We Read What We Want
Host/executive producer of Book Club for Kids
I remember when I was 12 or 13, I couldn’t understand how clueless adults were about everything. Whatever it was they thought was “appropriate” or “good for me” was just the opposite of what I thought was cool and interesting.
Flash forward to now, when I’m the lame adult. I’ve discovered that nothing has changed – at least when it comes to books.
I’m the host/executive producer of the Book Club for Kids podcast. It’s a conversation between myself and a trio of kids about a middle grade novel, an interview with the author, and a celebrity reader who gives us a taste of the book under discussion.
When I first started the show, back when it was a regular monthly feature of my public radio talk show, I picked the books. I'd spend a mint on paperbacks at my local bookstore and stuff a suitcase of middle grade novels to take with me on vacation. My favorites ended up on Book Club for Kids.
Now that the show is a free podcast, I decided to get out of the book-picking business and let the kids pick the books.
One problem: it's usually the adults wrangling the kids (librarians and teachers and parents) who end up doing the picking. And they usually choose wonderfully written historical fiction or contemporary "problem" novels – the kinds of books that interest them. The kids often view these lovely books as literature that is “good for them” or complain that reading history is too much like school.
We always end the show by asking the kids, “What’s your favorite book?” We keep a growing list of those recommendations on our website. But I wanted to expand this conversation about the books kids themselves love best. So I took to the streets – or rather, to the DC Convention Center and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor – where I talked to kids at the National Book Festival and the Baltimore Book Festival. I kept asking, “What’s your favorite book?”
You already know what I discovered: the books the kids love to read aren’t the same ones beloved by the adults in their lives.
The one word that kept coming up over and over again with these younger readers: adventure. These kids LONGED for books full of action and mystery and other worlds and danger, the kind of book that kept them turning pages, the kind of book that turned a reluctant reader into one who read not just one 300 page tome, but kept reading the entire series. The Percy Jackson series was mentioned over and over again. Phillip Pullman and Rick Riordan were favorites. So were “The Giver” and “Spy School” and even Nancy Drew.
Why such different literary tastes?
Have we adults already experienced enough drama and adventure in our lives? Do we find it exhausting to puzzle out strange new fictional worlds when we’re constantly puzzling out the actual reality of open enrollment choices and changes in credit card agreements?
Does growing older give us context lacking when you’ve lived less than a dozen years on this earth? As we add years to our life experiences, does history start to make sense to us in a way that it all seemed jumbled together when we were kids? (I confess, I always thought Napoleon was leading his French army in the 1500’s and was shocked to find him a contemporary of Jane Austen.)
Or is it simply that school is hard these days – certainly harder than I remember. Just like us, kids want a break. Their own guilty pleasure. Perhaps just like us, when we choose the book we take to the beach or read on a plane or look forward to picking up during the last moments of the day before falling asleep, kids want something fun, delicious, something decidedly not taught in the classroom.
They deserve their guilty pleasures.
The difference between us lame adults and cool kids, I think, is that younger readers are simply honest enough to confess to the world what it is they really want to read.
Okay, I’ll confess my guilty pleasure. I can’t wait for the latest Alexander McCall Smith “#1 Ladies Detective Agency” or Kerry Greenwood Miss Fisher mystery. There. I’ve said it. Now I’ll go back to reading Proust.
The Book Club for Kids is a free podcast, available on iTunes, Stitcher, or online.