all have that teen self inside of us still. Just like we all have a "Disney side.") I know that sounds weird, but what do you think an actor does? An actor is not herself/himself in a role, an actor becomes the character.
When reading YA, I suspend my age, experience, and age prejudices (I try), when I read, becoming my naïve fifteen year old self of yesteryear....I am in the book and one with the character. If it can keep my make believe fifteen year old self interested, entertained, happy, and excited, then I know teen readers will love the book, hopefully as much as I did. There is nothing more exciting than having a reader come back to the library and tell me, "Wow! You were right about this book! It was amazing! Now what can I read?"
What publishers and editors push the hardest is not necessarily the BEST or most loved books. The behemoth that is Afterworlds fell flat for me. I honestly cannot imagine what teen would slog through 600+ pages of back and forth story. The entire concept felt like an editor told Westerfeld to use as many "hot" pop culture topics as he could possibly find. 600+ pages is HEAVY and not in a good way. You could kill a bug with this book. Heck, you could take a zombie's head off with this book. Read it if you must, but you've been forewarned. And, I love Westerfeld's earlier work! There was lots of hype for this book and the publisher spent big bucks on marketing it but a big disappointment for me.
This email from Mary Z is the reason I blog:
"I just wanted to say again how much I love and appreciate your blog. Whenever I go to conferences, people ask, 'How do you select books for your library?" I tell them, "I read Pamela Thompson's blog. If she likes it, I know my students will.'"
And, when I see a smile in the eyes (yes, you read that right) of a teen who brings back a book I've recommended and he/she says, "You were right about this book! I loved it! What else do you recommend?" I know why I blog.
I love to blog, I eat books and it's its own reward, but when a kid asks me what do I suggest for him/her to read next, it is sooooooooo valuable that I know just the right book!
To all of you who have written me or phoned me or met me at TLA, I wanted to thank you. It is your input that keeps me going even when the dark cloud of education is sometimes threatening overhead. With more and more non-library tasks assigned to our LMS in our district this year, it's hard to remember our REAL job---connecting readers to reading forever. I want kids who come through my library to ALWAYS love reading, always love libraries and always remember that middle school librarian (me! ) who nurtured them and their love of reading. If I can change non-readers into readers, I've done my job, my passion, my life's work, my reason for reading/reviewing/blogging.