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Talktime Live!

Wednesday, July 21 @ 1:00 PM ET

Books for Tweens & Teens:
What's Cool and Why?

Hosted by:
Robert Capriccioso
Writer/Reporter, Connect for Kids

With special guests:
Dr. Twila LiggettDr. Twila Liggett
Executive Producer and Creator of Reading Rainbow
Ned VizziniNed Vizzini
Author, Be More Chill and Teen Angst? Naaah

Editor's Note: Connect for Kids retains editorial control over online discussions and selects the most relevant questions for guests. Guests can decline to answer questions.

Rob: Do you like to read? According to a recent National Endowment for the Arts analysis of 2002 census data, fewer than half of American adults read literature outside of work and school. And people in their twenties (my cohort!) are said to be reading less and less

However, theres a flip side: overall sales in the consumer publishing sector rose 6.3 percent in 2003, driven by huge gains in children's and young adult books. According to recent figures released by the Association of American Publishers, sales of children's and young adult hardcover books grew by 19 percent last yearreflecting a big resurgence in reading among preteens and teenagers.

Say what? Teens and tweens are reading more? It was a surprise to me -- too often, I think of kids being turned off by books with so many other forms of entertainment available. Obviously, I dont know everything about teen and tween reading habits. Thats why Im hosting this chat for kids, parents, teachers and librarians to ask some questions, share some answers, and to hear some thoughts from our exceptional guest experts.

Today, I have with me Dr. Twila Liggett, the founder and executive producer of PBS-TVs Reading Rainbow. Shes been a state reading coordinator and has shared the joys of reading with many kids through classroom teaching. Over twenty years ago, she had the idea for a show that she hoped would get kids excited about books. Today, Reading Rainbow incorporates current literacy understanding with research, humor and entertainment to ensure that viewers will be absorbed and will remember the show even years later. Also joining me is Ned Vizzini, a 23-year-old twice-published author. His first book, Teen Angst? Naaah, is based on a compilation of clips from his New York Press column. The Weitz brothers, of American Pie movie fame, recently optioned Vizzinis most recent novel, Be More Chill, for film.

What did you like to read when you were a kid? If you're a tween or a teen, what do you like to read now? Why? Do you have any ideas for keeping the wave of middle and high school book reading strong? Share your ideas. Let's Begin.

Jeanette Larson, author of Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults: There has been a lot of discussion recently about incentives to encourage reading. What are your thoughts about rewarding teens and tweens for reading?

Twila: Dear Jeanette, my view is to encourage and motivate kids to read about topics, subjects and authors that they really like and/or are interested in. There are all kinds of fiction and non-fiction books for kids who love motorcycles, sports, mysteries (no surprise there), animals, adventures, etc. My goal is to find that right book/author that "hooks" a kid and thus he/she experiences that most important of all, INTRINSIC reward of pleasure and the joy of a good book. And, as with younger children, the example of parents, teachers and others who read a lot is a powerful influence.

And don't forget, these kids still like to be read to. My friend Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook, Penguin Books) says that reading aloud to tweens can truly help change negative attitudes toward reading into positive ones and in one study where a middle school instituted daily read-aloud sessions that students who read at home for pleasure increased from 40 percent to 75 percent!

Rob: My two cents: When we live in a society where parents are paid to read to their kids -- and people have proof that that works, I say why not reward kids for reading? However, because I cover childhood obesity, I think its important not to reward them with unhealthy food. Does anyone know if Pizza Hut still does Book It -- where kids get a stamp towards a personal pizza for every book they read -- or has that program disappeared? I have to admit, I think I only read books at one point to get that free pizza.

Connor, Ontario, Canada: Ned, you say you write for yourself how come so many teens have taken a liking to your books? Was there ever an intended audience?

Ned: I'd like to think that teenagers like my books because I'm a good writer and the books speak to them. But in terms of there being an intended audience, mostly it's just smart people. I want to respect my readers' intelligence and write stuff that doesn't waste their time and delivers real stories to them that they can laugh at, relate to and learn from. Is that so wrong?

