Friday, April 10, 2015

What The Kids Are Reading

Being on the writing/publishing side of the YA market, it’s hard not to get caught up in which books are topping charts, winning awards, and accumulating six figure deals. All young adult writers, agents, and editors want to know “what are the kids reading?” It’s the reason we stalk Barnes & Noble shelves, staying in earshot of teenagers. Why we scour reviews. Why we ask our younger nieces and nephews what they think of the books we pass along to them.

That’s why I like to ask my high school librarian friend, Allegra D'Ambruoso, what her students are reading. I want to know what actually ends up in the hands of the audience I’m writing for, and what they’re clambering to read more of.

Here are her top 10 circulations from March.

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
VC: Sarah Dessen is always a favorite among writers and agents. With Saint Anything coming out next month, I’m delighted to see this particular title has so much demand. This Lullaby has been out for over ten years now. Why the sudden interest?

AD: Sarah Dessen is always huge with my teen romance fans. I think This Lullaby was particularly popular this month because I did get new copies of it. Whenever I get new copies of books, I put them on display and remind my romance fans that I have a new title. The cover is attractive, with a guitar on the front, so that drew in my readers.

VC: Are the Bluford High readers the same ones checking out Sarah Dessen?

AD: The Bluford High readers may delve into Dessen, but they generally aren't the same readers. Bluford High readers want real urban lit; stuff like Kimani Tru, Urban Underground, Push, anything that relates to their life. The Dessen readers tend to read other romance, including paranormal romance, like Vampire Academy/Bloodlines.

VC: Do you have/are your students checking out LGBTQ books? If so, which titles are popular?

AD: I have an LGBTQ section, but I think it gets ignored. Perks of Being a Wallflower has been popular over the past year, as has Hero [by Perry Moore]. Loveless​ is an LGBTQ manga, and that's popular too. It verges on yaoi, but seems to be mostly PG.

Bad Seeds: Evil Progeny edited by Steve Berman
VC: With the rising popularity of Stephanie Perkins’ My True Love Gave to Me and Shaun Hutchinson’s forthcoming Violent Ends, I was wondering if teen audiences read anthologies.

AD: Normally, I've found that my students snub my “story collections” section. Whatever librarian before me had pulled out anthologies into a separate section of fiction and I've moved the shelves to try to make them more appealing. This one came in April and hasn't been shelved yet. It’s one of those titles that makes it as far as my “to be shelved” cart and gets checked out again. 

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Ninth Grade Slays by Heather Brewer
VC: I’m actually surprised and delighted that vampires stories are still being read. After so many years of hearing “no more vampires” by the publishing industry, I thought maybe the genre wasn't being consumed any longer.

AD: Vampires are still huge in my library. Vladimir Tod is one series that I've tried myself and couldn't get into, but it is a set of five, starting with poor Vlad in 8th grade, and following him through high school. I think the combination of vampires and high school make this one appealing.

Descendants of Darkness #1 by Yoko Matsushita (manga)
AD: Manga is always popular, but I have a weird selection of it, so students just grab whatever they haven't read yet.

VC: Are there any anime/manga clubs at your school? Do the kids have any series they want or tell you they wished you had?

AD: I co-advise both the game club and the anime club. There's a lot of cross-over between the two. The mangas that the kids all clamor for are Naruto (which I have 1-4 of and am trying to not buy the rest; there are 60+ books), Black Butler (which I have 1-4 and the rest on order), and Fruits Basket (which is impossible to get though my vendors since it is out of print). I'm getting Attack on Titan and Say I Love You ​soon, both of which were student recommendations.

I honestly can't keep track of all the manga out there. I take suggestions, I order when I can, but with such a limited budget, it is hard to prioritize getting new titles or getting later volumes in series that I already have. Whenever I get any sort of money from the school or district, I order manga alongside updated nonfiction. It's that important, since it is what the kids read. In fact, Descendants of Darkness​ is a series that I picked up at a used book store out-of-pocket (really cheap, so no big deal).

A Matter of Trust by Anne Schraff (Bluford High series)
AD: Bluford High is one very popular urban lit series. They’re very short, quick reads, and my students connect with them easily. I think the fact that there are so many of them in the series makes it more accessible to students who don’t want to read every single one, or who want to just read one book and don’t need to know whatever backstory may have been created in previous books.

VC: Does your library have any of the urban lit that's been growing popular in the publishing industry and/or winning awards like Jason Reynolds' Boy in the Black Suit, Kekla Magoon's How It Went Down, or Kwame Alexander's The Crossover? 

AD: I have Boy in the Black Suit, but it hasn't gone out yet (I've only had it for a month). How It Went Down is checked out currently (also relatively new). I don't have The Crossover. One of my JLG [Junior Library Guild] lists is City Teen, so that's generally how I get the new urban lit. I've found that the cooler the cover, the more likely it is to go out, unless it is a kid who is a serious reader already, then they go based on recommendations from me or from friends.

VC: Generally, do your students read books that win awards, like the Printz, National Book Award, etc.? Does literary merit matter to them?

AD: Awards don't seem to matter to them. Some students have noticed the shiny gold JLG stickers on spines and gravitate to those (which is great, and many of those books are winners or become winners). Maybe if I put shiny silver stickers on spines for award winners, they'd notice that...

