Saturday, October 23, 2010

Musings on Teen Read Week

The third week of October is a unique for teens and YA literature. When ALA decided to dedicate the week to Teen Reading with its inception in 1998, they truly stumbled on a great idea. This week long celabration would have nice to have back in the seventies. Maybe we didn't have this week because adults figured kids would read eventually. As a matter of fact, going out on a limb here, but getting a teen to read forty or so years ago may not have been as difficult as it has become today. Way back in the dark ages, as teens in my library describe that era, there were no video games, cable TV or computers to compete with teens’ attention. After all, there were three major network channels and they went off air (yes, that means no programming) at around 1:00 AM. The only thing that could ruin an evening is if the President was going to make a national address or the power went out. (For my younger readers of this blog, if the President was on TV he was on all three channels! Yippee, right? ) Today’s teens have so many more distractions. I don’t believe I could count them all on one hand or even both hands. The list begins with cell phones and ends at ripping songs off the net and the all time favorite texting!
When do today’s teen find time to read? The good news is that they are making time to read. Why? Because of Teen Read Week? Partially. However, it is probably due to the fact there are so many talented YA authors that keep their interests up and imagination flowing.

This is precisely why adults are a bit jealous of today’s teens. Never mind the fact that they have cooler toys than we could have ever dreamed of but they have such great authors that it blows our mind. Don’t get me wrong. Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Robert Cormier all have a tender spot in my heart, but today’s author’s are going places that could never be imagined until now. As a Youth Services librarian, it is a perk for me not only to read the array of YA books, but as an added bonus it’s a real hoot to talk to teens about our favorite characters in the series. In the past decade there have been a steady flow of authors who have stimulated the imagination, challenging teens and adults to discuss topics from alcoholism, suicide, the supernatural and reality games with deadly consequences. Readers have much to choose from that it has become difficult to decide which book or series to read first.

It is hard to pick a favorite chracters among the new comers that have graced YA pages. Percy Jackson has taken us on flights of mythological fantasy better than old Odysseus did in his day. Grace and Connor of Vampirates are the dynamic brother and sister team that can beat pirates and vampires with their arms tied behind their backs. Let’s not forget how Katniss Everdeen of Hugner Games proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that girls are strong, smart and survivors. These brash new breed of characters support the theory that reading for entertainment among young readers is not going to stop anytime soon. That is welcomed news to librarians who serve teens, but also it should be great news for educators and parents too. Today’s YA authors have not only found the heart of where teens think, dream and live but they ahve also sparked interest in finding other treasures, old and new, for them to enjoy.

With so many great novels it is hard to believe that there are teens who are missing out on the rich stories because they don’t like to read. That remains the one constant element for professional librarians serving teens, reaching out to reluctant readers. Teen Read Week themes help grab teens attention, but ultimately it is the books that get them hooked. Maybe this is a Pollyanna dream to have but hopefully one year, Teen Read Week will entice 100 % of teens in America to read for entertainment. Yes, I know lofty goal but it is worth the effort to achieve. Besides, with rich stories lining up on the shelves or ready for downloads, it just may be that we will reach that goal sooner rather than later.
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