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Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory is targeted toward the librarian who is motivated to help teens find the books and materials they really need and want. It is laid out in five main parts, as follows:

  1. What do we do and why do we do it? (covers the history of RA, teens in the library)
  2. Foundations (Why is RA for teens different; tips for the generalist librarian who may not already be familiar with teens and/or YA lit)
  3. Taking Action (How to get the RA interview started, how to talk about appeal with teens)
  4. Special Circumstances (How to deal with situations where the teen in question is not present or when you’re helping the teen with an assignment book)
  5. Resources (how to move beyond lists of award winners, how to create meaningful resources to be used in-house, and an intriguing section on indirect RA / Marketing)

Following these, an Appendix section is chock-full of useful lists: (popular authors, “sure bets,” and teen-selected book awards).

The section that is of most interest to me is Part 3, as I feel that I already have a basic understanding of the foundations of RA and also of how and why teens use the library. Below I have laid out a few of the tidbits that one can glean from a careful reading and reading of this section.

Part 3 – Taking Action

This section has three chapters, entitled Opening the RA interview, Detecting Interest, and Articulating Appeal. As I read the first, I found myself nodding in agreement as Booth describes ways to convey that one is open and interested in helping the teens, but without being too forceful. She also makes an excellent point when she points out that we as adults tend to monitor the teen area when we think something is going wrong, but that “it is imperative to be a positive, proactive presence as well if we hope to have positive interactions.” (p. 49) This is a strategy that I take to heart: although I believe I already practice this, I find myself thinking I should keep this in mind as a “best practice” and endeavor to keep this in mind every day.

Booth also provides a short list of conversation starters to use when trying to connect with teens while at the shelves. I won’t list them all here, but they include statements like “Have you read this one? I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about it,” and “Looking for something for fun or for school?” All of these are excellent suggestions and should help the librarian who is a bit nervous about jumping in!

In the Detecting Interest chapter Booth gives wonderful advice, in the form of four questions that we can ask teens as a part of the RA interview. These are:

  1. Do you read a lot or not so much?
  2. Are you looking for a specific book that you know of?
  3. Can you think of a book that you’ve liked recently?
  4. Have you read anything recently that you really hated?  (pp. 54-58)

Below each of these, she gives a rationale for the question and explains how one can read the answer to provide better RA service to teens. It’s brilliant advice, and I intend to reread this chapter several times, in an effort to make this a more intuitive part of my current RA interview strategy.

In the last chapter of this section, Booth covers the art of how to pitch books to teens — watching one’s language so that it is neither too erudite, nor dumbing it down (teens, as all of us, hate condescension.) She also has excellent advice about how to “form your pitch,” meaning how to couch the book talk that you may do with teens about a particular book. She explains, for example, that the same book can be pitched in widely varying ways to emphasize different appeal factors for different types of readers. She gives the example of the book I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, and provides three different “book talk pitches,” each one emphasizing a different appeal factor.

This is another section I would like to keep bookmarked, for rereading. In fact, it would be a great activity, in a YA services meeting, to have several YA librarians get together and practice writing out pitches for the same book, to hit on the various appeal factors in a collective setting.

In this entry, I have only covered one section of Booth’s book; but even in this one slim section, this book proves its mettle, and I believe it’s worthy of the YA librarian’s hard-earned dollar. While the copy I’ve been perusing is an ILL book, I plan on buying my own copy!

Book: Ash by Malinda Lo
Genre(s): Fantasy, Fairy tale, Retelling, GLBTQ
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 272 pages
Finalist for the 2010 William C. Morris YA Debut Award

Ash coverSummary: Aisling (Ash) lives on the edge of the forest with her much loved mother and father. But her life changes when her magical mother dies, and her father is kept away for months at a time on the King’s business. When her father remarries, she somehow adjusts to a new stepmother and sisters. However, when even her father dies, she starts to wish that the fairies would steal her away, as they did in her mother’s stories. Her wish seems to be on the verge of being fulfilled when she starts to fall in love with the dark, brooding, and possessive Sidhean, a fairy from the forest. But just when it seems that she may indeed succumb to him, another possibility dawns in the shape of Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Whom will Ash choose?

