Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Join The Mission! Librarian Interviews and New Assignment

Our Join The Mission feature gives you a chance to become an operative and help us all figure out how to write more authentic YA.

For February's assignment, we asked you to interview a teacher or librarian and then report back to us.

We start things off with our own three-person interview! Find out what our librarians had to say about how to get kids reading, what's still missing from their stacks, and what their customers want more of.

But first, take a look at our next mission! (And if you participated in our last one, tell us about it in the comments so we can link to you!)

YA Confidential aims to help writers create more authentic young adult literature by giving them insight into today's teens. Each month, they issue a mission to their readers. March's mission, which I have chosen to accept, is to: 
Avid readers are, of course, any genre's bread and butter. But what about all the non-readers out there? We all know a friend, parent, son or daughter who would rather eat broccoli (cooked in buttered glass) than crack open a book. What keeps them away? What would draw them in? What books do they remember enjoying and why? Is there something missing for them, an unfilled niche? The most reluctant readers can give us insights into what a reader's most basic needs are. Satisfy them and you know you're doing something right.

To participate, just interview a non-reader sometime in the month of March. Post your interview on your own site along with the image and the mission text above. Let us know in the comments that you accepted the mission and give us the link to your post. We'll include a link round-up at the end of the month so everyone can check out your interview! 

We look forward to hearing from you! Now on to our latest mission!

February Mission: Interview a Librarian

Three San Francisco Bay Area librarians, Dan, Elisa and Beth, answered our call for insight into what their customers want. YA Confidential extends a big thank you to them and to Cindy Chadwick, Deputy County Librarian,  Alameda County, CA for putting us together with them. For more information about this amazing crew, check out

What do you see as the biggest changes over the last 10 years in YA literature?
Dan - I think YA Lit is more relaxed, less preachy. Moralizing is done more in the characters' choices. For instance, Percy Jackson's nemesis is supposedly some guy who has a difficult relationship with his father. (This stood out as simplistic character development in the Graphic Novel version of Percy Jackson.) But the diversity of material shows that it's okay to have fun and fluff: Manga and graphic novels, the vampire genre with books that range from serious romance to humor, every nuance you can imagine about cliques and gangs, boy books that are more fluid in their definition of self, friendship and honor. All topics and types of people are portrayed.
Elisa - There’s a lot more of it in general. It seems to have gone from having more “stories for guys” to having an overwhelming number of “stories for girls.”
Beth - Volume, there is just so much more of it

It used to be that abortion, homosexuality, cutting, drug use and other topics were all off limits. All have been covered in YA. Are there any taboos left? Anything that still isn't being talked about?
Dan - Political satire is a field that could use more imagination and energy. I think the readers would get it and enjoy material that was sharp and biting. 
Elisa - I can’t think of anything off hand. Mind you, I haven’t seen much that covers asexuality/bisexuality. It could just be the stuff I see, though. Trans issues, maybe? 
Beth - If there is, it is something I haven't thought of.

Who reads YA? Mainly kids? Adults? Has that changed?
Dan - Manga is popular with kids and there's something for every age group. Adults really like the middle school and high school fantasies. 
Elisa - Everyone seems to be reading YA books these days. 
Beth - Still mostly teens, but more adults.

What kinds of books do YA readers want more of? What do they want less of?
Dan - They want books that show the consequences of actions and the development of a person's conscience. 
Elisa - Werewolves are pretty popular these days, and I think Angels are still “in.” I think that we still need more books for guys.

Beth - The most popular books seem to be stories where a teen makes a a big impact, Hunger Games , I Am Number Four, etc.

When asked for a suggestion, how do you determine what might be appropriate for one reader but not another?
Dan - Liking a type of story or person, interest in a topic create the magnet. Holding the book in their hand, looking at its description almost instantly reveal whether it's appropriate. The kids themselves make the judgment call. Sometimes parents are trying to push kids in new directions, but it's best if the young person chooses. 
Elisa - I ask them what the last book they read and liked was, and then look into their hobbies.
Beth - Interest, gender, age, do they like to read, what have they read recently that they liked, etc.

What do your teen readers tell you that they're not telling their parents? Friends?
Dan - I think they would say they like everything and are interested in the entire range of fiction from classics to silly stuff. They might hide this from their parents who might glom onto some "trend" and push them toward it. They are pretty honest with their friends--except on topics which might lead to embarrassment or being stigmatized. 

What do you wish YA writers did more of?
Dan - YA writers could take a more penetrating look into what makes a person good or what defines honor. There are many unexplored and unusual ways to show friendship or love or the conflict between people. 
Elisa - I’d personally like to see less of the rich mean girls, and more diversity.

Who are the toughest groups to get reading? What do you do with them? What would draw them in?
Dan - Games played by a whole bunch of people sometimes draw people in and break down barriers to reading. I don't think there are groups who are not into reading since there is usually some joke book, comic, manga, real life street story, etc. that grabs someone (juvie hall and jails showed me this). 
Elisa - Sometimes it turns out that reluctant readers are actually more into non-fiction. Get them some great nonfiction. Alternately, graphic novels are still pretty popular with folks who aren’t that big on plain text.

Any thoughts about minorities in YA? As readers?
Dan - Traditionally-defined minorities read everything that is popular with the entire population. There could be increased representation of minorities who are interesting in themselves, but happen to speak from different cultural backgrounds. The distinctions of their voices, cultural expectations and social experiences should be recorded in vivid detail. There is no need to blend things into a homogeneous, safe version of adolescence. The truth is the best model. 
Elisa - There need to me more books with minority main characters, and their pictures need to be on the front of the book.

Any trends in YA you can see?
Elisa - We’re working our way through the supernatural beings it would seem. 
Beth - There seem to be more adventure novels

Thanks again to all our interviewees! Remember, you can join our March Mission and we'll link to it here at the end of the month.

See you next time!


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