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Dear Well Meaning Adult, Here’s how to buy books for teens on your list.

Dear Well Meaning Adult,

Maybe you’re a relative, maybe you’re a friend, but no matter what, it is so awesome that you want to buy books for teens this holiday season. If you don’t mind, can I give you a few tips about how to buy books that these teens that you so clearly care about will actually read and enjoy? It won’t take long, I promise. I know you’re busy.

gift booksHere are a teen service librarian’s tips on buying books for the different kinds of teens who might be on your list this year.

The teen you don’t know very well, but know they like to read

If you know this teen likes to read, that’s a good first step. Chances are, he or she has read the big blockbusters (you know, the ones with movies out?) or has some favorite authors or genres. Ask for some broad details – realistic or fantasy? historical or contemporary? generally light or generally serious? A good place to start with this kind of teen is the stuff that’s a click or two away from the really popular stuff.  Get the name of a favorite author and look to find his or her first novel. Or check the jacket copy on the books that are front and center and see which authors have provided endorsements or quotes, then look for them. For a voracious reader, you could go one of two ways: try to find the newest, hottest author before they’ve hit it big, or go five to ten years back and find something that was well received back then. Remember – something hot seven years ago was hot when today’s thirteen year olds were still learning to read. For the newest and hottest, well that’s a tricky proposition, especially for a teen you don’t know very well. But look to your local librarian or indie book store owner for personal recommendations. Or check out some amazing teen book review blogs for their picks!

The teen you know who doesn’t read but you know you want to give them a book anyway because they spend too much time doing something other than reading

It happens – I’m not judging, that’s cool. But before you head out to pick up a piece of Quality Literature though, take a minute and think about this gift. Who’s it really for and why?

If you have a beloved favorite title that was so meaningful to you as a young person that you just have to share it, please do. And as you’re doing so, please explain to the teen just why it is so important to you. Open a dialogue and share a piece of yourself with this teen as you do so. Finding caring adults who treat them with respect is a tricky thing for a lot of teens, and if they know that you are one of those people who really cares to hear what they think about something that was meaningful to you, you’ve done them a much greater service than just giving them some snow day entertainment.

If you just want them to get their face out of their phones, think for a minute about why their faces are always in their phones. Do they love celebrity gossip? Gaming? The social interaction? Messing with photography or stop motion animation apps? These are their interests, and chances are you’ll be able to find a novel, nonfiction title, or magazine that dovetails nicely with the stuff they’re already interested in. The goal here is to not shame them about their preferred pastime, but to augment it.

The teen you know and love, whether or not they are avid readers

This is the easy one, because you’ve got access to this person. Sit down and fess up: you want to know them better by learning about what they want to read, what they don’t want to read, whether or not they have a favorite book, and what they think you should read. Take them out for a hot cocoa or go for a jog together and strike up a conversation. This is the gift. This time with you, with you spending more time listening than talking, even if they may roll their eyes sometimes, is part one of your gift to them.

Part two is when you’ve paid close attention and can take this conversation back to your local library where (hopefully) a skilled teen service librarian will be thrilled to suggest some great books that your (hopefully) local indie book store can order for you. And who knows. They may even gift wrap it for free.

In closing, Well Meaning Adult, we librarians want to thank you. Teens need and want people like you in their lives – people who care enough about them to believe that they need more books in their lives. Let us help you find them a book that will make their eyes light up and get a genuine “thank you” before they rush out of the room to dig into it. We know what it’s like when a suggestion falls flat. It kind of sucks. But we get another chance to get it right every day! Let us help you get it right the first time — it’s so much more rewarding. We’ll call that our gift to you.


Heather & the rest of us YA librarians out there


  1. What a great post. Luckily I am aware of most of these, but i only wish people would have followed these guidelines when they went book shopping for me.

  2. Thanks for finally writing about >Dear Well Meaning Adult, Heres how to buy books for teens on your list.

    — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox <Loved it!


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