Reader questions and follow-up to the MCPS media specialists in-service learning day: Some YA books, challenges and ‘What’s the difference between Shonen or Shojo manga?’

Clearing old business off my desk.

Thanks to all who attended our discussion on Comics in Libraries at the Montgomery County Public Schools  in-service learning day this summer.    As usual it feels like we never have enough time to talk through all possible topics, so I’ll try to circle back to touch on issues that were raised in each session, or questions that came to us from participants afterwards.

What are some Age-appropriate books for middle schoolers and young adults, not too ‘childish’?

There are many.  The great thing about middle schoolers is that they are willing to read a wide swath of books, all-ages to teen issues.   All ages books check out well to– well — all ages.  With middle school kids you can also risk ventures into some manga, and put some books in front of them with deeper themes or content.  I will begin to preview some of these books of the next couple months.  But I’ll detail a few general interest books for YA’s after the jump.

How do you decide of a book is All-ages vs Young Adult vs Adult?

For the purposes of our collection we designate books as “YA”  if they have violence beyond cartoony images (but short of realistic gore and innards) adult situations (near nudity, but not nude; allusions to sexual situations without explicit display) and the occasional off-color language.  Also included are books with sufficiently advanced reading level or content that may not be interesting to younger readers.

Books that may prove excellent for middle school age, but too steep for the younger grades include:

  • Naruto.  (violence, near nudity, etc)
  • Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z.  (ditto)
  • Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (mostly all-ages, but a parent dies early on, and some parents may be threatened by this, where the kids seem to have less of an issue about it)
  • Mouse Guard (realistic violence)
  • Thor (series, Marvel Comics, written by J. Michael Straczynski, advanced interest level)
  • any of various Star Wars series by Dark Horse Comics (violence)
  • the graphic novel adaptations of the Artemis Fowl series (some gunplay)
  • Runaways (series, Marvel Comics.  ‘What if your parents were supervillains?’ plays well with the YA crowd)
  • Usagi Yojimbo (much sword play, this one walks a line between all ages and YA, the violence is cartoony but characters are killed every three pages or so in some issues, thus we play it safer.)
  • The Simpsons (series)
  • Zits (comic strip series)

Buying superhero comics for schools can be tricky since many mainstream comics publishers (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse) walk a line between YA and Adult content, but it’s easier to risk a superhero buy with this age group compared to the younger grades.  This is the age when kids begin to grow most interested in the Supers, and many mass media tie-ins are marketed to this age.

What are some YA graphic novels of interest to Girls?

I find girls of this age are trickier to buy for, since girls tend to mature more quickly than boys and are commonly interested in more adult themes earlier on.   The middle school girls hereabouts are interested in books that I might be more likely to buy for a high school audience (Bleach, Death Note among them), though they too will read all-ages action adventures, etc.

There used to be a series called ElfQuest that satisfied an interest in romance, action, adventure, strong female heroes, etc. appropriate for girls and boys both.    But sadly they are no longer in print (currently seeking a publisher and marketing partner).

Of the books mentioned above, both Amulet and Runaways have crossover appeal to both boys and girls.  I find the X-Men titles check out well to girls since they commonly have strong female characters.

For books that pull a strong audience of girls you will find more offerings in the manga format.  Here is a sampling of books that check out well to this audience at our library, that should be age-appropriate

  • Fruits Basket
  • Yotsuba & !
  • Inubaka
  • Spider-Man loves Mary Jane; and Spider-Man: Mary Jane (Marvel comics series, now out of print)
  • Miki Falls (series by Mark Crilley)
  • Girl Genius (series by Phil Foglio)
  • Chibi Vampire
  • Rosario + Vampire
  • Vampire Kisses

Vampires clearly have an edge when it comes to combining romance, relationships and adventure.

Letters! ‘ Shonen what?’

I’m always happy to answer any letters I get to help Librarians flesh out their collections.   Feel free to write to me at work: DavidB at takomagov dot org (you know how to translate that, I expect).

Here’s one letter:

Dave,
I came to your session at the MCPS professional development day in August, so I thought you might be a good person to ask.  I work at Blake High School, and we have a student that keeps asking us why we don’t have Shonen Jump.  When we looked it up, we were overwhelmed with the number of things listed under Shonen Jump.  Is there a certain thing that is more often referred to under that name? Or what specific things would you say are more popular?

Media Assistant
James Hubert Blake High School

Shonen Jump is either of two things:  the publishing line that produces popular titles like Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, or the magazine that serializes these stories (both are distributed in the US by Viz Media).  Probably he’s hoping you’ll subscribe to the magazine since this keeps the reader up to date on a number of titles in a single volume.

The term ‘Shonen’ means ‘boys’, especially a typical Japanese schoolboy.  Shonen manga is generally thought of as ‘fighting’ manga.  The content will have a fair bit of violence, some gore and occasional ‘fanservice’ (gratuitous panty-shots and scantily clad women, or allusions to lust –of the steam-shooting-out-of-your ears variety; or in the manga idiom: eyeballs bulging, head sweating, nose shooting blood.  I know, weird right?).

Since you’re in highschool there should be no problem with the content, the magazine is intended for ages 10-18, which is a wide swath of interest levels, and occasionally skews more towards the age 18 than age 10, but high school kids can probably handle it.  If you were a middle school librarian, I’d say some issues will surely have questionable content for the age.

You might find it useful to subscribe to see an overview of a variety of titles that will be collected into paperback volumes, this lets you preview a few series to decide if any of them look worth adding.

If you were in middle school I’d say I wouldn’t worry too much about storage for back issues since your copies will likely be either shredded or stolen before then.  High school may not have quite the same heavy readership for these though.

Just by way of information, if you choose to take Shonen Jump as a serial, you might also consider its sister publication ‘Shojo Beat’.  “Shojo” manga are comics intended for girls age 10-18.  These will typically be heavy on the romance and misunderstanding and relationships and impossible-to-resolve differences,  quirkiness and oddities.

–EDIT:

Alas, I’m told Shojo Beat is out of business as a magazine as of  2009.  However publisher Viz Media is still keeping the name as an imprint for their girls’ manga, so this is one more way of picking titles of interest to girls.

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