The mystery, suspense, and horror genres appeal to young readers for the same reasons that roller coasters and scary movies draw people in. As a young teen, I loved Christopher Pike books and soon moved on to Stephen King. These books were the first books I learned to love. It is a safe way to experience and experiment with fear. Fear is thrilling – and the emotional rush that comes with a brush with danger is appealing to many readers young and old.
It is important to be mindful of content and readiness when considering these materials. As adults, we can use the tools available to us to guide readers to materials that may be more appropriate for them. These tools include: selection policies, trusted reviews, a reliable professional learning community, and personal relationships with patrons.
I often use Common Sense Media when evaluating books and movies that I am unfamiliar with. I use this site in my roles as parent and teacher. This is also my go to recommendation site for parents who are trying to choose media for their children. The age recommendations from parent and child perspectives are very helpful as are the specific discussions on “hot topics” including: educational value, positive messages, positive role models and representations, violence and scariness, sex, consumerism, and drinking, drugs and smoking.
As a librarian, it is also important to consider professional, critical reviews, which don’t appear some popular sites like Common Sense Media and GoodReads. Amazon, surprisingly, does include reviews from professional, reputable companies like Kirkus Reviews. It is also worth considering user reviews from Amazon and GoodReads, though these may not be defensible in a formal book challenge. Publishing companies, like Penguin should be considered mindfully, remembering that their ultimate motivation is to sell books – not necessarily to fairly assess their value or appropriateness. Reviews on these sites are all positive and do not include limitations or concerns. Bloggers, like PragmaticMom, are interesting because their experiences are personal. It is more like getting a review from a friend than a company. This is very beneficial if you follow the blog regularly and know whether your personal preferences align with those of the blogger. When evaluating a blogger, it is important to consider personal biases and whether or not the blogger was paid to write the review. One blog in isolation is helpful – but a network of bloggers with differing perspectives and opinions can help to develop a greater breadth of knowledge.
Another consideration when making recommendations and purchases for a collection is the recommended age range for interest level. If a book includes multiple positive reviews and is within the recommended age range for interest – it is most likely easily defended by your library’s challenge policy. Trusted sites like Titlewave are very helpful in making this determination.
Perhaps the most important factor to consider when making recommendations is the preferences and readiness of the individual reader. This can be difficult to assess with each child depending on the size of your library and your community, but taking the time to talk and listen with readers about what they do and don’t enjoy – what topics are interesting and uncomfortable for them, is invaluable in making a recommendation. From there, librarians can use information gathered from personal experience, professional reviews, and a network of librarians to make meaningful recommendations. In many ways, children will set their own limits on content that may be too much for them, but we must partner with the patron in finding the right materials at the right time.