May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Serving Conservative Teens

Illustration by James Steinberg

Illustration by James Steinberg

When we think about being inclusive in our library service, are we truly taking all perspectives into consideration? Given the important conversation about diversity, I have been wondering recently if librarians need more support in serving their young conservative patrons well.

The word “conservative” has all kinds of baggage. It’s an imperfect term, but it’s the closest description for the kind of teen patron, usually a religious young person, that I’m talking about. “Traditional” can imply the view that there’s one fixed way of doing things, which I don’t believe. “Religious” leaves out patrons who enjoy books with a secular perspective.

Conservative teens

In the end, “conservative” seems accurate to describe my subject here: teens who prefers not to read about certain kinds of things—sex, drug use, and teens who are perceived as being bad influences—in their recreational reading. Other types of conservative voices might get themselves into trouble with libraries by demanding that books be removed from these public spaces due to religiously motivated concerns. My patrons, however, may not be asking you to remove anything. Rather, they might simply request that you include more titles from different perspectives.

These teens may not read much of anything from the YA area, either. They might voluntarily skip from the children’s room to reading “classics” such as Jane Austen books, not realizing that the YA section also contains great choices. These adolescents may even have become convinced that the public library is not for people like them.

It doesn’t have to be that way, particularly given the current passion with which youth librarians have embraced the call for more diverse titles and perspectives. This isn’t about getting “special” books for religious youth. Great titles for conservative teens are probably already in your collection—you just need to know what to look for.

My diverse team

Along with a group of colleagues from different religious backgrounds, I’ve started making presentations to teachers and librarians about the conservative voices in their communities. I’m a PhD student in Information Science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a teacher of conservative teens at Kolbe Online Academy, an Internet-based junior and senior high serving homeschooled families. My colleagues are Dorene Alama, Rabia Davis, and Zaynab Martin, all Muslim teachers from the Charlotte (NC) Islamic School. My friend Beth Meister, a teacher-librarian and Orthodox Jew from the Milwaukee (WI) Jewish Day School, rounds out our group. Some of us are converts, and other were raised in our current faiths.

How did such an eclectic group get together under one banner? It began when my academic adviser, Laretta Henderson, who teaches multicultural literature to teachers and librarians, suggested that I consider presenting a program at the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) YA Literature Symposium in Austin, TX, in November, 2014. The symposium’s theme was “Keeping it Real: Finding the True Teen Experience in YA Literature,” and it intrigued me.

When working on my MLIS thesis, I explored literacy at the Catholic, urban middle school where I used to teach. Some of the students, now teachers themselves, thought that the library could have used more books that were “culturally relevant” to them. In other words, they wanted more books about Latinas. I asked a graduate, whom I’ll call Araceli, if she would have read these books if they were available when she attended. She thought a bit and said that she wouldn’t have, because she thought that the options for books about Latina teens in the early 2000s were somewhat limited. (More recent titles with Latino characters and conservative story lines include Donna Freitas’s Gold Medal Summer [Scholastic] and Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Summer of the Mariposas [Lee & Low, both 2012], among others.)

SLJ1503_ConservTeens-PQPersonal values and ethnic focus

“I’m not in a gang, and I’m not a migrant farmer!” Araceli told me, referring to some of the prevailing Latino themes in books for young people available to her. Was her arrival from Mexico more relevant than that she was a quiet, bookish, Catholic teen? It was difficult to find a book that matched her reality: a Latina Midwestern Catholic middle school student who got good grades and stayed out of trouble. She felt that she had to choose between reading about Latinas or about non-Latina teens who were like her in other ways.

Araceli typically opted for fantasy and fun stories about intelligent protagonists. She and her friends borrowed one of the “Three Investigators” mystery books, created by Robert Arthur, and got so excited that they set off to make a code of their own to serve as a treasure hunt. She also liked “stretch” titles—books about people not like herself. She enjoyed the Logan family’s adventures in Mildred D. Taylor’s novels, including Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial, 1976), and learned to “disturb the universe” with Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (Pantheon, 1974) during my eighth grade religion class.

I remembered that many of my students gravitated toward older YA titles, such as Lurlene McDaniel’s Six Months to Live (Willowisp, 1985), featuring teens who were obsessed with a first kiss, not going to bed with someone. Sure, some liked “gritty” books, describing a bleak teen experience in frank terms. But more often, my students picked up more middle grade books than ones with scenes about sex, drugs, or violence, even though I had a wide range of titles in my library.

Connection among faiths

Thinking about how to develop a booklist for conservative teens, I considered my friend Beth’s stories. She is a born school librarian who loves passing on her love of books. Since her father helped create several Jewish schools in Milwaukee and her mother taught in public schools, she has always had something interesting to share about education and how people select books.

