Yesterday a gregarious teen came up asking where we’ve got books with “crazy stuff” – high schoolers dealing with romance, drama, sometimes drugs and violence, etc. I tried feeling out exactly what she wanted during the elevator ride to the teen section, and she got wide-eyed and excited when I told her we had the Bluford High series, and she called her sister over to examine the shelves with her. I struggled to find another series or book that engaged her or her sister, and it occurred to me that despite their popularity, I didn’t really know what Bluford High was about. (Bad librarian, I say to myself. If I keep seeing a certain series on the reshelving cart, I should learn about it!)
So the Bluford Series is 20 books strong now, each of them 200 pages or less and focusing on teens dealing with problems you’ll see in inner city high schools – surprise pregnancies, drug dealing, alcoholic and abusive parents, failing grades, the urge to solve problems with violence. The series has gotten a lot of praise for its wide appeal and has appeared on several of YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers. The list has a lot of silly zombie books and other sci-fi, but I’m happy to see there’s a couple other real-life titles that are similar to the newest title in the series, Paul Langan’s “Survivor.” They have a lot of the same elements as its bigger brother, street lit, but it’s not quite as gritty. (I made a street lit pathfinder once, but it’s only last night that I actually started reading the genre with Sister Souljah’s The Coldest Winter Ever.)
There’s another great thing about this series: audiobooks. In my experience working in an urban library, audiobooks in all genres are a necessity, considering the poor or nonexistent reading skills of many patrons. We’re talking about a school system with a 70.5% graduation rate after all, and you know that many of graduates are just being pushed through the system and are at a reading level way below their age. So yes. I like this series.
Library Services for Youth in Custody, part of the Colorado State Library, has compiled some great reading lists that deal with teens in tough situations, like all of the above, and homelessness, and parents in jail. They also have street lit read-a-likes. So next time somebody comes in who loves the Bluford Series, I’ll know better than to pluck It’s Kind of a Funny Story off the shelf and I’ll turn to the LSYC list instead.