By Betsy Bird, Children's Librarian
The New York Public Library
A recent Onion article sported the title 'Minotaurs the New Vampires' Says Publishing Executive Desperate to Find New Vampires. This raised more than a couple laughs in the children's and teen publishing industries. There was truth behind that line.
Since the rise of the teen Twilight series, publishers are scrambling to find the next big thing. The surprise is that it's already here, but it's not what anyone could have predicted.
Does it have sexy angels? No. Sexy reincarnation? No. Sexy zombies? Ew and no. Believe it or not, the series is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and if you thought dystopian teen fiction about repressive governments and reality television would never make a great series, think again. Kids love it. Kids want it. And it's up to adults to figure out if kids are ready for it.
The series follows a single girl by the name of Katniss as she is thrown into in a kill-or-be-killed arena by her own government. With its assertive heroine, The Hunger Games is the anti-Twilight. But here's where they're similar: librarians are forced to consider whether or not these books are appropriate for younger readers.
It's relatively easy to keep a 9-year-old from reading Twilight if you inform them that much of the series is about a girl who really, really wants to have sex with her boyfriend. Hunger Games, in contrast, is a lot more enticing to them. Who wouldn't want to read about a girl using her wits to outsmart other kids her age as well as the adults in charge? But while the violence is absolutely fine for teen readers, parents may be a little concerned when they find their youngest children delving into a story that involves a lot more death, blood, and mutilation than the usual Harry Potter fare. I doubt any child will be scarred for life after reading this series, but at the same time it does contain some intense writing.
And it's a hit. As of this week, there were 320 holds on The New York Public Library's 390 copies of Mockingjay, the just-released latest book in the series. A round of midnight release parties just wrapped up. Expect a lot more kids to start requesting these books in the future too. They may be a bit gory, but I can attest that compared to books like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (which, yes, librarians are also seeing 12-year-olds request) it's got a heckuva lot more to recommend it.
And once the movie comes out, just try to escape its allure.
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