A comment from Jose Cruz, California Literacys statewide director of coalition and member development: The big difference in selecting books for not a difference at all. As a young reader, I was intrigued by comic books...though adults
always thought these books were bad for us. MAD Magazine was supposed to be
forbidden literature. Kids have always loved this material. It makes them want to read! So, today, you see the popularity of Captain Underpants...and even higher level children's literature like Harry Potter that some folks deem as bordering on satanic...which is nonsense.

So, children love fantasy. The joy of hearing those first words, Once upon a time..., is immeasurable! The world is a tremendous place. Kids have curiosity and they are also very open to possibilities. Fantasy presents all forms of possibilities. Children want to know that there is some semblance of truth to fantasy. They like true stories that border on being fantasy. There is somewhere where both meet. It's "cool" when reality looks like fantasy or when fantasy can be close to reality.

And, of course, humor that borders on being naughty is very good...which accounts for the Captain Underpants craze.

Rob: Thanks for sharing, Jose, and for reminding me about the infamous Captain Underpants. My editor, Susan Phillips, wrote a cool editorial on that caped hero last summer. (FYI: she likes him!) Heres a link to the story:

Mary S., Seattle: Are there any nationwide events that focus on teen reading?

Rob: One of the more interesting events that Ive come across in doing research for this chat is the Young Adult Library Associations Teen Read Week. Organizers of the event encourage teens to read from a list of books chosen by their peers in high schools throughout the U.S. -- and then readers can vote on their favoritess during teen read week.

Take a look at the complete list of books nominated for Teens Top Ten Books 2004 by teen readers.

The official Teen Read Week this year takes place October 17 - 23, 2004. Readers aged twelve to eighteen can vote online, anytime that week. Read more about the event here:

Katya: If they're not already planning on doing this, can you please ask the two guests to suggest some Web sites where teens can go for some good suggested reading lists? (There are just so many sites out there, it's hard to tell which offer selections of good books that many teens will enjoy and which are more arbitrary.)

Ned: I'm not sure which websites have the best recommendations for teens, sorry--that's something I should know! It's such a good idea that I am going to post my own reading list on the message board in my website,, and you can see that grow (seriously, i'll do that as soon as i'm done with this). But briefly: 1. Gary Paulsen, Hatchet 2. Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park 3. George Orwell's Essays 4. James Frey, A Million Little Piece 5. Megan McCafferty's books

Rob: Be sure also to check out the side resources on this page.

Twila: I really like to go to either or and ask for Young Adult literature and you'll find the latest titles and more. Both of these sites give a short synopsis of the book, a publisher review and sometimes other reviews by someone who has read the book. I would certainly start there.

Rob: Earlier in the chat, we answered a question from author Jeanette Larson. She wrote a book for librarians and educators called "Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults" that came out earlier this year. Can you put on your librarian cap for a moment and offer some examples of mysteries that tweens and teens really enjoy?

Jeanette: Some favorite mysteries for tweens and teens:

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion, 2002. 277 p. Artemis is a criminal genius and he is hatched a plot to steal the pot of gold from the fairy folk. Grades: 5-8

Cooney, Caroline B. Face on the Milk Carton. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1991. 184 p. Janie realizes that her parents must have kidnapped her when she sees her own face on the milk carton. Grades: 8-10

Cross, Gillian. Phoning a Dead Man. New York: Holiday House, 2002. 256 p. Hayley finds herself in danger as she investigates the accidental death of her brother. Could he have been involved with the Russian mob? Grades: 6-8

Plum-Ucci, Carol. Body of Christopher Creed. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 2000. 248 p.
After the town outcast disappears without a trace, sixteen-year-old Torey Adam's finds his life changed as he deals with the fact that some mysteries are never solved. Gr. 7-12

