From the Trenches

This is my last week as a teacher; after Friday, I will be a full time writer! However, with six years of teaching literature under my belt, as well as lots of time advising the Creative Writing Club, I've been in a good position to see what kids are actually reading in the dystopian field.

Here are my totally unofficial and unscientific findings from my own limited experience on what YAs are actually reading in the YA dystopian field:

Most Popular Dystopian Titles
  • The Giver
    • This one is required reading in middle school--and is actually one of the titles that most of the kids really read, instead of fake-read to get through the test. It's also one that stays with the kids--they bring it up in discussions years later, in tenth and eleventh grade
    • Many kids have read the sequels on their own, outside of class.
  • The Uglies Series 
    • Very popular in school--many kids have read it, and they've read the entire series.
  • Brave New World  & 1984
    • The classic dystopian titles are alive and well among the latest teen readers. Brave New World and 1984 are both optional titles to read in 12th grade, and they're considered the "cool" titles to read. They are also among the top stolen books--which is high praise for a book in high school.
  • Dystopian Manga
    • Manga titles remain popular in a certain subset of teens. Some works, like Ghost in the Shell are very popular across the board.
  • Dystopian Movies
    • Mainstream dystopia is reaching teens through movies. The Book of Eli was a popular movie among the cool kids recently, and anything zombie related remains high on many kids' radars. One could argue they want the death and destruction, but many dystopian titles, such as The Island of a few years ago, often lead to philosophical discussions among students--sparked at lunch tables and in the halls without the prompting of a classroom. V for Vendetta is reaching cult status.
Most Popular Dystopian Themes
  • Dystopia
    • Most kids in my school aren't aware of the label "dystopia." They see dystopia in terms of it's subsets: science fiction, zombies, apocalypse, etc.
      • Within the subsets, I'd wager that zombies are most popular
  • Romance 
    •  Most kids--both girls and boys--want at least some element of romance or sexual attraction within the story. Blow something up, sure, but have them kiss at the end.
  • Light Philosophy 
    • The kids seem to prefer works that don't hit you over the head with philosophy. Children of Men is much less popular than City of Ember for example.
  • Paranormal
    • Any way you cut it, teens want something beyond the normal. Be it zombies or mutant powers or cool tech or whatever--they want a little magic in the science.
Most Surprising Absence
  •  The Hunger Games Trilogy
    • Surprisingly, there are rather a lot of teens--even the heavy readers--who've not even heard of this one. Middle schoolers seem much more aware of this series, in part from the heavy advertising they're getting in the Scholastic Book Order Forms. The high schoolers who have read it (often at my or another teacher's rec, not because they find it on their own) are often not aware of how popular it is.
    • The ones who do read it, though, almost unanimously love it.
    • It's extraordinarily popular among the teachers I know who've read it, too...hmmm....throwing children in an arena of death...maybe I can understand why it's popular with teachers, especially this time of year! :)
And that's what it's like in my area, with the teens at my school. What are you seeing? What popular? What's not? What new trends are developing? What's on the way out?


    Unknown said...

    Congrats on taking that leap--it must feel great to become a full time writer!!

    I have to say that I am a huge fan of Hunger Games. It's remarkable.

    Unknown said...

    Wow I love all the information you give and the examples. It's amazing to know that most of the kids are not aware of the Hunger Games Trilogy but so many bloggers know it!!

    The Giver was a very good story and one I'll remember for quite sometime!

    Unknown said...

    Okay, that was a shocker about THE HUNGER GAMES. I'm guessing it's the adults who love YA who make up the majority of the sales. My 10 yo's read it, but that's because I bought it for ME from the Scholastic Book order. ;)

    I didn't realize, Beth, you were leaving your teacher position to become a full time author. Congrats!!!!

    Creepy Query Girl said...

    Very interesting to see what kids are digging from someone with an inside scoop! thanks!

    Kate Evangelista said...

    I also wait for the day when I can say: I'm a full time writer.

    Anyway, it does surprise me too that The Hunger Games seems to be under the radar of many readers. Not enough word of mouth, maybe?

    Candyland said...

    Awww you lucky thing! And the insight to what kids are into is great-very helpful in what might sell.

    Caroline Starr Rose said...

    Welcome to the league of former teachers/full-time writers! Was it hard to walk away? I'm loving my decision. Still, one year out, I attended my school's closing ceremonies and bawled like a baby. Still love those kiddos.

    Do kids really read THE CHILDREN OF MEN? Is it set forward as required or optional or do some just discover it on their own? Just curious. I picked it up a few years ago because I love PD James, but I never thought it would be something that would interest kids.

    Angie said...

    Congrats, and welcome to the ranks of us crazy people who've quit to write full time. (I love it.)

    That's very interesting about the Hunger Games. I'd suspected as much, but it really demonstrates how many adults are really reading YA now. (A lot!)

    About Me said...

    Congrats on making the jump on becoming a full-time writer, how exciting!

    Anonymous said...

    More congrats on the full-time writer status! Woo Hoo!

    I do love these insights. Interesting that Hunger Games is popular with the middle grades but that the high schoolers haven't heard of it. Hmmm...

    Sherrie Petersen said...

    I subbed last week in 3rd grade and I'm always fascinated by what books the kids are reading. They often surprise me with their choices.

    Kay said...

    As a middle school teacher, I can verify that Hunger Games and Catching Fire have been very popular in my classroom. I'm sure my heavy advertising of it doesn't influence it at all. Another dystopian series that my kids have been reading is The Bar Code Tattoo and Bar Code Rebellion by Suzanne Weyn. It's a very thought-provoking duo.

    Congratulations on moving to the ranks of full time writer.

    Melissa Hurst said...

    My oldest daughter just finished sixth grade and she took The Hunger Games and Catching Fire to school when she was reading them. She loved them but was surprised that nobody had ever heard of the series.

    Nichole Giles said...

    According to my teen boy, vampires are definitely on the way out. He says (and I agree) that if he sees another popular vampire book, he will boycott it just for the lack of originality. Zombies work as long as the story doesn't slow down in the middle, and faeries are still in.

    But yes, Hunger Games is definitely at the top of both my list and my son's. As is The Maze Runner.

    Unknown said...

    Congratulations on your move to full-time writer! You're welcome to visit my class anytime you need a fix (even if it's only virtually!).

    I did a dystopian unit with my kids (8th grade) this year and they LOVED it. They chose from a bunch of different titles (they had to read two books) and by the time they were done with the first, there were some heavy favorites:

    The Hunger Games was a runaway hit (my kids were rec. to everyone they knew! Love word of mouth.)

    The Maze Runner--the boys loved this one especially.

    The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Epitaph Road (the girls really liked this one--they enjoyed the concept of the guys dying off and women ruling the world!), Candor (though they didn't like the ending so much), The Compound, and The Roar were other popular titles.

    Tricia J. O'Brien said...

    Yay, you! I'm so glad you are writing full time--we will get more books by you.
    Thanks for the insider view of what kids read. I'm surprised that they find some classics to be cool--that makes my day.