Guest Post: On Reaching the Parents of Teen Readers

Today’s wonderful guest post is by Stephanie Wilkes, a YA librarian with a passion for teens, good books, pizza, video games and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Stephanie Wilkes is the Young Adult Coordinator at Ouachita Parish Public Library in Louisiana. I love Stephanie’s recounting of her book club, and her idea about reaching the parents of teen readers. You can find Stephanie on Twitter at @stephaniewilkes

Last night I met with my Adult Book Club. Now, as a young adult librarian, when it is my turn to select our monthly book, I ALWAYS pick a YA book…to get them out of their comfort zone. Over the years, we’ve read The Hunger Games, Shiver, and Bloody Jack. This month, I chose Hate List by Jennifer Brown. I never anticipated that the discussion would be as beautiful as it was, but when everyone left the room and I was alone in my office, I had tears in my eyes. For the first time, I had connected with adults about the truth in young adult fiction.

One of the first responses I received when asking if they liked the book was that they didn’t understand why the books were so dark and they were concerned that it glamorized certain behaviors with teens. After this summer’s debate with Meghan Cox Gurdon and the outpouring of YA writers to support these types of materials, we had a serious discussion about the history of young adult literature and where we are today. Obviously, sharing my passion about young adult books is something I do on a daily basis, but I even surprised myself about how knowledgeable I felt when discussing ‘problem’ novels.

As we discussed the book, one of the attendees mentioned that she read the book with her daughter, as the book was on her daughter’s required reading for her high school over the summer. She mentioned that she and her daughter were able to sit down and discuss some of themes in the book together and how enjoyable it was to talk to her daughter, refreshing to hear her voice an opinion of her own, and how it brought the two closer together. Why did it bring them closer together? Not because of the discussion of school violence but because of the discussion of the relationship between Valerie, the main character, and her boyfriend Nick. She stated that she sat and talked about destructive behavior in relationships and about how it can be hard for girls AND guys to see that the decisions they are making have a domino effect on others. I was floored. Every discussion I have with teens about this book is about the shooting…we never discuss Valerie and Nick’s relationship.

Which brings me to my musing and my new idea… After much thought, I have decided that while doing the daily duties of a young adult librarian brings teens closer to books, maybe I should change focus for a short time and target the PARENTS. This seems crazy but after talking to several parents, they’ve actually loved the idea of having a book club for them in which they read YA books, either with or without their kids. Some of them wanted to discuss how sexy Edward was in Twilight and how some of them, and I unfortunately quote, ‘found Edward and Bella’s honeymoon scene more erotic than a Harlequin novel’, and they wanted to have this discussion with other adults so that they wouldn’t feel so creepy. Some of them want to read more books like Hate List and discuss serious topics in an open forum way with their kids.

As young adult librarians, we focus so much on teens that I think we may have missed an opportunity promoting to parents that would do several key things: 1) facilitate discussion amongst teens and adults; 2) allow adults to indulge and learn more about young adult fiction; and 3) open the door for adults to embrace this new generation and to understand their dilemmas. One of my adults argued that she didn’t think that things were as bad now as they were in the 1960s when she was a teenager and was immediately reprimanded by another adult who said that it was always bad, but they just chose to forget.

It’s time to remind the adults what it is like and to teach them how to talk and relate to teenagers. I think that only then can we begin to unite together and (sappy I know…) make this world a beautiful place.

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
This entry was posted in librarian, library, literacy, teen book recommendation, teen books. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Guest Post: On Reaching the Parents of Teen Readers

  1. Amen, sister. This is so true it makes me want to swear. I won’t.

    As a father of two young women I find there is no more powerful way to reach my children and provide an opportunity for us to understand each other better than by reading and discussing the same books.

    This is how I ended up getting caught reading Twilight at soccer practice a few years ago.

    Another advantage is that I can get my kids to do their chores, pay them allowance, and then get free books when they spend their money on their reading habits. Okay, technically the books belong to them, but I get to borrow any ones I want.

  2. Matthew, I love how you put that! (laughing) I agree with you both–this is a fantastic idea Stephanie had. And discussion with parents (and having them read) can only help. I love that you read with your girls! And talk to them about it. Good for you!

  3. Stephanie Wilkes says:

    Matthew – I TOTALLY AGREE!!! You want to come to Louisiana to promote this book club with me?

    I think that it’s really hard for parents to talk to teens about today’s issues. Before, it was only about sex and maybe smoking or drugs but today, there are a variety of different issues about which parents have NO CLUE how to talk to their teens.

    I am so happy to hear of an active parent who is participating in their child’s reading life! And even more kudos to you for being a DAD who is involved!


  4. Paige says:

    I do a middle school teen/parent book club, and I love the discussions we get to have across generations. Rather than all read the same book, we read a certain genre or theme each month, which gives us a chance to access even more books and talk about even more ideas.

    I’d love to be able to do a similar club with a high school population, but I don’t think it would be as popular. (and by popular, I mean 4-5 pairs of parents/teens each month) Any thoughts or suggestions on running a book club for parents featuring only teen books?

  5. Stephanie Wilkes says:

    I’ve noticed that the majority of those who wanted to participate at first didn’t have children or had older children. BUT the word has spread from these adults to their friends with children.
    I also picked specific books for a six month time frame kicking off with The Hunger Games which both parents and teens were already reading. Put in a flyer at checkout and had a few contact me. We start meeting during Teen Read Week so we will see how it goes!

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  7. Yes. Yes. Yes. I don’t hesitate to recommend YA books to adults and parents for all of the reasons you listed! I love your book club idea. I hope we get to hear about it more soon.

  8. Pingback: Roundup of Children’s Literacy and Reading News – Mid-September | Book(re)Marks

  9. Pingback: Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup - mid-September 2011 • Family Bookshelf

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