Beth had told me that it wasn’t unusual for Orthodox Jewish teens to skip the YA section. Struck by our similar experiences, I spoke about my idea with Zaynab, a teacher and my new “work bestie.” She had similar concerns about teens avoiding YA lit, and suggested that her Muslim colleagues Dorene and Rabia join our conversation.

“Kosher books” with broad relevance

The more we talked, the more we found we had in common. Beth showed me a “Kosher books list,” begun by two Orthodox Jewish parents, listing areas of concern in titles their children wanted to read. It resonated with Zaynab and me, though our Catholic and Muslim students might have different specific issues.

As librarians, our job is to help young people find the right book for who they are now, without judgment. If we do, they’ll know that we will be there for them later—supporting their choice to read something they previously avoided. We felt blessed to have the opportunity to share our commonalities, and differences, with teachers and librarians who might not know how to serve our communities. And you’d be surprised what you can learn from your conservative teens.

Plan Inclusive Displays, and Other Tips

Be aware of the big issues. Here are the areas likely to cause friction for some teens:

• Boy/girl relationships (even socializing may not be appropriate, depending on faith)

• Unrepentant characters (the bad kid who doesn’t change)

• Language (for some teens, this may include words like “stupid” or “dummy”)

• Violence

• Drugs/alcohol

Know your collection. If you don’t, you can’t know what to recommend.

Think “right age,” not “stretch age.” Many students gravitate toward books about characters who are older. Try characters closer in chronological age to your patron. Often, the big “issues” will become nonissues.

Plan inclusive displays. A display about Muslims, much like one about gay and lesbian teens, might create an unintended barrier for some teens who think, “this section is not for me.” Create displays that are inclusive, such as Valentine’s selections that include books about chaste dating and arranged marriages alongside ones about gay and lesbian couples. Everyone really is invited to browse.

Consider an “in-between” section. We have “easy readers” for the kids who move past picture books, but aren’t ready for chapter books. Why not have “older middle grade” novels that can invite tweens to get “close” to the YA section? They can transition further when they feel ready.

Avoid school stories. When you’re getting to know someone, suggest mysteries, fantasy stories, and historical fiction rather than contemporary fiction. Typically, if characters are busy saving the kingdom, they’re not engaging in romance (or intense romance). Try these, until you learn the nuances of a reader’s preferences.

Be careful what you weed! A lot of “oldies” are loved by conservative teens. They can get very excited about Lloyd Alexander titles, for instance.

Don’t toss the baby with the bathwater. Let’s say there are a few pages in a book with content that the patron would find offensive. Let him or her know approximately where it is, what the content is generally (dating, drugs, sex, etc.), and mention why the book otherwise fits his or her needs. We all skip around in books. If a title is a great fit, there’s no harm done by skipping that passage. Being open about problem passages, you respect the teen’s choices and autonomy without censoring yourself.

Great Titles for Conservative Teens

Dating and boy-girl relationships are often a given in YA fare. While Christian teens don’t mind “chaste dating,” or dating where the kiss is as far as it goes, Muslim and Orthodox Jewish teens may not date at all—at least not in the way contemporary society expects. So boy-girl relationships can be problematic. Areas that are usually acceptable are genre books such as historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Also, younger teen/middle grade titles, including some on this list, are less likely to include serious dating.

Finally, consider how things work out in the end. Often a “bad teen” who learns from his or her mistakes is OK. So if you have a Muslim teen like Amal in Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Does My Head Look Big in This? (Orchard, 2005) attending drinking parties but later choosing to stop attending, drinking, and dating herself, it might be appropriate. Unfortunately, such a book can be controversial to families who believe that choosing to wear hijab means always making appropriate decisions.

This list is just a start. What books and magazines have religious teens gravitated to in your library? Join the conversation in the comments section.


Realistic Fiction

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? (Orchard, 2005)

Carlson, Melody. “Carter House Girls” series (Zondervan) Note: includes some drinking/partying.

Clipston, Amy. Roadside Assistance; Reckless Heart; and Destination Unknown (Zondervan; 2011, 2012, 2014)

Ellis, Deborah. Breadwinner (Groundwood, 2000) and sequels

Frank, Christian M., and others. “John Paul 2 High” series (Chesterton)

Lockhart, E. We Were Liars. (Delacorte, 2014) Note: some light romance and talk of sex in a very bookish way.

Weiss, Rebecca Bratten and Regina Doman. Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Debut (Regina Dorman, 2012)

Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin, 2014)


Aiken, Joan. “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” series (Doubleday)

Raskin, Ellen. The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues and The Westing Game (Dutton; 1975, 1978)

Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial, 1976) and shorter works

Historical Fiction

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Chains (S. & S., 2008)

Nixon, Joan Lowery. A Family Apart (Gareth Stevens, 2000)

Park, Linda Sue. The Kite Fighters; A Single Shard (Clarion; 2000, 2001)

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Esperanza Rising (Scholastic, 2000) Note: some romance toward end.

Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday Wars (Clarion, 2007)

Vanderpool, Clare. Moon Over Manifest (Delacorte, 2010)

Wood, Mary Rose. “The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place” series (HarperCollins)


Anderson, M.T. “The Norumbegan Quartet” series (Scholastic)

Bloor, Edward, Tangerine (Harcourt, 1997). Note: for high school students.

Colfer, Eoin. “Artemis Fowl” series (Hyperion)

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Running Out of Time (S. & S., 1995)

Nixon, Joan Lowery. Whispers from the Dead (Laurel-Leaf, 1989)

Roberts, Willo Davis. What Could Go Wrong; Hostage; The Kidnappers; and The One Left Behind (S. & S.; 2000, 1998, 2006, 1989)

Stewart, Trenton Lee. “The Mysterious Benedict Society” series (Little, Brown)

Bergren, Lisa Tawn. “The Remnants” series (Blink)

Dickerson, Melanie. All books

Doman, Regina. “Fairy Tale” series (Ignatius) Note: Rapunzel Let Down is best for older high schoolers.

DuPrau, Jeanne. The “Ember” series (Random) Note: book three delves into religious issues in a not-so-flattering way.

Ibbotson, Eva. All books except The Secret of Platform 13 (Dutton, 1998), due to nudity

Jacques, Brian. “Redwall” series (Philomel)

Key, Alexander. Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain (both Westminster, 1968)

Lewis, C. S. “The Chronicles of Narnia” (Macmillan) Note: Some families have trouble with Lewis’s Christian message.

Park, Linda Sue. Archer’s Quest (Clarion, 2006)

Treskillard, Robert. “The Merlin Spiral” series (Zondervan)

Wright, Betty Ren. “Ghost” stories (Scholastic)

Nicole Jenks May is a PhD student in the Information Science program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and also teaches for Kolbe Online Academy.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Joseph Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. It is one I’ve been thinking about since hearing about the need for Diverse Books.

  2. I really like Joan Bauer for this purpose! She wrote Hope was Here, which was a Newbery Honor, as well as Peeled and Squashed. Her books often have no or gentle romance and teens who are more focused on their families, communities and hobbies than parties. I also think of her as an excellent bridge author between middle grade and YA. For historical fiction, Hattie Big Sky and Hattie Ever After by Larson Kirby are great, and for fantasy, it is hard to beat Robin McKinley.

    • Joan Bauer and the Hattie books have been on my to-read list FOREVER…you just bumped them up on my priority list. I haven’t read McKinley in a while, but I have to say she knows how to keep a heroine busy. You can’t see her women sitting around talking about boys all day…unless she’s planning a strategy for how to save them!
      Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. Marie Bernadette says:

    As a public school librarian who does practice a faith, THANK YOU for acknowledging this. It can be hard for me to find books that fit the needs of my students, who are incredibly diverse in many ways, and still be within the guidelines for ‘public school’ needs (i.e., nothing too overtly religious). I hadn’t thought of some of the above books as ‘safe’ for more conservative kids but agree with many of your suggestions.

    • Thanks for the compliment! Some of the trick, as you know, is knowing the audience. As I said to my students when we read The Dollhouse Murders (their choice from a list I had), it is tricky to find a book that is spooky (they wanted spooky) that 1) meets your families’ guidelines about what is and is not okay (some families at my school have no problem with Harry Potter and their kids LOVE him but we have other families that don’t allow witchcraft) and 2) is not too scary (some of them never watch a scary movie and others do). That book is appropriate for fourth or fifth-graders typically so I knew it would be okay for my 7th/8th graders. You have to finesse a little bit. I imagine in a public school environment it gets trickier as people wonder why you read a “baby book” (especially if Accelerated Reader is involved!), but every book its reader, right?

  4. Cheryl Kerwin says:

    I’ve always thought that Christian Fiction in general is a great fit for conservative teens. The teens in my church read books by authors such as Francine Rivers, Susan May Warren, Joel C. Rosenberg, Left Behind, Lisa Wingate, DiAnn Mills and many more. Don’t be scared to suggest Christian Fiction to the teens that frequent your Library.

    • One of the tricks with the Christian fiction is it’s sometimes quite OVERTLY Christian and often from a Protestant perspective which can be a bit too much at times. The trick is to figure out which ones are from a Christian world view, for example, without proselytizing and the best books (as it sounds like you know!) don’t do that. Thanks for the suggestions! I’m weaker on Protestant Christianity and so this list will help us all to see the range of titles.

