The Wide Range of Tween Books

12 12 2009

Jen made a great a true point on Monday: there are no books for 5th graders that 8th graders want to read.  One of the reasons I took this course was to better learn what a tween was and what kinds of books these kids are reading these days.  Well, it turns out there are many answers to that question, two in particular. 1) They read books targeted to middle school kids.  2) They read books targeted towards high school students.  And to add 3) Sometimes these books overlap but more often, they don’t.  Over the semester, we’ve read books that I couldn’t imagine a high school student picking up, even at gunpoint (see Scat or Every Soul a Star) and books that I know high school students would absolutely love (see The Graveyard Book or Into the Volcano).  Tween readers have a foot in both worlds, making them like teens, only younger, as the name suggests.  Teenagers read books published for young adults and books published for adults.  This is so established that there are prizes like the Alex Awards, recognizing books published for adults that have particular teen appeal.

This topic comes to mind this week, as I’m pulling together the books and websites for my themed resource list.  Intellectually, I know what makes a book relevant to tweens: similar age to that of the protagonist; themes of fitting in, finding yourself, growing up, hitting puberty, etc.; not too much romance; often slightly goofy villains or crimes that aren’t quite as violent as they would be in a book for a different audince.  But figuring out which book is appropriate for which reader is an art, not a science.  I mean, just reading through the age recommendations given by School Library Journal versus Booklist versus Kirkus can make your head spin.  And I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of experience with tweens–at least, not since I was a tween myself.  When I was a tween, there were not a lot of young adult books.  That meant I read things that may have been wholly inappropriate, like the Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, all about serial killers and forensic pathology and Michael Crichton’s Congo (I have a vivid memory of reading this book in the middle of the night and having to turn on all the lights, due to some odd fear that giant gorillas were going to come crunch my head between rocks).  Now,  I don’t think the books did me any harm.  And, actually, those books were mostly mysteries, a genre that tweens seem to love.

I am impressed by the vast quantity of good books for tweens, whether they are for the younger or older parts of that age group.  As “tween” becomes a more readily recognized term, and a more powerful group in terms of buying power, it seems like there are more and more books that fit into the “tween” category as I see it.  These books are about kids in the tween age group but they are written in a way that gives the characters a lot of power.  I think this is typically why mysteries are engaging at this point in time, since the person solving the mystery is often a tween.  And if they want to read up, there are tons of books for young adults.  Basically, it’s a great time to be a tween.  But as a librarian, it can be a bit overwhelming in the best way possible.

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