3/31/10

How Kids Choose Books... Let's Discuss It!


Unless you’ve been stuck in a cave for the past couple of years, you’re probably aware of the “Twilight” craze. Let me say up front, this blog is not intended to spark debate about the merits or non-merits of the “Twilight” saga. Nor is it a place to argue for “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob”. (But, since it’s my blog, let me just add… TEAM EDWARD!)


Instead, what I’d like to do today is create a discussion about Young Adult fiction. I teach middle school, and a couple of years ago, I began seeing the “Twilight” books everywhere at school. In fact, one of my very first posts on this blog was about the phenomenon I was seeing at school, where kids were choosing to sit and read during free moments, rather than talk or socialize with their friends. And you know what? That phenomenon has continued. Except now, most of them aren’t reading The “Twilight” saga. They’re reading other books written for teens/young adults. They’ve discovered a love of reading and have searched out other books to entertain them.


And so have I. I’ve discovered a real love for young adult fiction. There’s such a variety of styles in books written for teens. You can find books about social issues… bullying, fitting in, dating, friendships, etc. etc. You can find books full of paranormal/fantasy elements… vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, fairies, etc. etc. You can find books that deal with family relationships… parents, divorce, step-families, etc. etc. It seems the level of creativity and imagination is endless in young adult fiction. And I find that appealing, both as a reader and a writer.


Not long ago I blogged about “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, and the first book in the series, “The Lightning Thief”, which was recently released as a movie. My friend Dana commented on that blog post, noting some of the differences between fiction aimed at young female readers vs. fiction aimed at young male readers. She’d noted that fiction that targeted young female readers tended to focus much more on the characters, their development, and their relationships with each other, where as fiction that targeted young male readers tended to focus more on adventure and the obstacles the characters faced.


I think she was right. I also think the same differences apply to fiction for “tweens” (older elementary and junior high kids) vs. fiction for teens/young adults (high school kids). In my experience, fiction for more mature readers really does devote a lot of focus on the character development and the relationship between characters.


Perhaps it’s because more mature readers are able to understand and appreciate relationships in a deeper way than younger kids. Perhaps it’s because the interest of a more mature reader lies more with how people interact with each other, and the interests of a young reader lie in the action - the “things” that the characters do. Perhaps it’s that the older kids can relate to what the characters feel and experience more than younger kids can.


If any of you have read young adult fiction, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What are some of the differences you’ve noticed? What are trends that you think appeal to younger or older kids? And how do you feel about the explosion of book-lovers among young people?

Let’s talk about it!

8 comments:

  1. I think the new influx of quality reading material directed at YA readers is fantastic. Kids have relied far too much on internet garbage, video games, and television as a source of entertainment in recent years. Reading has its own unique way of sparking the imagination, of bringing out a child’s intellect and creativity. It makes your brain work instead of spoon-feeding you stories—I’ve come to think of this epidemic as “zombifying” our children. Whether they’re reading from an iPhone, Kindle, or just a good old-fashioned paperback, kids NEED books!

    It’s a sad depiction of today’s youth, but it has been my experience that most of the kids at my son’s school (he’s middle school age) can’t even spell properly. Because of texting and chat room “speak,” their generation’s language has become an abbreviated, lazy, bastardized version of the traditional English language (which probably accounts for a big part of the spelling issue). They just don’t know real WORDS anymore. Why should they? They never see them, nor do they use them.

    I'm thrilled with the direction of this new reading trend. I hope kids continue to hunger for new material to feed their imagination. It means there’s still hope.

    TV rots your brains! (*wink*)

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  2. Agreed. I'm thrilled when kids want to read! And it's nice to see that there's a wide variety of material out there for them to choose from, depending on their age and interests.

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  3. Just a quick update... I just found out last night my 12 year old son read Call of the Wild all on his own. I was thrilled! He even asked for more books. You could've knocked me over with a feather since I had no idea he was reading it. Just one of those proud mom moments. ;)

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  4. That's awesome! My son (who's in the 6th grade) has read several Gary Paulsen books - "The Hatchet" and "The River". They are part of a series about a boy named Brian and deal with surviving while lost in the wilderness. I haven't read them, but they seem to really appeal to boys of that age. My son loved them. Maybe yours would too! And also... the Percy Jackson books are great for young male readers!

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  5. My friend, Natasha, posted the following quote from Dean Koontz on her Facebook today...

    "As April showers bring the promise of warmer weather and greener pastures, you are fed a steady diet of Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, leaving you with the intellectual capacity of an armchair. You haven't noticed your mental decline, but that is why people keep sitting on yo...u to watch TV. Read a book quickly, before you're mistaken for a footstool."

    Isn't that just the truth?! I've never thought about it much but I see the points being made. Reading sparks imagination which leads to creative play which develops many, many skills like problem solving. There is absolutely no replacement for reading.

    I'm loving Young Adult Lit these days. The Chronicles of Narnia have been a long time favorite and I've continually sought out YA Lit of that caliber. Each story is thought provoking and exciting and rich. Love it!

    It's so exciting to see fresh, exciting books being published. I hope that these new books leads to reading classics like Call of the Wild.

