Costa Reading

One girl with too many books.

Teens as Readers

I put together a survey for a young adult literature class I’m taking at MSU Denver with Dr. Jill Adams. The purpose of the survey was to try and get a glimpse as to why teens read or don’t read.

  1. Do you read for fun?
  • Yes 7
  • No 3
  1. If yes, how do you pick out what you read?
  • I choose the books that I read based off of other books I have read with similar topics. The books that I read are both fiction and nonfiction.
  • I pick them out by the cover.
  • The cover and description inside the cover.
  • Based on the genre and the title.
  • I pick out what to read by looking up good books based on genres or main ideas online. I also ask friends with similar taste in books as me.
  • I look through the library in the genre I like to read.
  • I pick out what I read by asking my friends or sisters.
  1. If you don’t read for fun, do you read for school?
  • Yes 3
  • No
  1. Would you read something recommended by the adults in your life? (Parents, teachers, librarians, etc)
  • Yes 8
  • No 2
  1. Why or why not?
  • I would read if a teacher asked for me to read it for a grade I would read it.
  • I would read something recommended by an adult because if they took the time to recommend it, it is most likely worth reading. It may also be for a good reason whether it is to inform me on a topic or to improve my knowledge on a topic.
  • They know really good old books.
  • I trust the books that they recommend to me.
  • It might be interesting because they know my taste in books.
  • Yes, because they’d know if a book was good and my parents and teachers would probably know me well enough to know something I’d like.
  • I have the same taste in books as many adults and I’m okay with mature books to they could have good suggestions I’d otherwise never find.
  • My parents and teachers know what books I like and librarians would know what’s more popular or good.
  • They won’t know what I like.
  • Only if it was an assignment. I haven’t a lot of extra time and would rather do things.
  1. Would you read something recommended to you by your friends?
  • Yes 7
  • No 3
  1. Why or why not?
  • I would not because I do not enjoy reading.
  • Unfortunately I do not really have friends that really read for fun or outside of school. They do not have any recommendations to do that.
  • Because my friends pick good books.
  • If the books my friends read interest them, I would read them because I hope they would choose interesting books.
  • They know my taste in books.
  • My friends and I all have similar opinions on books and they’d probably know good books since they all read a lot.
  • Some I would because at least two of my friends read the same types of books as I do.
  • My friends know what I like and have similar interests.
  • I don’t really like reading so I wouldn’t read what they suggest unless it’s really fascinating.
  • If everyone is reading the same thing, it would be nice to be able to join in the conversation about it.
  1. What sorts of books interest you? Do you have a favorite genre?
  • Historical books or Greek mystery books.
  • My favorite genre of books are actually nonfiction books that have to do with history and historical context.
  • Fiction interests me the most.
  • Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy
  • Fiction is my favorite
  • Books that interest me are ones where the main characters have problems but on the inside like mental issues or other things; also when a character has a problem but they don’t know they have to face it or that it even exists. My favorite genre is Fiction, especially sci-fi and fantasy.
  • I enjoy books with magic or a hidden power. My favorite genre is fantasy.
  • I like books with vampires or weird romances. My favorite genre is fiction especially when it’s about vampires but not necessarily “horror”.
  • Books that interest me are ones that are funny. Any comedy book keeps me interested.
  • I enjoy humorous books, especially puns. I relax with comic books such as Zits or Pearls Before Swines.
  1. What was the last book you finished? When did you read it?
  • The last book I read was Eyes of War and that was two months ago.
  • The last book I finished was A Thousand Splendid Suns and I read in November of last year.
  • The Secret Life of Bees, last month.
  • Deadly Little Secrets, last week.
  • Divergent, last month
  • City of Bones, I read it a week or so ago.
  • Teardrops, just last night.
  • Betrayed by P. C. Cast and Kristen Cast
  • Percy Jackson The Lightning Thief. I finished it Friday.
  • I read This Book is Full of Spiders” about a month ago.

