Finding Literature for Young Adults

June 18, 2019

A number of you noted last week that you’d like to see us address the issue of finding high quality books for older children, particularly books for teens. So today we’re doing just that!

Being on the lookout for new books and authors requires constant vigilance. It’s a never-ending process, and one that requires a great deal of providence. You never know from what strange corner of the universe you’ll discover your next great read! I personally try to jot down the names of books or authors whenever someone I respect mentions them in passing so that I can look them up afterwards. Sometimes I read these books and sometimes I don’t, but either way it’s helpful to glean ideas from what others around me are reading.

Discovering good books for teens, however, seems to be a twofold issue. One part involves finding good books that you as a parent or teacher can provide to teens. The other part involves empowering teens to seek out good literature for themselves, and giving them the tools they’ll need to recognize and enjoy it. Adolescence is a time where you want to encourage readers to seek out new literature for themselves, and to begin assuming responsibility for their own reading habits if they haven’t done so already.

Encouraging independence

As much as possible, you want to encourage adolescents to find books for themselves, which may entail giving them more latitude in their reading habits. At this stage in development, I would ensure that good books (outside of academic reading) are always available, but otherwise refrain from giving too many directions.

This is something my mom did a great job of. For instance, she let me re-read books we had previously read aloud almost exclusively for about a year. She even let me not read much if at all independently for long stretches of time. But when I finally asked to go to our local bookstores so I could look for some books by Willa Cather, you’d better believe she was ready to go almost immediately!

Before that time, I would read books for school and I re-read a handful of the books we had read aloud earlier, but I didn’t really love to read. But, once I started picking out books for myself, I never stopped! Now I really appreciate that my mom let me take my time and didn’t rush me into reading. I think that the freedom she gave me to choose my own books when I was 12-13 really helped me gain independence in my reading habits.  


One type of resource that I would recommend to readers of all ages, but to adolescents in particular is literary anthologies. Anthologies are a great instrument to use when “spreading a broad feast” for teens, especially since they provide so much opportunity for exploration and discovery. Anthologies of short stories, plays, essays, and poems are widely available and good ones expose readers to a diverse collection of works. Readers can gain a great sense of an author’s style from a short story, and then actively pursue more works by the authors they liked best.

I also like this sort of book because it’s easier to pick up and set down than a novel. You can read a handful of stories, then take a break to read a full-length novel, then return without missing a beat. I often find that I’ll read a story, then go look for a book by that author and return to the anthology when I’m again in need of inspiration.

In short, anthologies can be deep wells to draw from and can provide good exposure to a wide range of literary styles, in addition to introducing readers to new authors.

Book Lists

Since I was drawn primarily to “classic literature” as a teen, I began using resources like Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels to mine ideas for future reading. Modern Library also has a similar list. Those lists gave me ideas of titles, as well as authors, to keep an eye out for at bookstores or even on our bookshelves at home. I never read all of those books, and honestly don’t intend to, but they were a great place to begin.

Now that I am older and have read more widely, I don’t refer to that sort of list anymore. I do, however, note what titles are on the bookshelves of close friends and I do sometimes look at the recommendations Goodreads gives me. Several months ago, I actually took photographs of a friend’s entire library because her shelves were so incredible. Now whenever I need ideas I can just look back at the images! I’ll also often look at the Goodreads accounts of friends whose taste I respect to see how they’ve rated books.

Award Winners

In addition to looking at book lists, you can also mine major book awards lists for new titles. We often recommend Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books here. In addition, you can look at winners of the Pulitzer prize, Nobel prize in literature, National Book Awards, and Costa Book Awards. The Booker Prize is hit or miss for me, but still absolutely worth looking at.

As a quick note: do also look at the short-lists and list of runners up for each award, as those are often wonderful, as well!

Reading Friendships

Our close friends can be one of our most helpful tools in discovering new literature. So many of my all-time favorite books came as recommendations or gifts from friends. Over time I have identified those friends who are good literary “matches” for me and I’ll often turn to them for recommendations or insight. I did this as a teen, as well, and it gave me a list of interesting new books to read, in addition to strengthening my relationships with friends.

Teens can, and absolutely should, rely on one another for recommendations. (It's important, though, to identify friends whose opinions and taste you respect and not to simply read a book just because an acquaintance has read it.) But once you've found a good book friend, hang on to them! It's possible that you've established a reading friendship for life.

