betwixt with tweens

Bookavore has a wonderful post about a recent bookseller panel that discussed the challenges facing everyone when choosing books for kids in that very nebulous 11-13-year-old age bracket. You should click over and read the whole thing, but I wanted to highlight one bit. Bookavore and many booksellers are pondering the need to further segment the children’s/YA section of their stores to separate books that appeal to teens that have mature content and those that don’t.

She writes: “My store, and many others, have two sections: middle-grade fiction, and YA/teen fiction (and as I sit near the receiving desk, I can tell you that where we shelve a book when it could go either way, at this point, usually is determined by the level of mature content). What we need is a section in between for all these books.

This is where you come in. Just what do we call this section? The best suggestion I’ve heard so far is “young teen.” It appeals to tweens because they want to think of themselves as teens, but also connotes that content is conservative. We could also do the opposite, and follow the lead of some manga publishers, who have “teen” and “older teen.”

What do you think? What do we call this section? Should we make a new section? Do we need to worry about dividing books up too much? As a side note, too, Politics & Prose in DC has recently moved their YA to be with the adult books, rather than with the children’s books. Is this helpful?”

What do you think about this? I would love to hear your opinions about this – as readers, authors, editors, librarians, teachers, parents, booksellers – speak up!

22 Replies to “betwixt with tweens”

  1. I never differentiated that much between YA and adult fiction. To this day, I love reading YA fiction, and even in my young teens, I always read both. The issue of stumbling onto “mature content” in the YA section wasn’t really an issue: I was going to come across it in the adult fiction anyways. I know by the age of 13, I (and many of my friends) was reading some of Piers Anthony’s racier adult books, which are graphic by comparison with YA fiction. The simple fact is, even middle school/middle-graders see and experience “mature content” every day on TV, in school, and in their homes. Books that include it can help kids deal with and understand what’s going on, and give them something to relate to.

    However, I can see why you’d want to keep much younger kids from stumbling across “mature content” when they’re browsing the children’s section. So I think the move of YA to be with adult books wouldn’t hurt. It could be left as is, though. It’s a good enough system, IMHO. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you put the books–if kids want them, they will find them.

  2. At Halfway Down the Stairs, we had three sections:

    Independent readers (grades 4-5)
    Middle school (grades 6-8)
    High school (grades 9 and up)

    While reading level played a leading role in dividing independent readers from middle school titles, the difference between middle school and high school books mostly boiled down to content. We freely recommended a number of books in the middle school section to high school students, but generally not the reverse, even though the reading levels tended to be on a par.

  3. I like the idea of young teen & older teen sections. As someone who teaches 7th graders, I know that kids in that “in-between” group are very much individuals, too. Here’s a “Banned Books Week” post of how I’ve handled discussing book selections with parents of my own students –

  4. As a YA Librarian, I don’t like dividing up the sections more. Our children’s room has books for ages 0-11. Our YA section has books for ages 12-18. At least on paper.

    The reality is that 10yos browse the YA section. And 13yos browse the MG section. They are able to self-censor and if parents don’t like what they read, they need to come with the kids to help them make choices.

    A third section of “young teen” books to browse would in many cases be redundant of books in the MG and YA areas. Most teens/kids don’t decide where they’ll browse by the “title” given to the area, but by what books are contained there.

    It’s already hard enough for the children’s librarian and me to sometimes decide whose section should contain a certain book. Sometimes we both buy it. If there was a third section, it’d be even more annoying to make these nit-picky decisions.

    And for the record, we both bought CHAINS. It’s content is appropriate for MG, but those who read your other YA books and brose your section there will also see it, read it, and love it.

  5. Call it Double Digits. I thought it was awfully cool when I hit double digits, although I went on reading in the ‘children’s section’ at my local library (which included any and all YA for years until some enlightened librarian started yanking books to create a proper YA section).

  6. Being a very, very, very small time published (online) author, I have a little horror series running on a website about a cop who encounters ghosts. He is a very A-typical character and the stories he is featured in, while having some element of horror, are pretty mild compared to similar stories on the same site.

