YA Anthologies: Discovering and Using New Collections For Teen Readers

In the last few years, there's been a rise in YA anthologies hitting shelves, and the trend isn't slowing down. Librarians weigh in on these books' popularity and how to use them in schools and public programming.

Although anthologies for young adult readers have always been around, there’s been a rise in the number of collections hitting shelves in the last few years. We’ve seen modern updates to classic Edgar Allen Poe tales in His Hideous Heart, edited by Dahlia Adler; stories centered around the cultural importance of food in Hungry Hearts, edited by Caroline Tung Richmond and Elsie Chapman; and an exploration of the vast experiences of growing up black in America in Black Enough, edited by Ibi Zoboi. In nonfiction, Our Stories, Our Voices, edited by Amy Reed, is about growing up female in America, and my own anthologies—Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and (Don’t) Call Me Crazy—cover feminism and mental health.

With the promise of more excellent YA anthologies coming in the future, it’s easy to wonder why they’ve grown in popularity and where and how teachers and librarians are using them with teen readers.

 

Why Anthologies Are Gaining Popularity

Because anthologies allow for a breadth of voices to share their stories—fictional, lived, or a creative blend of both—they are the perfect space for discovering new writers and highlighting diverse experiences. Nonprofit advocacy group We Need Diverse Books develops anthologies that are inclusive of authors and experiences, noting specifically that these short story collections are meant to be school friendly. Fresh Ink , edited by Lamar Giles, includes a slate of entries that are meant to break literary conventions; middle grade anthology The Hero Next Door, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich,  offers up stories of bravery.

Katie Polley, Teen Librarian with the Dakota County Library System, says that patrons are seeking inclusive stories like the ones presented in these collections. “Books centering on identity and all its facets, both fiction and nonfiction...is something that’s at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds right now,” she says.

Polley notes that, currently, anthologies that showcase a wealth of voices are seeing more interest among her readers than single-author collections that are companions to existing series. “Tie-in fiction (short stories set in a known universe) don’t seem to be as popular as they were a few years ago; I suspect it’s because the people reading those books have aged out of the series and don’t care enough to come back to the novellas, and the series itself may not resonate with current teens,” she says.

Gail Meyer, Library Director at Thornton Fractional South High School (IL), sees both styles of anthologies connecting with her readers. “I think teens like to revisit the worlds they’ve come to love, in regards to anthologies like the one from ‘The Selection’ series by Kiera Cass,” she says. “I see teens gravitating towards stand-alone anthologies, such as Black Enough (which is a popular one in our library) because they like the shorter stories and the multiple viewpoints.” She says that she can find promoting anthologies challenging, not because of content but because teens aren’t always familiar with the term “anthology.” Rather, calling these collections “short stories” has been helpful, particularly in connecting less confident readers with these books.

Pernille Ripp, a middle school teacher in Wisconsin, finds anthologies to be a powerful tool in her classroom, as they bring more voices and perspectives to a topic being studied.

“I use anthologies a lot because I need more inclusive, current short stories to use as mentor texts with my students,” she says. “Having these anthologies edited around certain topics or marginalized voices allows me to expand the worldviews of my students, as well as immerse them in rich text.”

Another appealing factor of YA anthologies is that the selections are shorter and easier to digest than a novel. “The stories are often the perfect length; long enough for a commitment to the story to be developed, while short enough to be discussed and studied by all,” Ripp says. “We use these anthologies throughout the year and they are also offered as reading material for students. Some are starting to reclaim the short story reading experience as they seek inspiration in their own writing and also seek to increase their reading stamina.”

Polley agrees. “Shorter pieces are easier to consume, whether it’s because you’re lacking time or that you’re lacking the confidence to sit down and read a 900-page tome,” she says. “Plus you can pick and choose the pieces that interest you, be it just one or everything.”

Julie Dorn, Selection Manager at Dakota County Libraries, thinks that anthologies fit in with the other demands on teens’ time. “With the rise of more screen time and Youtube, the attention span of readers has changed,” she says. “Young readers may not be able to sustain the concentration needed for an entire book and may want shorter stories instead that they can put down and pick up easier.”

Still, these books aren’t always an easy sell to teens. Beth Schaum, a librarian at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School (MI), finds getting these books to readers difficult, unless there’s an easy hook. “Unfortunately, I just haven't found much success in my school library with anthologies yet,” she says. “The couple that I have found success with are Hope Nation [edited by Rose Brock] because my students at my last school loved Jason Reynolds and he was in that anthology, and (Don't) Call Me Crazy because kids are clamoring to talk about mental health issues.”

