I just got off the phone with my mother after an interesting conversation. She was looking for some good books to give to my youngest cousins, ages ten and twelve. The twelve-year-old in particular is the same kind of reader I was at his age - which is to say, he reads a ton, gets easily absorbed in books to the exclusion of most other activities, and loves fantasy.
Did I say the same kind of reader I was at his age? I probably meant the same kind of reader I have always been and still am to this day.
Researching YA books with my mother brought to my attention once again something that I've been noticing more and more recently: YA fantasy is really big right now. I hear it over and over again, and the evidence is right there in libraries and bookstores. Young people are reading a lot of fantasy. I don't know enough about reading trends or marketing to tell you why that might be, but it does seem logical to conclude that lots of young people developing a taste for fantasy now will lead to lots of slightly older people looking for more fantasy in another few years. Of course, to really keep them hooked, the books they're reading right now - and the books they find when they go looking for more - need to be good quality.
I'm sure a great deal of the YA fantasy out there is good quality. I'm also sure that a lot of it isn't. I've read just enough YA recently that I was able to give my mom some good recommendations for my cousins, but it made me wonder what else is out there. I started thinking about the books that led me into fantasy when I was younger, and the ones I somehow missed. And then of course there's this whole new batch of YA fantasy that I've hardly touched. I wonder which current authors have the unfortunate habit of "writing down" to kids, and which ones challenge them to expand both their vocabulary and their thinking. I wonder which stories are written with enough skill and depth that the kids reading them now will look back at them with fond reminiscence instead of mild embarrassment in ten or twenty years.
Well, I don't have the answers. I haven't read a whole lot of YA lately. I'd like to read more, though - both new material and older books I may have missed when I was younger. So here are my questions for you (and don't think you have to limit this to fantasy): What books did you enjoy when you were growing up that you would still enjoy today? What are the common elements in those books? If there are books you used to read that no longer impress you quite so much, where did they go wrong? Can any of you recommend some good recent fiction geared to a younger audience? What are some areas in which the current YA fiction is falling short?
Yes, that's right. It's an interactive blog post. Get used to it, because there are more on the way. :)