    I am currently wrestling with a small flyer/business card campaign where I thought it was best to put the fact that some material online (and in the book that will be for sale through the same site as well) may not be suitable for readers under the age of thirteen. While I am mostly pushing my own work, I am well aware that curious readers will surf around and read some of other material offered on the site. Thus, the warning.

    I plan to have the flyers/business cards distributed in comicbookshops and libraries and bookstores during the last few weekends leading up to Halloween.

    Meanwhile– my thoughts ON this topic: Its always a balancing act to make sure all readers (in both bookstores and libraries) are aware of which section the material they seek out is located.
    This is made even harder with the balancing act of each store/library wrestling with their individual size limitations.
    The bottom line is to make sure that the readers who wish to continue reading (what few there seem to be anymore) be given the chance to do so. They can find their way as long as the “doors” stay open.

  7. As a reader, pre-published author, one-time children’s librarian and parent, I don’t think there’s one way to deal with this. One library I use has a dedicated YA room. Books on one side are for younger ya, those on the other are for older ya. It’s tricky to have to check both places if you’re looking for a specific title, but it works.

    Ideally, books would be arranged in a spectrum, with readers able to move through the spectrum as they are ready, and I mean ready in terms of reading ability and developmental level. At some point, teens are ready to read adult lit and many of them already do, but that doesn’t mean they won’t read YA as well. After all, 3rd and 4th graders who can and do enjoy reading their first novels also like to return to picture books, because they miss the illustrations.

    IMHO, where you put books doesn’t matter as much as letting readers know where they can find whatever it is they are looking for.

  8. Okay, because I could browse through any amount of shelves of middle-grade to YA books, I’m not as concerned, I guess, with a sharp delineation. I do like when the sections are next to each other, because then I can just ramble from one to the other happily. 🙂

    In terms of my son, who’s almost 13 and reads in a wide age-range, I definitely shop in both sections for him. He’ll read sci-fi and fantasy that’s pretty grim and dark and with plenty of violence up to any age-level, but isn’t as interested in the more real, kid-problems books, at any of the age-levels he reads. If I’m saying that clearly.

    While I truly appreciate the efforts of booksellers and librarians to read these books and try and find the place for them that will help us know where the books fall, there’s also the reader’s job (whether its a parent buying for a kid, or a kid buying for themselves), to check out the blurb, and the first page or two, and see if they’re captured and want to read more.

  9. shelving “young teen” books seperately from YA

    I work in children’s book publicity, my mom is a middle school librarian, and I have to say that I don’t think the shelving of YA books has much to do with determining the audience. In the case of gift buying, when an adult is seeking an age-appropriate book, I’m sure this would be a big help, absolutely. But when teens, 13 and up, go to the store to find a book, I doubt they’ll ignore the division between older & younger teen literature. They just want what appeals to them personally, and I don’t think having three different shelving areas will deter them from seeking out occasionally inappropriate conent. That said, I think having a middle grade section AND a YA section is a wonderful and absolutely necessary solution. I just don’t know about the further breaking down of that Teen shelf..


  10. I think YA/teen pretty clearly suggests raciness and edginess — the prototypical high school independent read — though those also make up the bulk of my (seventh grade) library. I can’t think of a lot of texts that aren’t middle-grades but aren’t that. Can you give an example?

  11. Well, I can appreciate the thought, but this really reads like silliness to me.

    A ten-year-old is going to pick up a copy of Highlights, Seventeen, or Cosmo depending on their maturity and reading level. Same goes with books.

    I just see this as the over-thinking person’s version of censorship.

    Children–and involved parents–can figure out what’s appropriate at age 10, be it a book by Beverly Cleary, Laurie Halse Anderson, or Stephen King.

    -Susan, a writer and parent and forever reader

  12. I can see the point of this–some of the YA books I’ve read in the past year are definitely not things I’d recommend to my 12-year-old son. But I hate the idea of chopping books up into little sections. What’s next–an 11-year-old section, a 12-year-old section, and a 13-year-old section? It would be like shopping at Macy’s, where you can’t just go look for a plain black skirt because all the clothes are organized by designer.

