I have read that tween/teen boys don’t buy books for themselves, so this weekend I decided to do a bit of market research. I went to a large chain bookstore at a mall and observed the children’s and teen’s sections.
The first group I encountered was a young teen with his grandparents. The boy actually had picked out a book he wanted to buy. It was about aliens. Grandma was not happy about his choice and said the book was too expensive. The boy then assured her that he had his own money and would pay for it himself (the book was $15). Grandpa wanted to know what the book was about. The boy read a short section about a town preparing for an alien invasion. Grandpa immediately decided it wasn’t a fit book for his grandson. “You can’t buy that book,” he said. Even though the boy assured them he would read it if he bought it, they left the store without the book.
A few minutes later I overheard a mom with her teenage daughter asking a clerk what to buy a 13-year-old boy. The middle-aged saleswoman immediately sprung into action, telling the mom about three books that she had read and really enjoyed. The clerk listed reasons why a boy would like each one and the mom pounced. She bought all three books, all fiction. Her daughter also picked out a book and bought it.
I almost missed the third boy, a quiet tween. I found him in the adult nonfiction, his nose in a book about the civil war. He read eagerly until his dad called him. He shoved the book back on the shelf.
What did I learn from this investigation? First of all, that books for teens have to pass through an adult filter. Will this book please grandpa, the middle-aged saleswoman and mom as well as a teen boy? Seems like a difficult challenge to make a book that pleases everyone. You have to wonder how well the teen boy is being served, especially when a busy bookstore saleswoman or librarian who reads a lot of books is the first in line making the choices. Her taste will be pretty sophisticated, whether she realizes it or not. Now that the economy is tight, the choices she makes are even more critical. Will boy favorites like graphics books, comics and nonfiction be pushed aside?
As for the boy in adult nonfiction, I think his story is the most important of all. I checked the teen nonfiction section. It was virtually empty, unless you were interested in a popstar biography or the lastest movie tie-in. Boys need young adult nonfiction, but there isn’t much available. The choice is to read adult nonfiction, sometimes with clearly inappropriate adult content.
I think I raised more questions than I answered in this trip. What do you think? Do you buy books for boys?
If you want to learn more about teenage boys and books, see
Teacher Librarian Volume 30, Number 3, February 2003
Overcoming the obstacle course: Teenage boys and reading
Patrick Jones & Dawn Cartwright Fiorelli