Reading Matters 2017: All about Young Adults (Part 1 of 2) (#YAmatters @CentreYouthLit)


Photo Courtesy: Danielle Binks (@danielle_binks)

Founded in 1991 to keep young Australians reading, the Centre for Youth Literature at the State Library of Victoria plays an important role in connecting young people with literature and inspiring them to engage with books, stories, writing and ideas. The Reading Matters Conference takes place every two years to inform all professionals in youth literature, especially teachers and librarians, with leading trends, networks and resources. It also provides ample opportunities for students, authors and publishers to discuss, debate and celebrate books for young adults.

As Kate Torney (@katetorney), CEO of the State Library of Victoria, observed in her speech, people seek out stories that reflect the world, themselves, and somewhere in between. Young people in particular learn to understand the world through characters that walk down the path before them. This is why reading matters, and how teachers and librarians can help our youths by promoting diversity, multiculturalism and difference in their reading.

Adele Walsh (@snarkywench) is the Program Coordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature. She proudly introduced our official bookseller – Readings (@ReadingsBooks) – as well as all the goodies in the 2.5kg gift bag that each of the approximately 300 conference attendees had received in registration. These included five full-length books offered by the event’s sponsors:

  • Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury 2017)
  • That Stubborn Seed of Hope by Brian Falkner (University of Queensland Press, 2017)
  • Finding Nevo by Nevo Zisin (Black Dog Books/Walker Books Australia, 2017)
  • Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing, 2017)
  • When It’s Real by Erin Watt (Harlequin Teen, 2017)

There are also three samplers. “Fresh Reads 2017” (Harlequin Teen) is a collection of sample readings from The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Dawn Study by Maria V. Snyder, Lifeblood by Gena Showalter, The Impossible Story of Olive in Love by Tonya Alexandra, and Vigilante by Kady Cross. Meanwhile, Walker Books Australia offers “advanced uncorrected samples” for Release by Patrick Ness (2017), The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2017), and Spark by Rachael Craw (2014). Finally, Pan Macmillan Australia presents a sample of Take Three Girls (2017), a collaboration between Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood that explores such themes as friendship, feminism, identity and belonging.

I welcomed these books, along with the past and present books of the 15 authors and illustrators presenting at the conference, as well as the six titles shortlisted for the inaugural Readings Young Adult Book Prize. Still, this is overwhelming, and I wondered briefly whether anybody would have enough time and energy to really read and review these books. Facing so many excellent choices, how do our young people choose what they want to read? How can teachers and librarians provide guidance? How can parents help?

Photo Courtesy: Sue Osborne (@LibraryMonitor)

Luckily, young people appear to have their own system of finding good books to read, and they do not hesitate to move on to the next title if the current one is not up to their taste. A hard-to-come-by Teen Panel, featuring three enthusiastic teenage readers, was hosted by Elizabeth Flux (@ElizabethFlux), forthcoming Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow and current editor of Voiceworks (@VoiceworksMag), a Melbourne-based quarterly magazine featuring writing and art by young Australians. These teens generally follow their friends’ recommendations, pursue all the books in the same series and/or by the same authors that they like, sometimes base their reading choices on eye-catching book covers, and occasionally go to the library and check out everything on the shelves. Most of the time they borrow books, but will buy those that they really enjoy and have every intention to re-read.

These teens try to read all the time, even in class. Indeed, school helps them to read some of the books that they normally would not touch, including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. More importantly, although there are always books to read, these teens warned that too many contemporary titles appear to share similar themes, such as that of self-discovery and often through unfortunate circumstances. Authors and publishers, beware: It is the stories, the writing and the characters that grabs the young minds.

Teenagers and young adults are fearless in their exploration of serious issues such as war, identity, and representation of ethnicity and religion. Adults are encouraged to read more YA books in order to better understand the aspirations and concerns of young people today.

Image Courtesy: Teen Reading in the Digital Era (@TeenReading1)

Another panel, titled “Generation Facebook: Youth Services in a changing world”, was hosted by Justine Hyde (@justine_hyde), Director of Library Services and Experience at the State Library of Victoria. The panel started with Dr Leonie Rutherford’s report on Teen Reading in the Digital Era, a research project by Deaken University (Victoria) and Murdoch University (Western Australia). The project focuses on recreational reading using both traditional print texts and digital platforms (e.g. ebooks and long-form web-based writing).

According to a Snapshot Report released in March 2017, the frequency of reading among young people is influenced by their age, gender, parents’ education level, and place of residence. Although females tend read more than males, and teens tend to read less as they grow older, such generalisation does not apply to heavy/dedicated readers. Among those enthusiastic readers, school libraries are the primary enablers of access to, and advice about, good books. “This suggests that a priority should be resourcing school libraries with trained teacher-librarians to drive collection and provide informed reader advice,” says the report.

In terms of digital reading, only 24% of those 550 teens surveyed in Victoria and Western Australia said they had access to a dedicated eReading device. Of these, only 16% read frequently on their eReader. Another interesting finding here is that more than half of eReader users had a Kindle. This is despite the fact that for legal reasons, they are currently unable to borrow books from Australian libraries in the format that Kindles use.

Compared to eReaders, over 90% of those teens surveyed have an mobile phone, and the proportion with access to a tablet (e.g. iPad) was also considerably higher. Of these tablet users, only 10% read frequently. This is because tablets are more attractive for other uses (e.g. gameplay).

I found the following research finding particularly interesting:

Specifically considering reading eBooks, the primary reason our sampled teens say they do not read more on their digital device is a preference for print books. The second most popular reason is not liking reading that much. Other popular reasons reported include concentration issues, visual fatigue and the cost of eBooks. When giving the opportunity to comment in their own words about how they felt about digital reading, some objected to the cost of eBooks when library borrowing was an option, while others felt that it was easier to source eBooks free-of-charge. [An earlier comment relating to this point: “A few participants commented that they were unaware that it was possible to borrow eBooks from libraries. Others felt that it was too much trouble to install and use eBooks when print sources were readily available.”]

Meanwhile, for alternatives to traditional print and digital books, fan fiction and other participatory writing and reading websites are a popular choice. Although only one-third of all teens surveyed reported using file sharing fiction sites, 41% of them mentioned Wattpad, compared to only 10% who used Goodreads. (Here is a quote: “Apps like Wattpad are a great example, people [anyone really] can write about anything they desire and we can read anything we want…for free! It’s a new, simple and great way of reading books.”)

Finally, teens not only borrow from libraries and source free digital reading online, but they also buy books from both bricks-and-mortar bookstores and online retailers. Like adults, they share eBooks with friends and family members, and trade information about where to find books. However, only 18% of those teen surveyed reported using social media to discuss books, with Instagram, Wattpad and Goodreads being the most popular book talk sites. Their top five genres are fantasy, contemporary realist fiction, science fiction, auto/biography, and action/adventure.


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