Werlin, Nancy. Locked Inside. New York: Laurel Leaf, 2001. 272 p. The wealthy daughter of a super-star who was killed in a plane crash, 16-year-old Marnie meets a mysterious boy in an Internet game room. Kidnapped and locked away, Marnie faces many painful truths. Grades: 7-10

Two that are particularly timely are:

Crowe, Chris. Getting Away with Murder: the True Story of the Emmett Till Case. New York: Phyllis Fogelman Books, 2003. 128 p. The true story of a young Chicago boy who was murdered in Mississippi during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. Grades: 6-9

Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic, 2004; 0439372941) by Blue Balliett. It's being called The Da Vinci Code for kids.

Lee McClain : In light of all the teen books about princesses, wealthy kids, and young movie stars, I wonder what Dr. Liggett and Mr. Vizzini think about teen "issue" fiction--what used to be called the Problem Novel. I'm the author of a new series of books about teens in foster care, starting with MY ALTERNATE LIFE, a September release from Dorchester Books.

Ned: Lee, go for it--we need more books about real teens and less about fairy tales. Absolutely a big market for issue books right now. It's a funny secret that you can get away with a lot more in a YA book than you can in a PG-13 movie. I think that your book can definitely be a serious success, especially if you keep putting it in caps--you've got to always be pushing.

Rob, on behalf of Alfonzbob146: Ned, weve received a few is squip real? questions. Now, I've read Be More Chill so I'm in on what a squip is. But can you please definitively answer that question now once and for all? And how did incorporating a pretty-cool-intrigue factor like a squip help you get more teens interested in your book?

Ned: Definitively and once and for all: the squip is not real. It's a creation of the book. The squip is a supercomputer pill that you eat that sits in your brain and tells you how to be cool all the time. I invented it for my book as a plot construct. Then we went out and made all these squip Web sites as a sort of meta-satire on the idea that any product (designer jeans, big earrings, an iPod) can make you cool.

We're encouraging people from all over the world to get involved and contribute to the project. We want to point out to big corporations how messed up teen marketing really is. So please contribute by going to and talking about the squip in my message board or signing up to put up squip stickers in your area!

And this has helped me reach out to teens by giving them something to contribute to. I don't just want people to read my books; I want them to read them and then contribute something of their own and think about their lives in a slightly different (and funny) way.

Lee McClain #2: Ned, I was struck by Megan McCafferty's analysis of BE MORE CHILL--"Sharp social commentary disguised as a high school sex comedy." Maybe that's the best way--wrap the issues in a fun package?

Ned: Since my first book TEEN ANGST? NAAAH..., I have tried to go for something a former editor of mine called "twisting the knife." That's when you hit the reader with humor, humor, fun, humor, but then at the end of a passage/chapter/whatever, you twist the knife into seriousness to make the reader feel/realize/understand something important. that's a powerful combination that is a great way to express big ideas to readers. Not that BE MORE CHILL has that many big ideas...

Anonymous: Are there any books that would encourage children of this age to want to write, or be writers?

Ned: SAHARA SPECIAL by Esme Raji Codell is about a girl who discovers herself through writing. PLEASE DON'T KILL THE FRESHMAN by Zoe Trope is a story of a girl finding her identity--and a $100K advance--through writing. COMEDY WRITING SECRETS is a great how-to book that was given to me when I was younger. Also, on my website, I have in the FAQ section a guide to how I got started writing and how other people can to. The best strategy is to give the person a REALLY GOOD BOOK... that'll inspire them.

Washington, DC: If parents push teens to read, won't that make them less likely to want to pick up a book? Is there a way parents can suggest reading without "assigning" a book list?