Other questions to consider

  • Is this author someone whom I have heard of? Have I read or heard positive reviews of this author from people I respect?
  • Did someone whose opinion I trust recommend this book?
  • Did someone who generally shares my literary tastes recommend this book?
  • Would I want to talk about this book with people whom I respect, after finishing it?
  • What other types of books are being marketed along with this book? Do I know any of the other books, and can they give me a sense of what to expect from this book?

Share your experience

What about you all? Where do you find great books for teens? And what other resources have you found to be helpful besides the ones we listed here? Do you have experience working with a teenager to help them begin establishing greater ownership over their own reading? Let us know in the comments below!

Books Must Be Available AND Accessible

by Lisa Ripperton
​June 14, 2019

It is not enough that books are available, they must be accessible too!

One boy's experience

Aidan Chambers, a noted British lecturer on children's literature,  shares his own experience in one classroom setting:

When I was nine my school classroom contained about fifty storybooks. They were kept in a locked cupboard which was opened for a few minutes every Friday afternoon, when we were told to choose a book to take home for the weekend. On Monday morning we returned the books and the cupboard was locked again until the next Friday. All weeks the books were available, but they weren't accessible till the teacher opened the cupboard and allowed us to take one. (The Reading Environment, p. 4.)

Conditions placed on use of books

In other settings Chambers found children discouraged from taking books out of the library because their hands were dirty or their school work was not completed. Books should be accessible, and accessible to all!

My own experience

I experienced a similar issue of accessibility when I was a child. Every summer I spent a week with my Granny, and her brother, Uncle Ralph. They lived in spacious quarters, occupying the second and third floors of a large old Victorian home in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Their home was filled with books! Built-in bookshelves along the long living room wall, broken only by a cozy window-seat, housed Uncle Ralph's generous collection of plays. On the right as you entered Granny's bedroom stood a bookcase full of hardback editions of the latest fiction for adults.

Glass doors on bookcases

In between was the library with open bookshelves along one wall containing reference material and a long handsome bookcase on the wall opposite. This bookcase appeared to contain a number of series of various sorts. I say "appeared" because not only did the bookcase sport glass doors in front, the view of all but the tip-tops of the books on the highest shelf were obscured by a massive couch that could not be budged. 

More glass-fronted bookcases lined the long hall on the third floor. I could at least read the titles on the covers of these. A set of the complete works of Mark Twain was there, along with a nice collection of Ernest Thompson Seton books, to match the framed illustration of Seton's Lobo the Wolf on the opposite wall that frightened me each time I scurried down the hall to the bathroom. But, we were given explicit instructions NOT to open the glass doors or remove books.

One more room to try . . .

My last hope was the attic where I soon discovered that there was a bookcase full of children's books that belonged to my father's brother, Uncle Ralphie, who becoming deaf at 18 months as a result of measles became an avid lifelong reader. 

Yet these too were inaccessible! A big sheet of red oilcloth was thumbtacked to all sides of the bookcase, and again we were given explicit instructions to leave them alone. I could peek in enough to see that there was a copy of Lois Lenski's Strawberry Girl​ on the shelf as well as a good number of titles in L. Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz series. What other treasures there may have been I have no way of knowing!

How frustrated I was in that household that the only books I had unrestricted access to were plays and works of fiction meant for adults! 

Restrictions in your home?

And so, I plead with you to minimize the number of restrictions you place on the books you have in your home that are in plain sight of your children.  It may be less frustrating for children to have the books they are not allowed to touch stored in a location inaccessible to them.

It is fine to box your books!

​If you have limited space in your home for display of books, by all means rotate your collection, keeping boxes of books in closets, under stairs, under beds and so on, as necessary. Holiday books and seasonal books you may want to rotate as well. I am not suggesting that you make all your books visible all the time, just that the ones that are visible are accessible!

​Reasonable restrictions

And think carefully about whatever restrictions you do put in place. One type of restriction that does make sense to me is to allow children only to choose books that they can see directly in front of them and can reach without putting their hands above their heads. That way you can put books for the littles on a shelf near the floor, and arrange books for older children on shelves a greater distance from the floor.

I remember reading about Oliver de Mille's process of stocking a bookcase of Must-Reads for his children. He put each level of books on a successively higher shelf, so that he created a sense of anticipation in his children about when they would get  to read each of the titles. An aspirational bookcase for sure!

Share your experience

​​Do you have any ways of restricting books without causing frustration that we haven't thought of? Do you have an aspirational bookcase in your home?

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