Typical teens come to the library in search good books to read, and occasionally browse the shelves for nonfiction books for school reports. Which is a good thing. That is primarily what the nonfiction section is for, right? Yes, partially but there are so many good books waiting to be read for the pure enjoyment of learning something new. As librarians we know that, but teens and often some adults, don't quite buy the sale pitch at first. Some tricks of the trade that have been discovered while working in high school and public libraries came from common sense and learning what gets teen's attention.
Biographies offer a wonderful gateway to into nonfiction for teens. It seems that every celebrity has a tome to offer in the way of informing and entertaining readers. For example, one of my new favorite celebrity biography title is Alison Amgrim’s “Confession of a Prairie Bitch : How I survived being Nellie Olsen and Learned to Love to Be Hated.” Amgrim touches on some heavy topics such as sexual abuse and drugs, but what makes this biography outstanding is her candid and sometimes hilarious outlook on her life. At a book talk, teens asked what made me want to read this book. A little reluctantly, because it showed my age, I revealed that this show was popular when I was younger and frankly, I loved the character Nellie Olsen. Why not tap into teen’s love of popular celebrity magazines and turn them on to reading a biography about their favorite star. Once you have them hooked, the sky’s the limit. Getting them to read about any famous person, even historical figures, will be quite easy.
Sticking with the “Hollywood” theme there are tons of movies about real events that tie in perfectly with nonfiction. One of the school librarians in my area worked with the teachers in her school to put together a curriculum on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. For extra credit, the students were given the assignment to watch "Mississippi Burning", a film depicting the FBI investigations of the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. Some of the students who watched the film came into the school library looking for more information about the civil rights era and this particular FBI investigation. At my library, one movie that moved teens to find out more about a particular event in history was "Titanic". Of course, the girls loved the romance of the movie but it was the boys wanted to know how a ship that big could sink, how long it really took to go down, and how long one can survive in cold water. (Gotta love the boys, they are so practical at times!)
Finally, the news gets teens into the library for nonfiction materials to read. Don't be surprised by the fact that teens do know what's going on in the world and are concerned. The recent events in Japan have given some of the teens in my area an interest in tsunami's and earthquakes. Some teens are just looking for basic information that help them get a better grasp on the topic, while others are digging deeper into the history of natural disasters. It's quite an eye opener to see how teens are responding to the news. It's also a little comforting to know that the "future" generations will want to make a difference in the world.
There are so many ways to "excite" teens to browse the nonfiction shelves. With so many talented librarians, I'm sure there are plenty more inventive ways to get these books off the shelves into our teen readers hands. I hope my brief offerings helps some librarians find the inspirations they need to promote nonfiction reading in their libraries.