A month or so ago, it started going viral on Facebook: list ten books that made a deep impression on you, and tag ten friends. I must have been tagged at least ten times. As I read my friends’ lists, and my own for that matter, I noticed something: an awful lot of the titles were books people had read as teens or preteens.

This makes sense if you think about it. I’m sure that The Cat in the Hat introduced important concepts to my early literacy development, but I can’t say I specifically recall reading it. I clearly remember A Wrinkle in Time as the first scary science fiction book I read, and also the first book that made me uneasy about the idea of people or societies being homogenized. I remember books that I devoured but didn’t really like, which I realize now gave me comfort and made me feel I wasn’t alone when none of my friends shared my experiences. I remember swashbuckling stories that people said were “for boys,” and I remember being angry at the idea that girls weren’t supposed to be interested in daring adventure. And the romance novels, and then — wow — the first book I read that had sex in it.

Teens and preteens read books that open up new worlds just as they are gaining more control over their own worlds, and when they are exploring their own ideas and plans and beginning to see brand-new horizons. They read books that tell them who they are, and who they can be, and what might be out there in the great wide universe. That’s a huge thing.

There is, justly, a great focus today on early literacy. The Oakland Literacy Coalition, to which the East Bay Children’s Book Project belongs, says: “Nothing is more basic, more essential, more foundational, and more important to a child’s success in life than the ability to read well.” OLC supports schools, teachers, early literacy providers and organizations supporting families and caregivers, with the “goal of equipping all Oakland children with the life skills of reading, writing, and communication by the end of third grade.”

Its Oakland Reads 2020 Initiative “is a multi-sector, collaborative effort combining the strength of the Oakland Unified School District, the City of Oakland, city and county agencies, community-based organizations, and funders, all committed to the progress and success of early learners.” Key to this effort is getting books to young children.

At the East Bay Children’s Book Project, we agree. “Children” is right there in our name, and our motto is “Every Child Needs a Book.” But as the Facebook lists show, the books that open our eyes, that open new worlds to us, that stay with us for years and decades, are perhaps more likely to be those we read when we’re not really children anymore.

Unfortunately, just because teens can read doesn’t mean they do read. The books teens are required to read in school may or may not capture their imaginations. Teens (especially teen boys) can be reluctant readers, or choosy readers, or may just not find it as much fun to read as to do all the other things available to them, or they may not have time. Let’s face it, family support for teen reading can be harder than for early literacy. We ask parents to bring home books for kids; that may not go over well with teens. As for parents reading aloud to their teens after they tuck them into bed… and yet: the Facebook lists show that teens need books.

The East Bay Children’s Book Project welcomes those who serve teens and preteens in need. We stock literally thousands of books for middle- and high-school students. Some of it’s great new stuff, some of it’s old-fashioned, and some of it is quite frankly not such great literature, but the teens love it. (Raise your hand if you have never read a trashy novel … I thought not.)

In fact, we have so much teen and preteen literature, and such a relatively small proportion of our clientele serve teens and preteens, that we’re often overflowing. So here is our little secret: if you need books for middle- and high-school students, you can usually get as many books as you want from us, free. We may even be able to help you make your selections. Come visit us and fill up on books that, years from now, the young people you serve will still remember. Because every teen needs a book.

P.S.: Click here for suggestions for excellent reading for teens.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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