      • As a teen Christian reader, I loved books like Catherine Marshall’s Christy, but had trouble finding other books as well-written and challenging. Too many “Christian” books have only that Christian label as a selling point. When I was a young teacher, a Christian student pressed me to read a Janette Oke book she loved. I hated it because the plot was some young folks decided to go west (from where? to where? was this in the 1840s or 1880s?) and drove a while and then stopped and settled. The vagueness drove me crazy.

        • I completely agree…and thanks SO much for bringing that one up! Christy IS special. I finally listened to it on audio last year (great narration by Kellie Martin, by the way) and it was really good. When I got done, I gushed over it with Zaynab and she mentioned she intends to give it a try. The power of teaching and service crosses religious boundaries so that Christy happens to be Christian and at a mission is not the full story but neither is she ashamed to be Protestant Christian. I think it’s a great “stretch book” that might work with other faiths to learn about what Protestant Christianity is (or was) like. But you’re right; some of the Christian books only appeal to those who already practice that faith and even then, sometimes they’re just not that GOOD. I think this is a really important faith: we need more diverse books in terms of religion…but they ought to be really good ones!

    • Actually some Christian fiction can be quite offensive to conservative teens and/or readers. There is an occasional mention of God but the rest of the content can actually make the reader squirm as there are repeated references to sex and even graphic descriptions of kissing which are considered no-nos for some conservative teens.
      These are the same teens who are taught that dating is with a chaperon until after saying “I do” and that the closest contact that you have before marriage is holding hands and kissing is an absolute out of the realm of possibilities situation until after the marriage ceremony is completed.
      I for one was raised this way and believe me when I say some Christian titles can cross the comfort zone for some conservative teens.

      Melanie Dickerson, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Janette Oke, Gilbert Morris, Suzanne Woods, Fisher, Bryan Davis, Davis Bunn, Michael Phillips, C.S. Lewis (though not his Space Trilogy), Tolkien, and George MacDonald are usually safe suggestions for this specific reader depending on the genre that they are looking for. These authors have believable characters and settings and don’t broadcast the story and it’s outcome within the first 20 or so pages.

      • Great point about the huge variety that exists within faiths (and subpoint about the less-than-stellar writing in some Christian fiction).

        Beth had this amazing story about the lengthy discussion about whether the courting scenes in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s These Happy Golden Years were appropriate for their Jewish community. After considerable debate, it was decided that Laura and Almanzo were dating in contemplation of marriage and that because Almanzo kissed Laura AFTER he had already talked to Pa AND she had agreed to marry Almanzo, these were signs that this was no casual date, but a serious pre-marriage situation and that kiss and going out alone were okay in this context, particularly since it was clear this was a Christian view of marriage.

        While teens don’t always go through such lengthy discussions, it does point out how many variations there are which is why the first few recommendations are so critical.

  5. Liz Mabey says:

    Great article. A lot of this thinking will also support elementary librarians looking for titles to suggest for 5th-graders who read very well but aren’t ready for heavy social topics.
    What about the word “modest” to describe readers who want to avoid sex, drugs, and violence in their reading? “Conservative” does indeed carry a lot of baggage, particularly in the area I work (SF Bay). In any case, thanks for focusing on this aspect of diversity!

    • That’s definitely true that advanced readers hit this problem quite a bit without particularly being a specific choice…great catch that elementary librarians could use the suggestions, too! Part of why I decided on “conservative” was because it does help paint a vivid enough picture. Being conservative isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a term….and we sort of laughed over it because of its political implications. We don’t all vote “conservative” but we ARE conservative. Modesty is something we religious types might fight amongst ourselves over. Is showing the hair modest, or not? Is wearing pants okay for being modest? I was surprised at all we had in common BUT the modesty thing…we disagree on!

      • Liz Mabey says:

        How funny, I guess this highlights the problem of labels at all…and a good reminder of the diversity within a “conservative” or “modest” community! More important than naming a group is that we just try to serve all our users with a wide range of good lit. This article will help!

  6. A much needed article!
    And I loved seeing Redwall, Artemis Fowl, and Mysterious Benedict Society on the list!

    • Thank you! They’re great titles that conservative teens can get passionate about. You should hear my junior high students go crazy over The Lord of the Rings, too. At a Catholic school, those books really get intense going-over for all the literary AND theological points and they surprise me how much they get out of those. And then, in the same breath, they’ll tell me about Redwall or Artemis or somesuch. It’s amazing how they jump from “children’s room” to “teen area” to “adult fantasy” in the same sentences!