    Come to think of it, the children’s room in our local library is something like this. Their fiction is organized into the following categories:

    — picture books
    — easy readers
    — “J-delta” large format
    — “J-delta” series books/easy readers
    — chapter books

    “J-delta” was described to me by a librarian as “third grade books,” books for readers who are making the transition from picture books to chapter books. This section includes books in picture book format whose content might be more appealing to older readers, e.g. “Jumanji” or some of Patricia Polacco’s books, and chapter books that are appropriate for younger readers, e.g. “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and Ursula LeGuin’s “Catwings.”

    Once you know where it is and what it’s for, “J-delta” is a handy little collection. But there’s no way to figure it out unless you go ask the librarian. And I don’t think most people want to have to do that; they just want to look up the book and find it on the shelf. Add to that the fact that the shelves snake around the children’s room in an incredibly confusing fashion, and you wind up with a really hard-to-use library.

  13. Divisions

    As soon as I find out that a book has drinking, sex, or drug use – to me that’s a high school book and would belong in an older teen section. My frustration is that there’s often some GREAT middle school books hidden in the teen section, and it’s hard to know if they’re appropriate without buying them and reading them. Likewise, bookstores shelve some material that older teens would love, but often put it in the younger section. Sometimes I think the booksellers near my house have never even READ the books, because the shelving seems so random. I’d love to have a conversation with someone and ask, “Why is this in the tween section” or why is this in the older teen section?

    For me – the clear line, is, as I mentioned drinking, drug use or sex – if those are activities the main characters are involved in, it’s a high school or older teen book.

  14. I’d rather not see the YA section subdivided further. I think book jackets today do a very good job of letting you know what the book’s about, and whether it’s dark and edgy, or light and funny, or whatever it is. I hate to see books getting more and more compartmentalized, when really people are so complex. Readers’ tastes and maturity levels are not necessarily easy to match to chronological age–or any other single characteristic.

  15. As both a bookseller and a librarian, I have to say – what a HORRIBLE idea. Most kids/tweens/teens react pretty badly to being “graded” in any way to begin with. And now you want to give them another category or section to have to look through? Its hard enough when a kid finds out that his/hers favorite book is not in the section they expected to find it in; lets do them a favor and not give them more areas to look through.

    And have you ever tried to convince a 15 year old that is still ok to read the series that they have found out is shelved with the kids books? GAH!

    Besides, age has very little to do with reading material. Its all about reading ability, maturity level and interest. Adults read intermediates/YA stuff; YA reads adult materials and intermediate materials. Someone who is 12 can be still only able to comfortable read materials that were written for a younger level; or they might be doing what I did and is already reading Gone with the Wind, Danielle Steele, and Les Miserables.

    Age ranked categories are pretty argbetrary – after whenver I look at ALA reading lists, I am always amused to see the books I was reading in 4th grade classes have now been bumped up to 6th grade reading.

    I would prefer to see all stores divided into more fluid categories – beginning chapter books; series (by category such as urban supernatural; fantasy; mystery, regular fiction); books by author. This would make it easier to help kids find material to read based on items that they have already read and liked.

    Only books that are clearly designated for older teens because of highly mature content should be given their own section.

  16. I’m late on the draw with this comment–but I think the children’s and YA books should be grouped together, with a seperate section for “older teen”. (And really, who want’s to classify themselves as a “young teen”–not cool enough to read the “older teen” books, yet, LOL!) I get seriously irritated going back and forth between the children and YA section trying to find books–why is Tamora Pierce in YA, while Lloyd Alexander is stashed next to Thomas the Tank Engine? How come “The Order of the Phoenix” is a children’s book, and “The Princess Diaries” isn’t?

    The distinction between middle grade and YA seems pretty arbitrary–except when it comes to mature content. I think books written for younger folks should be grouped in the same area of the store or library, right next to an “older teen” section, so parents/kids have fair warning of what they’re looking at. It would save ME a lot of confusion and running, at least!

  17. Ratings like films?

    I know I may take some heat for this, but what if books were rated, like our films are?
    You know, seperated by the material so that whoever wishes to see each film, has a basic idea of what age group should see the film. This system was enacted (if memory serves)FOR parents.
    The ratings are…..G PG PG-13 R and X

    Our films have this system and for the most part, it seems to continue to work fairly well. I admit that books are somewhat different then films, for one thing, both films (as DVDs)and books are brought into homes.
    On the other hand, films are for the most part, communal events while books are pretty much a private, personal passion.

