Saturday, October 24, 2015

Middle School Visits and Ryan Dean West

Last week the teen department supervisor and I visited one of the local middle school to booktalk some of the titles in our YA collection. We did five booktalking sessions with two eighth grade classes attending each time. We chose "safe" books (see 9/23/15 post) for the talks because we weren't sure what the school librarian and the English teachers considered appropriate for their students. 

The booktalks went well and most of these books have since been checked out from our collection. But while my supervisor was speaking, I noticed an eighth grade guy surreptitiously reading Winger by Andrew Smith. He looked up and saw me watching him. I think he thought he was about about to be busted but instead I gave him a thumbs up and mouthed, "Great book." He looked surprised, smiled, and shook his head in agreement. As his class was getting ready to go back to their room, he came over to me and told me that Winger is the best book he ever read and he's glad that his English teacher recommended it to him. I told him that I was reading Stand Off, the sequel to Winger. He was excited to learn that there was a sequel and hoped that his teacher would add it to their classroom library.

I wish I could have booktalked Winger or Stand Off. Smith writes about bullying, sexuality, loss, and friendship in a way that will ring true with teens. In Stand Off he even tackles the subject of sexual consent without sounding preachy. The main character, Ryan Dean West is incredibly likable and believable. He is funny without being obnoxious. Ryan Dean is also incredibly horny (which in my limited experience seems to be a normal state for most young teen boys) and rates everything on the Ryan Dean Scale of Hotness. For example, he rates the school therapist "a piping hot five out of five bowls of Ethiopian Doro Wat." This is the type of book I would have loved a librarian to recommend to my son when he was thirteen or fourteen but I'm not sure that all parents would feel that way. 

So here's my question. When I visit the schools do I include some books like Winger that might offend some parents or do I continue to play it safe? The English teacher that set up our visit said that she is fine with books that might be a little "edgy" and even has some in her classroom library. The school librarian seems to feel differently and told us she blacks out some language in the school library books. How do you choose your books for school visits?