10. Why did you choose that particular title?

  • I chose this book because I was bored in my room and my friend had given it to me.
  • This title is one that was original for a reading assignment for my senior modern life and lit class at PVHS.
  • My teacher told me to read it, then it became my favorite book.
  • The author wrote a series that my friend read and I liked it so I looked up other works by her and also enjoyed this other series.
  • I’ve heard many good things about it.
  • I chose that title because while talking to a teacher with similar taste in books about what books I liked, he suggested I read it.
  • I chose it because in the library at school it was in the same area as another book I wanted to read and I read the back and it had a lot of aspects I like, like magic and humans not knowing what’s around them.
  • I chose it because my mom liked the first book in the series and suggested it to me so I read it and loved it enough to read the next one.
  • My teacher made us choose but all the other titles were boring or girly.
  • A friend suggested it.

11. Who are you most likely to talk to about the books you’ve read or want to read and why?

  • My mom is the person I would talk to about the books I would read because she works at anythink (a library) so she can get me the books.
  • I am most likely to talk to my mom about the books I have read or want to because I know she reads and has easy access to many books, since she works at a library.
  • My friend, Rosie, because she is the only one that reads books that I know.
  • People I work with because they are the only people that read all types of books. Also when I talk to my friends about books, they don’t understand.
  • My friends.
  • My friends because they love fiction too so they’d most likely take interest in the books I like.
  • I’d talk to my friends, Catherine and Melissa, because unlike most of the kids in our school, they have similar taste and take the books into consideration for reading.
  • I’d talk to my sisters or friends because they’d listen and most likely take interest too.
  • Friends because they’re more likely to like the same books.
  • My friends (or maybe my mother). Sometimes I talk to my brothers who read a lot.

I work with teens on a daily basis at a public library and so have the privilege of seeing their reading habits first hand. However, I wanted to survey teens who I did not necessarily see coming into the library on their own. Consequently I asked 2 of my coworkers to give my survey to their teens and their teens’ friends. I also asked a teen I work with to give the survey to her friends. I received 10 surveys in total with varied responses. One of my coworkers told me that her daughter was sick and couldn’t take the survey to her friends at school. I assured her this wasn’t a problem as I had plenty of other responses to meet the requirements of the assignment but her daughter was adamant that she could get her friends to respond over the weekend. It wasn’t until I got the surveys back that I found out that the teenage girl painstakingly texted each of her friends my questions and then wrote down their answers as they responded. I don’t think this changed the way they would have responded on paper as the answers were still varied; some were concise and to the point while others were lengthy and more detailed. I’m pretty sure it helped that they were answering questions for an adult they don’t really know and the answers weren’t for their teachers or parents.
The teens that responded to the survey were between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. Some of them go to public school and some are homeschooled. They all came from different types of households yet the main point I found from the survey is that they are all readers. Even the few kids who said they didn’t read for fun had a title for the last book they’d read and every respondent had read a book within the last 4 months. Some of them might say they only read for school but most of them answered that they would read if someone recommended a really interesting book. My main goal from the survey was to find out whether or not I, as a public librarian, have any influence on teens as readers. I see a correlation between the survey responses and what I know from my experience working at the library from day to day.

Some kids will vehemently declare that they are not readers, as I saw in a couple of surveys and see at the library. Just the other day I had a teen boy about 15 years old ask me for a book on cheat codes. There weren’t any checked in so he wandered around looking bored. I decided to keep the conversation going and tried to get him to pick out a book to read while he waited for his ride. He laughed at me and said he hated books and he hated reading. I conversationally asked what he was interested in. He proceeded to tell me his favorite video games. I nonchalantly, I hope, started to look up some of the games in the library catalog to see if there were any companion books and, thankfully, there was one checked in. I told him I’d found this book and asked if he’d like to see it. He agreed and we went looking. It didn’t take me long to find it and when I asked if he wanted to check it out, he responded with an enthusiastic, “Of course!” This interaction as well as the survey results makes me believe that even those kids who say they don’t enjoy reading will read with the proper motivation.