To whom will this appeal?: Those who love gorgeous, lush, bewitching prose will be drawn into the dark and magical mood created by this book. The pace is unhurried and the story slowly unfolds, as the retelling diverges from the original tale. Older teens and adults alike will enjoy this book if they are drawn to retellings; also they must be comfortable with unconventional endings as well as GLBTQ love.

Book: The Clearing by Heather Davis
Genre(s): Young Adult Light Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 2010
Paperback: 212 pages

Summary: Amy, a high school senior who’s starting fresh in a new town in the countryside, is having a tough time fitting into the different culture of her new school, and would much rather wander around in the woods behind her Great Aunt Mae’s trailer than hang out with kids in this odd town. On one of her rambles, she finds a mysterious, misty clearing in the woods. When she crosses the mist and meets Henry, she changes his (and her own) life forever. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that there is something supernatural about the mist and it is instrumental in helping  a sweet romance to sprout–a romance with unintended consequences for all in the story.

To whom will this appeal?: Lovers of romance will flock to this book. While intended for a teen readership, both teen and adult readers will enjoy this book if they like books where the plot unfolds slowly, with a touch of magic, a swirl of romance, and a tinge of bittersweet happy-sadness.

Book: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Multicultural
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 225 pages
Secret Keeper coverSummary: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins is the story of Asha and Reet, two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Reet is beautiful, feminine, curvy, sweet and patient (everything that was expected from a teenage girl in 1974 India) her sister Asha is everything a girl is NOT supposed to be in that time and place – a skinny tomboy, athletic, argumentative, and competitive. But somehow their differences knit them together, and they are part of a happy family.
Things change drastically when their dad loses his job, and cannot find work as an engineer in India. When he makes the tough decision to leave India to search for a job in the U.S., suddenly their lives change. The girls and their mom have to leave their home in fun, modern Delhi and go stay with Baba’s relatives in claustrophobic, strict, old-fashioned Calcutta. 
Suddenly Asha is no longer allowed to play cricket, or football, or even to take an unaccompanied walk. Her gorgeous sister is attracting way too much boy attention. There isn’t enough money to send the girls to school.  And her mom is so depressed; she’s not much help either. The girls have a nickname for her depression – The Jailor.
Asha’s only refuge is the wide, flat roof, where she disappears for hours with her secret keeper – her diary. But soon, she realizes that she’s not alone up there. There is a boy next door, watching her. When they strike up a forbidden friendship with hints of something deeper underneath the surface, Asha is amazed that a boy would be interested in her rather than in her beautiful sister. Between her new secret friendship, protecting her mother from The Jailor, and scheming with her sister and cousin on how to prevent Aunti and Uncle from marrying Reet off to some Lusting Idiot, Asha has her hands full.
She can hardly wait for the much-wished-for telegram from America, which she hopes will say, “Job Found! Sending plane tickets. Come quickly!”
***Spoiler alert!***
 But before that day comes, Asha’s mettle will be tested. Can she bring herself to sacrifice her first love in order to save her sister from an unwanted arranged marriage?

To whom will this appeal?: Fans of Little Women will love this sweet, gentle and yet strong literary historical novel. The characters are well-developed, down to the grandmother, who may not have many lines, but makes her perspective clear! The pace is relaxed and the story unfolds slowly. There is some sweet, understated romance — in keeping with the era and place where the story is set. Those who like to read about strong female protagonists struggling with society’s cultural expectations will be fascinated.

Book: Nancy Drew: Green-Eyed Monster by Carolyn Keene (first of the Eco Mystery Trilogy, part of the Nancy Drew series)
Genre(s): Mystery, Series
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 2009
Paperback: 176 pages
Summary: Nancy and her friends Bess and George (both girls) become interested in ways to help save the environment as a result of attending an Eco Fair at their high school, and resolve to become more eco-conscious. But then when Bess wins the Eco-Fair raffle (a trip to Costa Rica), they have the opportunity to learn even more about the topic… Soon all three friends are on their way to Costa Rica to experience the delights of a brand-new eco-resort.
To their surprise, not all is as it seems at Casa Verde, and Nancy soon finds herself hot on the tail of a thief who seems to have a larger agenda. Can she find and stop him or her before real damage is done? Read this page-turning mystery to find out!