  7. Vicky LaJesse says:

    Thank you for trying to help students whose choices are more modest – my daughter was one of those readers and in the public library where I work I try to find stand alone novels and series that more modest possibly conservative teenagers would feel comfortable reading. She has read “Hunger Games” Series – her favorite, “Divergent” Series, “Giver” books and “Matched” and has enjoyed all of them. Thanks for acknowledging the students who aren’t necessarily romantically involved, having crazy adventures or having lots of teen angst.

    • Thank you!
      The interesting thing about dystopia, is it can be surprisingly controversial. Hunger Games, for example, has kids killing kids. This can be a turn-off. Matched is particularly problematic within Orthodox Jewish or Muslim circles because it provides a warped view of arranged marriage, as if there is something inherently wrong with it on its face. That said, many of my students love ALL of those books, but there are some who similarly avoid them. They are great ones to use as “feel out” books and see if the teen has any strong feelings about them because they can be goldmines and they’re chock-full of discussable content. The same teens who typically are uncomfortable reading them alone, might be convinced to read them in a discussion group as long as they aren’t the only ones coming from a particular point of view. I’m envisioning Matched with Orthodox or Muslim teens being a very interesting library-sponsored book club or classroom discussion…

  8. Thank you for posting a list of titles to share and from which to glean. These teens and their families are often marginalized. I would like to suggest compiling a bibliography on a site that is accessible to interested educators. Please also add the Ranger’s Apprentice series to the list for moral choices and excellent writing. I also would like to add Red River of the North series by Lauraine Snelling, noting it’s Christian worldview, and the realistic portrayal of frontier life.

    • I’ve heard good things about Ranger’s apprentice. Thanks for noting the Christian worldview of Snelling…I’ll add it to my list of things to peruse. My dream scenario would be to get teachers and librarians from many faith traditions alongside secular ethics-types to do a website of lists and suggestions and this is a great place to start. So often when we talk about religious perspectives, the Christians dominate, but the more we can point out the types of books we all love, the easier it will be for public teachers and librarians to make the claim that we need diverse books for ALL of our “conservative” students, whatever their faith tradition. Given how things are in terms of world politics, I find it inspiring to know that teachers and librarians from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions can sit down and agree that we all love, say, Tuck Everlasting?

  9. Another good series for conservative teens who like fantasy/adventure is the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. There’s a little mild romance, lots of danger and excitement, and no language at all.

    • Thanks! I’ll add that one to my list too…it’s also been on the (too long) “to read” list forever. I am cursed with a desire to reread some of my old favorites so I never have enough time for all the new ones!

  10. A few years back, I taught a course at a suburban high school for college bound readers. I had an independent reading component where kids could choose, but I would encourage them to move up to more challenging texts. One senior girl, a very proficient reader, loved Francine Pascal’s Fearless series. I kept trying to move her on to more advanced stories of spies and intrigue until she finally told me she didn’t like “all that other stuff” in those books, by which she meant the sexual content. Like other experiences with students, it made me consider once again, the need to diversity my class library in many ways.

    • Thank you for your story. We get this message that “teens want” and “teens like” and sometimes we forget…some teens don’t. When we’re really listening, as you did, we learn that our teens can help remind us of their individuality and that they aren’t a monolith.

  11. Maddie Reed says:

    Why is Tangerine listed as a high school book? It is my favorite, absolute favorite book to use with my 7th graders! There is so much in this one book that it can be used for 1 full year..crossing over so many curricular areas…used in so many ways…please don’t relegate it to high school only. Read it first and decide for yourselves!

    • That’s an excellent question actually. It’s on the Kosher Book List for high school and because of the content, it was viewed as something best left for later. That said, you’re talking about teaching Tangerine, which actually gives you a lot more room for guidance than a student reading it on his or her own. When there’s content that might concern a teen at the middle school level reading the book alone, working through that same content with an adult and classmates to discuss and process the issues may be quite different. It’s the same reason why we read The Chocolate War in an 8th grade religion class at a Catholic school. The book, when taken with an adult to guide, can help teens navigate the problem passages. When you first get to know a teen in advising what to read alone, Tangerine isn’t a great choice to start with for these reasons. That said, when you’re teaching, it can be different.

  12. I am so grateful to you for this article; in my experience, discussions of diverse readers never include this concern, which was my main difficulty as a teen. My friends and I gravitated toward fairy tale retellings, such as Robin McKinkey’s Beauty and Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. I also loved the Squire’s Tale series by Gerald Morris, and so did my brother.

    Another thing to consider is that some religious conservatives object to reading about magic. I never did, but if you are working with a teen who does, you will find your choices much more limited. It’s a question worth asking your patrons.

    Thank you again for this article – I was so encouraged to read it!

    • Thanks so much for your comment and kind words!

