Saturday, October 3, 2009

Crossover books - children's room or teen section?

Back when The Graveyard Book by Gaiman won the Newbery, there was a mild ruckus, stirred up to a fine boil by an SLJ article, about where the book belonged - in the children's room, the teen section, or both. The issue was that many library systems put The Graveyard Book in the teen section, not in the children's area, despite the fact that the Newbery is a children's book award.

When the book came into our library system several months before its Newbery notoriety, it went straight to YA Services - we in Children's Services never even saw it. YA Services judged that it was indeed appropriate for the teen section, listed it on the YA order sheet, and it was bought for YA collections throughout our system.

Then it won the Newbery. Usually when a book in our YA section wins the Newbery, we recatalog it as juvenile or else make it available in both collections. In this case, the directors of both coordinating departments felt that it should stay a YA book only. After some initial frustration with this decision, I decided that it wasn't a big deal. After all, not only was the book available in multiple copies at each of our branches, but there are no restrictions on children's library cards - they may check out YA books all they like. Therefore, access to the book by children or indeed anyone was just as easy as it would have been in the children's area.

The problem is that the Newbery is given to books for children up to 14 years of age - and our children's areas serve kids more or less up to 12. We don't check birth certificates or demand to know a child's grade in school, but we plan our outreach, programs, and of course collection development around that guideline. So a Newbery winner at the high age range may indeed be more suitable for the YA collection, as we define it. Now, this 0 to 14 age range is being re-examined, not just in terms of the Newbery but in ALSC as a whole - I'll be following the discussion via ALA Connect.

You'd think that having a clearly defined age range would make it easy to determine which books should go in which section, and usually it's quite obvious. Sometimes, however, it's not, particularly where fiction is concerned. If it's got sex and/or drugs, and it involves high schoolers or middle schoolers - fine, the YA section can have it. If it's about a couple of 5th grade friends, we'll take it. And in general, even if the book is about kids older than 12 (but younger than high school), we'll put it in the children's area because a 12-year-old will love to read about a 13-year-old - but a 14-year-old won't, necessarily. So the book will be more likely to be read in our section.

So - then we have the stumpers. When I first heard about Moribito - Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi, it seemed clear that it was for the children's area. Older kids love fantasy and all things Japanese, and there was no sex or death or graphic violence to be found. Perfect! And even after I read it for myself and discovered that the main character, Balsa, was 31, it didn't bother me - there was a young prince and plenty of action.

So of course I put Moribito II - Guardian of the Darkness in the children's collection as well. And then suffered pangs of doubt as I read it, with its fascinating but convoluted backstory and all the confusing names that sound similar and all the "foreign" words - and realized again that Balsa, although a tough female warrior, is 31, for goodness' sake! I was married with two kids and a mortgage at 31 - no kid would have accepted me as the main character of any story. But Balsa seems more like a very seasoned 17-year-old in many ways - her lack of a love interest or family, for one. (Well, there is someone, sort of - but he doesn't appear in Moribito II). But okay - this book would have been fine in the teen section, but it will also be fine in the children's section. I hope.

And then there's the graphic novel Wolverine: Worst Day Ever by Barry Lyga. It's not a full GN but rather a hybrid. Wolverine is in high school, it's written by a YA author, and we tend to put most of our Marvel stuff in YA. So obviously a good choice for the teen section, right? Well, that's what we finally decided (my counterpart in YA Services and I) after much discussion. But it would be wildly popular in the children's area as well, plus the graphic portion of the book looks sort of young. On the other hand, we knew it would be bought widely by YA librarians, so kids would have plenty of access to it.

When we're deciding where to put a book (and keep in mind that we're not allowed to "dual-catalog" - it's got to go in either the YA or children's collection, not both), we try to balance the following factors:
1. Is there sex/violence/drugs and if so, are these handled at a level that is more appropriate for teens than for 12-year-olds?
2. How old is the main character? What will want to read more about this character, a 12-year-old or a 14-year-old? Most 10 to 12-year-olds love reading about middle school kids. Middle school and high school kids, however, seem to prefer reading about high school kids.
3. Ditto for the plot - what age will this appeal to most? (note: page number plays NO role in our decision-making. Although it used to be that kids' books were thinner than YA books, Harry Potter changed all that. In fact, as far as fantasy goes, the fatter the better)
4. Where is this most likely to get both purchased and promoted - in the children's or the teen collection?

This last point is crucial and often the deciding factor (as long as the subject matter alone doesn't exclude it from the children's collection) - our children's librarians have, as a rule, a much bigger materials budget than the YA librarians. Our collections are simply bigger. Also, in general (and I have read research on this!), 10 to 12-year-old kids read more for pleasure than teens, so a book put into the children's area may well be more likely to be read, especially if a librarian promotes it.

So if we want a book to get purchased and read, we often will put it in the children's collection. But if it seems more YA for various reasons AND it will be purchased heavily (as was the case with The Graveyard Book and is true for any graphic novels), then it should go in the YA section even if children might well like it as well.

All very logical - but I still sweat a bit over some of these decisions! And I'll feel a lot better once I find some kids (12 and under, please!) who love Moribito...


  1. Oooh, I hear ya. In my library I buy all the children's and ya (except ya nonfiction). Since I don't have separate accounts for book orders, and it all comes in a big pile (usually mixed in with adult stuff) it's even more of a pain to decide. And sometimes our director (who buys adult fiction) will throw in some ya stuff in her order.

    And what about series where the character grows up? Like Harry Potter, Naylor's Alice, Myracle's 11, 12, etc. series? We have all the HP in juvenile, half of Alice in juvenile and half in YA, and Myracle's Eleven and Twelve in juvenile and Thirteen in YA...

    I've never come up with a concrete solution. I just keep moving stuff back and forth and driving the cataloguer crazy.

  2. In my library, the YA shelves are more crowded than the J, which is influencing shelving choices in a big way...

    A series that I fret about is Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books. The first book is a nice, straightforward Newbery Honor, great for 10 to 12 year olds. By the third book, it is YA...where do you have these?

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  4. I have a question about a different kind of "crossover" book - children's stories from other eras. I'm thinking of things such as delightful collections like Andrew Lang's [color] fairy books which have the occasional odd racist phrase that is more outdated than offensive. I feel that those little moments in the story make it important to have an adult interpreter sharing the story with a kid today.

    In addition, it often takes a trusted adult's recommendation to entice a kid into reading some of the more "old-fashioned" books, and adults probably appreciate some of the literary qualities of older books more than kids do.

    So, would you ever create a shelf of these books in a branch library, or would you ever put them in the adult collection... or would you withdraw them outright, given that problematic use of racist vocabulary?