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500 Great Books for Teens

"It would be hard to find a more authoritative voice than Anita Silvey." — Publishers Weekly

About the Book

According to a recent study, the Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic, 46 percent of teens between the ages of fifteen and seventeen are "low frequency" readers (they read no more than two to three times per month), and only 16 percent of fifteen-to-seventeen-year-olds read daily. And "the number one reason kids reported that they don't read more is because they can't find books they like to read." Here to the rescue is 500 Great Books for Teens, the resource that teens, parents, teachers, librarians, and booksellers have been waiting for.

Anita Silvey, one of the country's leading authorities on books for young people, has interviewed teenage readers all over the country and immersed herself in young adult books, with an emphasis on books published in the last five years. The result is this engaging, informative, and accessible guide, which no one but an expert like Silvey, with her thirty-five years at the heart of children's publishing, could compile.

"The range of [young adult] titles published, their excellence, and their variety have never been more exciting" than they are today, Silvey notes in her Introduction. In 500 Great Books for Teens, she divides these excellent and varied titles into twenty-one sections representing different reading tastes and genres, including:

• adventure and survival
• fantasy
• edgy, trendsetting novels ("grit-lit")
• historical fiction
• autobiography and memoir
• romance
• graphic novels
• science fiction
• war and conflict

An essay accompanies each selection, in which Silvey presents the basic plot or story line and some of the issues raised by the book. Occasionally she will discuss the controversies surrounding the book, its publishing history, or a sense of its ideal use (for instance, as the perfect title for parent-teen book groups).

In making her 500 choices, Silvey evaluated quality of writing, voice, and style, development of character and setting, accuracy, themes, and even design and format. And in "Beyond the 500," Silvey assembled a number of useful lists, including books organized by geographic location and historical time line, as well as recommended audio books.

500 Great Books for Teens is essential reading for anyone choosing a book for a teen today.

About the Author

Anita Silvey is a professor in the children's literature master's degree program at Simmons College. She is the former editor in chief of the Horn Book and the publisher of children's books at Houghton Mifflin. She is also the author of 100 Best Books for Children and Children's Books and Their Creators.

Silvey's conviction that only the best is good enough for the young forms the cornerstone of all her work. A professor, reviewer, writer, and well-known children's book advocate, Silvey lectures throughout the United States and Canada and appears frequently on radio and television in her efforts to promote the best books available for our children.

For more biographical information about Anita Silvey, please visit www.anitasilvey.com.

A Conversation with Anita Silvey

Why, after focusing on the canon of children's books in 100 Best Books for Children, did you want to enter the murky waters of contemporary young adult books?

Probably for the same reasons that Alexander von Humboldt explored the Orinoco River. Someone needed to take on the task. No general guide existed in the area of young adult books. Consequently, I decided to create one.

Is this a good time for young adult literature?

We live in a golden age of young adult publishing. The range, excellence, and variety of young adult titles have never been better. But although we are now seated at a banquet of young adult books, most people starve. They simply don't know how to find great books — hence I created a guide for the perplexed.

Aren't there a lot of awful books being published today? We read about them all the time in the press — The Gossip Girls, The Rainbow Party.

We keep seeing a great deal of negative press about young adult books at a time when brilliant books are being published for teenagers. Of course, bad books always get published — that really isn't news. What I find newsworthy is the increasing number of good books now being published for teens.

Haven't teens stopped reading?

Well, if young adult book sales are any indication, no. Since 1999 adult book sales have decreased 1 percent in the United States. But young adult book sales have increased 23 percent. Either someone has been buying a lot of books for home decoration or teens have been reading an increasing number of books.

Should teens just stay with the classics? Aren't the new books substandard?

Some of these new books are so complex and fascinating that adults themselves would enjoy them. But you don't need to read only classics or contemporary titles; you can have the best of both. In 500 Great Books for Teens, I include classics in every section. But I also include contemporary books that excite teenagers.

Are there any taboos about subject matter in books for teens today?

Everything that you find on the Internet, in the movies, on the nightly news, or in books for adults can be found today in books for teens. Basically, the taboos have all been broken.

Is anything missing from this rich landscape?

