I thought it would be helpful for readers to get an insider’s perspective on middle grade books. What are high school students reading? What holes are in the market? And with the holidays coming up, what should you consider when buying a high school student a book as a gift? I wanted to use a great source to answer my questions: a high school librarian! Erin Wyatt is not only the librarian at my own children’s school here in Illinois, but we both worked at the same school in our previous lives. I knew she could offer great perspective to my questions for writers, parents, and teachers!
Hello Erin! I’m excited to pick your brain. Tell us a little about your experience as a middle school librarian and learning center director.
I began my career in education as a high school English and social studies teacher, where I spent four years in the classroom. I went to library school and have been working as a high school librarian ever since. I have an MLIS (Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science) from the Dominican University and a Ph.D. in information science from the University of North Texas. This is the 24th year of my time working in libraries. It’s hard to believe that so many years have passed. Being a school librarian is an amazing job!
What are the typical struggles high school students have when choosing a book?
I think many of the struggles are the same for many people, children and adults alike.
There are so many book options that sometimes it is an obstacle. At Highland, we’ve organized books by genre to make the library more navigable, use dynamic displays and rotations, add shelving, and do a lot of recommended reading.
Sometimes there is a reluctance to try something new and a pull towards the comfort of the familiar. Creating opportunities for students to recommend books to one another and doing things like low-stakes book tasting activities where students spend a minute or two browsing a book to see if it’s one they’d like to read can help connect. students with new books and authors During these types of activities, students build their criteria for what they are looking for in a book and strategies for looking at a book to see if it matches what they want and need in a reading at the moment .
What is the most popular genre in your school library?
The most popular format in recent years has been the graphic novel. Graphics are written in all genres, and there has been much demand from students for all types of graphics, including nonfiction and manga.
In the past two years, there has been a surge in popularity among students looking for scary stories and mysteries. But there are certainly readers across all genders, and my colleagues in the English Language Arts department encourage their students to read a lot.
What books are very popular with this age group (at least in your library)?
I noticed the other day that our state’s Readers’ Choice shelves were nearly empty of the library’s multiple copies of the books on the Readers’ Choice Lists for the State of Illinois. At Highland, we included nominees from the Illinois Caudill Young Reader Book Awards Program for grades 4-8, some of the books on the Bluestem list for readers in grades 3-5, and the Lincoln list for grades 9-12 in our annual Readers magazine. ‘ Select offers.
When books are made into TV shows and movies, there is usually an increase in demand. That has certainly been the case this year for The summer I got pretty by Jenny Han.
I looked at our top 50 books circulating so far this year to help answer this question. This year we have seen a The Hunger Games resurgence. Certain authors have been popular such as Kwame Alexander, Alan Gratz, Barbara Dee, and Stuart Gibbs.
Our all school reading this fall was House arrest by K. A. Holt. We were lucky enough to have Ms. Holt do an author visit. That’s always impressive in terms of readers being drawn to books by an author they’ve had the chance to meet.
What book do you often suggest?
Oh, this is a tough question as a lot of times it’s up to the reader too!
new guy by Jerry Craft
Counter by Kelly Yang
blackbird girls by Anne Blankman was an awe of me from last year. Also, it’s a genre (historical fiction) that I don’t always lean towards.
Legend by Marie Lu
jupiter in orbit by Gary D Schmidt
I could really go on and on…
What gaps do you think are still left in the middle school market?
There are so many great options that are being posted. However, working in a secondary school and thinking about 7theand 8the grade readers, there seems to be a book gap for those readers who are upper middle grade or YA lower grade.
As I try to build an inclusive collection of diverse books, there are an increasing number of stories from different perspectives and experiences in realist fiction. However, in the fiction genre (such as fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, thriller), there is a need for more stories with black, indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ+, disabled characters and a need for more stories to be published. stories in these genres. written by authors from historically marginalized groups.
What do you consider when looking for middle grade books to buy for your school library?
Many factors. First I consider the students at my school and the potential readers of the books. I think about the connection to other books and the ways they move or don’t move from the library shelves. I consider the theme, the genre and the voice of whose voice appears in the book. I think about the school curriculum. I look at book reviews and listen to student requests. Budget is also a factor because there are a finite amount of resources to build and maintain our library collection.
When you’re reading a middle-grade novel, is there anything writers do that you think might put off high school students?
In book clubs, students often comment on the way the characters speak. When the voice doesn’t ring true to them, that’s usually seen as a problem with the book.
For many student readers, short chapters and the use of suspenses are successful in getting them to pick up a book and keep reading.
How can parents help children who say they don’t like to read?
Read together and set aside reading time for both parents and children. Having reading models is important. Reading aloud or listening to books is one way to have that reading time together and create that reading culture and habit in your family.
Make parents know and believe that listening to books IS reading. Graphic novels are REAL books. For some readers, these things can increase and sustain their interest in books and stories.
Parents can help their children discover stories too! They can connect to libraries and give their children access to reading materials, whether it’s physical books and reading material or links to online resources.
As a parent, I know that if I see a sports-related book, I assume my sporty son will like it, which, of course, is not the case. With the holidays approaching (books make a great gift!), any tips for choosing a book for someone else?
Books are a great gift! We want to share stories that touched us with other people. I think it’s so powerful when I give someone a book to tell them why I gave it that specific title.
When I recommend books to people, I think of ways to match their interests and what I know about them as readers to the books by considering genre, writing style, voice, format, main character, writer, and ( for some) duration. When I buy books to give as gifts, I also look at gift guides, best-of lists, and the work of other people who are dedicated to books who share recommendations on social media or online.
Any suggestions for teachers who want to increase the volume of their classroom libraries?
Talk to your librarian and build that partnership! Both the classroom library, the school library, and the public library are important places for young readers to find books.
I encourage teachers to think about the voices that are not represented in their classroom libraries and make sure that every student in your classroom can see themselves in the stories on the shelves.
Anything else you want to share with us?
On our recent author visit, I felt like a rock star walking the aisles with our visiting author. Thank you for writing and sharing your stories. It has an impact on your readers.
Thanks, Erin! It was really helpful to hear the responses from her as a writer, a teacher AND a mother! (And I’ll definitely put a note on books I give as gifts, sharing why I thought this would be the perfect book.)
If you want to learn more about Erin and her library, visit her on Twitter:
Highland High School Library – @hlcD70
Erin Wyatt @ejdwyatt