Teen Book Reviews
Jennifer Hubert Swan is the Middle School Librarian and Library Department Chair at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School and writes Reading Rants! Out of the Ordinary Teen Booklists, which started in 1998. She professionally reviews young adult literature for Booklist and Kirkus Reviews and has served on the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults selection committee, the Michael L. Printz Award committee and the Alex Awards. Jennifer teaches workshops on young adult literature to teachers and librarians all over the US and has taught graduate classes at both Queens College and Pratt Institute in New York.
1. How has the field of teen book reviews changed from when you started it in 1998?
The most significant change is how many more Young Adult (YA) titles are being published! We are enjoying a golden era of YA literature, where the books are not only high quality but are commercially successful as well, in no small thanks to the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises. Now even successful adult authors are crossing over into YA, including Isabel Allende, Jacquelyn Mitchard, James Patterson, Carl Hiassen, Dave Barry, and even John Grishham is coming out with a book for younger readers!Likewise, lots of popular YA authors are now being read by adults, including but not limited to JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and Libba Bray. I think we will see another change in YA soon, and that will be that the books will no longer be seen as just being for a teen audience, but for anyone who enjoys the coming of age story.
2. How long does it take you to read a book prior to reviewing it? Do you use any special methods of reading?
I read very fast, so I can usually finish a children's or teen title in a few days, and then I try to write about it as soon as I can after finishing it while it is still fresh in my mind. I try to post a review on Reading Rants every five days, although I can't always meet that goal. I don't have any special "speed reading" methods; I'm just a fast reader. But my husband, who is also a librarian, claims I can't possibly be reading that fast!
3. Have you studied about conducting teen book reviews or do you just write what you feel?
In addition to writing Reading Rants, I am also a professional book reviewer for Booklist magazine and Kirkus Reviews. I also wrote freelance professional reviews for Amazon.com for several years until they began outsourcing from the professional review journals. Most librarians receive training, mostly on the job, on how to write book reviews.
4. How do you stay informed about new teen books?
I am lucky to live in New York City, in close proximity to most of the major publishing houses. Over the years, I have forged professional relationships with these houses through my reviewing and committee work for the ALA (American Library Association).
5. What sort of teen book related resources do you provide for parents on your blog?
Not many, because my blog is not written to an adult audience; it is written directly to teenagers. The reviews I write for Reading Rants are very different from the reviews I write professionally for publications like Booklist, Kirkus and TimeOut New York Kids. My reviews here are often very slangy and informal, with no age recommendations because teens choose books based on if they sound good, not based on what age a librarian or publisher assigns to it. There are links to blogs that are written for an adult audience under the heading, "Kid and Teen-lit blogs for Grown-ups" that may be of some interest to parents. These are mostly blogs written by librarians and teachers.
6. What sort of themes do modern authors of teen books cover? How have they changed over the years?
The classic coming of age theme is still the main idea being explored in most current YA fiction. Now the stories are more subtle, and much better written than the didactic fiction of the 60s and 70s that still comes to mind when people hear the phrase, "young adult fiction." Today's authors are exploring everything from romantic relationships and friendship troubles to problems with addiction and identity-seeking.
7. What sort of responses have you received from people regarding your reviews?
I get great feedback from the teens who read the site, and also lots of positive comments from librarians and teachers who recommend the site to their students. Teens like to engage in online conversations with me about their favorite books and we leave comments for each other. I've heard from teens who also email me that they appreciate the honesty of the reviews and that I don't talk down to them or try to tell them what to read.Here's a link to some of my favorite emails from teens: http://www.readingrants.org/some-reading-rants-feedback/
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