Young Adult books! Demons! Vampires! Teen sex! Ugh.

I have become dismayed by our local libraries (Phoenix, Peoria, and to a much lesser extent, Glendale, Arizona*).  The selection in the teen sections is especially disheartening.  I really try not to find the balance between… providing a wholesome upbringing for my children, without being too overbearing, while giving my children lots of opportunities to make their own decisions.  But, the teen section in our local Phoenix Public Library branch is so filled with crap that my 13yo son will not look for his own books there;  he asks me to pick them out for him.  This means that, typically, he will stay on the opposite side of the library, watching his little sisters in the toddler read & play area, while I’m (mostly fruitlessly) trolling the stacks for worthwhile volumes.

Literally, at least 75% of the selection has something to do with

  • teen sex, or
  • vampires, or
  • demons, or
  • a combination of teen sex and/or vampires and/or demons

Even simply reading the spines of the books is enough for my son to walk away feeling slimed.

A singular example:  Yesterday, I found a book called 7 Days at the Hot Corner.  In baseball lingo, “the hot corner” is 3rd base.  “Great!” I thought, “A teen book about baseball!”  Before putting it in the keeper stack, I flipped through the book.  A few words leaped out at me.  I delved a little deeper, for all of about two minutes, and quickly discovered that a major plot-line had to do with the protagonist accepting the gayness of his best friend and teammate.  Um, no.  As a baseball player, could Ethan go through a similar situation, some time in the future?  Possibly, and if he does, I would help him deal in kindness with the teammate (while affirming our personal standards as Christians).  But, does he need to read about it at age 13?  I don’t think so.  And, I really don’t want him getting “tips” for such situations from a young adult novel of very questionable moral standards.  (The book, by the way, is recommended for 6th grade/age 12 and up.)

The selection is so paltry, we typically walk away with only one or two (occasionally up to four) “good” books.  My boys read more than that — usually six or so books, weekly, and I’m having a hard time keeping up.  So, I recently asked some friends to give some recommendations for teen/older kid reading, to combat the difficulty we’re having.  I got a fabulous and quite lengthy list from my friend Kathy, who has a special love for young adult fiction, supplemented with suggestions from others, including those of a distant cousin of mine who is a librarian in a public middle school.

I’ve been able to find most of the books in the Phoenix Public Library system, though virtually all of them are at other branches.  In order to obtain them, I max out the hold requests on my card:  My library will let me request up to three books at a time.  My approach is working fairly well, though slowly.  Ethan reminded me, yesterday, that we could use his card, too.  Duh.  Since we go weekly to the library, and we can have up to 35 books on my card, we typically only use his card for the infrequent times we need “overflow” room.  I find it difficult enough to keep tabs on my own card and 35 books, let alone two cards and 70.  But… if using his card means that we can have SIX books on hold, I’m in!

One of the books we picked up yesterday off of the hold shelf was of Kathy’s recommendation, The Hero and the Crown.  It’s a Newbery winner, and I’ve read and enjoyed (in my adulthood) one of the author’s other books, Beauty.  After I read the back, and saw that the protagonist is a girl, I thought that, perhaps, Ethan wouldn’t be as interested.  He scooped it up and carried it off, saying over his shoulder, “I don’t care that the protagonist is a girl!”  I love that kid.


If your approach to children’s books is along the lines of, “At least they’re reading!” I would suggest that you reconsider.  The books on the shelves of most libraries are NOT what was on the shelves when you were a kid.

I agree it can be taken too far:  I specifically remember my mother being horrified when she found out that I had read Bridge to Terebithia.  With its imaginary land, the book fit into her broad category of “occult” which was strictly taboo.  Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology was off-limits, too.  I do agree that there can be a fine line there…  There are some really fabulous fantasy books (The Redwall series, the Perelandra trilogy, the 100 Cupboards trilogy, Rick Riordan’s books, et al), and some really, really, really, really… awful ones.

You do have to dig.

~sigh~  I’m digging.