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
VC: I wasn't surprised to see Red Queen on the list. Victoria Aveyard has been making the rounds touring and signing, and recently hit the NYT Bestseller List. Red Queen has a lot of commercial appeal, and is a nice blend of elements familiar in the Hunger Games, Divergent, and X-men.

AD: Sadly, my students didn't get to go to the book signing [in our area]. I tried to get it as a field trip, but I couldn't get approval. I got to see Victoria speak at Odyssey Books in South Hadley. She’s very nice and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Red Queen sequel.

VC: Also, how do you discover new, emerging authors like Victoria Aveyard? Are publishers reaching out to you? Do you get ARCs?

AD: I discovered Red Queen when Junior Library Guild sent it over with my monthly subscription. I try to read School Library Journal and Kirkus reviews when I can, but I also get recommendations from students (one recommended Dorothy Must Die​, which I've now ordered).

And yes, omg, I want ARCs. I don't get any currently, but I wish I did. Most libraries won't accept ARCs for collections, as far as I know, but I think they're really cool and I have no problem adding them to the collection (when I'm done...depending on the book!).

Soulless #1 by Gail Carriger (manga)
VC: I love seeing manga on the circulation list. I picked this title up on my last bookstore trip because of Allegra’s recommendation. It’s one of the top 2 picks of her students’ March Reading Madness Finals.

AD: So much love for this series. I’ve read the novels, and a few of my students have read the novel of Soulless as well. I have the rest of the novel series on order. I’m sad that the novel series is five novels, but the manga ended after three. For March Reading Madness, I had students arguing over Soulless vs. Naruto or Soulless vs. Deadpool, just based on my lists, and I was amazed to see my gaming club boys arguing FOR Soulless over the more mainstream manga and graphic lit. I figured that Soulless would appeal to girls more than boys, but it is appealing to boys more so. Werewolves will do that!

Soulless #3 by Gail Carriger (manga)
Angel Sanctuary #1 by Kaori Yuki (manga)

Allegiant by Veronica Roth 

VC: With Insurgent hitting the theaters this month, I’m not surprised to hear teens are still checking out Roth’s wildly popular series. I’d love to know if teens are digging the ending, since there was a wild outpouring of dissatisfaction among bloggers.

AD: Students are checking this out because they've seen Insurgent and need to know how it all ends. I love when that happens. It happened with Maze Runner too.

Join our convo in the comments. 
Have you read any of these books on Allegra’s circulation list? 
Are you surprised by what you see?

The High School of Commerce is in Springfield, MA, with about 1,300 students. The library sees 150+ students per day. Allegra is a Simmons GSLIS 2013 grad and is in her 2nd year at HSC. She loves to read YA Novels, which is part of why she can recommend books to teens. Visit her librarian blog here and her school blog there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

For Your TBR Pile - Watch the Sky

Watch the Sky
By Kirsten Hubbard
Published: April 7, Disney Hyperion

From GoodReads
: The signs are everywhere, Jory's stepfather, Caleb, says. Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in the aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks. Everywhere and anywhere. And because of them Jory's life is far from ordinary. He must follow a very specific set of rules: don't trust anyone outside the family, have your works at the ready just in case, and always, always watch out for the signs. The end is coming, and they must be prepared.

They begin an exhausting schedule digging a mysterious tunnel in anticipation of the disaster. But as the hold gets deeper, so does the family's doubt about whether Caleb's prophecy is true. When the stark reality of his stepfather's plans becomes clear, Jory must choose between living his own life or following Caleb, shutting his eyes to the bright world he's just begun to see.

Thank you NetGalley and Disney Hyperion for the eARC!

My Thoughts:

Watch the Sky hooked me immediately. Jory's family is fascinating in how they blindly trust Caleb, Jory's stepfather, whose former military experience has influenced his paranoid prophecies. In her middle grade novel debut, Hubbard explores how Jory trusts in what he's been told from his parents, teachers, and friends, and how he begins to think for himself.

Hubbard does a great job exploring how trust can be rooted in a family, how scary the world can be outside that trust, and how hard it is to break away from the things you're told to explore the world you want to know. I was fascinated with Jory's mother, who was scared to be alone and was the most extreme example of trusting blindly. Also, Kit, Jory's near-mute sister, was an amazing character whose inability to speak although she knew the truth was a great contrast to Jory's emotional arc.

I'd put this book in the hand of any middle grade reader, and can see it being a big hit with educators and librarians. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Currently Reading - April 2015

Hooray! Spring is here, finally. My windows are open and I'm eying my muddy front yard and getting anxious to get our outdoor area spiffed up so I can spend more time outside reading and writing.

I read a lot in March, and was really excited to cross off a few titles I've had on my list forever.

  • And We Stay was really cool in how it used Emily Dickinson and poetry to parallel the main character's grief. 
  • Tell the Wolves I'm Home was also a great literary read about a teenage girl's grief after her uncle dies of AIDs. 
  • Devoted examined a girl's faith after she left her Quiverfull religion.
  • The Murk was a terrifying middle grade that takes readers into the depths of the Okefenokee swamp.
  • Watch the Sky asked how blindly you'd believe everything you've been told.

Up on deck for April, I have:
  • The Good Girl, which hooked me right away. I've already devoured 1/3 of it last night.
  • I was so excited to get The Devil You Know. I'm a total Trish Doller fangirl and have been waiting for this book foreverrr!
  • And I'm really excited to have Girl in a Band on my Kindle. 

What are you reading this month?
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