“There aren’t enough books being written for this age group.”

I did a presentation at the Hawaii Book and Music Festival on Sunday 17 May.  The festival lasts two days (Saturday and Sunday) and features local writers, musicians, publishing houses, and of course food booths.  There was also a book swap, a Talk Story booth*, a Keiki activities booth*, and at least one slam poetry performance we saw part of because it began raining and we needed shelter.

I had an hour in one of the two “Author” tents.  I did an informal Q&A for about twenty five minutes, and then read a scene (about twenty minutes in reading length) from a work in progress  Afterward, I signed for half an hour at the Barnes & Noble booth.

Two mothers came, each with an eleven year old daughter, clearly friends and likely classmates.  The mothers wanted to know if my fantasy novels were appropriate for the girls of this age.  I had to say that I felt they were younger than I would recommend, but that I had many teenage readers and that a strong reader at 13 would likely have no trouble with the books.  The mothers ended up buying each girl two paperbacks with the proviso, made clear to the girls, that they would put them aside for a couple of years and then allow them to read them then.

Now, I hear a lot of talk among writers, from my agent, that YA in particular remains a strong field in a difficult economic time.  But even so I was quite struck by what one of the women said to me.  She said, “there aren’t enough books being written for this age group.”

By this she meant bright, engaged, tween readers who are too old for chapter books and too young for some of the more emotionally complex and difficult YA material or adult novels.  It’s not that they can’t theoretically read such things–it’s likely they have the word for word, sentence for sentence, skills–but that these eager readers aren’t teens yet and maybe parents, or the children themselves, aren’t really wanting to tackle the next stage yet.  Plenty of time for that later!  The Harry Potter books met this need for a while (they’re still available, obviously) and both these girls had read Twilight and Eragon, among other things, but mothers and daughters alike needed MORE BOOKS.

More books, people.  More books.

* Talk Story is a local phrase, one of those untranslatable concepts which is in some part “visiting” and some part storytelling and some part hanging out sharing anecdotes but not quite any of those.  Keiki is the local word for children;  everybody uses it, including newspapers, ads, whatevah.

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  1. 1. Steph Burgis

    Oh yay! That’s so good to hear, because I just had a conversation with my agent & editor about the target age group for my (very girl-centered fantasy) books, and that was exactly it. :) Very reassuring!

  2. 2. C.E. Murphy

    …it’s true that I was an avid and fairly exclusive fantasy reader from a pretty young age, but I just cannot imagine that there are insufficient books for tween readers. Off the top of my head and with no effort at all, I can think of dozens of books–Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising Sequence, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles (and much more to my liking, his Westmark books), any Robin McKinley except Deerskin, Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy particularly–I know for a fact that I read all of those (possibly excepting the Westmark books) between the ages of 8 and 11.

    Outside of fantasy, there’re the Anne books, particularly the earlier ones for a tween reader, ditto with LM Montgomery’s Emily books, there’s Katherine Paterson (who, out of everyone listed so far, is the one I’d consider the most emotionally difficult, but man, I read JACOB HAVE I LOVED when I was about eleven and I have never stopped adoring that book), there are the Green Knowe books, there are Noel Streatfield’s Shoes books, there are (though I’d put these on the earlier end of a tween readership) the Boxcar Children–and these are just from /my/ childhood, twenty-odd years ago. I mean, I understand she said there’s not enough being published now for kids that age, but none of the things I just listed haven’t aged well, and I have a really hard time believing there’s not new material coming out for tweens, especially if they read fantasy. I spend more time in the YA section of bookstores these days than in the grown-up section because the pickings are so rich. *boggle*

    …of course, I’d never buy a book and put it aside for a couple of years, either, not for a kid that age. I’d let her read the back and the first few pages and if she liked it she could have it and read it. So possibly I’m just coming from an entirely different universe, and of course either way there are never too many books. :)

  3. 3. Mikaela

    I was a voracious reader at that age, and even though I didn’t read that much fantasy, there was books to read. The Nancy Drew books, horse books, Susan Cooper, I think I read Narnia in that age too. A lot of this has to do with availability, though. There was a lot of books available for teens and pre-teens in Sweden, mainly thanks to Wahlströms and libraries.
    Did I mention that I got the Long Ships when I was in that age?
    Heh.

