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Why are so many adults reading YA and teen fiction?

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Well, he commenced portentously, I bought all the Harry Potter series and frequently read them in public. Still capable of youthful evasion, I refused to read the final volume as I sensed Rowling was going all homicidal and I wasn't interested in a final resolution. I gave my set to my grandson, upon whom I dote, and he read them; I then gave him the first Percy Jackson series, after I read it of course, and he devoured them and is well into the second series of episodes (Roman) and is eager for the third (Egyptian). He has routinely embarrassed his teacher when it comes to mythology. I'm hoping to get him started on Stroud's ​The Bartimaeus Trilogy as soon as he's ready.

I also read Nevil Shute's work when young. I was deeply impressed because Shute was an extremely capable engineer and had participated in the construction of the highly successful British dirigible R100 so was even more credible than your basic novelist. I discovered many things when reading as a youth; I'm still fascinated by dirigibles, and Austria once had a navy. I deployed the Austrian Navy against one of my teachers at the time and discovered that teachers weren't all that knowledgeable.

I read and try to write youthful fiction, largely I suspect, because I made such a hash of it when I was young. I get to do things over again. I don't think I'm the only one who is motivated in this way.

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I also read Nevil Shute's work when young. I was deeply impressed because Shute was an extremely capable engineer and had participated in the construction of the highly successful British dirigible R100 so was even more credible than your basic novelist. I discovered many things when reading as a youth; I'm still fascinated by dirigibles, and Austria once had a navy. I deployed the Austrian Navy against one of my teachers at the time and discovered that teachers weren't all that knowledgeable.

I keep finding myself re-reading Shute. Just got 'A Town like Alice' on my Kindle and looking forward to reading it again. Then I think I will go for 'Trustee from the Toolroom', his last novel.

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Joe wrote:

Austria once had a navy

The Austrian navy was also the first to sink an enemy warship via a submarine-launched torpedo. The submarine was under the command of a somewhat familiar charcter: Baron/Korvette Kapitan Georg von Trapp. (Yep. Him.)

One of the key problems I see in getting boys to read is the lack of constant role models. Cole, you mention school librarians. I've never once met a male school librarian. The occasional work-study student page perhaps, but not a librarian. At least 80% of the authors who belong to SCBWI are women. I don't have any figures on YALSA but wouldn't be surprised to find the same. (Oddly enough, it's the women writers who have pushed most hard to move the sex/drugs/violence into the younger categories.)

But on the other hand, a friend of mine who wrote a novel about the life of a midshipman in the US Navy Civil War came back somewhat shattered from an LA writers' conference. A good agent read his first chapter and like his writing, but then asked him 3 questions: 1) Any girls have leads here? [no - this is 1865] 2) Any persons of color have leads here? [no - ditto] 3) This is about the resolution of conflict with guns? [yes - it's...a...war] She handed it back, apologized, and said she couldn't touch it.

Imagine if JK Rowling had armed her kids with .45s instead of magic wands! The carnage in the final battle would have been unacceptable. And note that the theatre production is correcting the racial error wrt Hermione.

So there's no simple solution to fewer boys reading. And I'm sad to accept that there's not likely going to be.

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What happened to the Hardy Boys? I know that they detected in an environment that was out of date when I was a kid, but they were still enjoyable -- and probably still are. The books are not at all serious, probably not PC, but they can get boys started.

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They're still in print, too, I believe. I read something like 40+ of them before moving on to somewhat more exciting kid mysteries: Ken Holt, Rick Brandt, Tom Quest, the Mercer Boys. After reading those, the Hardy Boys seemed too tame. But there's no question that I started with those.

I don't know if there's an equivalent these days.


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A few come to mind.

Tim Green and Mike Lupica are incredible sports writers who've turned their pens towards the middle school audience. Typically they have a boy lead, goofy boy sidekick, and smart and athletic girl sidekick. Well over twenty books between them covering the Sports Beat. Very well done.

John Grisham has published five books (latest one just last week) of Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. Every bit as entertaining as his books for an older crowd, and once again using the Lead + Sidekicks format.

The kids don't get kidnapped or conked on the head nearly as much as with the Hardy Boys or even Tom Swift, but there's fun, mystery, and excitement throughout.

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I loved Trustee from the Toolroom and thought it was a wonderfully patient story as it tied everything together in a very precise manner. You might also try Richard McKenna. Best known for the ​Sand Pebbles h​e also wrote some good short stories, "Left Handed Monkey Wrench" pops to mind. ​ ​

Chris R,

I do not know who fired the first submarine launched torpedo, but it wasn't von Trapp. He was in command of a training boat in the opening months of the war and was not engaged in combat. It was not until he took command of SM U-5 that he scored his first victory and he assumed command of SM U-5 on 17 April 1915. By this time, Otto Weddigen had already scored the first great submarine victory by sinking three British armoured cruisers on 22 September 1914. I love ships so have a basic dis-enthusiasm for submarines.