In other cases, librarians are seeing more young people picking up anthologies by choice, though the increased reading of these books may be because more are available, not that more are available because of a demand for them.

 

How Are Anthologies Being Used in Libraries and Classrooms?

Because of their inclusive nature, as well as the length of entries within a collection, anthologies offer opportunities to expose teen readers to a wide variety of styles and voices in a single book. Likewise, many anthologies discuss bigger social issues, reframe classics used in the classroom, and tie into popular reading among teens.

His Hideous Heart CoverDahlia Adler, editor of His Hideous Heart and the forthcoming That Way Madness Lies, an anthology that reimagines Shakespeare, believes the fact that every anthology serves a different audience is part of what makes them appealing. “For His Hideous Heart and That Way Madness Lies, I think there's no target more perfect than the classroom, and I really hope teachers find and use them to help make classic literature more interesting, inclusive, and accessible,” she says.

While many anthologies come with strong reviews, drawing attention to them can be difficult for many librarians.

“The biggest challenge is finding a place for these books,” says Pamela Groseclose, former Teen Specialist at Wichita Public Library (KS). “They are so important, and I think they get buried in the collection. It's almost as if [anthologies are] booming too quickly for libraries to find a place in the collection for them. I would love to do a display, and it is challenging to have enough anthologies to keep the display filled.”

As much as anthologies can be challenging in a collection, they also offer opportunities: libraries can connect these titles with other programs and use them for reader’s advisory along with popular books in the community. Dorn used Nic Stone’s Dear Martin in a community program at her public library and subsequently saw Black Enough rise in popularity, as both titles deal with topics of social justice and the political realities of being black in America.

In my own experience as a teen librarian, I found anthologies to be an excellent resource when working in conjunction with local schools. In addition to being valuable for short story units, they can be an excellent curriculum complement. Turning titles face-out on shelves, creating small displays (even on shelf end caps with images of book covers), and making booklists can be easy and effective ways to highlight these books. Bookmarks or reader’s advisory guides included inside popular books could help highlight anthologies that readers can turn to next—or while they’re waiting for their holds to arrive.

Another idea? Consider a short story book club or reading challenge, perhaps baked into existing programs, including Summer Reading Clubs. The format lends itself to great discussion, and the length of the pieces can encourage readers who might otherwise struggle with an entire book to get involved.

 

What Would Libraries Like To See?Black Enough cover

Despite some of the challenges that arise with YA anthologies in libraries, there is a continued demand for more of them, and librarians agree that they’d like more focused on social justice, teen activism, and diverse life experiences. These are among the most popular in libraries, as teens see themselves in these stories.

Groseclose hopes for more books that speak to specific identities and experiences. “My community could use one about being Hispanic in the U.S., immigration, and teen advocacy,” she says.

Dorn, too, hopes to find more YA collections that delve into current teen issues. “I’ve seen a few anthologies about LGBTQ+ [lives] and disabilities, which is nice,” she says. “I’d love to see more about overcoming adversity, like characters dealing with parents in prison, rough childhoods, addiction, but still finding success, as well as #OwnVoices stories. We also get asked for action/adventure and mysteries in teen.”

Ripp emphasized that there’s a hole for younger teen readers in the anthology world, and she’d love to see more titles with younger YA fans in mind. “I think one of the obstacles for us is that the YA anthologies sometimes have a few stories that are too mature to use with all kids in our middle schools; those then sit in the closet and are just brought up for the specific stories,” she says. “And yet my seventh graders yearn for more mature topics, so finding that balance between mature but not too mature is hard at times. I would love to see more anthologies speaking to the LGBTQ+ experience for early teens.”

The demand for YA anthologies doesn’t appear to be waning, and neither are the titles set to be released in the next couple of years. But this rise in their availability, as well as the range of voices and experiences being shared within, are likely to give more opportunity for librarians and educators to connect them to readers.

“I am so grateful for the stories that are being handed to us to teach,” says Ripp. “I am so grateful for the commitment of changing the narrative of what my students are exposed to. I truly believe that due to the exposure to many of these short stories, their perception of what the world looks like changes for the better.”

 


Kelly Jensen is a former teen librarian who worked in several public libraries before pursuing a full-time career in writing and editing. Her current position is with Book Riot, where she focuses on talking about young adult literature in all of its manifestations. Her books include Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World and (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, which was named a best book of 2018 by the Washington Post and earned a Schneider Family Book Award Honor. Her third anthology Body Talk, a collection about the physical and political nature of the human body, is upcoming in Fall 2020.

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