To whom will this appeal?: This book will appeal to the lover of genre mysteries for kids and tweens, and probably will be more of a draw for girls than for boys, as the action is mostly centered on female characters. Nancy Drew is her usual comforting, intrepid self, and despite the aura of danger, the tone of the book is upbeat and positive. One never doubts that Nancy will be able to get down to the bottom of the mystery, so this book is good for the reader who likes nicely wrapped up endings. (However, this one has one small twist at the very end, which is because this is but Book One of a trilogy, so be prepared for a little hook at the end to make you want to get the next one.)

Book: White Cat by Holly Black (first of the Curse Workers series)
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Supernatural, Horror
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Publication date: 2010
Hardcover: 320 pages
White Cat is on many Mock-Printz award long lists

White Cat cover imageSummary: Smart, cynical and world-weary at the age of 16, Cassel Sharpe is trying to keep a low profile at his snooty, prestigious boarding school. He must, as his status of coming from a “curse working” family makes him a not-so-palatable member of society. It’s a double curse, then, that not only is he the only unmagical member of his family, but a nightmare sleep-walking incident almost causes him to jump off the roof of his dorm. Temporarily kicked out of school until a doctor can certify that he is mentally stable enough to come back, Cassel becomes motivated to try to unravel all the secrets of his strange family. To tell you more than this would be to ruin the beauty of the twisted yet exciting world that Holly Black has created.

To whom will this appeal?: White Cat will appeal to the teen and adult lover of urban fantasy, especially those who like twists and turns in the plot that will keep them on their toes as they try to figure out what is going on. Holly Black is great at creating a gritty, true-sounding, alternative world in which the rules of society become apparent without needing to be made explicit in some sort of rule book. The dark tone is balanced by the protagonist’s sarcastic and understated humor. One must be comfortable with a certain level of violence and suspense to truly enjoy the book. If you liked the dark sardonic tone of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, you might like this, although it’s not quite a read-alike. (Maybe it’s a read-along?)

Book: ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Genre(s): Realistic Contemporary Fiction, Series
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication date: 2004
Hardcover: 224 pages
first of the Internet Girls series

ttyl coverSummary: Told entirely via instant messages, this is the story of the trials and tribulations of three high school sophomore girls who are best friends — they call themselves the “Winsome Threesome.” Myracle uses “texting spelling” and internet slang (“ttyl” for “talk to you later,” “u r” for “you are,” “g2g” for “got to go,” “laffing” for “laughing,” “byeas” for “bye-bye,” for example) to recreate the way contemporary teens actually communicate. The story unfolds via these chat messages, and through their online dialogue we learn that each of the girls has challenges to overcome as they navigate the social perils of high school life. Angela is a bit boy crazy and has trouble keeping her crushes in perspective. Maddie is moody and can at times not be the best judge of how to act. Zoe is quiet and shy, the “good girl” who nevertheless (literally) lands in hot water. It is a pleasure to read over their shoulders as these loyal friends cheer each other on, providing solid advice to each other, without sounding like they are the puppets of an adult agenda. Their genuine voices and the ways they deal with their problems will be inspiring to many a teen or tween girl who is dealing with similar issues.

To whom will this appeal?: First and foremost, the potential reader of this book will want to be familiar with (or patient enough to look up) internet slang. Combine the slang with the computer-screen style layout, and you have a particular format that will be highly appreciated by many teens and tweens who are excited to see their daily life reflected in their reading matter. The tone of the book is conversational, and the characters are well-developed, but one must be able and willing to extrapolate a lot from the conversations, as all of the action is only described via chat conversation. This may be disconcerting to the reader seeking continuity, but will be a boon for those who revel in unusual and innovative formats. While serious issues (as well as mundane high school angst) are discussed, and problems must be overcome, overall the tone is upbeat and positive and sends the message that strong friendships can help you overcome anything life throws at you.

Ms. Olga Nesi is a dynamic middle school librarian who speaks of appeal terms and book hooks with a gleam in her eye. Not only is her library well-loved and her books constantly in demand, not only does she seem to know every child in her school by name, but she has found the Holy Grail of librarianship — she has devised an active way to put Readers’ Advisory principles into practice to help her kids find books they will love. Of course after I heard about her (and read her stellar article on the topic in School Library Journal) I just had to meet her!

So, this past Wednesday found me on a Brooklyn bus, very early in the morning, clutching my rapidly cooling coffee and on my way to Cavallaro Middle School. Upon arrival, Ms. Nesi woke me up in a way that coffee could not: we immediately got down to talking about how she conducts Readers’ Advisory in a busy school of 1400+ kids who often barely have 20 minutes to spend browsing for books.