The Austrian Navy has a first and a last that are noteworthy. The Austrian Navy was involved in the last battle on the high seas between opposing fleets of wooden ships. A tactical defeat that was a strategic victory in the war against Denmark. And was victorious in the first battle on the high seas between opposing fleets of ironclads. The Austrian commander in both incidents was Wilhelm von Tegetthoff one of the most sparkling late 19th century fighting admirals.

Von Trapp's memoir was translated into English and published in 2007, it was originally published in German in 1935. Von Trapp's grand daughter was instrumental in the reissue. About the only decent history of the Austrian Navy that I'm aware of is Sokol's ​The Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Navy both are good reads if you like naval history.​

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Joe -

Thanks for the correction. I can now die with one fewer "oops" on my conscience. When I read the start of your note I thought sure you were gong to cite the CSS Hunley which beat them all by a half century, but that used a very different definition for "torpedo". "Here's a barrel full of gunpowder, now sneak up on that big boat, ram it into her, and pull the string." "Umm... no thanks."

I appreciate your help!


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So I'm sure you know of Lt Cushing who used the same type of "spar" torpedo to sink ​CSS Albermarle ​one dark night. Happily for him, his "torpedo boat" was on the surface so Cushing was able to swim for it unlike the poor lads on the ​Hunley.


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To understand, assuming anyone wants to know, my experience with the written word, you first would have to know that my introduction to reading was my grandmother reading Noddy stories to me. After that I discovered Enid Blyton stories, "The Famous Five" and "The Secret Seven."

I also found myself reading "Alice in Wonderland," as well as hearing my grandfather reciting some of the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam."

School of course in those far off days introduced me to Shakespeare's plays. I was fortunate to have an English Teacher who was able to share his passion for literature without alienating me.

As a backdrop to all this was radio; you see there was no TV when I grew up and I heard many, many plays and stories on the radio, complete with dramatic sounds and music. Oh, how I loved the way music could dramatise the words I heard. Even now I hear music when I read. Modern movies drive me crazy with their total lack of relationship to the story. Most times, modern soundtracks are little more than noise masquerading as music, and they do it very badly.

This is not to say that there aren't some new forms of music that can compliment a reading, or a movie, but they are rare.

Anyway back to the point, reading a book has its own soundtrack playing when I read, and I feel really fortunate to be able to hear the accompanying music to most stories I read. It's contained in the words, the poetry and the meaning of the written word, the meaning of the creativity of what drives us to write, read, and dare I say hear the message and beauty of the words.

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Hi Des,

I'm interested to hear your experience as I've enjoyed all your stories.

I grew up in the "cow counties" of Eastern Nevada. Television was alive and well at the time, only not where I lived. So I too grew up listening to stories on the radio: "Gunsmoke" and the "Shadow"; they were wonderful as I recall. But I also read a chapter a night of Sherlock Holmes until I'd read the entire series whereupon I read them again. It was kewl (as they say). Physically I was on the high desert and the wind was moaning and the snow was falling; but actually, I was in Victorian England and the game was afoot.

I've not been able to warm to Shakespeare. A combination of mediocre teachers and a high turnover thereof caused me to be subjected to ​Julius Caesar ​four times and I've never recovered.

Does anyone remember Shulkers "Sekatary Hawkins" series? I remember them as great and they had great titles: ​Stoner's Boy​, The Gray Ghost​, ​Stormie the Dog Stealer​, and others. My Mom had enjoyed them when she was a kid and I loved them too. I don't have them anymore as my bibliophilia had not yet manifested itself and my Mom gave them to a cousin.

A great topic. I'm going to go see if Shuklers work is even in print.

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School of course in those far off days introduced me to Shakespeare's plays.

True true, but it seems you had the advantage of being able to correspond with the author for clarifications! :biggrin:

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True true, but it seems you had the advantage of being able to correspond with the author for clarifications! :biggrin:

I was particularly thankful and impressed for being able to directly correspond with the ancient Greeks, Plato, Aristotle et al.

However, it wasn't just those historical figures or the ancients of China or Egypt, that loomed large in my childhood; it was my love of the mysteries of life that kept me moving from the music of one civilisation to another. As the Moody Blues sang, Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel.


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Just received John Grisham's latest in the Theodore Boone series today, The Scandal. An excellent book which is not only written well enough to be read and understood by middle-schoolers, but should also be read by anybody involved in either the No Child Left Behind or Common Core fiascos. His nominal lead character (Teddy) is somewhat sidelined in this book as his parents are the main lawyers, but his participation is nonetheless crucial, and the writing is just delighful.

Whether you're in middle school (ages 12-14), teach in middle school, or have ever in your life had to take a test in middle school the book is for you.

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I talk to young people everyday and often ask them what they are reading or have read. The one book that I DON'T hear about is To Kill A Mockingbird. That book was released in 1949 (I think), and I had to read it in high school in the early '60's, and I'm reading it again now. I'm thinking that the subject of bigotry as seen through the eyes of young people isn't appealing anymore. But it is so well crafted.

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Good stories all come from the same place.

Characters, setting, plot, structure, etc. When you put it together in a nice package and avoid the classic mistakes, people will read it.

Almost everyone can relate to a young protagonist. Unless you're a clone everybody was young once.

