Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Professional Book Shelf: They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill by Dr. Joni Richards Bodart

You can’t be a teen librarian and not know about Dr. Joni Bodart.  She is one of our rock stars.  Dr. Bodart is a strong advocate for teens and teen literature, having written a multitude of professional materials to help us all be better at what we do.  She is passionate about booktalking and reader’s advisory and has written a variety of professional titles to help us all be better at the art of selling our wares to our teens. 

Later this year Dr. Bodart will have a new, and timely, professional title coming out:  They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill: The Psychological Meaning of Monsters in Young Adult Literature (coming out in December 2011).  Without a doubt, monsters are everywhere in teen lit.  From the widely popular Twilight series, which contains both vampires and shapeshifters, to the Vampire Diaries of old, now a hugely successful series on the CW, vampires have been a staple of teen lit.  But it’s not just vampires anymore; shapeshifters, faeries, half demons and full demons and the ever present zombie are taking over the scene.  There has been a lot of discussion lately about teen lit:  Is it too dark?  In They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill, Dr. Bodart helps us understand that appeal of monsters to teens (and to us all) and provides an insightful discussion into various titles and series currently popular with our audience.

As Dr. Bodart points out in her introduction, monsters have always been there in our stories.  When humans began telling stories, they began telling of monsters.  Although many worry about an interest in monsters, the truth is that reading about monsters in the safety of a book helps us all examine ourselves and our culture in a safe environment:

They fascinate us, but we recognize their danger and we fear them as well. Books and movies let us step into their world for awhile, to see how close we can get to them without getting caught. And who hasn’t looked up from a scary story to see the twitch of a shadow, the creak of the floor in the hall, and wondered if the monster had escaped from the pages. (Bodart, introduction XX)

Psychologist Carl Jung talked about the idea of the shadow self; the idea that within us all was a monster.  Teens, no doubt, feel this more than most as their hormones kick in and their brain works differently (there is a ton of research that explains how different the teenage brain is).  And society often operates as if it fears teens; we can all probably right now list a variety of staff members who live in fear of 3:00 and the teenage rush the comes into our libraries.  In her introduction, Dr. Bodart further discusses the psychological allure of the monster construct and it is a fascinating read.
Vampires (part 1), shapeshifters (part 2), zombies (part 3) and unexpected monsters (part 4, which includes, angels, unicorns and demons) are all discussed with interesting detail and examples.  Each part begins with some history of the subgenre and a general discussion of example titles.  Then there is more specific discussion of popular titles that highlight the basic elements of the subgenre and its appeal to teen readers.
The vampire discussion starts as any good vampire book discussion should, with the classic The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klaus.  This title is still an amazing read and I appreciate that this is where Dr. Bodart chooses to begin our discussion into the land of monsters.  Other titles discusses include The Tantalize and Blue Blood series as well as The Chronicles of Vlad Todd.  All good choices of inclusion.  It is interesting to read, as noted by Dr. Bodart, the tremendous increase in the amount of vampire titles published in the last ten years. 
Again calling on the classics, Bodart’s shapeshifter begins its discussion with Blood and Chocolate.  I found the discussion in this section especially interesting because I was much less familiar with the tradition of the werewolf stories and honestly haven’t read many titles in this subgenre, with the exception of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Steifvater, which is included in the discussion and provides some good information.
If you are a reader of TLT, you know that zombie lit is my favorite so I was looking forward to the discussion of this monster subgenre, which did not disappoint.  Bodart begins with my favorite series, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry.  Other titles discussed include The Generation Dead and The Enemy series.
The final discussion centers around some unusual monsters, things we don’t often think of as monsters: angels and unicorns.  Sure we get that demons are monsters by definition, but throughout history angels and unicorns are often depicted as creatures on the side of good.  And yet religious tradition also discusses the concept of the fallen angel jealous of humankind.  And we almost always see unicorns as beautiful kind creatures, often found with rainbows for some reason.  So this part of the discussion was fascinating as it has been equally fascinating to see the new twists on this mythology in teen lit over the past few years. 
This is a fascinating read and useful tool.  The background information on the various subgenres of monster lit and specific information about various titles, including information regarding the authors and their interest in the monsters, would be incredibly useful in doing book discussions.  Even in a less formal at the stacks or ref desk interaction, this information will help give you street cred as you can have an intelligent, meaningful conversation with fans and help guide them to read-a-likes.  Plus, the information will help you address parental, staff and administrator concerns that sometimes come up regarding these types of books.  There is meaning in the mythology and Dr. Bodart helps us all take a stand for intellectual freedom and our teens by giving us the information we need to engage in intelligent discussion about the history and psychology of monster lit.  And honestly, it is just a truly fascinating and insightful read.
Booklists are provided in addition to further reading on the various topics discussed.  I would honestly like to see more titles produced on this topic and see it become a series as there are so many other series and titles in this genre to discuss, although the titles she chooses do make a good cross representation of each subgenre.
As Dr. Bodart says, “Supernatural creatures are constructs and tools that teens can use to understand themselves and their worlds better and help them make the decisions that will guide them through those worlds. Who am I? What do I believe? What’s the right thing to do? Feeling like an outsider is a common experience for a teen (Bodart, p. 241).”  These titles are important in the lives of teens, and this is a good resource to understand why – and find more.
I highly recommend that you add this to your professional collection.  And I look forward to discussing it with my fellow librarians when it comes out.  It should make for some good discussion.  This is definitely one tool you’ll want to add to your toolbox.

Edited to add this note:  One of the best features of this title, outside of the excellent discussion, is the appendix which features a comprehensive booklist on the various monsters discussed.  The booklist is arranged by monster (angel, unicorn, vampire, etc.) and lists series and stand alone titles separately.  Within each series listing is a list of each title within the series and an indication of whether or not the series is complete or ongoing.  This is a great bibliographic tool.

Check out my own discussion about zombie lit “What’s the deal with zombies anyway?”


  1. Thanks, Karen! I am lucky enough to be in Dr. Bodart's booktalking class through SJSU, and it has been one of the best master's level classes I've taken. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is so excited to share it with us all. I've learned so much, and now feel more like a 'real' high school librarian. 😀

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