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Trends in Children's Literature in 2012

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Color photo of Mary Fellows

Mary Fellows, President of the Association for Library Service to Children

American Library Association
What can we expect in children’s literature in 2012? What are the trends and some of the available resources? To find out, I interviewed Mary Fellows, President of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

As appropriate, following some of her responses to my questions, I added a bracketed section with links to related resources that you can find here on About.com Children's Books.

1. What are some of the trends in children’s literature that you see for 2012?

Some really excellent nonfiction is being published, from a beautifully illustrated picture book about ducks to a history relating how Superman comics changed the world by combating the KKK. The selection of informational books for children is so rich right now.

[Is your child/teen a "nonfiction kid" who loves informational books? Share their favorites at Readers Respond.]

2. Do you see particular formats (picture books, beginning reader books, graphic novels, etc.) increasing in popularity or broadening their audience?

Graphic novels are booming. We're getting more quality GNs, and the variety of subjects and age levels the books cover is expanding. We're slowly reaching parents and teachers with the message that reading a graphic novel is reading. GN readers learn the same narrative structure in comics as in text-only books, and they learn inference as well. Plus, the ability to "read" images is an essential 21st century skill - we're a visual culture now.

[What Exactly is a Graphic Novel? What do Comic Books, Comic-style Books, and Graphic Novels Have in Common?]

3. Are there certain themes or subjects that are particularly popular with preschoolers? beginning readers? middle grade readers?

There are some perennially popular subjects, such as dinosaurs and books on drawing for younger children, and subjects that are in huge demand for a while, like vampires, before another type of series captures the spotlight. We're lucky to have series like the Harry Potter books and the Twilight series. Those books draw kids in with interesting characters and plots, hook them through sequel after sequel, and then spin them out and onto other terrific and sometimes more demanding books.

[The Harry Potter Series: Fast Facts, Parent’s Guide to the Twilight Series]

4. Are your children’s librarians seeing an increase in requests for e-books from kids 7-12?

Our librarians tell me that kids don't ask for e-reader titles; parents do. Most kids still seem to prefer to choose their own books by browsing through print books. However, more and more kids are requesting and getting their own e-readers, especially the e-readers that allow sharing of titles. Kids still like to pass along favorite books!

5. With kids’ love for technology, do you see kids 7-12 embracing e-readers and online children’s books and reading more as a result?

It's all about adults providing multiple options - and finding the right option for their child. Some kids will love e-readers; load an e-reader up with lots of books and these kids will disappear into it. Some kids, even with the choice of an e-reader, will want a book that won't get them grounded if they accidentally lose it. Some kids, with tablets, will find so many other distractions on them that reading an e-book isn't something they do much. Many kids won't have access to an e-reader or tablet, or to online books. We need all forms of books, and we need to work at engaging kids in the content - the stories or the information - not just the vehicle for delivering it.

[Write a review of the eReader your child/teen uses. Read parents’ reviews of eReaders their children use.]

6. Research has shown that boys generally don’t do as well in reading as girls and aren’t as interested in reading. Are there particular types of books or tips that you recommend to get boys reading?

Boys often respond better to informational books than to fiction. There are so many wonderful informational books being published now. One of ALSC's awards, the Sibert Medal, honors the best informational book of the year for children. The list of past winners and honor books is a great place to start finding excellent books that will appeal to boys: http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/sibertmedal. Funny books and graphic novels are also good with boys. There is an absolute bounty of excellent graphic novels for kids, tweens, and teens now. For boys - and girls - who are reluctant readers, graphic novels can be just the right hook. They're fun, with bright colors and exciting visuals, and these visuals give the readers support in understanding the story.

[The Scientist in the Field Series, National Geographic Kids Almanac, Guinness World Records, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series]

7. What recommendations do you have for parents who are looking for good books to read aloud to their children?

Ask your librarian, of course! Librarians are the experts, and can use the information you provide about your child's gender, age and interests to help you pick some engaging titles. If you want to browse for yourself, our library friends in Indiana offer some good lists: http://www.ilfonline.org/programs-awards/read-aloud-books/.

[Parent’s Guide: The Read Aloud Handbook, Recommended Read Alouds - Picture Books: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Boy who was Raised by Librarians, Middle Grade Nonfiction: Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Middle Grade Fiction: The Tiger Rising.]

8. What recommendations do you have for parents on keeping their kids reading during the busy ‘tween years?

First, be sure you're modeling reading. Even though tweens are starting to individuate from parents, you're still their first role model. If you read a lot and enjoy it, your tween is more likely to pick up a book or magazine.

Secondly, keep reading aloud as a family. Kids can understand higher level vocabulary and concepts through listening than they can through reading. Also, tweens become teens. Get in the habit now of regularly reading together - either aloud or each individually reading the same book - and talking about what you read. That habit can strengthen your connection with your child during the challenging teen years, and allow you to discuss sensitive topics with the degree of distance a book character provides.

[10 Ways to Help You Raise Kids Who Love Reading, The Read Aloud Handbook]

9. Since some YA fiction is suitable for mature fourth and fifth graders who read and comprehend well and other YA fiction is definitely geared to older teens, can you recommend good reading lists or other resources to help parents identify good YA books for 'tweens and young teens?

ALSC has just created a list of the 2012 award-winning books and media most of interest to tweens [ages 10-14]. It's here: http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2012/02/tween-award-booklist-2/.

[List includes: Wonderstruck, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans]

10. I’ve written about all of that public libraries have to offer (see http://childrensbooks.about.com/od/libraries/a/save_money.htm). Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We're learning so much more about language and learning development in babies and young children, and public libraries have really embraced the role of being early literacy skills experts. Our PLA/ALSC program Every Child Ready to Read® @ your library® has helped librarians develop their expertise. Age-appropriate toys and attractive play areas, early literacy programs like storytimes, tips and programs for parents on easy ways to help your child develop language - all of these make libraries the place to go for parents wanting to give their children the right start to learning. Best of all, libraries are open many hours including evenings and weekends - and they're free!

[Video: Reading to Young Children, 10 Tips for New Parents: Babies, Books and Reading Aloud]

What About Book for Teens?

Read Current Teen Reading Trends: 2012, my interview with the President of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), to learn more about books for teens (also known as young adult books/YA books), which generally are defined as books for ages 12 to 18.

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