If any of you have suggestions, please do share!!


*I’d make the small trek to the closest Glendale Library, as its selection of young adult books is by far the widest, and most balanced (though I’m not a HUGE fan of most Christian fiction, I think it’s telling when a library is willing to stock a large portion of current Christian fiction), and its librarians are the BEST.  However, since I don’t live within the city limits, the cost for a card is $40/year, which I did pay for a number of years.  However, in my continual effort to save our family money, I decided about a year ago to limit our library patronage to those that are free.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on August 6, 2010, in Books for children, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Try to find them on the internet. Many are very cheap. I bought The Pond for $5.00! And it is a lifetime book for me. Keep building your library – I will be on the hunt for you! Byt he way, I think I forgot to tell you about Nightpool by Shirley Russoue Murphy (not sure of her middle name spelling). Awesome book, also, about a colony of speaking otters – a fantasy book, well written, good plot, etc.

    • Kathy, we do have a ton of books. We have five good-sized bookcases, full. I want/need another book case, but I don’t know where I’d put it. I’m considering “upsizing” — replacing a 2-shelfer with a 4-shelfer or something like that. But, it gets expensive, even on or eBay. I really liked when the boys were still into picture books, because I would OFTEN purchase books in lots on eBay, getting 10-20 books at a time, usually for $5-10, keeping some and giving or selling others. But, the older they get, the more picky all of us are. 🙂

  2. I volunteered at the library when I was 11 until I was 13. I loved reading and read everything the library had! When new books would come in the librarians would give them to me to read first and review for them.

    I read a lot of things I should have never read. Unfortunately some of those awful things are still with me. I was exposed to some topics way before I should have–in the childrens and young adult sections.

    Good job on being extra careful!

  3. I am at a different stage…but the story is the same.

    I picked up books for my PRESCHOOLER…imagine my shock at the content of “King and King”…a picture book for preschoolers! I learned early to preread anything I get!

  4. Hey,

    Anything by Robin McKinley (“The Hero and the Crown”, which you have), is excellent. I also love “The Blue Sword” and “Spindle’s End” by her. She also wrote one about Robin Hood, but I can’t remember what it’s called… I also enjoy books by Madeleine L’Engle (“Wrinkle in Time”)… “Many Waters” was a particular favourite of mine by her. She also wrote very good adult fiction. You may want to review children’s fiction by Terry Pratchett. He writes excellent comedic fantasy, although I’m not sure where you stand on reading books with witches in them. Examples of his books are “Wintersmith”, and “A Hat Full of Sky”. I don’t know if you are anti- Harry Potter, but in my opinion they are a very good read, with a clear delineation between right and wrong. The rest of the kid’s books I love are probably too girly, so I won’t recommend any of them. 🙂 Oh, actually, Lois Lowry wrote some really good stuff, particularly “The Giver”. And Kate Seredy wrote some very good books about WWI, one being “The Singing Tree” that I LOVED when I was a kid. I have read literally thousands of books, but for the life of me, I can’t think of what else to recommend. So much of what I have read is forgettable, I guess.

    I would stay away from Tamora Pierce. Her stories are interesting, I like the fact that she uses girl heroes that do awesome stuff :), but there’s a lot of sex and questionable morals, pluralism, etc. in them.

    • Ha! Ethan is reading Many Waters right now, and really enjoying it. I like most of L’Engle’s stuff… though some of her books, especially the ones geared towards teen girls, are surprisingly… inappropriate. (House Like a Lotus, among others.)

      I have perhaps odd, ill-defined standards on witches. Their presence won’t immidiately disqualify a book, but it will put it on “watch”, I guess. Authors’ priorities and purposes are important to me. Harry Potter is a no-go. But, I’ve loved many of Lois Lowry’s books — I’ll have to check into them again. Wait! Just looked on Amazon, and realized I was thinking of Lois Lenski. And, we’re in a particular period of interest in WWI right now, so I will look into Kate Seredy!

