With all the distractions that come along with the tween and teen years—hanging out with friends, playing video games, posting duckface photos of themselves on Facebook—there isn’t always a lot of time left over for cozying up with a good book. We asked Lynne Missen, publishing director for Penguin Canada’s Young Adult (YA) imprint Razorbill (and the new online community for teens, Razorbill.ca)—and mom of two—to share her best tips for encouraging a love of reading in your tween or teen. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Read the same books as your tweens and teens
Great stories are not just timeless, they are ageless. Naturally, as an editor of young-adult literature, I love reading these books myself. But, more and more adults are falling in love with young-adult books. The category has more great stories, more dimensions, more grit—and therefore more varied audiences—than ever before. It’s a benefit of my job that I have access to lots of books, which I bring home for my daughter and son. Having read the same things they have, I find that I am more attuned to the casual conversations around my home, and quicker to engage when I see the chance to chime in.
2. Don’t be afraid of challenging material
As our kids age, complex issues creep into their lives and inevitably into our homes. Often, they are tough to address. Books give kids secondhand exposure to real-life challenges—bullying, faltering relationships, family strife, alienation, suicide and others—without the associated real-life risks. It’s literally an arm’s-length experience.
As parents, we naturally want to protect our children from life’s harsh lessons, which may lead us to restrict certain books. If you are concerned about the content of a book your child brings home, read it yourself and see how the content is handled addressed. By doing this, you can open the door to discussion with your child.
3. Share, share, share
There are quite a few books I remember loving as a kid—Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday, Agatha Christie mysteries, James Herriot’s books and anything by Judy Blume. One coming-of-age story that I read again and again was Just Morgan, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, about a teen girl going to live in New York with her reclusive writer uncle. A couple of years ago, when my own daughter was around the age I was when I first read Just Morgan, I tracked down a copy online and shared it. She liked it (though perhaps not with my level of devotion).
“Coming of age” isn’t unique to any generation. While the scenarios, pop-culture lingo, and times do change, the sentiment of books usually endures. As parents, it’s fun to think back on our own pre-teen and teenage years. Sharing your stories—both the books and how they made you feel—is a wonderful way to connect. But, a word of caution: if your child resists or just can’t get into a particular book, don’t force it. There’s no surer way to turn off young readers. Find out what they like reading and find the right books together.
4. Fuel any signs of enthusiasm
All book lovers love books, but nobody falls as head over heels as a young book lover. Like any teen crush, the love may come and go. But when you see it, support it. This can be as simple as asking about a book over dinner, showing a particular interest in a theme or character, or looking up the author online and passing on the information.
Tell us: What was your favourite book to read when you were a tween/teen?