Rob: Officials at the Reading is Fundamental organization have some great advice on this subject. Some of their suggestions: 1) Let your kids see you reading for pleasure; 2) Leave books, magazines, and newspapers around. Check to see what disappears for a clue to what interests your teenager; 3) Look for books and articles that feature their favorite sports teams, rock stars, hobbies, or TV shows. Give a gift subscription to a special interest magazine; 4) Read some books written for teens. Young adult novels can give you valuable insights into the concerns and pressures felt by teenagers. You may find that these books provide a neutral ground on which to talk about sensitive subjects; 5) Acknowledge your teen's mature interests. Look for ways to acknowledge the emerging adult in your teens by suggesting some adult reading you think they can handle.
Reading is Fundamental has many more ideas for parents online at:

Amanda: How do we convince adults not to censor the materials available to young adults?

Twila: It's been my observation that most adults do not want to censor books for young adults, witness the plethora of books that deal with major issues - death,
divorce, sex and more that flourish and are read by a lot of kids. However,
there are a few people who would try to "protect" young adults from current
issues, language usage. I'm not sure how to convince this small core of
activists. I guess I'd try to have them realize that kids today are dealing with
many challenging and unsettling issues and any literature that helps them
understand and deal with these things is a positive contribution.

Max Elliot Anderson: I write chapter adventure books for readers 8 and up, so I'm tuned into that segment of the market. These young readers are the adult readers of tomorrow, and readership is going down in our society at an alarming rate. I don't find nearly enough being done to encourage them to read, especially boys. As we battle TV, video games, and DVDs, what can the publishing industry do to attract larger numbers of readers in the tweener age group?

Twila: As the Executive Producer of Reading Rainbow whose sole (now proven highly successful) mission is to get kids to read (and love to read), I think we use these mediums to get the message across. Why not a book based TV series for tweens? Why not video games and DVD's based on books such as yours... Just so you know, I have a lot of ideas that I think would work for this age group but haven't found a funder. So, maybe that's where the publishers could help.

Washington, DC: Twila, have you ever thought about creating a show focused exclusively on books for teens?

Twila: Oh, yes, I have. I think that the "daughter" of RR could be formatted and produced effectively for tweens and I would LOVE to see my idea for it find funding! Any help out there, just let me know!

Dana, New York City: Ned, What kinds of issues affected you as a teenager?

Ned: As a teenager i was affected by issues of self-worth and social pressure. I always felt like I wasn't part of a designated crowd of people--the Cool People--who were always having more fun than me. Then, once i started writing, I tapped into issues of writing about the people in my life, which can be dicey. I was also hypercompetitive, worried about the future, and worried about money. A lot of those issues are still issues that I am dealing with today.

Kim, Boston, MA: Ned,How did you come up with the idea of the squip? What were some of the things that inspired you? Was one of them the Manchurian Candidate? Ned Whoa, the Manchurian Candidate? How does that relate to the squip? I'd love to know.

Ned: I was inspired to come up with the squip when I started thinking about the ultimate product. I was particularly sparked by a song by a band called Drunk Horse called "Am/FM Shoes". It's about a guy whose life is terrible, except he has special shoes that play the radio, and when he puts them on he feels cool. I started thinking, "What if there was a product that REALLY made you cool?"

Melanie, Houston, TX: I have many teens in my library who see reading as uncool or something they have to hide from their peers. What do you see as a solution?

Twila: This is a difficult one. As a librarian, you must have tried the usual "role model" approach, e.g., NBA stars who read, movie & TV stars who love to read, etc. I also like to get kids involved in a project that involves books but also online research - which of course involves a fair amount of reading. Changing these attitudes is difficult and quite frankly needs some kind of national effort, in my view.

Ned: I think you have to give your teens the right books. Teens are inundated with text--IMs, emails--and they just need to have it turned around in their head that books are as cool as that other text. I think that books like PLEASE DON'T KILL THE FRESHMAN, the new one HEART ON MY SLEEVE (all emails and IMs), Megan McCafferty's "Jessica Darling" books and anything by Marty Beckerman has instant cool cred. Try hardcovers, things that are up-to-the-minute, and give out flyers--teenagers dig flyers.