Motivation is addressed in the readings done in this course as well. The authors of Literature for Today’s Young Adults say, “If children are to put forth the intellectual energy required in learning to read, they need to be convinced that it is worthwhile-that pleasure awaits them-or that there are concrete benefits to be gained” (Nilsen, Blasingame, Donelson, Nilson 10). These authors also posit: “People who feel they are not being appropriately rewarded for their efforts may grow discouraged and join the millions of adults who no longer read, view, or listen to materials for personal fulfillment and pleasure” (15). Motivation to read can come from a desire for entertainment: “I chose this book because I was bored in my room and my friend had given it to me”. It can also come from a desire to fit in with his or her friends: “If everyone is reading the same thing, it would be nice to be able to join in the conversation about it.”

As a public librarian, I have the freedom to steer teens in the direction of books that might not help them pass the SAT’s but will create lifelong readers, and even though the former is important, the latter is my ultimate goal. I am not approaching this subject as a teacher or a parent. I am trying to figure out how to truly connect books with teens that need to understand that reading doesn’t have to be a chore. I am in the unique position of a pseudo-authority figure that can tell them what books are out there and what they might be interested in as individuals. I can influence them directly or I can influence them through their parents and/or their friends. The survey shows that these teens are just as likely to read something recommended by an adult as by a friend. The one response that skews the results into the adults’ favor is when a book is only recommended because of a grade they will receive in a class. Most of the teens in my survey respect the opinions of the adults in their lives, whether they are parents or educators.

I realize what a responsibility this is. I not only need to figure out what is popular with the teens of today, but I need to figure out what books to recommend to create lifelong readers. As Teri Lesesne says, “So, if we are to be about the business of creating lifetime readers and not just readers who can utilize phonological awareness and context clues to bubble in answers on a state test, then we need to help our students form those relationships with books and authors and genres and formats” (ch. 1). According to the survey, many of the teens have already formed these relationships. This doesn’t mean my job is done in relation to these readers. Rather I need to find books to assist them on their continued exploration through the books available to them. Lesesne also says, “If students like certain types of books, certain genres, or certain qualities in a book, we can help them stretch by showing them books that mirror what they already like but that perhaps are a little longer, a bit more abstract, or challenge them more” (ch. 1). I also have the opportunities that many teachers and school librarians don’t: I am not constricted by any policies or teaching plans in the books I recommend to teens. Many of the answers from my survey questions of whether or not the teens would read a book recommended by an adult or by a friend were the same: that these people know that particular teen’s taste in books.

I, as a librarian, have an advantage over the other people in these teens’ lives: my job is to know books! I should be able to tell these teens what they’d be interested in reading when they tell me their interests inside and outside of reading. If a teen loves basketball, I should be able to recommend a Mike Lupica novel. If they liked the Twilight series, I should be able to recommend the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. And if they tell me that they’d like a vampire steampunk series with a witty sense of humor, I should be able to point them to Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger. Whatever books I recommend to teens, I must strive to remember what S. E. Hinton said: “Teen-agers know a lot today…Writers needn’t be afraid that they will shock their teen-age audience. But give them something to hang onto” (Nilsen, Blasingame, Donelson, Nilson 7). This advice doesn’t just pertain to authors but to all adults who have an influence on the books read by teens. We need to realize that teens can be ready for subjects we, as adults, would like to shield them from. My survey results show that most of these teens trust adults to give them literature they would be interested in. My responsibility, as a public librarian, is to not shy away from giving them what they request: my recommendations, my respect, and my attention to their tastes.

Works Cited

Nilson, Alleen Pace, James Blasingame, Kenneth L. Donelson, Don L. F. Nilson. Literature for Today’s

Young Adults. Course packet.

Lesesne, Teri S. Reading Ladder: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be.

New Hampshire: Heineman, 2010. Kindle ebook.

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