What Makes a Good YA Reader?

I asked this question in a school library lesson and most of the answers I received can be summed up as follows:

  • someone who reads a lot
  • someone who reads classics
  • someone who can read quickly
  • someone who can read books written for people older than they are

My own thoughts are different – to me a good reader is someone who reads a variety of styles of books and, more importantly, someone who takes away something from the books they have read.

Reading a lot of books is a good thing but, if the books are all by the same author or if the reader isn’t able to talk about the books they have read, then that makes the person a prolific reader but necessarily a good reader.

Reading classics is good – there is a reason they are called classics; it is because they have withstood the test of time and despite fads and crazes they remain popular and well written. However, a person who only reads classics is excluding newly published books that are interesting, informative and well written. They may be a good reader, but they are also a narrow reader.

Reading a book quickly is an impressive and perhaps useful skill but, of itself, it doesn’t make you a good reader.

As earlier posts have shown, I do not favour books being age banded because I believe readers should read those books that they enjoy. I think that books should only warn of content that may be too mature for an average child of a particular age. It is impressive when you see a fourteen year old tackling and enjoying a book like War and Peace by Tolstoy but that doesn’t make them a better reader than their peers who might be reading a book marketed specifically to their age group.

To me a good reader will:

  • read a cross-section of books – fantasy, crime, romance; rather than just read only one type of book
  • read a cross-section of authors so as to expose themselves to different styles of writing
  • read fiction, non fiction, newspapers, comics – again this exposes the reader to different styles of writing
  • read regularly – not to the exclusion of other activities and not necessarily non stop
  • include classics in the books they read – whilst most readers are likely to at least have one style of book they really do not enjoy such as fantasy or romance, I think good readers should have exposed themselves to some of the classics
  • read books of different levels of difficulty – a good reader is not a reading snob so they won’t dismiss a comic or a book marketed at a younger age group out of hand if they think it might be interesting
  • be able to talk about the books they read – this shows the book has made an impression on the reader and they have absorbed what they have read and thought about it too
  • will be able to say they don’t like a book and explain why they don’t like it
  • will take what they have read and use it to inform the way they think and behave

Does it matter if YA readers don’t meet these criteria? Does it matter if they don’t qualify as good readers? From my experience, teenagers have busy lives with many demands, and fulfilling all of these categories is a big – though not impossible – ask. However, those teenagers that do fulfil, or try to fulfil, these ‘requirements for a good reader’ will see benefits across a large number of areas.

We read books for different reasons – to escape, to learn, to dream, to pass the time, to be on trend, to be able to join in discussions etc. The books might influence us, or make us rethink our ideas, or make us aware of something we knew nothing about, or make us curious to learn more, or make us want to copy a character’s behaviour. Each book will help the reader develop into the person they will become and a good reader will benefit from a larger range of influences and will likely become  them a more rounded person and a more interesting person to talk to.

Here is a list of good, popular and enjoyable books/magazines, categorised according to the accepted genres, that a fourteen year old child might read with the potential benefits of reading the book explained. It is not exhaustive – in fact most, if not all, the books reviewed on Books, Teens and Magazines would be worthy of a place on this list:

Adventure/dystopian: Blood Red Road by Moira Young – this book makes you think about the way we treat our world and what our future might hold if we do not show it respect

eleanor Romance: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – a love story that also makes you realise how difficult some people’s home life can be

Issue: Junk by Melvin Burgess – a PSHE lesson about drugs in itself

never Other cultures: Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick – learn about Cambodia and the killing fields and this could help with politics, history or geography

Autobiography: Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard – read about a different side to WW2 than you learn in history lessons

Historical: Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd – gain a better understanding of the troubles in Ireland and contribute to discussions in politics and history

running Detective: Running Girl by Simon Mason – get your brain cells working to see if you can find the culprit before the book reveals it to you

Horror: Cruel Summer by James Dawson – plenty of horror and plenty of teenage relationships to make you think about how our world is not made up solely of people who are white or straight or perfect

pony Classic: The Oustsiders by SE Hinton – a lesson in life about how, despite the schisms in our society, we are all basically the same

Magazines: The Week – fantastic range of articles which will enable readers to join in discussions about international relations, economics, history, geography and politics

Fourteen year olds are also likely to read from the internet – Twitter or Reddit for example – and these provide interesting information about current news and trends; and being aware of trends is important. There are also plenty of comics, graphic novels and gossip magazines that could be included in this list.

At the heart of this blog post is the view that readers should be encouraged to read as much as possible and as much variety as possible. Book snobbery does nobody any favours – encourage YA readers to read and be positive when they do read – even if its Twilight rather than a classic.

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