Jennie Garner, Teen Librarian North Liberty (Iowa) Community Library: I have a passion for teen literature and read almost solely from our young adult section so I've read Ned's first book Teen Angst? Naaah and thought it was quite funny. I haven't had a chance to read Be More Chill yet, but I am wondering what made Ned decide to write a novel targeted for teens?

Ned: Jennie, I wrote Be More Chill for myself, not for any particular audience. I didn't have any idea it was going to be published when I wrote it and I wasn't sure what market it would target. When I brought it to my agent, since it was set in high school, we decided to go for a young adult book again. I was very happy with that because of the tremendous rewards I got from Teen Angst? Naaah: letters from kids across the country (and the world), speaking engagements at schools, excited handshakes and signatures. I think that writing for teenagers has it's own rewards--when you hit people at that age, the praise is very genuine and the respect is heartfelt. Those are the advantages to gearing Be More Chill to a teen audience. But if any adults (like yourself!) want to come along for the ride, feel free!

Angela, Columbus, Ohio: I'm currently doing some work with incarcerated teens and am looking for exciting read-alouds that will entice them in the first few lines. I read to them every other week for 1/2 hour. Some of these teens have drug/alcohol issues. Can you think of anything that would be exciting and hook them in right from the get go?

Ned: Ooh, I'm just re-reading a book now that is amazing and gripping about a drug/rehab situation that I think would appeal to the teens you work with. The book is large but grabs you right from the get-go: James Frey, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES. It's piercing and fantastic. I really think it would connect with your teens and it might keep some of them from getting further into drinking/drugs. It's all true life and James Frey went through some serious stuff.

Twila: We just discovered a lovely book called, "Finding The Right Spot: When Kids Can't Live With Their Parents" by Janice Levy - Imagination Press which deals with a kid whose mother is sent to rehab... I think it's a grabber.

John McIntosh, Omaha, Nebraska: In your experience, do tweens usually like novels? Is this literary form an OK way to reach young people?

Twila: Dear John, novels can be many things - funny, message driven, inspiring and most of all, engaging. Which in the land of reading, where I live, is a wonderful thing. In fact, there is a treasure trove of positive, uplifting novels for tweens (which I would define as 9-12 years old) that includes such great authors and stories that do all of the above.

Just to name a few, there are established authors such as: Judy BloomAre You There God, It's Margaret; Judith DanzingerThe Cat Ate My Gym Suit, or for a really fun read, Thomas Rockwell's How To Eat Fried Worms.

Then some newer authors who write for an older audience have taken a try. One of the more notable is Carl Hiaasan's Hoot, which is a humorous novel but with a strong pro-environmental message.

There are many other authors I haven't named, just go to the Internet or try Amazon, Barnes & Noble and specify books for ages 9-12... You'll find some of the best and most intriguing writing you've ever experienced. And great ways to read and expand your mind.

California: I'm up on Harry Potter and Captain Underpants. I know I am behind on the newsso, what's the new stuff that's being released out there that's making kids excited about reading?

Rob: To answer this question, Ill let some kids speak for themselves. In the following online video link -- brought to my attention by educator Cris Crissman -- various students from North Carolina schools offer their takes on their current favorite books. The students first wrote about their favorite books in blogs, then talked on camera about the ones they especially like. Kid comments begin at about eight minutes into the Web cast. Enjoy watching it AFTER the chat:

Some of the books they brought up as must-reads are:
At the End of Words by Miriam R. Stone
Claws by Will Weaver
Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters
Sweetblood by Pete Hautman
The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

Deidre, Birmingham, AL: What kind of books would interest teens to read when not in school?

Ned: When you're not in school, read fun stuff. Michael Crichton's stuff is great. Stephen King, especially IT, is great. If you can get your head around it, Chuck Pahalniuk's LULLABY is great--in it a man discovers a phrase that, if spoken, kills everyone who hears it, and has to prevent it from getting out to the world at large. I don't believe that summer reading has to be books about women wearing high heels and finding nice apartments.

