Friday, May 20, 2016

What do Librarians Want to See in Middle Grade Books?

What is the wish list for middle grade books at this time?  Two librarians discuss their wants and needs, and it is interesting and a bit surprising as well.
Jennifer Hubert Swan is the director of library services at Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School in Manhattan. She served on the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award Committee and chaired the 2012 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults committee. She also teaches young adult literature and youth library programming in Pratt Institute’s School of Information and writes about books for teens on Reading Rants, her blog.
Katie Richert is the assistant head of youth services at the Bloomingdale Public Library in a Chicago suburb. She is a member of the 2017 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. When she isn’t reading books for committee work, she says, she is “storytiming” it up with preschoolers around town.
Richert:  "I’d like publishers to know that the kids love a series, but a great standalone can still have the same impact on a reader....I was surprised by the love that Roller Girl [by Victoria Jameson] has gotten. I cannot keep that on the shelf! That one book has lead to great discussions with both boys and girls, more interest in our graphic novels, and more interest in Roller Derby—yes, Roller Derby!'
"I, too, have loved how books are now featuring diversity and different sexual orientations in all genres. I think that is showing how much these things affect kids and teens and need to be part of every story. I also have liked that there have been more books focusing on mental illness. It was something that might have been taboo before to talk about, but it affects a lot of people. I like how there are both books describing living with mental illness and also living with a family member facing this same issue. I think showcasing this in young adult or middle grade literature is bringing it out for discussion. That could mean a world of difference to a teen facing mental illness or dealing with mental illness at home."
Swan: "While on the topic of diversity in general, it would be so nice to see some middle-grade and YA fiction that included characters grappling with issues of spirituality, especially Christianity. While we see titles where teens are exploring their Jewish (Never Mind the Goldbergs; Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) or Muslim (Does My Head Look Big in This?; I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister) culture or roots, very rarely is Christianity discussed in a mainstream, secular way in popular fiction."
"And on a lighter note, more smart, humorous books for the middle school set (A Tale Dark and Grimm and The Schwa Was Here are my go-to book-talk choices for middle schoolers and I could hand-sell a library-full of more titles like those) and more YA gross-out, laugh-out-loud books like Don Calame’s Swim the Fly series. Every year I win the respect of an eighth-grade boy when I recommend those books to him. There is no bodily function that Calame is afraid to write about, which makes for some hilariously horrifying situations that seem to be especially appreciated by eighth-grade boys."