  4. 4. S. Megan Payne

    And what about Redwall books by Brian Jacques? And the Phantom Stallion series? And for crying out loud, if they could read the last book in the Twilight series, then they’re certainly old enough for anything else! Harry Potter was disgustingly graphic. There is no reason to say it filled some niche for tweens when other cleaner books for slightly (emphasis on slightly) more mature readers are out there.

    There is no lack of books. There is a lack of knowledge and/or access.

  5. 5. Kate Elliott

    Megan, I don’t know that they read the last Twilight book. The only one specifically mentioned was the first one. However, in a signing situation like that I definitely tend to make an effort not to outright contradict people who are enthusiastic; I did say that I wished I could take the two girls through a bookstore and point out stuff I thought might be something they would like. I’m absolutely no good at coming up with names on the spur of the moment. Clearly these girls read a lot, and just as clearly the girls and their mothers were having some trouble identifying other things they would like.

    Catie, I was conservative in that regard, and in my (rather brief) conversation with these two mothers I judged them as being much as I was at that time. I did not let my children see R-rated films, or indeed any film I thought was too intense, graphic, or violent, until they were, say, 13, and even then I would still vet stuff that I had reason to think might be inappropriate or simply too violent or disturbing; but then, I think film by its visual nature can be really forceful. While I would never have stopped them from reading anything they wanted to tackle at 11, if they asked my opinion I might well have said, ‘oh, I think you’ll like that better if you wait a year or two’ (or not, depending on the book). Once they turned 16, all bets were off.

  6. 6. Kate Elliott

    Mikaela,

    I think there’s a lot of great Scandinavian literature for that age group. My sons in particular adored the Moomin books. And when I was a girl I read Astrid Lingren. Not Pippi Longsticking, which I never care for, but the Bullerby children and my absolute favorite, Mio min Mio.

  7. 7. Kate Elliott

    Steph,

    I just looked your forthcoming stuff up. Augh. Too bad I didn’t know; I could have primed them!

  8. 8. Adele

    Garth Nix and actually probably Terry Pratchett, certainly his Wee Free Men books but I think I was 12 when I discovered Mort.

  9. 9. Rini

    Wait a minute, it RAINS in Hawaii?! So much for perfect weather… ;)

    I started reading Piers Anthony’s Xanth series in fifth grade and very much enjoyed the early books. He writes with a childlike humor and handles “adult” topics in such a way that I would be comfortable with a tween reading that, personally.

  10. 10. Lydia Sharp

    I was a tween long before the era of Harry Potter and Twilight, and I had no trouble finding enough books to keep me busy during summer breaks from school. I honestly don’t think there is a lack of books available. The real problem is, the parents don’t have the time or patience to help their kids search for suitable reading at the library, and the kids only want what’s hot at the moment…not some dusty old book they’ve never heard of.

  11. 11. peacerenity

    @ S. Megan Payne
    “Harry Potter was disgustingly graphic” WTF? What harry potter books have YOU been reading? nobody does more than kiss and while characters die, it’s not in a graphic way at all (no gushing blood, missing limbs, decapitations, etc.). in tone, it may be a bit older, but definitely not in content. you must have a very naive notion of what 11 year old kids can handle.

    in terms of books for 11 year olds, i was a big fan of the redwall books at that age, in addition to a lot of the books listed in the previous comments. i also read ender’s game at that age, which is still one of my favorite books. right now im a big fan of jim butcher’s the dresden files, and i think his books would be suitable for an 11 year old.

Author Information

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.

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