Twila: I would go straight to or and ask for Young Adult Fiction. There are so many really fun and exciting books that anyone would love to read when not in school. Just put in the keyword, Young Adult books and then read the descriptions. I'm sure you'll find some very interesting choices. Or, go to your public library and ask for some recommendations!

Gale Burge: Hi...I'm in a Master's program for teaching. I would like to know more about how to make reading fun in the classroom. I thank you for your time and
effort in advance.

Twila: Dear Gale, the first step is to work for a school district that supports creative teaching. In my best of all worlds school, I have found that focusing on the individual student's interests and abilities is the best place to begin. With middle school students this assessment is somewhat easier since you can create a short questionnaire or even better, talk to the individual students because then you can direct them to materials, especially recreational "real" books that they are truly interested in.

One of the approaches I found the "project or topic" approach to get most kids excited about reading and learning. In this approach, also, I would have kids in small groups of two or three who agreed upon a topic and then prepare a presentation that can be written, spoken and even done with multi-media. So, for example, a team might all be really interested in space, especially the Mars probe. With the teachers help, they would divide up the work which would include: up-to-date information on the Internet and/or news media, magazine articles and books written about the effort, some background/historical information on NASA, and so forth. Maybe with a "sidebar" on female and minority astronauts. The list could go on.

The next thing you know, kids are busy researching, writing, discussing, problem solving and possibly making an online site or video piece for their project. Anyway, I think this is a dynamite way to go -- even with a school's prescribed reading list, there could be a way to bring aspects of this idea to those books as well.

Finally, the topic of one's family tree is always a good one. My stepson was assigned to make a "career" family tree and he busily interviewed his parents, grandparents and some aunt and uncles. In fact, we learned that one of his great-grandmothers was a radio personality plus ran a grocery store on the same site where her husband had a gas station! As a teacher, I would extend the project to include books that are about multi-generational families, etc. I hope I've given you some ideas that you can try out.

Rob to Twila: Last year, I wrote a Connect for Kids story about how you and LeVar Burton (the host of Reading Rainbow) were reaching out to funders. Is funding still lean for the program? Have there been new obstacles?

Twila: Funding is still a huge problem. Although we have support from The Children's Place clothing store chain, our current funding barely supports the production of five new shows and we're still not solid for a next round. We should be producing TEN episodes, not just five. Further, the budget is so tight that we have to let our PR agency go which means we have to depend on free exposure for the new shows were currently working on.

A big problem for us and PBS programs in general is that giving for a good cause has generally been down. It continues to be a difficult as to find the right corporations and/or foundations who understand the social value and common good in consistently vigilant and keep reaching children with the importance of reading message in order to develop life long, literate adults. This job is not done once but over and over.

Brent Hartinger: I think it's worth noting that the quality of teen literature has never been higher. When adults read my work, they often want to read other YA writers, and when they do, they're struck by how much "better" the books are than when they were teenagers themselves. I guess the upshot is, teenagers themselves are pretty good judges of books.

Twila: I totally agree. I'm finding that when my teenage stepson finishes a Young Adult book, I end up reading and enjoying it for myself...

Rob to Ned: You've told me, Ned, that usually a lot of adults are at your
readings. Why do you think that is? Do you ever wish there were more teens

Ned: I love the fact that there are a lot of adults at my readings. Just last
night I had a grandmother and mother tell me my work was cross
generalizational and of course that means a lot. We want to hope that humor
is a universal and it can cross over to non teens. I'd like to be so proud
as to think that the reason it happens is because I don't suck as a writer
but I can't be too sure.

So far I have not had a problem with wishing there were more teens. The
teen count has been fine and dandy. Lots of amazing smart young people show
up at my readings and its great to see them there. Last night (at the same
event), I had some younger fans with great comments and questions.

