Raising Their Voices: Teens Have a Say in Best Teen Reads

Teens are often guided by adults in their reading choices, yet have their own motivations for the books they choose to read.  Adult recommendations come from a variety of perspectives – a desire to protect, an inducement to learn and explore, a means of sharing what the adult once loved – all with the best of intentions. For teens who want to make their voices and choices of what they WANT to read heard, there are a variety of ways to do so – nominating, voting, and using social media.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association, has created two avenues for teens to express their reading wants – Teens Top Ten and the Readers’ Choice List. Teens Top Ten is nearly completely student-run. Fifteen to sixteen teen book groups moderated by a librarian who is a YALSA member receive galleys of recent titles from publishers. The teens review the titles and are responsible for creating the national list, posted on Support Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week. All teens, ages 12 to 18, are eligible to vote online in August and September. The winners will be announced during Teen Read Week (the third week of October).

2012 marks the second year of YALSA’s Readers’ Choice List. It serves as a means for teens to tell librarians what they like. Absolutely anyone – except the author or an employee of the publisher of a particular title – can nominate a book online that was published between November 1st of the prior year and October 31st of the current year. Books can be nominated in any of seven categories – Horror/Thriller, Mystery/Crime, Nonfiction, Realistic Fiction, romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and the 2012 wild card category, Dystopias. Nominations are taken online between February and October of the current year. Once the nominees have been determined, librarian members of YALSA vote during the first week of November.

The Young Adult Services Section of the New Jersey Library Association administers the Garden State Teen Book Awards. Every year, dozens of YA and Teen librarians across the state read assigned titles from the previous year’s “best” lists. There are anywhere from 100 to 150 in each of three broad categories – 6th to 8th Grade Fiction, 9th to 12th Grade Fiction, and 6th to 12th Grade Nonfiction. These huge lists are condensed down to the top 20 in each category during three passionate sessions in January, February, and March. The goal is to highlight the very best of the best in YA lit. Many factors are considered, including quality of writing, usefulness (particularly regarding nonfiction), authenticity of the characters, connection with the story, and perceived teen appeal. Once the nominees have been determined, the ballot is posted late April/early May. Teens can cast their ballot by paper ballot, via email, or through two online options, including a Facebook page through the first week of January. Winners in each category are announced in late January.

If you haven’t heard of Goodreads, you should check it out! In the About us section of the website, Goodreads’ stated mission is “to help people find and share books they love.” So sign up for a free account and let the literary hijinks begin – make lists of what you’ve read and want to read, write & read reviews, you can even join a virtual book club. You can link your Goodreads account to your Twitter or Facebook profiles too. In 2009, Goodreads established the Annual Goodreads Choice Awards in a number of genres. In November, members cast votes three times – in the first round, members can add a write-in candidate to the existing 15 nominees; the second round includes the top five write-in votes for a list of 20 nominees; the final round is narrowed to the top ten in each category. Teens should check out the winners of Young Adult Fiction, Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Graphic Novels & Comics.

Pinterest is all the rage with librarians, but who’s to say teens can’t use it too! If you enter “YA books” in the search bar and click Boards, you will be pleasantly surprised at the number of people pinning YA books! You can look at anyone’s public pins or boards without being a member. If you want to take it a step further, request an invite – Pinterest is by invitation only – or you can be invited by someone who is already a member. Once invited, register through Facebook Connect or Twitter. Then start creating boards of your fave books. Simple.

Finally, if you really want to forge your own path, create a blog. The most widely known and well-used free blog sites are Blogger, WordPress, Livejournal, and Tumblr. As with any social media, be smart and responsible about what you post and who you follow. Let yourself be heard.

- Carolyn A.


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