A Plea for Paperbacks

How can we get kids to read more? It’s a question I ask myself a lot. It is one of those questions that pops up while I am weeding the garden, stirring the spaghetti, sitting in traffic … all the great “thinking” spots. Here’s my answer: better pricing! Fewer hardcover editions, more paperbacks.

For the record, I love the library. It is one of my all-time favorite places. I like it more than the bookstore. I know libraries need hardcovers (hence library editions). But I am wearing my parent hat when I try to tackle reading questions. If I suggest that kids read more, I now have to answer questions like “who can afford to buy books?” and “when will I find time to take Susie to the library, not to mention find time to return those books?”

Rare is the day that we don’t have new books arriving from authors and publishers asking for a review. Clearly, each one of these titles is intended to be “just” what kids want … or at least something that will make them want to pick up THIS book in the same way they devoured A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket) and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Many of the young adult titles are some version of an advance reader edition, from uncorrected proofs to formal Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). Most of these are destined to be hardcovers, with a “tentative price” of $16.99. Okay, how many teens are buying that book? Like most everything else in their world, books are (a) fairly dispensable; and (b) not high on their priority list. Why would they spend nearly $20 on something they might read one time? From their perspective, there are a lot more “fun” things they can do with that $20!

Yes, if asked (a big if), Mom and Dad may buy the book. But will they buy more than one? If the last two months are any indication, there is a lot of “beach reading” on the horizon. And many of them deal with subjects that most parents avoid. Beach reading and books that move fast are great … but do you see more hardcovers or paperbacks at the pool?

Are there exceptions? Yes! But the exceptions are the kids who already like to read. They aren’t the ones who need to be coaxed into understanding why we need to build and practice our skills.

I love it when I get a middle-grade chapter book or a young adult novel that’s destined to be published in paperback. I am always hopeful that it’s really good. If we’re going to buy books, why not get more for your money? When a book is more accessible for the kids (who might buy just one), then it’s more palatable to the parents (who might buy two!).

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