We lack books that show teens taking political and social action. If Martians read our books, they would believe that American teenagers hang out only in shopping malls and never participate in society. I was able to select some books that showed political and social activism on the part of teenagers, but I wish more good books existed in this area.

What if your teenager reads books you don't like?

Remember to be grateful that your teenager is reading and that conversation is always preferable to censorship. Then use 500 Great Books for Teens to locate books that you want to share.

What were your criteria for selecting the 500 books?

I looked at the quality of the writing. I wanted to find writers who had a story to tell and could do so. I also evaluated voice and style, the development of characters and setting, accuracy, themes, even the design and format of the books. I hunted for books that have found a devoted readership and that work with a wide audience of teens. Basically I was trying to locate titles that make teens say, "The only bad part came when it ended."

How did you approach the organization of your final selections?

I organized the 500 books into twenty-one sections representing different genres — such as historical fiction, adventure and survival, humor, graphic novels, and science fiction. In each section I included several classics, or books that have set the standard for that type of literature. Then I balanced each set of books for the age of readers and reading skills.

Did you involve teens in your selection process?

I polled thousands of teens across the country, asking for input about their ten favorite books. And, of course, I talked constantly to those who work with teens.

Were there any books you tried to avoid?

I once heard a teenager say, "This book should come with a fork so you can stick yourself while you read it, because it is so dull." In all cases, I tried to avoid "fork books."

Many people have commented on your dedication. Will you talk a bit more about it?

The fourth of six children, my father grew up in a small town in southern Ohio, Oak Hill, and he desperately wanted to go to college. Because no funds existed, he left high school to work in the coal mines, eventually earning enough money to begin college at Ohio University. At OU, he met my mother and pursued his interest in electrical engineering. Because he quietly supported his wife and his children, I have been able to follow my own dreams.

As I worked on the book, I kept thinking about how decisions that my father made as a teenager had affected my entire life. So on his eighty-sixth birthday I was able to give him a copy of the dedication — "For my father, John Silvey, with love. Because he worked in the coal mines as a teenager, I have been free to devote my life to books."

Can you narrow your selection down to a handful of titles? What are your two favorite books?

I can't get that specific. But I can give you my favorite twenty books of the last ten years for ten-to-fourteen-year-olds.

Skellig by David Almond
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Feed by M. T. Anderson
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos
Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Godless by Pete Hautman
The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose
The Circuit by Francisco Jiménez
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Carver by Marilyn Nelson
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Praise for Anita Silvey

Praise for 100 Best Books for Children

"100 Best Books for Children is a must-have . . . [Silvey] has excellent taste, and the insider information is delicious." — Commonweal

"The ideal resource. If you thought you knew about these books, be ready for a treat with [Silvey's] story-behind-the-story. This book belongs in every home." — Children's Literature Network

"Librarians and teachers will find plenty of fascinating tidbits to share with their students. The text reads more like a narrative than a reference source, and children's literature enthusiasts will find it an enjoyable read in and of itself." — The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Points parents in the right direction [to] 100 titles no child should miss." — Booklist

"It would be hard to find a more authoritative voice than Anita Silvey." — Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators

"Illuminating . . . Like taking a quick and entertaining course in children's literature." — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Comprehensive, easy to use, and instructive . . . The Essential Guide is a must for parents who hope to instill a love of literature in their kids." — BookPage

"One of the best gifts for a new parent or for anyone who cares about children's literature . . . This reference work opens a world beyond individual reading preferences." — Oakland Press

2006 Tour for Anita Silvey

Barnes and Noble Educator Event, Burlington
September 30, 12:00 noon
Barnes and Noble Educator Event, Hingham
October 7, 9:00 a.m.

Borders Educator Event, Peabody
October 15, 3:00 p.m.

Ames Free Library, Easton
October 18, 6:30 p.m.

Porter Square Books, Cambridge
October 19, 7:00 p.m.

Barnes and Noble Educator Event, Burlington
October 4, 7:00 pm

Rhode Island
Barnes and Noble Educator Event, Middletown
October 5, 6:00 p.m.

Just Books, Old Greenwich
October 23, 7:30 p.m.

Borders Educator Event
Indianapolis/River Crossing
October 13, 7:30 p.m.

Mitchell Books, Ft. Wayne
October 14, 11:00 a.m.

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