Interview I conducted with Allison Tran, teen services librarian in Orange County, California, children's and YA book reviewer for the blog Reading Everywhere, and co-host of the Authors are ROCKSTARS! podcast.
In your role as a teen services librarian and with your Reading Everywhere blog, you focus a lot on teens. Tell me what you enjoy most about working with teens.
Allison: Teen literature is really exciting right now and it’s what I like to read, personally. Teens are at a really exciting point in their life, where they have so many opportunities available to them. They’re just learning how the world works and where they fit into it all. Their options are wide open. They have the rest of high school and then college to look forward to. They’re making a lot of big decisions that are going to shape the rest of their life—which also means there’s a lot of pressure. And it’s just really interesting to see them grow. And they’re really enthusiastic. I love the way teens get so excited about a book or a movie or whatever they’re in to. I also love that they’re very free to express their opinions.
How can books help or make a difference to teens during this time of their life?
Allison: Books can be so many different things for a teen. They can be an escape from anything—from a really bad home life to stress about the SAT. It’s something that can just take them away. Also, books can really speak to them and let them know they’re not alone. Maybe they’ll open the pages and discover a character who is going through the exact same thing that they are. They might find another character who is being bullied or is dealing with an illness. Books can make them feel that they’re not the only one going through what they’re going through. They can be a source of inspiration that gives them hope.
What do you say to teens who don’t have a love for reading?
Allison: I have a real sympathy for non-readers. Everyone constantly pressures them, telling them they have to read something, that they just need to find the right book. And of course I hope they do find the right book, but… what if they don’t? I imagine they feel about reading the way I feel about math. Let’s just say math is not my strong point. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me that math is awesome and that if I just find the right math program, then I’ll love math. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.
So, I really respect those teens that don’t like reading, and I realize that it won’t necessarily change their mind about reading by simply sitting them down with a big novel and telling them what a super-fun time they’ll have reading it. I want them to know that I’m on their side and that I understand what they’re going through. Still, I’ll always try to recommend a few different books that that might catch their interest. Hopefully one of those choices will speak to them
What if the teen ends up not like any of those book choices?
Allison: Even though I empathize with the non-reader, I still emphasize the importance of reading. Let’s face it: they’re going to have to read at some point. So, I try to open their minds to the fact that there are different forms of reading, including magazines, comic books, websites and blogs. There are also different styles of learning. Some kids aren’t visual learners and that’s simply what turns them off about books. In that case I try to sell them on the idea of listening to an audiobook and experiencing the story that way. Sometimes that’s what they need to get them through.
What are some of the best ways to connect both readers and non-readers with the right book?
Allison: Probably one of my favorite parts of being a librarian is finding the right book for a reader. Avid readers are pretty easy. I just find out what they’ve been reading, what they like, what they’re into, what they’re in the mood for and give them a few choices and they’re usually happy. Since I’m an avid reader of teen books myself, I can always make personal recommendations. For non-readers, I try to approach it by asking, “What kind of movies do you like? What kind of video games? What kind of TV shows?” Then l try to find them something that fits in with those interests.
What advice do you have for teen parents?
Allison: I try to reiterate to parents that no matter what their teen is reading, they’re going to be okay. For example, some are concerned that their teen reads too much fantasy— I think they’re worried the fantasy books aren’t going to help their child succeed academically. They say, “Can we find something that is not fantasy, please?” I can certainly do that for them, but at the same time I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with fantasy? I really believe that if the kid is reading- whatever he’s reading- he’s going to turn out great. Let him read what he likes!” I think parents need to trust in their kids to choose the right books for themselves.
Also, one of the best thing parents can do for their kids, especially at a younger age, but even as they get older, is to model reading behavior. Read together as a family. When they get too old for read-alouds, have a family reading time. Mom and dad can read their books while the kids read theirs, and everyone just kind of chills together and reads for 20 minutes or so. Make it a habit. The more that young people see their parents reading, the more they’re going to do it too.
Do you have some favorite books that you like to recommend for teens?
Allison: There are definitely different books for different readers, but there are a few series that I can recommend to almost anyone and it will be a hit. Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series has wide appeal with its snappy dialogue and fast paced action. Romance, adventure-- it’s pretty much a win-win for both boys and girls. Scott Westerfeld is another author that I can generally recommend to just about anyone. Holly Black is really great too—fantastic urban fantasy. For girls who want something realistic, often Sarah Dessen or Jessi Kirby are winners.
Clearly, I could go on and on!
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