Bec Kavanagh – Choosing Books for Your Classroom or Library

Bec Kavanagh has worked in the book industry for almost a decade, during which time she founded A Thousand Words Festival, a festival celebrating children’s books. Bec is a freelance writer and reviewer and speaks as a curriculum specialist for Booked Out Speakers Agency.

Choosing books is a tricky job. With limited budgets and time, how can you be sure that you’re choosing books that students will actually read?

Once upon a time genres were so broad that you could buy all the science fiction books in the world and yet still miss the mark with the type that kids are actually reading. But the last decade has seen a boom in more specific sub-genres, which are an ideal tool to use in the library. It is much easier to direct students to books you know they’ll like once you have identified the trends in their reading. Below are some genre guidelines to get you started.


What is it?

Steampunk has been around since the time of HG Wells and Jules Verne, and is a term used to describe a particular style in everything from fashion to fiction. It has really come into its own in YA fiction, however, and displays the following attributes:

  • Some elements of historical fiction – usually quite visual, for example setting and clothing, and usually of the old Victorian style.
  • The use of “dirigibles” which is a type of lighter-than-air aircraft (eg blimps)
  • Steam powered gadgets and transportation
  • Futuristic technologies

Who will enjoy it?

Traditional science fiction lovers will appreciate the otherworldliness of steampunk, as will readers who enjoy a good puzzle. The level of detail in steampunk makes for a gripping read. Lovers of fantasy and historical fiction may also find this genre appealing.

What books can I recommend?

Leviathan and Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Also check out the amazing book trailer for Leviathan on Scott Westerfeld’s blog if you’re not convinced.





Paranormal Romance

What is it?

Pretty self explanatory. This genre covers all of the books that incorporate dark brooding vampires, werewolves, fairies and all manner of paranormal creatures. The storylines in this genre are driven by a central romance, often forbidden or doomed in some way.

Who will enjoy it?

There are certain popular books in this genre that push the trend quite heavily towards teenage girls. That’s not to say that boys can’t and won’t read it, but they’re probably not the key audience. The plot is driven by the peaks in the romance, so will appeal to lovers of drama.

What books can I recommend?

The Morganville Vampires (series) by Rachel Caine, Vampire Academy (series) by Richelle Mead, The Caster Chronicles (series) by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl




Speculative Fiction

What is it?

Speculative fiction asks the big “what if?” questions. What if there were no women? What if space travel existed? What if your parents turned into zombies?

This genre encourages readers to take what they know of the world and imagine a life with some pretty significant changes.

Who will enjoy it?

Readers who like action will enjoy speculative fiction. As it often calls for a good imagination, this is a great genre for readers who have enjoyed fantasy but want to move away from the more traditional style. It is great for reluctant readers because of the high interest level.

What books can I recommend?

Across the Universe by Beth Revis, The Enemy (series) by Charlie Higson, TimeRiders (series) by Alex Scarrow



Historical Fiction

What is it?

Historical fiction has made a comeback in recent years, with a lot of romance lovers starting to turn back to the more traditional genre. This has encouraged a further love of more straightforward historical fiction as well. Historical fiction is obviously fiction with a historical setting, and is often quite visual, with descriptions of costume and setting used to differentiate the period of time from our own.

Who will enjoy it?

Historical fiction is great extension reading. A good way to get readers into the genre (especially girls) is through historical romance, which is normally lighter, and then this is a great segue to more traditional historical fiction. Strong readers will enjoy the detailed descriptions and rich atmosphere in this genre.

What books can I recommend?

The Luxe (series) by Anna Godbersen, The Valley of Blood and Gold by Tony Palmer, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, Scout by Nicole Pluss, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys






What is it?

Dystopian fiction is generally futuristic, speculative fiction set in a supposedly ‘utopian’ society. The point of dystopian fiction is to play on the drawbacks and darker elements of these societies where the control becomes extreme and starts impeding on the rights of the characters.

Who will enjoy it?

Kids who like political thrillers will love this. Dystopian fiction is perfect for any conspiracy theorist. This genre is great if you want to mix up the reading of any crime or mystery lovers.

What books can I recommend?

Matched by Ally Condie, Days Like This by Alison Stewart, Doppelganger by Michael Parker.

Want more suggestions for your students?  Email and we’ll answer your questions on the blog.

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