Keeping tabs on tween readers

By Regina Verow

Summer reading gets tricky when you have tweens and teens. They head to the young adult section of the library where the books may or may not be right for them.

A few years ago, my 10-year-old daughter asked if she could read "The Hunger Games" trilogy since many of her friends were reading it.

I didn't really know what the books were about, but after doing some research we decided together she wasn't quite ready for the tough topics or social commentary in the series. Later, as a seventh grader, she had matured enough to read the books and thoroughly enjoyed them.

The books in the young adult section in the library — where teens and tweens often gravitate — handle a wide variety of topics and situations geared to a range of ages. This means parents need to be vigilant to ensure their teen is making good choices and doesn't end up reading books beyond their maturity level.

tweenreader"The YA section isn't really about whether or not you can read on a teen level, it's about teen content and themes," says Lisa Colaianne, collection development librarian for the Anne Arundel County Public Library system.

Who's a young adult?

Young adult fiction is generally geared towards tweens/teens between the ages of 11 and 17, but that doesn't mean every book in the YA section is appropriate for the entire age range. And just because a younger child reads on a middle or high school level doesn't mean the YA books are appropriate. Sixth and seventh graders often straddle children's literature and young adult fiction, according to Colaiainne. Readers in those age groups can go either way in appeal and content appropriateness.

"We're not going to make a decision for you about what your child 'should' read because everyone has their own comfort level." Colaianne says. "But we can tell you what the key issues are."

Wendy Braithwaite, the middle school librarian at The Key School in Annapolis agrees, saying, "So much of this is a judgment call. It all depends on the child, the book and the parent."

Braithwaite points out that book series can start out appropriate for one age but as the series continues and the characters get older, content can get darker and themes more emotionally explicit.

"I think parents see this with Harry Potter," she points out. "The series pulls readers in so much that they don't want to wait to read the next book, but for some readers, the books get to a point where they are too dark to continue, and it's really hard as a parent to ask them to wait until they can handle the content better."

The Harry Potter series is one of the very few series in the public library system that is broken up between the children's and the YA sections for that very reason, Colaianne points out.

 

 

No closed books

So how do you navigate books in the YA section as a parent? Both Braithwaite and Colaianne agree that communication is key. They suggest discussing books with your children and asking them about some of the situations they are reading about.

It also helps to read a book or series before or at the same time as your child to see firsthand what they are reading. Both Colaianne and Braithwaite, however, note it can be challenging to keep up with the often voracious reading appetites of children at this age.

Braithwaite also suggests reading aloud with your children, no matter how old they are.

"It's a good way to stay in touch as a family and talk about issues your child might be confronting in their lives but in a non-threatening way," she says. "Reading out loud as a family can open the door between a parent and child. It's not easy, but it's really good together time."

Summer reading suggestions for tweens and teens

Looking for some great summer reads for your tweens and teens? Lisa Colaianne, from Anne Arundel County Public Library, and Wendy Braithwaite, Key School librarian, suggest the following:

Books Geared Towards Tweens

"Rain Reign" by Ann M. Martin – A coming-of-age story of Rose, a fifth grade autistic girl, and her search for her dog lost in a hurricane. For ages 9 and older: Rose's father drinks and smokes and hits her dog in one scene.

Middle School series by James Patterson – The mischievous Rafe Khatchadorian navigates the pitfalls of middle school in this lighthearted series. Kids poke fun at teachers and there are incidents of bullying. For ages 9 and older: Being bullied at school is a prominent theme.

Ranger's Apprentice series by John A. Flanagan ­­– A 15-year-old boy is selected as part of the secretive protectors of the kingdom. For ages 10 and older: Battle scenes depict monsters killed, a gory boar hunt and one character is bullied. It features strong and caring characters.

The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan – A spin-off series from the Percy Jackson books about teen demigods on a quest to save humanity. For ages 10 and up: It includes battles and violent quests. Some characters die and one character drinks wine with ghosts. The characters embody a range of diversity in both race and sexual orientation.

The Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson ­– A female-created, female-starring graphic novel series about five friends who explore summer camp mysteries. Well-written with positive role models, the books are very popular with tweens. For ages 10 and up: The mysteries often involve monsters and some mild violence.

Books Geared Towards Teens

"Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson – Winner of numerous book awards including the National Book Award, this is a memoir in poetry about growing up in the 1960s. The book portrays racism, talks about violence against African Americans and what it was like to grow up in the South during Jim Crow. There are many positive lessons of self-worth, family support and finding one's own way. For ages 10 and up: Though it's ok for younger kids, teens will better appreciate the format of this book (written entirely in poetry) and the depth of the topics.

"Lunar Chronicles" by Marissa Meyer – This series retells fairytales in a dystopian future, including a cyborg Cinderella. For ages 13 and up: The series contains violence and some sexual references.

"The Moon and More" by Sarah Dessen – A smart coming-of-age story of a teen during the summer before she heads to college. This is a great book about finding your own way and being true to yourself. Dessen has a number of books that are well-loved by teens. For ages 13 and up: This is for mature teens because of content including swearing, sexual activity and underage drinking at a party.

"Paper Towns" by John Green – Many teens will want to read this in anticipation of the film version being released this summer. It's an edgy teen mystery about a suspicious death. Green is known for his smart and sophisticated writing that appeals to a wide range of teen readers, but there is a certain amount of maturity needed to read Green's novels. For ages 14 and up: The book contains older teen material including profanity, a character who has committed suicide and sexual references, though nothing graphic. There is teen drinking and smoking as well.

Divergent series by Veronica Roth – A dystopian futuristic trilogy set in Chicago that focuses on a girl who lives through tough choices, romance and wars. The series features violence but also positive role models and messages. The second book in the trilogy was recently made into a movie, increasing the series' appeal. The series is definitely geared towards high school teens. For ages 14 and up: There are many instances of graphic and sometimes brutal violence and death.

Finding good reads for teens and tweens

Wondering how to steer your tween or teen toward the right reading material? Here are some helpful hints from librarians Lisa Colaianne and Wendy Braithwaite.

  • Both public and school libraries have age-appropriate lists of great reads for tween and teen readers. Librarians can also recommend specific books and research why books are listed as YA so parents can make educated decisions about whether the book is appropriate for their tween/teen reader.
  • Consider classic literature for strong younger readers who may want to read up but aren't ready for the explicit content of many YA books.
  • Check out CommonSenseMedia.org. The website, dedicated to rating and educating families on all types of media, offers a large variety of book lists including "Best Of" lists as well as comprehensive guidance in categories such as Age Range, Positive Messages, Violence, Language, Sex and Consumerism for each title. Parents and kids also contribute reviews.
  • The School Library Journal website has a section dedicated to YA book reviews. It's more of a blog style than a searchable resource, but it reviews a good selection of books if you're browsing for book ideas. slj.com/tag/ya-reviews
  • The Black Eyed Susan Awards are a yearly compilation of the best books as voted by Maryland students. The website doesn't contain reviews, but nominations and winners are categorized by age groups including grades six through nine and high school. The website also offers lists of past winners. maslmd.org
  • Young Adult Library Services Association, or YALSA, is a division of the American Library Association. It offer several book lists for teens, an annual list of the top 10 YA books and a Teen Book Finder phone app that allows you to search books by a variety of categories. The app can be found on iTunes and Google Play.