Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kriska Daltonhurst, The Teen Services Coordinator at the Louisville Public Library in Colorado, took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us (thank you, Kriska!). We are thrilled to get a librarian's perspective on what's really hot in teen literature and how publishing trends are perceived on the readers' end of the spectrum.  

1. What teen books fly off the library shelves?

This is probably not very surprising, but I haven’t seen a copy of the THE HUNGER GAMES (and its sequels) in person for at least the last year.  I think I caught a fleeting glimpse of THE SCORPIO RACES before it went out to satisfy its hold list queue, and I personally didn’t even make it into the top ten hold spots for Rick Riordan’s newest volume because the readers were so quick to get their names on that list.  I have held my position for almost six years now, and in all that time, it is still a rare treat to spot a copy of THE BOOK THIEF on the shelf. 

2. Which genres/authors/series seem to be most popular with teens right now?

Well, paranormal romance is still very popular, but finally it has some competition coming from the dystopian and post-apocalyptic genres.  Zombie novels are on the rise.  High fantasy and action-driven adventure novels are perpetually popular, especially with teen boy readers.  Authors that will build up a sizable hold list while people wait for their new books to come out include: John Green, Jay Asher, Rick Riordan, Michael Scott, John Flanagan, Sarah Dessen, Sara Shepard, Cassandra Clare, Michael Grant and Lauren Oliver.  Specific titles that are extremely “hot” right now in my library include DIVERGENT and BITTERBLUE.

3. What trends have you noticed over the last few years?

I think the biggest trend I have noticed in the last five years is that when I came into this job, it was all about the vampires.  Yes, sparkly vampires to be most specific, but really, anything “vampire” back then would do.  Then came the werewolves, fairies, pixies, angels, and mermaids.  A lot of this trend towards paranormal romance really isolated male readers, but they seemed to make due with their high fantasy and mythological urban fantasies.  But I was very glad when THE MAZE RUNNER, THE HUNGER GAMES, and other books like that began gathering interest.  And boy did they ever!  Within the last two years, the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genres have exploded (no pun intended).

4. What differences do you see between books that younger teens (11-14) and older teens (15-19) are interested in? Do they read different authors, genres, topics?

The younger readers, both boys and girls, are very much into fantasy worlds and adventure.  Some of my most popular series for that age range include THE WARRIORS by Erin Hunter, ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer, the BONE graphic novel series by Jeff Smith and anything by Rick Riordan.  They do not often reach for realistic fiction, unless it is high action adventure, like the Alex Rider or Young James Bond books.  
Where I see boys and girls diverge here is that the young girls may want to read above their maturity level when it comes to romance or titles they have heard about from TV (Gossip Girl, Pretty little Liars) and the boys may jump the age ranges into more mature reading of a darker tone, such as THE HUNGER GAMES or THE LAST APPRENTICE by Joseph Delaney.  But older teens do tend to give a wider variety of genres a try, and do respond well to more realistic drama-type books than the younger ones, such as anything written by John Green, Sarah Dessen, David Levithan, and Jay Asher.

5. What do you notice about the differences between male and female teen readers?

I have female patrons who will read almost anything.  Fans of fantasy will devour the latest John Flanagan novel just as fast as the latest Cassandra Clare novel. Fans of realistic fiction can’t get enough of John Green and Von Ziegesar. But boys do tend to prefer books that feature male protagonists.  That is one thing I love about THE HUNGER GAMES- readers of all ages and genders and genre preferences are coming together to read about a strong, capable, resourceful female character, and I salute that!

6. What do teens complain about the most in YA books? Anything they ask to see more of?

They do not like their intelligence to be insulted.  If the book has logical weaknesses, or the characters do something so far off the map from where previous character development has led them, the readers WILL notice.  I hear complaints about how “So-and-so did this incredibly stupid thing, and it was just so there could be a sequel.”  They really hate the obvious sequel ploys.  And nobody likes it when the dog dies.

Right now I am getting a lot of requests for “more books like The Hunger Games.”  That is great because I love the genre myself, but these trends always seem to get to the point where the books are coming so fast and furious trying to ride on the train of popularity left in the wake of the original, that the quality of writing is really going downhill.  I just read a book (that shall remain nameless) that was so horrid, it made me swear off the post-apocalyptic/dystopian genre for as long as I can.  The same thing happened with vampire novels and paranormal romance after TWILIGHT became so wildly popular. 

7. Do YA readers request or check out many books on CD? What about kindle or ereader loans? 

Every time a school vacation period comes around, my audio-book collection vanishes.  During the school year, it is pretty slow to circulate, but when families are getting ready to pile into their vehicles to take vacations and road trips, those are in high demand--especially if it's something that can be enjoyed by the whole family, which is quite a challenge!  We just recently began circulating several Nooks, but our current loan rules prevent anyone under 18 from checking them out, and they are so new we don’t have really accurate circ stats to share yet.

