What are 13-year-olds reading?

17 Jan

The YA community is always abuzz with news of trends and ‘big books’, so much so that it can be hard to follow what’s in and what’s out. As we know, a large part of this trade is driven by adult consumers, but we must remember that YA also includes the Y part of the equation!

At the moment I teach five ‘literacy’ lessons a week to different classes, which includes time for silent, individual reading. Now that I work in a girls’ school, the majority of the pupils really enjoy having the chance to choose and read their own books (in a mixed environment, this was more challenging – there were many boys who liked to read, but some others found it hard to settle and focus for extended periods, or to find something that suited their interests – I highly recommend the Guinness Book of Records for such occasions). There are still one or two in my current classes who are reluctant, but as I always say, you can’t possible ‘hate all books’ – you just haven’t found the right one yet!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to post a snapshot of what one class of 13-year-old girls were reading this week, to give some insight into how the younger teens are engaging with YA (or not, as the case may be – many of their books would be considered MG). The results are interesting, and may surprise some people – overall, they suggest that what kids really want is something familiar and comforting, and that new releases are not necessarily foremost in their minds.

The Old Favourites

It’s interesting to see how many ‘old-school’ books are still around. In this age-group the girls are largely too young to have experienced the Harry Potter phenomenon in real time, and a surprisingly large percentage have neither read the books nor seen the movies (my Christmas quiz question, ‘name Harry’s owl’, demonstrated that!). Two girls this week were reading part of the HP series for the very first time. By this age one might expect them to have moved on from Roald Dahl, but his books still make an appearance, too.

Reliable Authors

The girls seem to like authors or series that deliver something consistent – something they can pick up and instantly know if they will like it. Therefore Jacqueline Wilson (many of whose books would be considered ‘Old Favourites’ as well) dominates the class with at least four readers this week, especially with her Hetty Feather series. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is another staple, chosen by two students, offering nine books of easy-to-read and relatable content (fascinatingly cherished by girls just as much as the boys I used to work with). Another long running series that appeals to both genders is Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series, chosen by two, whilst others plumped for Cathy Cassidy, who has a wide range of contemporary stories including the Chocolate Box Girls. Cassie Claire is another prolific favourite.

Movie Tie-ins

Another way for teens to feel confident in their book choice is to choose something they’ve seen on screen, or at least heard lots about in the media. Divergent mania has died down a little, although one girl was ploughing her way through Allegiant. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak has made a resurgence – published in 2005, its movie adaptation in 2013 was popular amongst the students. Finally, one student made the bold choice of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a decidedly adult novel. She didn’t see the movie but the hype around it had made her keen to try the book.

The ‘Fault in Our Stars’ Effect

Last term, EVERYONE was reading TFIOS (from Year 7 all the way up to 6th Form). I think that, by now, everyone who was going to read it has done so – but the girls are still hankering for more weepy, serious love stories. That might explain the otherwise surprising reappearance of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (published back in 2007), which was chosen by two girls, and the more obvious choice of John Green’s Paper Towns (soon to be a movie as well).

Online Sensations

Finally, the internet is a new source of book ideas, and the popularity of Zoe Sugg’s Girl Online in a younger class of mine (with 5/30 girls reading it in the same lesson!) attests to this. In this older class, Beth Reekles’ The Kissing Booth showed that online recommendations can carry serious clout with this age group.

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