1. Who is this website for?
2. What is reader’s advisory?
3. Is this a review site?
4. Why is it called “Flashlight Chronicles”?
5. Why do you mention mature content? Do you support censorship?
6. How do you decide your grade recommendations?
7. Why do you sometimes mention the gender or gender identity of readers?
8. Why do you mention when a book has (insert controversial topic here)?
9. Can I contribute to the site?
Who is this website for?
Anyone! I created it because I saw a need for more resources for librarians and other educators serving middle school readers. You will see this in some of my entries. But I hope teens, kids, parents, and anyone else who visits finds it useful too.
What is reader’s advisory?
Reader’s advisory is what we librarians call the practice of recommending books to someone based on their personal interests.
Is this a review site?
Not really. This site is all about taste. I don’t rate books, and I almost never make judgements on a book’s quality. The entries here say what is in a book, and suggest who might like it and who might not. We all know that bad books can be liked by a lot of people. What I consider quality is in many cases irrelevant to the practice of recommending a reader a book I think they will like. If I dislike a book so much that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, I don’t include it on this site.
Why is it called “Flashlight Chronicles”?
The name is an homage to all the subversive readers who risk crabby mornings, failing eyesight, and parental ire to read by flashlight late into the night. I know a lot of young people who do this, and I did it too, both to keep my parents from noticing how late I was staying up and because I shared a room with my sister. (I would also read anywhere there was light, including the hallway floor and on extremely long trips to the bathroom, but that’s another story.) I hope this site helps readers find those flashlight-worthy books.
Why do you mention mature content? Do you support censorship?
Absolutely NOT. I’m an active opponent of censorship in all forms.
Quick definition: censorship is attempting to prevent others from accessing information–in this case, a book. This is usually done by trying to remove a book from a library or classroom, so that it becomes difficult to access. Adults have the right to read whatever they want. For minors, the child and their parents or guardians together have the right to decide what the child reads. No one else has a right to try to stop that kid from reading something.
I mention mature content because it is one of many factors readers consider when choosing a book to read. Many parents like to decide what they feel is appropriate for their children, and less known but equally significant is self-censorship exercised by young people. I see kids reject a book they consider too mature for them all the time. (I remember doing this myself in 7th grade; I stopped reading a book because I was uncomfortable with some sexual content.) Often, parents and kids will ask a librarian about mature content, and it’s the librarian’s job to provide a factual and non-judgmental answer. Teachers and librarians often find information on mature content helpful in deciding whether to recommend a book as a good fit for a particular reader, or whether it is a good fit for a particular classroom.
All of these are perfectly legitimate activities. Discussing mature content and using it to make decisions about your own or your child’s reading is fine. Using knowledge of mature content to inform what you choose to recommend to a reader is fine. But controlling or judging the reading choices of others (besides one’s own children) is wrong.
In keeping with this policy, I don’t offer readers at my library my opinion on what content is appropriate for them—unless they ask me for it. Then, I tell them this: personally I believe it is good for kids to experience challenging content in books. They are going to experience sex, drugs, violence, swearing, etc. in their lives—probably sooner rather than later. Books are a safe place to explore tough topics. They take the mystery, and thus much of the charm, out of risky behaviors. Usually they demonstrate the negative effects of dangerous behaviors, and they do it using narrative, which elicits an emotional response from the reader. If a parent reads the book as well and the two discuss the content, that’s even better.
But even if a parent is super strict with what they let their kid read and I disagree with that, I don’t try to change their mind unprompted. That is not my job. My job is to help that parent and kid find a book that meets whatever criteria they are looking for in a book.
How do you decide your grade recommendations?
I use a combination of interest, reading level, complexity of the ideas and text, and mature content. Obviously, what counts as “mature” content is subjective. I try to go with what I have observed to be the average age at which parents and kids are comfortable exploring particular content. I consult professional journals such as School Library Journal, Publishers’ Weekly, and Kirkus to see if my age recommendations match up with their opinions on it.
Currently I work in a fairly conservative community, so my suggestions may skew a little older. Please note that I am NOT saying that readers younger or older than the suggested age range should not read the book. That is up to the reader and their parents. In some ways I’m tempted not to include an age recommendation at all, but they are so convenient in making reading and recommendation decisions that for now at least, I’ve decided to include them.
