WHITNEY: Choosing books for your budding bookworm
Want. Need. Wear. Read.
It’s a modern gifting mantra many are embracing in an attempt to lessen the gift loads their children receive and to refocus on what’s important (ahem, it’s not the gifts).
Wants and needs can be easy to determine for your kids. The want list might be a mile long, and the need and wear lists might intersect. But what to read? What are they even into?
If you’re stuck, ask Tirzah Price. She works at Great Lakes Book and Supply here in Big Rapids and is working on her masters’ of fine arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s also the brains behind thecompulsivereader.com, a popular blog devoted to young adult fiction and the publishing industry behind it.
We spoke with Price last week about the impact books can have on young readers. This week, we’re talking more about what’s trending for young readers now and what’s on the horizon. Read on for titles sure to thrill your kids or grandkids, and find out what role parents should have in their children’s literary interests.
WGB: Which recent releases do you think have potential to impact this generations’ teens/tweens the most?
TP: For middle grade readers, books like “One Crazy Summer” by Rita Williams-Garcia and “Wonder” by R.J. Palaccio are gaining traction because they’re not only popular, but they’re also being taught in schools.
For teens, John Green (“The Fault in Our Stars”) is obviously huge. I think that Jandy Nelson’s recent release, “I’ll Give You the Sun” has the potential to reach a lot of people, not just teens. “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell is another YA book that continues to be extremely popular, and I think that it will stay that way for a long time because it’s a really genuine, emotional story. I think A.S. King’s books have been gaining momentum in the past years, but her “Ask the Passengers” is one of my personal favorites and I think her newest release, “Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future,” will get a lot of attention. Earlier this year, “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart published to a lot of buzz and speculation as it has one huge twist at the end. And finally, the graphic novel “This One Summer” has been a huge hit because it captures the weird in-between-ness of middle school and high school and childhood and adulthood.
I’m really hesitant to make any hard and fast predictions about the future of what’s going to stick around or be the “it” book because what’s being published is so vast and varied. But there are so many excellent books out there, and I suppose having a surplus of them is a good “problem” to have.
WGB: Do the authors of YA and children’s fiction have a special responsibility to their audience? Are there any topics that should be considered taboo to cover for these readers?
TP: This is a really interesting question! I think that a lot of people (namely, parents or people who don’t actually write for children) tend to think of responsibility in writing for kids as adhering to a certain moral code or teaching kids a lesson. As a writer and reader of children’s lit, I take issue with the idea that because I’m writing for kids or teens. I’m writing for them, not to teach them a lesson. Kids and teens are smarter than adults give them credit for, and they know when they’re being condescended to. I think the number one responsibility writers have is honesty, with ourselves and with our readers. We have to tell the most honest story we can because the readers — not their parents — are the ones that matter the most. My own motto when it comes to writing is taken from “Harriet the Spy: Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth.”
Books about rape, murder, violence, incest, war, genocide, discrimination, even female genital mutilation, certainly exist for young readers, and I think that’s great because readers all need different things out of their literature. A more recent sort-of cultural “taboo” that the kidlit community is breaking wide open is the taboo on books about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender characters. These books are getting put out there because there is such a high demand for literature that reflects the lives of young readers.
I can’t think of any topics that kidlit writers haven’t touched. I think anything is fair game as long as the topic is written about with sensitivity and honesty.
There’s an interesting blog post written by Anne Ursu, a very brilliant children’s writer, about John Grisham, his role as a children’s writer, and his recent words on the issue of child pornography. Anne argues that if you profit off of kids, you have a moral obligation to serve and honor and protect them. I tend to agree with her, so I guess that is another “responsibility” that writers share.
WGB: Do parents have a responsibility to screen or pre-read books their children want to read?
TP: Certainly a lot of drama about book banning and censorship could be avoided if more parents took an active interest in the books their kids read. As a bookseller, I see a lot of really great parents involved in what their kids are reading, and I see some that are pretty clueless. While I certainly won’t take it upon myself to tell anyone how to raise their children, I do wish more parents would take the time to read what their kids are reading, for multiple reasons. The most obvious being, if you are uncomfortable with what your kids might be reading, read it before or with them so you know what’s actually on the page.
But reading what your kids are into also provides an opportunity to talk about stories and ideas. Kids who see their parents reading are, I think, more likely to become avid readers. Books are another way to connect with people in very interesting ways.
Some random anecdotal evidence: My mom wasn’t sure about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon when I was a kid. She read the first two books before me (much to my annoyance). We talked about them as I read them. She started reading the YA books I loved in high school — not because she didn’t trust me, or she was worried about the books, but because she wanted to know what I was reading. She began to read those books because she genuinely enjoyed them, and talking about books is a way that my mom and I connect.
Whitney Gronski-Buffa is the Herald Review’s parenting columnist. After four years reporting and editing at the paper, she’s stepped back to spend more time with her family. Read more here each week and reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.