Ms. Yingling is a middle school librarian in the Midwest, and her blog is one of my favorites. She reviews a TON of MG books, with a particular emphasis on books for boys. What I like most about her is she gives fair and balanced reviews, but she's not afraid to give a final verdict about why she will buy the book for her library or not.
Talk about one of the most valuable pieces of feedback to authors and publishers -- whether or not this decision-maker will buy a particular book ... and WHY.
Without further ado, I give you Ms. Yingling!
Welcome, Ms. Yingling! What titles are flying off your shelves right now?
Thanks! Funny books like Vance’s The Heartbreak Messenger or Korman’s Ungifted and sports books by Bowen, Deuker and Wallace.
Are there genres you think are glutted?
High fantasy and problem novels about sad, quirky kids who Learn Life Lessons. I do have more readers for adventure science fiction and realistically based magical realism, but there are plenty of books to keep them happy.
Are there any types of books that you completely avoid?
My crusade this year is against dysfunctional parents, people dying, suicide in particular, and depressing stories in general. My readers don’t want it and neither do I.
What stand-alone books are so popular that you'd like them to be turned into series?
I was glad to see Charlie Joe Jackson and Cheesie Mack become series. I’d love to see more funny, realistic books or sports books in series.
COVERS / FIRST CHAPTERS
The covers are very important if the students don’t have guidance. If I tell them it’s a great book but acknowledge it has a bad cover, they’ll read it. If the book is poorly formatted, with tiny print and very little white space, though, that’s a deal breaker for most readers.
How important are covers to you? Has a cover alone ever enticed you to buy, or to avoid?
I’ll pick up a book because of the cover, but content is really everything. When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I only read rebound books; I knew they would be good because the covers were worn off. There’s only one book I was going to buy but didn’t -- Carrie Harris’ Bad Taste in Boys. It’s a zombie football book, and the cover is a close up of a girl’s lips coated in sugar. Weird.
How important are those first pages to your kids? Will kids give a book a chance, or is one chapter all an author gets?
If the first chapter is boring, books are often returned. Dairman’s All Four Stars was brilliant and hysterical because of the blow torch incident. Explosions, chase scenes, prune juice chugging contests like Gebhart’s There Will be Bears -- all brilliant.
You tilt your blog toward boys. What titles are working well for boys?
Stormbreaker and Cirque du Freak are without a doubt the most popular books ever in my library. Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice and Delaney’s Last Apprentice series do well. Anything at all with sports or humor is always popular.
How hard is it to convince boys to read material they don't think they'll like?
I have a pretty good relationship with all of my students, and they will try a lot of things. Just the other day, I convinced a boy to check out a Jake Maddox book about girls’ volleyball, and he stopped by later in the day to tell me he thought it was really interesting. Every February, I challenge the boys to read girl romance books, and they do it with good humor!
Is there anything you've done that's been successful in getting boys to read more?
I don’t try to make them LOVE to read. I let them read short books, nonfiction, picture books, whatever they want. They like the sense of completion, I think. They are still reading and building skills, so before long they move on to longer books.
What types of books could you use more of?
Sports books. Especially need girls playing soccer, volleyball and field hockey. For boys, there will never be enough football or basketball books, but I think we have seen all of the baseball books we need.
Could use some updated outdoor adventure books as well. Mysteries and horror, too.
Is there anything your kids ask for but doesn't exist, i.e. big opportunities for kidlit authors out there?
There are no literary skateboarding books out there. The Muslim American population, especially the Somalian immigrants, are not often represented, even as supporting characters. We are starting to see a wave of immigrants from Nepal, and there isn’t even much in the way of nonfiction about the country. I’d like to see a lot more Latino characters in middle grade lit as well. Those are all things I can’t write about; the rest I may save for myself!
There you have it, the skinny from a MG librarian. I've learned a lot following Ms. Yingling's blog -- hope you will too!