Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Readers Advisory

Posted by lpearle on 12 June 2010

What should I read next? (or “what should my son/daughter read next?”) is a question every librarian hears… and often. When the women’s book group at Hackley read The Help, I found myself recommending Wench and Queen of Palmyra as good follow-ups. When I know a reader liked The Hunger Games/Catching Fire I know that Maze Runner and Incarceron will be a good way to pass the time until Mockingjay is released.

The problem when working with young adults, however, is that often the adults to whom they’re attached are sensitive to issues that the YA themselves may not be sensitive to. One friend was telling me that several of Sarah Dessen’s books were inappropriate (in her eyes) for her 12-year-old daughter, while others tell me that their fourth grader is reading the final Harry Potter (written for older readers). I’ve seen many middle school students reading Gossip Girl and its ilk, while their mothers try to keep them interested in “Beacon Street Girls”. On the other hand, several years ago, I had a 6th grader watching “Sex and the City” (and purchasing her first pair of Manolos) with her mother’s encouragement. It makes it difficult to do blanket recommendations, because what students want can often be different from what the parents want (or feel comfortable with) – and sometimes even having the discussion about why certain books are on a list can be problematic.

One thing I’ve noticed is that children often understand their parents wishes/limitations and if they agree with them, they won’t gravitate to the Forbidden Stuff. They’re also good at blipping over, or simply ceasing to read the book if they become uncomfortable (although no one seems to be uncomfortable with Twilight‘s abusive relationship, but that’s another post). Years ago, another sixth grade girl came to me to ask for Lolita – her mother wanted her to read it. We didn’t have it on the shelves, so I could honestly say “sorry” without having to question the mother’s choice (or negate it). When she was a senior, this student came to me and said that she’d finally read the book and, well, ewwwww (I’m paraphrasing, of course).

I’m here at my Reunion, sitting with women I knew years ago, and they’re asking me for recommendations for their children. The question for me isn’t what do they like genre-wise, it’s what do these women, with whom I shared a chunk of my childhood yet don’t necessarily share the same sensibilities regarding reading (or who may be far more conservative now than they were then… funny how that happens), feel is appropriate for their children to be reading. Because without both pieces of the puzzle, I really can’t do my best RA work.

It’s an issue that’s cropped up at work, and one that will continue to crop up. My question to my librarian readers is: how do you negotiate that fine line? Err on the side of caution with all students, or go boldly into the fray?

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2 Responses to “Readers Advisory”

  1. LaurieA-B said

    Interesting thoughts. This is why it’s challenging to recommend books when all you know is 12-year-old girl: she could be interested in anything from Beacon Street Girls to Gossip Girl, or Jodi Picoult and Anna Quindlen, for that matter. So you start with the basic question, to either the parent or the girl: what books has she read and liked recently?

    If I’m talking to the student, there’s no fine line to negotiate. I recommend the books they are interested in reading. I don’t consider what the parent wants. If that comes up later, I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    If it’s a parent asking, then I do consider what they feel is appropriate, since they’re the one asking the question.

  2. […] with the understanding that their tastes and mine might not mesh.  I’ve blogged before about Reader’s Advisory and censorship, but recently I’ve been thinking about how to do RA best if you don’t […]

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