Libraries have played an important part in the development of my sense of justice and my social consciousness. In my teens I used to read books by Black authors of the Harlem Renaissance: writers like Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, James Weldon Johnson, and Countee Cullen. Nobody assigned me these books. Nobody told me about them. Somehow, in browsing the library’s shelves, I came upon these books and was interested in what they had to say.
Of course I was only one of millions of teens who, then and now, rely on library books to introduce them to the world in its many aspects, from natural sciences through philosophy through powerful fiction. Reading books (which, unlike articles, are generally much deeper and richer and nuanced) is important to a person’s emotional and intellectual growth. As libraries are under attack by those who want to block our access to certain books (because they want to block our avenues of thinking), it’s more important than ever to support libraries and librarians and fight against censorship.
City of Light Publishing, publisher of The F Words, is a strong supporter of public libraries and freedom of speech. (See their title, Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn.) In June of 2022 City of Light Publishing attended the American Library Association’s annual conference, ALA 2022, in Washington, D.C., where they featured five of their recent titles: Free Speech and Why You Should Give a Damn, by Jonathan Zimmerman; New Girl, by Kate McCarroll Moore; The Cayuga Island Kids series, by Judy Bradbury; Kite to Freedom, by Kathleen A. Dinan, and my YA novel, The F Words. Of course City of Light was there to represent all its titles, not just these featured five. But the five featured are books that support diversity, tolerance, intellectual curiosity, and political action — books that librarians sorely need in their collection so that young people in particular can read fiction and nonfiction that reflects the desire for and desirability of tolerance and equality.
There are 9,000 public libraries in the US. In addition, there are about 21,000 high school libraries. Adding the two together equals 30,000 libraries which could (and should, I believe) acquire The F Words and other City of Light titles for their patrons.
Some of the librarians from the network of libraries were at the ALA Conference, the largest gathering of librarians in the US. What did these librarians learn about The F Words? When it comes to teen fiction, what are these librarians looking for?
Well, according to what City of Light Publishing experienced at the ALA Conference, the aspects of The F Words that immediately created interest were these:
- that it’s a “boy’s book” in that the protagonist is male and the story is told from his point of view
- that it’s a “boy’s book” and the protagonist participates in high school sports
- that it’s a “boy’s book” and the protagonist writes poetry
- that it’s concerned with many different levels of social justice
It is important for everyone, but particularly young people, to be able to see themselves in stories. Thus stories told from a girl’s or woman’s point of view, a boy’s or man’s point of view, a gay or lesbian or trans point of view, a Black or Latino point of view (and so on) are so welcomed by librarians, and so needed by young people everywhere.
More girls than boys read YA fiction. Is that because boys don’t read as much as girls do, crave other things more than they crave literature? Is it because so much YA is written from a girl’s point of view? Whatever the reason, the fact is that teachers and librarians understand how vital literature is to human growth and understanding (of ourselves and others), and so they want a wide choice of books with male protagonists (just as they want a wide choice with female protagonists).
This is one of the main reasons why librarians were excited by The F Words — because it’s told from a boy’s point of view — and because from that point of view it combines thematic elements whose combination should pique reader interest: social justice, poetry, and sports.
I’m so glad that my publisher was able to attend the ALA Conference and talk to librarians one-on-one about why they should be interested in The F Words. And I hope that in many different libraries across the country a teen is browsing fiction, sees The F Words, pulls it off the shelf, and checks it out.
The F Words is available wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.