Here’s what she does. When you first walk into the library, your attention is arrested by two huge posters on which she has blown up simple lists of appeal terms from Joyce Saricks‘ book, Readers’ Advisory Service in the Public Library. Listed under headings like Tone, Pacing, and Story-line are lists of adjectives that describe a myriad different types of tastes. Words and phrases such as “dark,” “bittersweet,” “humorous,” “action oriented,” “engrossing,” “magical,” and “lesiurely” catch the reader’s eye. When I remarked on the posters, Ms. Nesi explained that they serve several purposes. First, they are there to remind students of terms that they have already learned — from Ms. Nesi and in their English classes. They silently reinforce previously learned knowledge in a way that no long-winded lecture can. Secondly, when students come to Ms. Nesi for reading recommendations, she can stand with them in front of the posters and, with the appeal terms right there, can have a conversation about what they are in the mood to read. In fact, she also has printed them on bookmarks, so that kids can check off what about their reading material appeals to them, making explicit what is often a mute, internal proces. Simple, but genius.

Here’s another thing she does. She reads. Avidly. Widely. Incessantly. And for each book, she writes what she calls Read the rest of this entry »

Book: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (first of a trilogy)
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: 2008
Hardcover: 384 pages

Hunger Games coverSummary: Katniss Everdeen may be a 16 year old girl, but the weight of the world hangs on her shoulders. Not only does she support her mother and 11 year old sister Prim by hunting (illegally), she is the one upon whom will hang the burden of fighting in the 74th annual Hunger Games — a gladitorial fight to which her district must contribute two children to fight 22 others to the death~ all for the entertainment of the Capital. But fighting with her (or is it against her?) will be Peeta, the quiet blond haired boy who saved her life when he gave her some bread, all those years ago. How will Katniss handle her bow when it’s other kids, and not wild animals whom she must hunt?

To whom will this appeal?: Neck-breakingly fast-paced and dark of tone, this book will appeal to the teen or adult who enjoys reading about the possible bleak dystopian futures we may all be facing. While there is some (gallows) humor, know that this book will weigh heavily on you, either creating a need for you to run out and read the next two in the trilogy — or to run away to some lighter fare.

Lovers of romance will find some sustenance here, as Katniss is torn between two amazing boys, (and there are some amazing fashion moments!) but Katniss is most definitely not your average stereotypical sighing-in-love girl.  Think blend of a cup of Twilight and a gallon of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo(Some romance mixed in with a strong, kicking-butt, fighting for survival,  female protagonist).

Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 2007
Hardcover: 224 pages
was made into a film in 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid CoverSummary: Greg Heffley is an average middle school kid who is not as popular or strong as he’d like to be, and yet he seems to enjoy life. He has his video games, his sweet but odd friend Rowley, and parents who care (perhaps a bit too much for his liking, as it makes it hard to get away with stuff). Told in journal format, with humorous illustrations on each page, we learn about Greg’s life in his own words. As the title implies, Greg is indeed a wimpy kid, in more ways than one. Kids will appreciate that Greg is not a perfect role model and struggles with making decisions when it’s between what he knows is right and what would be more fun.

To whom will this appeal?: This humorous book will appeal to lovers of contemporary humorous realistic fiction, and especially to reluctant readers. The age level intended for this book ranges from the elementary grades through middle school. However, adults have also been observed giggling with recognition as they eagerly leaf through the pages for a relatively painless trip back in time to the awkwardness of junior high.

It’s a quick read and the first of a whole series (with movie tie-ins) and so it’s become somewhat of an institution, which might lead some skeptics to wonder what the hoopla isall about. And yet, mixed in with the humor and the easy-to-digest prose is a brilliantly sketched exposure of what life is like for contemporary middle school boys. Readers of all ages will appreciate both the humor and the pain — and the brilliant and minimalist illustrations round out the reading experience by adding sly details which will make the avid reader want to flip back again and again.

Caveat: While some of Greg’s less-than-noble actions get him a deserved comeuppance, there is no overt moralizing in this book. The good are not always rewarded, nor are the guilty always brought to justice. This quality is often simultaneously perceived as refreshing by tweens and troublesome by some adult readers.

December 2010