Thursday, 5 February 2015

Choice and Libraries: If You Can't Buy it, Borrow It! by Savita Kalhan

In my blog for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure back in December, I shared a list of some of my favourite teen and young adults books that I'd read in 2014. You can read that blog here - Favourite Teen/YA reads of 2014. Commenting on the blog, David Thorpe asked me an interesting question – why were those books in particular on my favourite reads of the year? His question made me wonder if there was something that linked the books, a shared theme, a particular voice, or a genre. I looked at the list and at first thought: no, the books are all very different. Some of them were written in the first person present, others in the third person past; some had a male POV, others a female. Many of them were set in different parts of the world, or in an alternative world, or in a different time.

All the books in my list are richly diverse in terms of when and where they are set. Most of them are set in different countries, from Denmark to Ireland, Germany to the USA, and  I think that’s part of their lure for me. Many of the books are set in a different time or era: from the 19th Century to a version of the future, or even a parallel time.

Some of the books are fairy tale like. The Hob and the Deerman reads like a wonderful fairy tale and reminds me of all the fairy stories I read as a child. I would happily invite a Hob to come and share my home. Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood and Co, is set in London – but although the places in the book may be familiar to a Londoner, it’s not quite like the London we know. It’s beset by ghosts and ghouls that only children have the ability to see and deal with. So, when darkness falls, the adults lock their doors, leaving the child agents to do their work.

It was just as I finished reading Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys at Christmas, that I realised there was a common thread between all the books in my list. Out of the Easy is the story of Josie, the daughter of a prostitute in New Orleans in the 1950’s. It’s a book that I would definitely include in my list of favourite teen/YA reads of 2014.

It is the fact that they are set in a different time and place and sometimes in a different world which sets these books apart, and I think that’s what I love about them. All the writers beautifully evoke their setting, so that by the time you’ve finished their book you come away feeling as though you really know that place.

It’s not only the variety of world settings or time they’re set in that set these books apart for me, but also the variety in the lives of the characters. In both of Tanya Landman’s books, Buffalo Soldier and Apache, the main characters are girls: one is a black slave and the other is an orphaned Apache. If I had a teenage daughter, I would be recommending them to her. (Luckily I have nieces to whom I can recommend books!) But my teen son has no problem with books where the main character is a girl, and is interested in reading both.

The choice available in many bookshops these days does not fully reflect the diversity and richness of teen and young adult fiction. Although bookshops have more space devoted to teen/YA fiction, a lot of that space is still devoted to genre fiction, or to the bigger well-known authors. It would be great to see much more diversity on their shelves too. Most main libraries stock far more richly diverse fiction, although, sadly, smaller local libraries are seeing their stocks dwindle, in some cases (as here in Barnet) being purposely run down by councils prior to being closed or scaled down. Yes, you can still request a book from another library, and in some libraries they will order it for you if it’s not in any of the borough’s libraries. But most of these libraries are now run by volunteers or library assistants, and this is true of virtually all of Barnet’s libraries, and whilst they are good, a qualified librarian’s skills and guidance are not available to kids looking for help. As a child and a teenager, Wycombe Library had a brilliantly stocked library, fantastic librarians, and the choice of children’s books was astounding – I should know as I read practically every book in there!
Here’s an unashamed plug for libraries - it’s National Libraries Day on February 7th. Events are happening in libraries across the country from Friday 6th into the following week. If you have a minute, check out the link here to see what’s going on in your local library.

Here’s the hashtag for National Libraries Day on Twitter #NLD15
Or share a library #shelfie
Follow @NatLibrariesDay on Twitter and you’ll know what’s going on.

So the books are there – if you can find them or have been made aware of them. I’m hoping 2015 will be even more richly diverse in teen and young adult literature. I’m sure I’ve missed a few great reads in 2014, so please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments. And I’d love to hear what makes a book stand out for you.

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Sue Purkiss said...

Must check out your list. I agree absolutely that one of the wonderful things about reading is that it can take you into other lives, other times, other cultures.

And yes - National Libraries Day on Saturday. See what's happening at your local library!

David Thorpe said...

Thanks for answering the question, Savita! It's a good answer. I also love stories set in richly evoked other places and times. And thanks for the heads-up about National Libraries Day.