December 27, 2018

Matching YA biographies with teen readers

If you work in public libraries, you're probably familiar with the habits of adult biography readers. Some love doorstopper tomes about dead presidents, some devour dishy celebrity tell-alls, and some are intrigued by the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people. Adult biography readers typically know what they like, and they're not shy about asking for it.

The same can't be said for teens, however. There's no recognizable archetype of a teen biography reader. In my experience, I have come across curious teens trying to expand their perspectives, fixated teens on a deep dive into a single subject, and precocious teens who've skipped directly to adult biographies. But a lot of teens don't even consider biographies or memoirs for pleasure reading, and many are skittish about reading them for school. And for those teens, the best thing you can do is create opportunities for them to discover that biographies don't have to be boring. Young adult biographies can be inventive, affirming, mind-blowing, heartbreaking, or inspiring (sometimes all at once!), but it may take a little extra effort to match them with the right readers.

The simplest way to facilitate biography discovery for teens is something you're probably doing already: displays. Whether it's a dedicated biography and memoir display or the careful inclusion of biographies in mixed-genre displays, it's always helpful to liberate YA biographies from the stacks and get them in front of readers. The same tactic can work in one-on-one readers' advisory, too. When teens come in looking for the latest juicy thriller, offer them books about real-life criminals and conspiracies as well. Fans of heart-tugging or hard-hitting realistic fiction may enjoy those same qualities in memoirs, especially ones that focus on the author's teen years. Teens struggling with (or obsessing over) curriculum-staple classics might appreciate the context offered by biographies of classic authors or other famous figures from the same time periods. And teen graphic novel devotees are already primed to enjoy graphic biographies or memoirs.

Finally, when it comes to the teen readers who actually ask you for biographies, you can depend on NoveList Plus or NoveList Plus K-8 to help you zero in on the right read. Get started with the search strategies below.

Search tips for finding YA biographies and memoirs

 To start, copy and paste GX "Autobiographies and memoirs" OR GX "Biographies" into the NoveList Plus search bar, then use the Refine Results panel on the left to limit your results to the Teen audience level.

Next, talk with your teen patron about what they're looking for, and adjust your search using the following elements as needed:

Genres and subgenres:

GX "Autobiographical comics" OR GX "Biographical comics"

GX "Adult books for young adults"

GX "Narrative nonfiction for kids and teens"

GX "Collective biographies"

Author characteristics: 

Use AP "own voices" to find biographical books in which the author and subject share a marginalized identity.

You can also use the limiters at NoveList's Advanced Search page to search by specific author characteristics such as nationality, cultural identity, and gender.

Interested in learning more about readers’ advisory for teens? Subscribe to our TeenLit Book Squad newsletter.


Rebecca Honeycutt is a Readers' Advisory Librarian for NoveList. She is also a member of the Book Squad


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