      This brings up a certain point that sometimes we in religious contexts see that public librarians don’t, so it’s worth talking about.

      The magic thing is a perpetual problem at our school. While it’s often characterized as typical of a certain kind of Protestant, some Catholics also object to the magic component. I’ve mentioned my students’ love of Lord of the Rings which is considered a Catholic text and some of the same families who allow that do not allow, say, Harry Potter, so it’s hard to keep up with the preferences. That said, the kids are good at helping me out and, as they get older, they start deciding whether THEY want to read the magic or not whether or not mom and dad approve. That’s why, as you said, it is a good question to ask: you can soon figure out whether they WANT to read it or they don’t (and whether it’s a parent rule or THEIR rule). I always fall back on the default librarian rule: every book its reader and I don’t care if a teacher or a parent or anyone else gets in their way because that’s my reader’s battle to fight. That said, in private schools, sometimes we’re charged with fighting the parents’ battles for them, so how we react to a “parent request” depends so much on context. That’s why I like having public libraries all over the place so if it’s not the student’s request, he or she has options.

      But so many young people choose to follow the rules for themselves. I had some high schoolers remark, upon reading some Roman literature, they’d have liked to have had some more wholesome literature to read afterward because they were concerned about the effect on their souls. It was an interesting perspective, and one spontaneously brought up by the teens themselves when their parents weren’t around to say anything about it. The discussion she caused with other young people was interesting and varied. There were some who said that because the Romans were unbelievers and it was a historical text, it was fine and she needn’t worry, and others who agreed that the school ought to make sure other texts are available right away because it did not matter what the Romans were or were not because SHE was reading the text and it affected HER.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share that…I was really surprised. I myself came out of public schooling and unfiltered library experiences (and was raised ELCA Lutheran, to boot!), but until I worked with quite a few people who were “conservative” in one place, I didn’t really see it.

      • This is another good point – that it is sometimes the teens’ choice, not their parents’! I sometimes get the impression that educators imagine that all “conservative”/religious teens are only that way because of their parents, and just need exposure to alternatives and a little freedom. It’s important to give teens credit for having their own minds and making their own decisions, because many of them do. Many religious teens have “made their faith their own,” and don’t just shy away from explicit content because their parents want them to – as exemplified by the conversation you refer to!

        I love to see or hear about young people having that kind of deep discussion! It’s really thrilling. :)

        Thanks again for sharing and for responding to me!

        • Rabia Davis- Ndiaye says:

          Rachael, you have made an excellent point concerning “teen choice”. When I was growing up as a Muslim teen, I wanted to read books that didn’t cause me to become uncomfortable or make me feel uneasy about the subject matter. This was my choice, not my parents as many may have assumed. As you stated, this is something that is often seen as the choice of the parent, but something that, Nicole, Zaynab, Beth and I discussed was that oftentimes conservative teens want something that is appropriate and appealing at the same time. Thanks for bringing up that point and for the understanding of something often overlooked by teachers and librarians.

    • If you’re looking for stories based on fairy tales, you’ll find Regina Doman’s Fairy Tale Novels to be good; but they’re not fantasy. (Full disclosure: she’s a friend of mine, and I was the editor on Rapunzel Let Down.)

  13. Elizabeth Lee says:

    Thank you so much for this list. This is one that I will be saving and adding to for a long while. I know this will come in very handy. I currently work in an area that is rather conservative and we have a large homeschool population because of this.

    I do have a few authors I would recommend adding to the list. These are ones that are quite popular around here.

    Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery
    Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Rachel Yoder series by Wanda Brunstetter
    Anything written by Tamora Pierce
    The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner

    I would also like to point out that particular symbols on the cover of a book may cause some people to refuse to read it. I had an experience once where a parent would not let a child read a book because it had a peace symbol on the cover. I was not familiar with the peace symbol being objectionable. I found out later that some people view a peace symbol as a broken, upside-down cross. I learned that day that pictures or symbols that may be unoffensive to me can be viewed quite differently by others.

    • Those are some great ones. I LOVE your point about how covers can matter in ways we can’t always anticipate.

      I know my girls, whether first generation Latina or white Catholics loved Anne of Green Gables and even Laura. Since my Latinas were second language learners, many of them had missed Little House when it was “appropriate” so I read These Happy Golden Years as a read aloud and thought nothing of it. One of my students (8th grader reading at the 2nd grade level due to a learning disability) suddenly made a connection during Anne: Hey, she’s like 16 and a teacher just like that girl in the other book!