Content that will raise a title’s maturity rating in my reviews: strong language; sexual language and activity; violence; disturbing or scary content; underage use of drugs or alcohol, especially in a casual or flippant manner.
Content that will NOT raise a title’s maturity rating in my reviews: commentary or opinion on a controversial topic; the presence of LGBTQA+ characters; the presence of mental illness or addiction in a character; character death or reflection on death.
Why do you sometimes mention the gender or gender identity of readers?
There are no such things as “boy books” or “girl books,” and the day we flush those notions down the toilet can’t come too soon.
Unfortunately, that day has not come yet. And even if stigma does go away, maybe there will still be trends in gender preferences; we could get into a long nature vs. nurture debate about this topic. In any case, we can all agree that at this time, in general, girls often prefer certain things in books and boys often prefer certain things in books.This knowledge can help us match the right reader with the right book in some instances. For example, when dealing with a reluctant reader who isn’t very good at verbalizing preferences, it may be best to stick with the safer suggestions to get the kid hooked, because turning a kid off of reading doesn’t help anything. Then, once the kid has realized that reading can be fun, you will have fertile ground to make suggestions that branch out from the reader’s comfort zone. Knowing whether a book has “boy appeal” or “girl appeal” in our current cultural climate does not necessarily mean promoting any stereotypes. This knowledge can be used to break down stereotypes–about whether reading is fun, and about what kind of kids should read what kind of books.
While what they read is ultimately up to the reader and their parents, I do take care not to contribute to the problem of young people refusing a book simply because it is about someone of another gender, particularly the problem of boys not wanting to read about girls. It’s not my place to tell a boy “you should read more books about girls” unless my opinion is asked; however, when I suggest books I present multiple options, and I take care to include books with all different types of characters. Often, readers with these biases don’t look t0o deeply at books that don’t match their gender preferences, so they don’t realize that a book is a perfect match for their interests until an enthusiastic librarian tells them about it.
Why do you mention when a book has (insert controversial topic here)?
This questions could apply to any controversial topic. The most common one I deal with is LGBTQA+ issues, but some other examples are religious issues, race issues, feminist issues, and serious discussions of difficult topics such as rape.
For clarity, I will use LGBTQA+ as my controversial topic in this answer. Feel free to replace it with any other controversial topic.
Note that controversial does not equal mature. The presence of a gay couple in a book may be controversial, but it is not an example of mature content. Sexual activity is considered mature content, but the genders of those participating in the activity are irrelevant to a discussion of content maturity.
One simple reason to announce LGBTQA+ content in a book is that many people want to read books about this topic, so this can help identify it for them.
Then there are those who do not want to read about LGBTQA+ issues (or, insert other controversial topic here). It may be because they disapprove of the topic, or it may be some other reason. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. In fact, the reason is none of my business unless the person chooses to share it. My job is to provide non-judgmental information and recommendations to patrons who ask for it. Singling out a patron for a reading habit I disagree with would be inappropriate. If I hand a book with a particular controversial topic to a person I know will not like this content, that is not helping anyone. It will not change their mind about the controversial topic, and it could make them avoid the library, avoid reading, spread negative messages about the library, or challenge the book. People have the right to believe what they want to believe and feel safe and comfortable in the library. This applies to all people of all beliefs (even beliefs I personally find extremely distasteful).
Do I think librarians should be advocates? Of course! Create LGBTQA+ displays, booklists, and programs. Include LGBTQA+ options in your booktalks. When you’ve read an LGBTQA+ book you love, tell people about it. When making suggestions to someone who has not indicated a preference for or against LGBTQA+ characters, include titles with a variety of types of characters. Let patrons know you accept everyone. If patrons complain about LGBTQA+ content, inform them that your library includes books for all types of readers and they may choose what to read and what not to read, and you are happy to help them find a book that fits their preferences. These are ways you can support LGBTQA+ kids and teens without calling out those who disagree. You’re a lot more likely to change minds this way, too.
Can I contribute to the site?
Right now it’s just me, but I’d definitely be open to chatting with anyone interested in contributing. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.