Tuesday, July 5, 2011


By Catherine Greenfeder

As a middle school teacher of language arts, I’ve read quite a bit of children’s and young adult literature over the years, much of it is considered the classics, but more fall into the category of popular fiction. I need to know what interests the young teen market so that I can provide books which will keep students interested and engaged in reading and promote future literacy. So, along with ongoing discussions with students about their books, I’ve also conducted my own independent surveys of these teen readers who range in age from thirteen to fifteen years old. What I’ve found is not too surprising.

Among their favored picks from close to fifty titles in our class book selection are MY SISTERS KEEPER by Jodi Picoult, CONFESSIONS OF AN ALMOST MOVIE STAR by Mary Kennedy, Robert Cormier’s I AM THE CHEESE, TEEN IDOL by Meg Cabot, ELSEWHERE by Gabrielle Zevin, John Coy’s CRACKBACK, THE MISFITS by James Howe, RAVEN’S GATE and the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, YOUNG MAN IN VIETNAM by Charles Coe, the Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul series, HATCHET by Gary Paulsen, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER by Lois Duncan, A WALK TO REMEMBER by Nicholas Sparks, MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers, DANGEROUS GIRLS by R.L. Stine, HOOPS by Walter Dean Myers, TRAVEL TEAM by Mike Lupica, and HEAD GAMES by Keri Mikulsi. There are gender based differences with the girls favoring romance, mystery, and fantasy; the boys preferring action/adventure and sports theme related books. A few suggested non-fiction and historical books including books set during war time. Due to the Twilight series, several girls showed an interest in vampire books and paranormals. Judy Blume books are popular among the girls. A few boys complained of lack of action/adventure books. So, I’ve been trying to meet the growing demand for these books when it comes time to add to our inventory.

As a writer, I am interested in the young adult reader and the market for YA books. I wrote a draft for my first YA novel, a ghost story, during last year’s National Novel Writing Month in November. I shared my goal with some of the students who took up the equivalent of NaNoWriMo with its Young Writers Program. It made me more aware of the challenge of writing for this age group.

What does the YA market consist of? Young adult readers are generally twelve to eighteen years old, but that does not mean that these young people read only YA books. Studies show, and I think mere observation as an educator, that teens read adult novel as well. I’ve had students read books by James Patterson, Stephen King, and Nicholas Sparks which I consider adult novels. I think this helps explain why authors who write both adult and YA such as Nicholas Sparks, Judy Blume, and Meg Cabot are so popular. Even Stephen King and James Patterson have published YA books. Along with author loyalty, younger readers choose books based on recommendation. As part of group discussions, the teenagers recommend books or critique them with each other. Another consideration in choosing books is length. If it’s too long, it might not appeal to the young adult reader. YA novels tend to run between 40,000 to 75,000 words. Although, as expected, the more advanced readers had no qualms about reading a bigger book, but they are more selective about genre and plot elements.

Even in these recessionary times, a time when it seems young people are not reading, there is a strong and growing market for young adult books. According to the American Booksellers Association “young adult readers are a powerful market force in the book industry – teens spend $ 94.7 billion per year, increasing by $ 1 billion each year. Most booksellers have sections devoted to young adults or teen readers, but increasingly the lines between age ranges and target audiences are blurred."

Also, location matters. “In small towns, booksellers often know all the children under 18 buying books, as well as their parents. They may inform the parents about the subject matter in books the kids want to read.”

Teen celebrity books are popular too, including Justin Bieber’s THE LAST SONG. Tie-ins with movies help as well. The movie Soul Surfer encouraged a few students to read the biography about the shark attack which changed the life of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. Her courage and faith inspired several teenagers and interested them in reading other biographies. Young teens want to read about other teenagers who overcome problems or who deal with tremendous pressures from peers or society. These teens like to read about fictional characters that face real life issues including bullying, gangs, drug abuse, anorexia, illness, suicide, dysfunctional families, and young romance with all its challenges.

Working with adolescents gives me an awareness of trends and preferences. It challenges me to view the literature more critically, and it reminds me of my own choices as a teenager which went beyond the required classics of literature. Of course, like the adolescents themselves, tastes change. Many come in having read the entire Twilight series, Harry Potter books, and the Alex Rider series. By the way, a lot of the teens I’ve worked with love series. They’re loyal to them, and once hooked, read every book in the series.

It saddens me sometimes to have to shelve books because they’re outdated or have lost popularity. On the other hand, old favorites like the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy series have regained popularity. A recent visit to my local Barnes and Noble reminded me of this. In fact, one of my favorite teen reads, SEVENTEENTH SUMMER by Maureen Daly, published before my time, in 1942, sat on a counter display for recommended summer reading. I picked up a few copies for next year’s students who yearn for a sweet romance with strong teen protagonists and a historical setting.

Now that it’ summer vacation, I’m taking a little respite from reading YA books in order to work on revising my own attempt at writing for this growing, challenging, and changing market. A few of my students asked me when they can read my books. So, I hope to meet their request with a YA book in the near future. I’m also catching up on reading adult books including another favorite from my own teen years, THE PROMISE by Danielle Steele. It’s one of those romance novels which hooked me as a young adult reader and inspired me toward one day writing romance books. Have a good summer!♥

Catherine Greenfeder, vice president of RWANYC, is the published author of two e-books, ANGELS AMONG US, a paranormal romance, and WILDFLOWERS, a historical western romance set along the Oregon Trail.


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