Deidre, Birmingham, AL: I'm the teen librarian at my library and currently have a Teen Book Club. They are a special group of teens who enjoy reading. But I would like suggestions on books that would be great for both genders. What titles would you suggest?

Ned: It's tough to get books that appeal to teen guys and girls. Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling books LOOK like girl-only, but are pretty hilarious for guys too. Problem is you have to convince them to open a cover with a girl's legs on the front; you'd think that would be easy. I think Stephen King writes very convincingly as a woman, and if content is not a problem I think his stuff has universal appeal. Also, humor--Dave Barry, Hunter S. Thompson... Humor has appeal to both sexes.

Twila: What a great idea. I would start with Christopher Paolini's "Eragon" which seems to appeal to both genders. Also, what about some classics, such as "Lord of the Flies," or "The Red Badge of Courage" both of which have been shown to have appeal to both boys and girls. Good luck!

Michigan: Are there any books out there from teens who are writing about teens?

Ned: There are many. Zoe Trope's Please Don't Kill the Freshman was published when she was 19. A 16-year-old named Kelly McWilliams has a new book coming out called Doormat. And my own first book, a memoir of being a teenager called Teen Angst? Naaah... was published when I was 19 myself.

Deidre, Birmingham, AL: I checked out the list that is linked to this website. But most of the titles that are reviewed are either fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction. Are there any good titles in the mystery genre that someone could suggest to read?

Ned: I'm not big into mysteries myself... Do you count Paul Auster books as mysteries? His recent ORACLE NIGHT is, I think, his best. When it comes to hard-boiled myster stuff, I'm not the best person to ask.

Washington state: How do teenagers learn about books? In my experience, it's still word-of mouth, but more cyber-word-of-mouth: chat rooms, message boards, IM, email...

Twila: My view is that you're quite right about the way teens learn about books with the occasional exception such as the "Harry Potter" books (which appeal across a lot of levels) and the "Princess Diary" books, both of which have had extensive media exposure. While Reading Rainbow targets a much younger group of children, our show features a variety books across genres in an entertaining format and has been extremely successful. The Reading Rainbow books literally fly off the shelf. It is my view that there is a real need for a compelling book driven show for tweens/teens even though this audience is notoriously "picky" about television.

Rob: Jeanette Larson, can you tell us more about your book's focus and why the mystery genre clicks with a lot of young adults?

Jeanette: It covers the genre with examples of types of mysteries, history of mysteries for young people, etc. and then provides curriculum tie-in and program ideas. The book came out in March and there is really nothing else like it available to teachers. Its available from the publisher, Linworth.

And why do kids love mysteries? Author Michael O. Tunnell states, Mysteries vicariously fill the need, especially in an adolescent, to become a competent, self-sufficient, and productive individual. The young protagonists in mystery storiestake their courage in hand and, against all odds, come out on top. Good problem solvers and detectives are bloodhounds for facts and clues. They are systematic. Joan Lowery Nixon, a four-time Edgar award winning author, said it bestkids love a mystery! Nixon often related the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who had, by her own admission, never read a book all the way to the end. That is, the child told Nixon, until a friend shared a copy of The Stalker with her. I loved it, the girl told Nixon. Ive read every mystery youve ever written and mysteries other authors have written. Mysteries are the way to go. The young girl then thanked Nixon for the gift of reading.

By the way, I manage ten technology centers for tweens/teens. We lure them in with the computers and then surround them with books. While they wait for a computer, they read graphic novels, advance reader copies (they love those!), comics, and such. We encourage the kids to read and recommend books for other kids. You can see the reviews at, but we also print recommendations in the center newsletters. Our Web site is

Darren Toledo, Ohio: Ned, Do you see any concern with teens having online journals? I, for one, am concerned that they might put too personal information online for the world to see.