    Still, maybe some sort of rating system would assist everyone in “seperating” books by age.

    The obvious problem though (very much like the way our films are rated)– WHO would be selected to make those ratings decisions?

  18. I work as a school library media specialist in a K-6 school – unusual these days, since most 6th graders now attend middle school )we’re a K-6 district). But since my 6th graders would have access to YA books if they attended a true middle school, I buy some titles just for them and put them on a special “6th grade only” shelf. Interest in reading wanes at this age as the kids become more interested in each other so I feel it important to purchase titles that will directly appeal to them. Also, the “sixth grade only” label intrigues them and I see them visiting that shelf often for reading material.

    Interesting topic.


    I’m not sure what the answer when it comes to arranging a public library. I like the idea of a “Tween” section but often libraries don’t have the room for them.

  19. As a teen and an avid reader, I think combining middle-grade fiction and YA fiction is a fantastic idea. At bookstores and libraries, I usually have to wander around a lot to find the books I want because I read a mix of middle-grade, YA, and adult fiction. Plus, I’m embarrassed to go looking for books in the “children’s” section where they have some really great books but also those flimsy little 150-page paperbacks about happy little elves, so I usually just stick to YA. One section would make things much easier, and there would be less pressure to only choose books from the section that corresponds with the person’s age group. On mature content: I read my first book that included a sex scene when I was 10 or 11. At that point, I already knew what it was and understood it. I hear about it at school and on TV already-why not books? It’s better than asking your parents and having a really awkward conversation about it. By the time I was 12, about 80% of the books I read were from the YA section. I usually don’t pay much attention to “content” and focus on the story. Most tweens/teens are mature enough to choose books for themselves without a parent hovering over their shoulder telling them what to read. I understand not giving a nine-year-old a book full of mature content, but seriously, teens are perfectly capable of using books for themselves.

  20. I totally love the idea of combining YA with adult lit because it would make my book browsing so much easier. As someone said, Tamora Pierce and Lloyd Alexander are shelved separately, and Robin McKinley is in both children and adult fantasy (granted I get my exercise going all every which where.)

    Also, I wouldn’t get slightly flustered when the checkout person asks me if these “teen books” are a gift. (When they do now, I just say, no, I’m a YA junkie.)

    Otherwise, I agree with letting middle grades and older self-censor. (Although a suggested gift list for adults buying for middle grades might be a good idea.)

  21. The YA and adult literature should be separate. Many YA authors may get lost in the adult literature section. Also it may seem a little overwhelming especially to reluctant readers. I have been working at the same book store for over six years. I have a lot of regular customer who shop the YA section. They come in shop the tables, ask whats knew and browse the YA section. Many times a parent will leave their teen to shop while they find their own section. If the YA section is taken away, teens (core consumers) will lose. If the YA section is moved what happens to YA nonfiction? Some teens may not feel comfortable asking for certian topics but asking where’s the YA nonfiction? Is no big deal. The YA section is not about adults who read YA its about the teens. Its about the teens who come to the bookstore with their friends, just to check out whats new. Its about the avid reader teen who doesn’t want to be helped because he knows what he’s looking for. Its the about the teens who are ready to give reading another go. If some adults don’t know how good and relevant YA literature is well too bad for them and doing away with the YA section is not going to change their minds.
    I vote no on the Tween section. If a parent is worried about content they should just ask the bookseller. When customers ask me, I tell them what I know. If I am unsure or haven’t read the book in question, I’ll recommend a book I have read that’s in the same realm. If no one in the store can tell them they should shop elsewhere. Or if the parent is that concerned about content they should read the books themselves. A tween section will hurt the tweens who are ready for just a little more content. What if a book is placed in the teen section for a small scene and now a parent won’t allow their tween to read it even though the bookseller has read the book and says its okay. Too many section break downs makes it harder for booksellers, because some parents take it as gospel. They will not listen to suggestions of books if they don’t coincide with the section marking or grade level or whatever on or for the books, even if we’ve read the book in question and its very frustrating. If a tween section is made who will decide what is clean enough?

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