      So much of what I read as a child was forgettable, too!! I read a LOT LOT LOT of mysteries. I still read mysteries, but now I’m on a continual hunt to expand my reading repertoire.

      • I would also love to see your list from your friend. I’m a little past the young adult reader stage, but I have to confess that I really love kid’s fiction…

        I asked my husband what he read when he was 12 or 13, and he said that he really like the Prydian Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. I haven’t read them, so I can’t say whether or not they were actually good. 🙂

        I agree that some of Madeleine L’Engle’s writings are inappropriate for younger readers. I think particularly some of her later stuff. The Wrinkle in Time series and the books she wrote about the Austin family were my favourites… Along with “An Acceptable Time.”

        I think I read “The Strawberry Girl” by Lois Lenski.

        If your son doesn’t mind girl heroes, Gail Carson Levine (she wrote Ella Enchanted) wrote really great re-writes of fairy tales too.

        I’m sensing a theme here, haha… I’ve always loved teen fantasy, I guess, though I don’t like it all indiscriminately. There have been plenty of books that were not worth the read at all.

        And just in case you are looking for a new book… I just read an excellent one called “Kit’s Law” by Donna Morrisey.

  5. I just realized how many times I said “also” in that posting. Oops!

  6. Wow, I would love it if you shared the list your friend gave you. I am having the same problem with my 12 year old. We have read through all the books that I know are safe and now I find myself trolling the teen aisle desperately searching for something appropriate. He loves to read and is bummed when he can’t find appropriate books.

  7. Lois Lowry was one of my favorites. My son just finished Number The Stars, a great book, set in WWII in Europe. I think your son will like it.

  8. Try the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. My son loves them.

  9. I agree with you on previewing books. I even have to pre-read the toddler books. It is so hard to find ones that we all love. Brown Bear doesn’t care for fiction that much which makes it a little easier, but Lioness will read anything in site.

    We just changed to the Robinson curriculum and it is heavily literature based. Lots of fantastic books with it. Most are out of print though. 😦 Which makes it hard for people without the discs to find them. I just remembered that Gutenburg press has a lot of them for download.

    I hope you put up the list from your friend.

    I did wan to say that my kids were disappointed with Bridge to Terabithia. They thought all the cuss words were terrible. A LOT more than the movie has.

  10. You might try James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, I’ve got concerns about it, (a little too much Grownups are dumbies) but overall my 11yo, 12yo and 16yo liked it.
    Brandon Mull has a fantasy series about children whose Grandparents are the caretakers of a Fairy Preserve, with all the interesting and dangerous stuff that entails. The worst the book has got for romance is the older daughter developing a crush in one book and in the last, it’s implied that a particular person may be her ‘boyfriend’ but there is no descriptive anything. As far as I can tell they only hug and make googly eyes at each other. My 11 yo son devoured them.
    He also like Patricia Briggs series called Dragon Bones, but this you might need to read yourself first.
    We aren’t Christian (Native American) so our morals aren’t quite the same, though similar. I read the book first, and there was a couple of spots where I thought ‘hmmmm’ but Ian (my 11yo) is pretty mature and reasons well. I think it was violence in that one? But it’s been quite a while…

    I ended up going on Amazon and creating a screen name just for my son so I could rate the books he’d read and get more suggestions! I order them from the library and then pre-read them before handing them off. I’ve gotten a lot of good suggestions of things I would never have thought of and my librarian is a man, and he agrees that finding fiction for boys is getting more and more difficult if you don’t want to read just Goosebumps and their ilk.

  11. reading an excellent book entitled “self-raised” by E.D.E.N. Southworth online currently and recently finished prequel “Ishmael.”
    the G. A. Henty series (my 13yo son DEVOURS them) historical fiction available in varying degrees from, prestonspeed publications, ebay,, and our local library.

  12. oh, yes!
    lamplighter publications… use reprinted titles as a book list to find volumes online or at the library. lovely old books with morality, some with clear Christian theme, and great vocabulary!
    second the Robinson Curriculum disks!

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