Ned: Darren, I have to say I have the opposite reaction to teen journals--I think they're a great way for teens to express themselves and start writing. They (hopefully) have been educated about the dangers of the internet and know to hide behind a username. I really think it's the parents' responsibility to police that. I think that the dangers of trash-talking and mud-slinging (which definitely happen) are outweighed by the network of support on places like LiveJournal.

Brent Hartinger, author of the "Geography Club" and "The Last Chance Texaco": One thing I hear again and again from teachers and librarians is that the award-winning books aren't necessarily the books that teenagers want to read. In fact, one librarian told me that one of those metal "award" stickers on a book is a MAJOR turn-off to all the kids she talks to. What gives? Too much broccoli, not enough dessert?

Ned: That kind of goes back to the teenage mentality of "don't trust anybody over 18." Once you see one of those stickers, you think that a committee of snooty librarians has designated this book as a "must read" and you assume that it's going to be difficult to get through.

The truth, of course, is the complete opposite. Librarians (who have been very helpful and indeed, instrumental in supporting my career) are cool, often young, and they have plenty of good taste. They pick those books not from an ivory tower but from the same perspective of being a book lover that many young people have. Their picks should be honored, not ignored. The metal medal always means good things to me.

Jinette, Sonoma, CA: Hi. Along with my two sons ages 12 and 11, I've belonged to a mother-son book club for 3+ years. We've read great fiction together and assemble to discuss it with our friends once a month. We're all motivated to finish the read by the knowledge that we'll be rewarded with an evening of merriment and good discussion with our friends. Both my boys now love to read, but initially it was the spinach on the pizza approach--i.e. you can see your friends if you read this book--that got them motivated.

Grace, Birmingham, AL: Recently, there have been some teen writers hitting the publisher lists. I find it interesting they these young writers are writing fantasy. What do you think of ERAGON or FAIRY TALE?

Twila: I have not read "Fairy Tale," but I loved Eragon as does my step daughter. I especially like the maps and fantasy world in the book. If "Fairy Tale" is as good, I'd say this is a great development.

David Anaheim, California: Twila, Why is it so hard to get funding? Children are our future - you'd think there would be more funds available for education.

Twila: You have asked the million dollar question! My view is as follows: the slump in the economy has had an impact on foundations and other charitable giving; the idea that getting kids to read and love reading as Reading Rainbow has done so effectively is NEVER done. There's always more kids and a lot of giving is done with the idea that a short term "fix" is all that is needed. Children are our future but it's mostly lip service.

Kim, Boston MA: What do you think about the fact that teens have a higher reading level than adults because they have to read books in school, like THE NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X and then have to analyze them for papers? Isn't it ironic?

Ned: Kim, that's a great point. It certainly is ironic. I find it particularly amazing that the "great books" in our culture--MOBY DICK, DAVID COPPERFIELD, in some cases even ULYSSES--are read in high school! Then all the adults read is books written by ex-Bush cabinet members. I loved the AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X myself and i would love to see the study (I didn't realize there was one) that showed that teens have a higher reading level than adults.

Cris, Raleigh, NC: Thanks for your nod to the outstanding readers of the Middle Creek High School Mock Printz Club, Rob. Their facilitator, Teresa Brantley, works hard each year to get the latest books. Learn more about the Printz Award at,_Michael_L__Award.htm It,s the teen equivalent of Caldecott and Newbery.

Rob: Thanks Chris. Happy to share the info.

Rob: I'm sorry to say it, but time's up! Thanks for an exceptional chat,
everyone. The archive will be available on the Connect for Kids homepage.

Adult Reads
Reading is Fundamental Resources

How parents can encourage teens to read

Getting the family excited about magazines

Reading: What's In It for Teenagers?

How to choose books for preteens and teens

Visit Ned's webpage
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Book List Mania!

The Young Adult Library Services Association offers extensive lists of great reads for tweens and teens. offers a round-up of books for middle school students.

Teens at Californias Escondido Public Library have reviewed a bevy of books some they love, some they hate!

Transcript of the second Talktime
recruiting retaining foster parents