      One of the neatest things about waiting on books is that you can have advanced, frank conversations. A book like Caddie Woodlawn (like Little House) is problematic due to its depiction of American Indians, but if you discuss it with middle school students, you can talk about perspective and how manifest destiny was only ONE perspective and pair it with a book from a First Peoples author. This is a way you can use titles to “stretch” while still honoring a teen’s perspective…and actually get MORE out of it by waiting to read it beyond the “appropriate” age. Young teens are starting to see that the world has more nuance in it, and that’s a great time to teach (or book club or simply offer for free-reading) books that may be easy to read BUT heavier than they appear in terms of content.

  14. Susan Miller says:

    The condescending caveats in this article are pretty hilarious. Must every writer who deigns to write about conservatives begin their articles with “well, of course ::I’m:: not “traditional” or “religious” but, you know, some people out there are so lets get some books for them too!” Yikes. It’s almost like some people don’t realize that half the US is conservative and the people who believe in God make up, oh, somewhere around 90 some percent of the WORLD. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate (and am surprised) that this article actually exists. But the writer treating the subject of conservatives and religion as though they’re Darwin visiting the Galapagos islands for the first time makes it a difficult read.

    • Actually, you’re pointing out the perspective that I’ve found is becoming increasingly common. Librarians who share this view, while well-meaning, try to overcompensate by avoiding the topic all together, and it can show in their collections. Being neutral does not mean having no religion; rather, it means being honest about our own biases and working to be mindful of them as professionals, particularly when we develop our collections and engage with teens. One bias that continually shows itself in library collections is that Muslim and Orthodox teens believe that the library is NOT for them. If the library IS for those who have a religious belief, then why do those teens avoid the YA section?

      • Andrew Kosmowski says:

        Thank you for reminding us that collection development policies also must include viewpoints other than our own. I have forwarded this article to a colleague who is researching politics in libraries, especially how culturally conservative viewpoints are represented in terms of diversity.

        • Thanks for the forward. It’s hard because even though librarians aren’t necessarily teachers, whenever you work with young people there’s a pull to encourage them to be like you. I had a mentor in high school who became my favorite teacher. I was converting to Catholicism and she was a “fallen away” Catholic who may have become agnostic. This didn’t stop us from having wonderful conversations in high school and then, after I went to college, staying in contact with her until she passed away. We didn’t have to agree about everything to still learn from each other, much like any friendship, and the mentoring relationship librarians have with teens doesn’t have to be affected by the difference in perspective. If anything, it enhances our understanding of the other perspective which can make us more understanding of the new relationships we have.

      • Jenna Spiering says:

        I am curious about your last point about conservative and religious teens avoiding the YA section. Do you have any citations for that claim other than the anecdotes in your article? I would be interested to see those studies.

        • It was an observation made by both Beth and Zaynab. Both are in different areas of the country and both are from different faiths. I would like to see a study done to see how widespread it is and what libraries might be able to offset the problem. I do know that my teens don’t tend to avoid the library; however, some families (the ones with more restricted reading) often seem to use the library far less than those who do. My thought was that if it’s common in Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities, it’s of significant concern enough to be aware of and maybe as librarians start looking for religious minorities present or absent in the library, we can figure out where this is and is not the case and what the difference is.

  15. Jody Hedlund’s new book An Uncertain Choice is geared for the YA reader and would certainly suit the wants of a conservatively minded teen. It’s about a young woman who is making a life altering choice before her 18th birthday. Which would and does resonate with teens today who are making choices themselves.

    I also think Krista McGee’s Anomaly trilogy would appeal to conservative teens who have an interest in dystopian fiction.

    Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Wood series is another series I recommend to teens who want something that suits their conservative views.

    Another series I recommend is Chris Walley’s A Lamb Among the Stars – which is set in the future and is set at the opening on a distant planet.

    None of these titles is preachy and should appeal even to non-Conservative teens. And the greatest attribute about the books is that they are well written and don’t come across as sappy.

    Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy and Sharon Cameron’s The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen (none are Christian) are also books I feel confident recommending to conservative teens.

  16. Such an encouraging way to start a Monday — I was one of those conservative teens: homeschooled, Christian Worldview, sensitive to moral issues. Now, as a children’s librarian, I find this subject to be near to my heart… How to be sensitive to those young readers who were like me as a kid. It’s a really hard line to walk as someone trying to be the best librarian she can be to the most people possible, and this article really encouraged me, as did all the commenters with their suggestions. It’s given me fodder for readers advisory for both my own patron base *and* my younger siblings who have similar reading sensibilities. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

    • Thanks so much for your compliment…and for being a homeschooled librarian. I have heard that some librarians really don’t understand homeschoolers and it results in comments that aren’t too kind. The more times we talk about why, for example, we really would rather librarians don’t weed some older classics so we didn’t HAVE to use so many ILL requests, the sooner we could get on the same page!