    Books defined my childhood...

    The Little House Series
    The Chronicles of Narnia
    James and The Giant Peach
    The Lord of the Rings

    A few new favs...

    Eragon Series
    The Ugly/Pretty Series

    and of course...

    Harry Potter!! :)

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  6. Thanks for the comment, Dana! For the big list of YA literature, and for linking my blog to yours! I'm sorry to say that I didnt' read much YA fiction when I was a child/teen. I caught on to reading in the 8th grade when I read Catherine Marshall's "Christy". Throughout high school and college I mainly read what was required in school... "Tom Sawyer", "A Separate Peace", "Lord of the Flies", "The Believers", "In Cold Blood", etc. etc. I enjoyed pretty much all of my required reading. I read the occasional true crime book or Mary Higgins Clark mystery, but I didn't really settle into a genre that "defined" me as a reader until I started reading romance. Through my love of romance fiction, I found YA fiction, which has all of the elements I love about romance, plus a whole bunch of other really cool stuff! Of course, I've read the "Twilight Saga". I've also read "Need" by Carrie Jones (paranormal YA romance), "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson (also a movie starring Kristen Stewart at age 13), book one of the Percy Jackson series "The Lightning Thief", just to name a few. I really think female readers, particularly ones that are early to late teens seek out and enjoy books that are more "character driven", rather than "plot driven". The relationships between characters are what's most important to them, probably because the relationships in their lives (family relationships, friendships, boyfriends, etc.) are what's most important to them in their own lives. I also think the more mature YA reader is able to see beyond the surface and understand and appreciate the the symbolism of character driven books. However, I think readers that prefer plot-driven and adventure focused stories are many times problem-solvers, go-getters, and champions of the underdogs! Interesting what book choices can say about a person, huh?!?!

    Loving all this discussion!
    Amy

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  7. You are so welcome for both! Like you, I pretty much enjoyed all of my required reading. Even if I didn't love the book the experience still expanded my view. I never would have read 1984, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World, or Animal Farm if not for my teachers and their suggestions. 1984 was my first introduction to an author using his book to do more than tell an entertaining story. I didn't quite know how to take it. Some of the elements contained in those books disturbed me quite a lot. It was a tramatic experience for me that included nightmares. Although, had my parents been "readers" and had discussed the books with me then I think I wouldn't have been quite so bothered. For me, that's one of the reasons I try to keep abreast of YA Lit. I want to be able to discuss it with the kids in my life. I try to make sure I read everything on the YA bestseller list.

    It occurs to me that I should revisit many of those required books now that I'm an adult. I absolutely HATE The Great Gatsby and perhaps I'd think differently if I read it now.

    Speaking of books I read as a young adult...

    Did The Flowers in the Attic become a phenomenon in your school? From 8th to 10th grade all the girls were reading them. I think because they were taboo and reading them was about as rebellious as my good Christian friends were gonna get! lol!! In college it was the Interview with a Vampire series but I digress... ha ha!

    So I'm interested in why you've found your niche in romance. I'm thinking that it goes back to what we've been discussing in that many people enjoy character driven books versus plot driven.

    As for me I'm not for sure what I need most. I think it varies and if I can get both then sweeeeet! I think that's the appeal of the Harry Potter books. The characters are deep, multifaceted and complicated as are their background stories. Yet all the while there's beaucoup adventure, twists, turns, surprises, and romance all leading up to the inevitable battle between good and evil. Also like The Chronicles of Naria there are morals to each story. The readers learn that choice determines destiny. I love that!

    Literature is powerful!

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  8. I remember "Flowers in the Attic" and lots of people (girls mainly) reading the V.C. Andrews books. I remember trying to read the first one, but not really getting into it. I was still reading mainly true crime and mystery at the time. I also didn't read the Ann Rice series, though I know many people who did. At that time, I was reading Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series.

    I think you're right about why I love romance. First of all, they are predominantly character driven stories. Second of all, I admit it... I love the happy endings. I came to a point, after having my first child, that it was very difficult for me to read true crime books anymore. Something had shifted inside me, and I didn't want to read about such heinous stuff. I tried literary fiction, and while I did enjoy some of the books I read (Midwives being one), I got very disheartened by all the sadness that was in those books. Particularly when I'd read the entire book, invested myself in the characters, and then something horrible happens and the end of the book was SAD. I felt as if I'd wasted my time and my money. Now, that's simply my preference... and I know lots of people who like reading literary fiction despite the sad endings that many of the books have. And I realize that real life is not always happy and carefree and that those books give readers a "dose" of reality... however, for me, I just thought that there was enough sadness and difficulty in real life and I wanted an "escape" when I was reading. Thus... I found romance fiction. And there's still a lot of conflict, drama, obstacles, etc. etc. It's all over romance books. It's just that the conflict gets resolved at the end of the book, and the characters are happy.

    In YA fiction, there's all that and more. I like that the adventure in YA is so prominent, and that even amid all that adventure and plot, there are complex characters with deep emotions!

    I remember reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in elementary school, and being very absorbed by it. I wish I remembered more of the experience of reading it... I think I would've enjoyed the movie even more!

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