Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Talking to Teens, or Can This Possibly Count as a Paper?

When you interview the teenagers who just happen to be hanging out reading in the Young Adult room at the library, you’re probably going to get some kids on the high end of the reading-for-fun spectrum. It’s a fun way to meet people! (Especially when the librarian does the tapping people on the shoulder asking them to take a survey part of the job for you.)

First let me say that Molly Collins, the Young Adult librarian at Malden Public Library, is exceedingly awesome. She’s fairly new in town, but not to YA librarianship, and she knows her stuff and her group. I can’t thank her enough for her cheerful help, her time, and her encouragement.

The Malden Public Library is located right across the street from the high school, so during the school year, the after-school crowd floods in for the afternoon. But even during the summer, they have their regulars, and a thriving summer reading program—the end of June is a hugely busy time in this library.

What are kids reading? MANGA is the number one answer—unsurprisingly. She says that circulation has gone up about 50% since the manga collection really took off. Other things? Urban fiction, vampires, and fantasy. Stephanie Meyer (author of the infamous Twilight), the Bluford High series, Gossip Girl, Kimani Tru, Clique. Series books are kept in a separate section, because they don’t always have the same author, but people like to go straight to them. Most of these are books for girls—guys, she says, lean more toward manga and fantasy. Post Secret is also very popular, and almost never in the library.

What she says pretty much reflects what I hear from the three teens I talk to in the reading room. The two girls I talk to are both African American, and both are interested in urban fiction. V (17) tells me about Street Pharm, one of her favorite books, about a drug dealer who meets a girl who helps him get his life back together. She says she’s very interested in African American books, although she gets a lot of her reading material from the adult section of the library. In my stack of offerings, she said she had planned to read Homeboyz and Grace After Midnight anyway. Her attention is also caught by Another Fine Prom Mess and Last Days. As a library page, I get the feeling V, like me, can’t resist the books she sees as she’s shelving them over and over.

B is 15, and her response to my stack of books is similar—Homeboyz (she was so jealous I had a copy; the reserve list at the library is long, since it’s a summer reading book in Malden), Grace After Midnight, Last Days. She also expresses interest in Hitler Youth and Re-Gifters—she’s interested in history and likes comics—though she prefers the Japanese kind that you read back-to-front. But what she really loves is romance—she’ll read anything fun that has romance in it, or is scary. The book she’s reading, I notice from the cover, is an African American love story. What does she hate? “Lollipop books,” the kind with bright, spare candy colored covers, about being in high school. “I’d never read Gingerbread or anything like that.”

H is 17, an Asian guy into fantasy, adventure, and history. My stack of books doesn’t appeal to him much at all—the only one he’d find interesting is Hitler Youth—an oversized, photo-heavy nonfiction book. He’s dying to get at the third Eragon book. He’s also the first one I’ve talked to who says he spends a LOT of time online (an observation backed up by the librarian; he’s a regular).

This is Malden—a diverse community with a gorgeous, busy library. I’m glad I got a chance to meet some of the kids who use my favorite library.

I also talked to a brother and sister from rural Maine. Their taste was somewhat different from my local acquaintances—both were big fantasy/science fiction fans, and fairly heavy readers. L, the boy, is 15, and observed that he’s interested almost exclusively in the action of a story, and it has to move fast. He says girls are more interested in issues and themes in the books they read. (This doesn’t explain why he’s currently reading St. Matthew, the New Testament (apparently with the intent of arguing theology with his classmates), alongside the Han Solo Trilogy. This guy impresses me.) This is born out by his sister, M, who is 17 and says she’s interested in books she can relate to somehow, either through character, plot, or some other element. Although she lists a bunch of fantasy titles as her favorite and recent reads, she says she’ll read anything—fiction, nonfiction, whatever catches her eye.

I think it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between these groups. As a big fantasy fan, I’m pleased to see its universal appeal reflected in the people I talked to. And I guess it’s not too surprising that the white teens from rural Maine were not as interested in Homeboyz as the African American girls living near the city. I think I see here that readers are looking for something that touches their lives, whether that’s a character who’s like themselves (or an idealized version of themselves), an adventure they’d like to be on, or a problem they can see themselves facing. It doesn’t surprise me to find that guys are interested in plot, while girls can be drawn by romance or personal drama, in addition to plot.

I'd also like to point out that Molly knows her customers.

1 comment:

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

Cool post! I love your title, too. :)

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter 1 is online!