It's not a huge surprise when these classic themes are popular.

They are pretty much every generation.

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I'm thinking that the subject of bigotry as seen through the eyes of young people isn't appealing anymore. But it is so well crafted.

The subject of bigotry is quite important these days, but TKAM makes the unpardonable error of using one of those Words We Can Not Say Or Read. Especially young people. You see, if young people never see it, they'll never say it, so nobody will ever hear it again, and Bambi's mom will come home... blah blah blah. "Oh look! There's the house where that lawyer lives who's defending all those [poor locals]." Mark Twain uses The Word, and there have had to be versions of Twain published which sanitize the word so our kids can read all about racism and slavery and the evils of the day without really having to understand a damned thing.

TKAM is indeed well crafted. Sadly, the trend has been do sanitize our history, even our fictional history, so that it becomes something less than history. Perhaps you've read stories in the recent press about university professors being boycotted and fired for daring to use "insensitive" words in their classes. It is a world gone amok.

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We read To Kill a Mockingbird in middle school and again in high school. It wasn't sanitized. I received a copy (also unsanitized) for one of my birthdays, probably when I turned 10 or 11, and that was the first time I read it. I loved it. It was fun and funny and had parts like a horror story that were very spooky. I also loved the movie.

BTW, "unsanitized" is listed as a word in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged Edition, 1966 . It was my granddad's copy and he gave that to me when I was 10 years old and started middle school (the sixth grade). That dictionary weighs almost ten pounds! It's listed in Wiktionary, too.

Colin :icon_geek:

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There seem to be many people who wand us to forget our embarrassing past. They want to forget slavery, the Holoacaust, continued examples of genocide, every man-made atrocity that has erupted throughout history. Books are our best way of keeping these histories available for new generations to discover. Sanitizing them makes no sense at all. How do we learn from mistakes if we whitewash the evil that has occurred and still occurs?


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Cole has it right. We need to face the past and learn from it. But we seem unable to do that. We couldn't even learn the lessons from our entrance into what became the Vietnam War in time to avoid the Iraq War. Sanitizing is a form of censorship that is bad for all of us.

I see where a southern university (I think Kentucky, but haven't checked) is removing the statue of an anonymous Confederate soldier from it's current location on campus. What a genius solution, now the war will become one step closer to romantic mythology because we don't have to think about it, or be reminded about it. I quite agree that slavery is, and was, an unmitigated evil; but does that mean we're going to have to dynamite the Washington Monument? We need to stop trying to view the past through the ubiquitous rose colored glasses.

Along the same lines, I think that Confederate veterans in VA cemeteries should be honored with Confederate flags. But the flag should be a national flag, and not the Confederate battle flag. If they used the Stars and Bars it would probably go unnoticed since I suspect a lot of contemporary Americans would have no idea what it was.

Censorship is wrong and it is wrong whether it is inspired by the right or the left.

And, for the record, my antecedents are Yankee and include a veteran from an Indiana Regiment.

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American schools have been cutting the traditional liberal arts oriented studies from high school for sometime now.

History is often watered down and limited to what is accepted as the national narrative.

200 years of literature has been cast aside as irrelevant and perhaps it is, but many kids get out of high school without ever reading a book.

There are many great books written in the 20th century that have the power to shape lives but if you are not exposed to them.. They might as well not exist. Harry Potter is a fine book for a young person and an adult seeking pleasurable escape. Harry Potter's success is two fold. It is well written and fun to read but it is also mass market with tons of PR.

In the past there was a constant stream of mass market “Best Sellers”, They were not always good literature but the population was reading them. Not so anymore..

I have read many a Facebook profile that said, “Books? No way!”

As for adults reading YA books, I am not surprised. For some people, there is still a desire to read and it often hits a person just after they get out of school. The choice of Young Adult or teen-books is directly related to the what they were exposed to and what they were encouraged to read when they were in school.

Books are the original software. When the lights go out, they still work.

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The problem with most YA books is the subject matter (vampires, zombies, fantasy) and/or female protagonists. That's one of the reasons librarians and English teachers search for YA books that have other subject matter and male protagonists.

If you're interested in what sort of books high school students can be encouraged to read, get a copy of Lit Up by Davis Denby at your local library. It's an eye-opener.

BTW, when I was in high school our reading lists were about 25% "classic literature" and 75% contemporary literature. If I can find one or more of my reading lists I'll post it in this topic.


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Some of the disappointing subjects of the student films at the film school centre I worked at was the preponderance of horror stories (vampires, zombies, etc.)

The demise of the so-called "classical education" has been accompanied by loss of the humanities in present day studies.

A recent situation arose where, I asked a dozen or so medical students if they could tell me what hemlock was.

Not one of them knew what I talking about, nor did their professors know.

So my question for you, should you choose to answer is,

"What is hemlock, and who was the most famous historical figure associated with it?"

No googling the answer, this is a test of previously acquired knowledge.

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"What is hemlock, and who was the most famous historical figure associated with it?"

I probably have this wrong, but it's a poison (poisonous plant?), and Aristotle drank it as his way to die.

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