Choosing Books for Kids & Teens

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I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend among adults who come into the store to buy books for kids and teens in their lives. Whether it be for their own kids, their nieces and nephews, or the kids of their friends, there seems to be a strange laisser-faire attitude when it comes to picking out books.

I’ll ask them about the person they’re buying for, and what they’ll tell me is the person’s age and gender.

Cool.

That tells me absolutely nothing about them. Guess what? Kids are people. Tell me if they like animals, or planes, or if they talk so fast they don’t seem to have time to slow down and read. Tell me if they’re already lifelong readers, and if you know their current favourite reads. Tell me if they only read comic books, of if they’re too busy watching TV to make time for a book.

A person’s age and gender does not determine what they will enjoy reading. 

Even then, when I know their likes and dislikes, when you tell me if they like to read and I make the best recommendations possible – even then they may hate my choice. They might look at the book you bought for them and know that it will spend its life gathering dust under their bed.

So here’s what you do: get kids and teens excited about reading.

Want to get them a book for their birthday? Give them one of your favourites from when you were a kid or teen. Sit them down and talk about how this book changed your life, or how it was so fun it helped you keep your mind off your parents’ divorce or your failing grades. Give them something that they’ll connect to you and attribute meaning to. And just maybe they’ll love it too.

If you’re a parent or someone who is often there at bedtime, make bedtime stories a thing. Graduate from picture books with beautiful illustrations, to fun school-time tales, to family friendly epics like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Pierce’s Tortall books, and His Dark Materials. Instill a sense of love and wonder, and eagerness in reading.

Get them a gift card to your favourite bookstore. Whether it be a big box store, your local used store, or the small indie store halfway across town, get them a gift card.

Now – don’t just give them this gift card and leave it at that. Make it an event. Take them out on a fun bonding day – take them to the movies, and then to lunch, and then to the bookstore. Take them for a window shopping walk with the bookstore halfway through. Let them take their time in browsing.

Let them make their own reading choices, even if it’s something you think is too complex or too simple for their reading level. Let them choose comics, or poetry, or early readers books. Let them read books aimed at girls or at boys. Let them choose audiobooks, or e-books if they have access to a tablet.

Set up a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly library date with them. Most libraries have really interesting programming for kids and teens. Again, give them time to choose what they want to read. Let them just pick one, or pick several. Don’t malign or make fun of their reading choices, or suggest that they’ve chosen something too easy or too silly.

Let them learn to love reading. Let them choose to love reading.

What are your strategies to get the kids in your life to enjoy reading? What do you think makes a lifelong reader? Let me know in the comments below!

A Baffling Encounter, and a Realization

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As a fairly eclectic reader, I try to set reading goals for myself to try and avoid waffling when choosing a new book to dive into.

There was a time when I read simply for pleasure alone, diving in and out of books of paranormal romance, fantasy, and sci-fi at will. I would have five or six books on the go at time, my bag heavier than a bowling ball, my back suffering, but perfectly happy that I could choose to dip in and out whenever I wanted.

I also read a great deal of fanfiction. Starting with Harry Potter, and delving into other fandoms, I found both short and novel-length stories to whet my appetites. I loved reading about my favourite characters in new scenarios, or deeply thought out character studies, or alternate universe stories in which a single change rippled down the narrative to alter it completely.

These days, I read for more than pleasure alone. I’m a professional reader, using NetGalley and Edelweiss to read and review books before they come out, giving feedback to authors and publishers where applicable.

I also read to learn – new skills, new viewpoints, new ways of looking at the world. I read classics to learn more about the context in which they were written. I read memoirs and biographies to learn about people’s lives. I read non-fiction that can teach you how to perfectly make a bed, or forge a painting, or worship a new deity.

I was at work the other day, helping a customer, and a scenario happened that surprised and dismayed me. I work at a bookstore, and a young woman maybe a little older than me came in with a friend. They wandered the shelves aimlessly for a bit, and I overheard her say ‘it’s so hard to find something’. It was at that point that I asked if they were looking for anything specific.

Looking a bit abashed, she asked if I had any recommendations. I replied that my recommended shelf was built mostly of Young Adult books, but if she was willing to give them a try we could probably find something. She replied that she loved the Sookie Stackhouse books and would like to try and find a long series that was similar.

Thrilled, as those are on my recommended shelf, I knew of several books that she might like. After a recommendation from my shelf, we found ourselves in front of the Young Adult section with a recommendation of a long vampire and supernatural series that I was sure she would love.

It was at this point that her friend interrupted her excited questions about the series.

“Excuse me, but don’t you think this is weird?”

Confused, I asked her what she meant.

“I mean for an adult to be reading about vampires and stuff. Isn’t it just a bit juvenile? Kid’s stuff?”

I laughed, a little shocked, and proceeded to talk about the merits of different fiction, and juvenile fiction – and how they’re totally accessible to adults. There isn’t a rule that you should stop reading certain books when you hit a specific age. She persisted.

“But what if people see you reading them on transit? What will they think?”

Baffled, I replied that I didn’t care what strangers thought of me, and that I doubted her friend did either. She had no comeback for that.

Her friend bought the books I recommended, and was excited about them.

But this encounter really shook me. Is this why people struggle to find books they enjoy?

I’ve never really cared what people thought of me, so I’ll read anything under the sun that I enjoy. Will I read erotica on public transit? Or kids books? Or comic books? Or romance novels? Heck yes I will!

Why?

Because they make me happy! Or they make me think.

You should never limit what you read because of the perceptions of others. You should never limit what you read because you think that you’re not the target audience, or that a book is too ‘young’ or ‘old’ for a person of your age to be reading it.

The joy of reading should be just that – a joy. Don’t let others ruin it for you.

How do you feel about reading? What influences your book choices, if anything? What would you say to someone afraid of reading what they enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!