Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hope For Young Adult Readers - But We Adults Have to Be The Models

Since the last few posts on the blog have related to the younger set (and their families), it's time to go back to our more independent readers.  I just saw some terrific news from Publisher's Weekly:

While adult trade sales are expected to fall 4% this year, juvenile and young adult sales are expected to increase 5.1%, according to the PW/IPR Book Sales Index. Although it's impossible to completely break out juvenile from young adult (YA), it is possible to look at expected growth rates for different categories. In the fiction/fantasy/sci-fi segment, where most sales in the YA category fall, we expect nearly 13% growth in 2009, reaching $744 million. By 2013, sales in this segment are anticipated to hit $861 million, a 30.6% increase over 2008.

Wow!  In part, we have the growing popularity of Kindles and Ipods for reading books.  But families also play a particularly important role in whether children continue to read after the "snuggle and cuddle stage".

One of the big questions is:  what do teens and tweens want to read?  The Young Adult Library Association (part of the American Library Association) just this fall published a booklist made by teensPaper Towns by John Green tops the list.  It is the story of a bright, quiet kid and how he cares for a neighborhood girl.   Kirkus Reviews calls it, "genuine and genuinely funny".  Alicia Afterimage by Lulu Delacre is another great example of a book teens will want to read, this one dealing with grief.

What is most important for students once they leave the elementary school years is to have steady, open choices as to what they read.  The difference between students who read beyond what is required in the classroom and those who just read to "get by" is staggering.  One of the best ways to prepare your student for college (or life) is to encourage him to be a reader.

The reality is that parents can't control what your teen reads, so read a few books with controversial topics at the same time and discuss it with them.  Parents will find a ready (and surprisingly open) approach to talking about decision making and careful choices if they start by listening with an open mind.  And we all know how important communication and staying in touch with our growingly-independent man-child and woman-child is in these complex times.

Helping students carve out time to read what they are interested in and to grab it online or in print ideally starts with habits when they are young.  However, as children move into reading mostly as an independent person rather than reading together with an adult, often families stop supporting their child's reading.  They aren't sure what to do.  That's where the decline often begins.  It is important to remember that no reader is mature at third grade and that supporting them as a reader no longer means "having them practice for you".  There are many more layers of understanding and depth to be developed and encouraged. Continuing to provide a variety of reading opportunities in the home, thinking "quick reads" for those busy teens (including magazines, internet articles, links sent via email, Facebook, IM, etc.) is essential.

I believe that one reason the types of stories mentioned earlier are so powerful for teens to read is because they connect to what they are experiencing, what they are learning about life at a time when they are learning so much.  And that connection is critical, rather than a "you should read this" approach.

So do something different.  Ask your teen or tween what their latest passion is, what they are interesting in knowing more about.  You are sure to uncover a topic that you can support them reading about (or help them find a fascinating story with which to escape the challenges of the teen years if just for a little while).

Nurture their inner reader.

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