8. Are there any specific "issue" books that readers seem to ask for a lot, or topics they are highly interested in?

This may be a lot different at other libraries, but in mine, there is not a lot of interest in the non-fiction collection.  I seem to have a population of fiction readers and when they do ask me for specific topics, they are looking for fictional accounts that deal with things such as World War II, starting school, losing friends and self-harm. From my replacement costs, I can surmise that the heavy duty “serious issue” books like Ellen Hopkins's CRANK novels, GO ASK ALICE or Patricia McCormick’s CUT are always being lost and replaced. So I think that says something about how popular they are, and I hope that when they do not come back to the library, they have found a home with someone who really needed a connection with that particular subject matter.

9. How do you as a librarian gauge what is and isn't appropriate for particular students? Are there any age restrictions for books dealing with sensitive topics like violence or sexuality?

It is not up to me (or any other librarians in my library) to determine what is and isn’t appropriate for students; it is up to the student and their parents.  I try to purchase materials that are in high demand, will gain readers and attract new ones, that are about exciting or needed subjects and in popular genres.  I use reviews in publishing periodicals and if I am in need of an “age range” to give, for whatever reason, I rely on those given in the reviews, especially from Booklist, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.  

There are times when the childrens’ librarian feels something is inappropriate for her collection and we discuss it and decide whether or not to move it into the teen collection. And I have bumped a few items up to the adult collection for the same reason.  But by doing so, we are not removing the items or making them inaccessible to any of our patrons, we are just trying to be thoughtful about the age groups using each section of the library.

10. What have you observed from teens that others might find surprising in regard to their reading choices?

Historical fiction really seems to be on its way out, and, related but also separately, no matter how many awards a book may get, if it doesn’t have a good enough “hook” for teen readers, they just will not read it.  I call these “librarian books” in that a whole bunch of librarians loved it and gave it awards, but it has not been checked out at all in the time I have owned it. 
About Kriska...
Before I became a librarian I held a variety of jobs, such as pre-school teacher, technical writer and movie expert.  I have collected comic books almost my entire life, am obsessed with dragons, own a hearse, love riding my scooters and motorcycle, and met my husband while playing Dungeons and Dragons in college. Being a teen librarian is my dream job, but one of the best moments in my life happened when I got to meet The Aquabats!  

Thank you so much for your insights, Kriska! This has been a really interesting interview. And thanks to all librarians out there.... you rock!



Unknown said...

Fantastic stuff! Very telling about "librarian books," and especially how realistic fiction isn't appealing to certain genders and age groups.
Great questions, Ingrid!

Secretly_Samus said...

I love this post! I work at a library (trying to work my way into teen) and our library has very similar trends. The whole reason I actually read the Hunger Games had to do with the fact it was always on the hold list.

Ellis Nelson said...

Nice interview. It's always great to learn from someone who works one on one with readers on a daily basis.

Alissa said...

The award note is so true - at least, in my experience. Awards really don't guarantee readers. Myself included, sad to say.

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

Love this, it was very interesting. Also totally agree about the awards thing, whether they be for teen or adult books. I have to admit, sadly, that I stayed away from Jellicoe Road for so long almost because it had won the Printz. That sounds so bad, but even now, in my mid 20s, I tend to find award books boring more often than not.

Kristan said...

"And nobody likes it when the dog dies."

True that!

Fantastic and insightful interview. Thanks, Ing and Kriska, for all the great information! It's good to hear that younger readers are into fantasy -- I feel like that genre doesn't get enough props in YA -- but on the flip side, a shame to hear that contemporary/realistic YA has a more limited audience. And ESPECIALLY sad to hear that boys tend not to read female protagonists (while girls don't mind male ones). And as many have already remarked, we should all be checking into those award-winners more!

Ingrid Palmer said...

Sarah: Yep, the "awards" books not being as popular with some teens was very telling.

Samus, interesting that these trends are similar to your library's. I wonder how universal they are...

Ashley, Jellicoe Road is on my TBR list!

All of these insights into teens' reading tastes are great. Thank you again, Kriska!

Unknown said...

Just popping back to say that JELLICOE ROAD is SOOOOOO GOOD. Like one of my favorite reads. I didn't pick it up because of the award, though. Word of mouth. xx

Carrie-Anne said...

As a writer of (20th century) historical fiction, I always find it so depressing to see such a dearth of current quality YA historicals, and to always be in the minority when I take part in a contest or bloghop. I always preferred historical, contemporary, and literary books at all ages, child, preteen, teen, and adult, instead of genre fiction.

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