By Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner
“Tween” is that age group somewhere between child and teen, roughly 4th through 7th grade. It is a time of dramatic change: physical, emotional, and mental. These kids have personalities, opinions, talents, and imaginations. They care about things. It is a spectacular age for reading because they have vocabularies and comprehension rates that can handle more intricate storytelling.
Maybe it is because they read more for school in those years, or maybe it is simply because changing bodies and minds are tested to their limits, but it can also be a difficult age for readers advisory. Many kids in this age group are holding on desperately to their favorite children’s books, like Captain Underpants and Magic Tree House. These books are familiar and comfortable in a time of constant change. Opening tween minds to new and more challenging reading material can be met with some opposition. There are also kids on the flip side: they desperately want to read bigger, more mature books like Divergent and Twilight, but either their parents disapprove or they just can’t quite grasp what they’re reading and it goes right over their head. That can make reading more frustrating and less fun.
One of my favorite techniques for reader’s advisory to tweens is to talk about movies and TV shows they love. If you can get the parents in on the conversation, that’s great! It is very important with this age group that your reading suggestions meet their family’s values. These are growing minds. Getting an idea of what kinds of TV shows and movies they are allowed to watch, and which they enjoy, can be a great starting point. For example, Disney’s Austin and Ally is a tv show about teen music stars and their rise to fame. Pair this with a series like Camp Rock (also by Disney, written by various authors) or the book Notes from an Accidental Band Geek by Erin Dionne. If their favorite show is ABC’s Modern Family or even The Middle, go for books about families. Some examples are the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (about a single-parent family and identity – perfect for tweens interested in different family types!) or Ivy in the Shadows by Chris Woodworth (also about a single-parent family), or Jeff Probst’s series Stranded about a blended family of siblings stranded on an island.
Another reader’s advisory technique for this age group is to find out what their favorite books are that they’ve ever read. Older tweens who still clamor for younger favorites like American Chillers and Diary of a Wimpy Kid may be willing to try read-alikes to those series. A good read-alike for American Chillers, but for kids on the older side of the tween range, is R. L. Stine’s Fear Street series. The Fear Street series was revived in late 2014, so a whole new audience of tweens awaits them! Other light horror books (not too scary, but definitely edgier than, say, Goosebumps) include Coraline or The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Doll Bones by Holly Black, or The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves. Diary of a Wimpy Kid read-alikes include the Dear Dumb Diary series by Jim Benton, Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell, or Max Quigley: Technically not a Bully by James Roy.
What about kids who hate to read, or maybe those with shorter attention spans? Graphic novels are perfect for tweens in this category. Tween graphic novels like Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel or Smile by Raina Telgemeier are good choices. There is just enough drama and intrigue to satisfy, but they are told in a style that is easy to digest. Graphic novels provide contextual clues to anyone with reading challenges. Those new to the English language, or who struggle with reading for a variety of reasons, may find graphic novels to be a good – even helpful – reading choice.
How about re-visiting the classics, or re-introducing our tween favorites? At 40 years old, I was a tween in the mid-1980s. Some of my favorite authors of the era are still writing books for kids, like Gordon Korman, Lloyd Alexander, and Lois Lowry. Their books, old and new, are still great choices for today’s tweens. Classics like Treasure Island, White Fang, Alice in Wonderland, and Anne of Green Gables are also good go-to titles for tweens. Be wary of original cover art in some cases, though. If they look too dated, tweens may be put off by them. Many titles have been re-released with more modern covers. Also steer clear of stories that focus on weird, old technology (like those giant mobile phones of the 1980s, or VCRs, for example) and people or events of a bygone era – unless they are intentional historical fiction. There are plenty of tweens interested in history, but the subject matter should be treated as such.
Tweens have interests and hobbies as varied and remarkable as adults. Finding out what they’re into is a great way to match book to reader with tweens. Are they learning to babysit? How about Dreamer Wisher Liar by Charise Mericle Harper or Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick? Or maybe they’ve just joined the school band. Try I Heart Band! by Michelle Schusterman. Are your tweens sports nuts? There’s Go for the Goal by Fred Bowen or Guys Read the Sports Pages edited by Gordon Korman. Talking about hobbies with tweens helps reader’s advisors build relationships and find out what these readers are interested in.
About the Authors
Holly is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, MI. She has a mild obsession with collection quality (ok, maybe not so mild) and can be found at the Readers’ Advisory desk dreaming up read-alikes.
Mary is the Youth Services Librarian at the Lyon Township Public Library in South Lyon, MI. She, too, is obsessed with collection quality, and has taken it up a notch with never ending shelf lists, spreadsheets, and inventory. Mary has a special knack for linking books to readers of all ages.