Thursday, February 5, 2009

Teens and Tweens - The Next Generation of Readers

There are 1000+ comments debating Stephen King's comments in the USA Today article referenced in my blog below. In the comments section, many of the adults dismissed the young readers who defended Stephenie Meyer. I think these adults missed an important phenomenon. These kids are reading!

Reading isn't dead after all. We should rejoice. Because if we can hook them now, they are more likely to become lifetime readers. And the way to hook tweens and teens is to make books available that resonate with them. That's exactly how I got hooked on reading way back in the stone age - a time when academics and parents feared television would be the death of reading.

When I was in the 7th grade, my small town junior high school conjured up an experimental idea. The school decided to mix kids of all reading/writing levels in English classes, thus eliminating advanced English. They reasoned that the on-level kids would catch up to the advanced students by virtue of exposure. In addition, they believed that the smarty pants kids would help the others. They were so confident of the success of this new program that they put two classes together and had two teachers team-teach. This meant about 45 kids in one giant jungle, er, class. Of those 45 kids, about 8 were at an advanced level.

Yes, I was among the smarty pants kids. We were bored, bad, and disruptive. The teachers did not know what to do with us. Finally, they sent us to the library (since parents would complain if they threw us in the parking lot). Of course the librarian objected because we threw spitballs. The teacher realized she'd better find something to entertain us. No dummy, she found books that she thought would interest us. For me, she found Victoria Holt. I fell in love with 19th century England (which probably explains why I write Regency historicals). After I gobbled up all of Holt's books, I found another book set in 19th century England. I didn't know Oliver Twist was a classic. Dickens led to Poe (scary tales are hot stuff when you're 12). The point is that my experience with those first gothic novels led to a lifetime love of books.

Beyond the touchy-feely reasons for getting kids to read, there are dollars and cents involved. Dollars and cents that could boost an ailing publishing industry. In May 2007, CBS Evening News reported that children aged 8 to 12 are spending $30 billion of their own money each year. Little wonder marketers are shelling out $17 billion annually targeting them. That of course means that there are lots of products and services out there competing with books for these dollars.

Ah, but a number of publishers are paying attention. PW reported in September 2007 that Little Brown, Putnam, Scholastic, Random House, and Harper are all targeting the teen market with programs. I've no idea whether the publishers have cut back on these programs due to the recession, but it's an interesting article worth reading. Here's the link:

Happy reading!

No comments: