Sunday, November 4, 2007

Reading: Cause for Hope

This shady little corner of a huge tent for the gift books, i.e. every child under 18 got to pick a free book, was home to the Spanish and bilingual books. I spent the day on the other end, promoting the young adult books.

I've worked the gift book tent at the fair for a number of years, and this time I witnessed something that gives me hope. For the first time, there was a run on books for children over the age of 7. Parents bring the younger ones around, so those are mainly gone by the end of the day. Usually, however, we have to do a sales job worthy of a used car salesman to get the teens interested in a book that isn't going to cost them anything. And every year, there are leftovers, later used in literacy programs.

I ascribe the increased business to a few factors. First and foremost is the effort of county libraries to grow readers from birth on. Quite a few of the preteen and teen faces were those of children who have grown up at the library. I cannot tell you how vital and important it is to get the children to library for books and programs. You would be amazed at what is probably offered within your library system. It is disheartening that libraries are the first cut in response to reduced budgets. Penny wise and pound foolish, I say.

Second, the generosity of sponsors allows the gift of a book to each child. Some of the younger children, not necessarily the poorer ones either, have never owned a book. The book is a treat; the treat becomes associated with reading. Then there is the selection, designed to appeal to a range of tastes and abilities. It does more harm than good to force classics down the throat of a reluctant reader. A high interest book of whatever level often serves as a gateway, leading to further and with time more challenging reading. As proof, even the considerably more difficult classics were a hot commodity.

With the holiday season approaching, I though I'd share some hot trends. The younger teen girls made a bee line for the chick-lit, relatively light books about young girls in social settings, their traumas and their heartbreaks. Suspense and teen spies were a hit with the boys, a particularly difficult group to please. Just about all the teens were drawn to the more challenging vampire books. There are quite a few out. Also popular were what I call the "substance abuse," books. Go Ask Alice* has been resurrected, and new titles like Crack and The Beast demonstrate the downward spiral of drug use. And I can't forget the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.

So this holiday season, give a book instead of reindeer socks. If you're not sure what to pick, ask a professional for guidance, at the library, the bookstore. If you want to eliminate the chance of duplicating something the child might already have, buy a new release. Finally, be careful. Many of the young adult titles contain pretty controversial situations and themes, so you really want to know what's in it.

*In the thoroughly depressing department, I was chatting about this one with some of the teens manning the tent. Not only had they never heard the song, they had never heard of the Jefferson Airplane. I didn't even try Grace Slick.
"I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

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