  17. Thank you for this article. I have often thought the same thing. I wrote a similar article here.

    • Thanks for sharing it!
      I think that’s a big problem in literature, that sometimes we struggle with the idea of anyone being anything specific. We don’t like markers of race, ethnicity, or religion in our characters, and that perspective has resulted in bland characterization. I think the We Need Diverse Books movement has pointed out how everyone has a belief (even the belief of non-belief is a belief) and everyone has race, ethnicity, etc. etc. To hide that makes it hard for readers to match with a voice that is authentically their own OR authentically speaks from the perspective of someone else so that we can learn from each others’ differences. I remember, as a young convert-to-be, devouring John Bellairs, for example, because his work spoke from a Catholic perspective even though he himself had become agnostic and the House with a Clock in its Walls books didn’t even MENTION religion. Later books, completed by Strickland, simply did not come from a Catholic perspective and did not ring true.

  18. Thanks so much for the thoughtful article and for seeking to serve this sector of your readers (and for listing REMNANTS). I also wrote the River of Time Series (WATERFALL, CASCADE, etc), and see it as a “crossover” series, with a protagonist who is not a believer, but by necessity, facing very general issues of faith (“Why would I be sent back in time? By Whom? For what purpose?”). However, I call it PG-13 when discussing with conservatives. Lots of kissing but no sex. Violence (medieval battles). But also lots of action and fun!

    • Thanks for stopping by and for more additions to the list!
      Sounds like the perfect kind for readers who are okay with “dating” (and the kiss being everything!) like my girls were!

  19. Authors of conservative titles, who get great reviews but sometimes few readers, agree with this terrific article. My YA novel, The Secret of Rover (Amulet), got a starred review from SLJ. It got high praise for action and adventure from Kirkus and others, and specific praise for values, life-lessons, etc. Please check out the website and put Rover on your list! And keep up the good work.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words and I’ll definitely check it out. Part of my difficulty in doing the piece was I was limited in what I could find myself. The more we talk about this and pool our resources, the more we can find these gems which should not be hidden, especially when they’ve had such great reviews.

  20. Thank you for this conversation! Every reader his book!

  21. Can’t express how happy I am to see this article. I’d like to see a Roundtable group in ALA just for this topic. If they did, I’d join ALA after a life-time boycott!

    • Thanks for the compliment. I’d love to be able to have all forms of diversity and authentic voices equally valued so that we can learn from each other. It’s so hard to see so many texts that assume one type of voice is more authentic than another (such as my girls getting frustrated with choosing between gang members and migrant farmers to get at the books about Latinas) or that supporting one form of diversity negates the others. We all deserve the chance to read what we like. I’m reminded of how the “hot toys” are decided by toy manufacturers even before they make it into stores. Our kids, teens, families, and individuals, all deserve better. I know we’ve made progress, but there’s much more to do!

  22. What a great and helpful article! From an Irish Catholic point of view, there are two authors (one Irish, one English) whom I loved as a young teen and who are too little known today. Both their books have been reissued by Bethlehem press, I believe.
    First, Madeleine Polland (Irish). She writes fine historical fiction that will appeal to fans of Rosemary Sutcliff. A book I fell in love with as a 13-year-old was “Beorn the Proud”, about a young Irish girl kidnapped by vikings. History, discussion of faith and doubt, adventure, and a touch of romance.

    The other author is Meriol Trevor. She wrote two fine books. “Sun Slower, Sun Faster”, is an historical fantasy about two young teens in the west country who begin traveling in time with their tutor. As they do, they learn more about both their family history and their faith. It leads to a resolution for all of them – a deepening of faith by young Cecil and a growth in maturity and confidence by her cousin Rick, who also finds his lost family.
    The second book, “The Rose Round” is realistic fiction. also centering on two young teens. Matt is the younger brother of the housekeeper at a great house in the English midlands. The house belongs to a family that is troubled and divided, and the focus is on the healing power of love.

    Again, I really liked this post!

  23. I’ve put together a couple of booklets which list all the most common objections people might have to various books (ie, sex, crude language, graphic violence, etc). I completely agree that many teens struggle to find books that don’t ‘offend’ them in some way, and it’s great that you’re working to find alternatives to the usual fare. :)

    • Thanks!

      It’s so difficult because there’s a place for all of those things and it’s such a fine line. I don’t want to censor and, if a book is otherwise RIGHT I want them to know about it, but forewarned is forearmed, so to speak. A lot of our kids read Roman Lit and it’s bawdy and they get it because it’s literature. That’s why I’ll fight so strongly for works by Cormier and others whose violence and sexual content is so well-written that it rightly deserves its place as a classic…but you can’t start out of the gate with someone like him…gotta work up to it. Sounds like your book lists are a way to get them started and trust and build and maybe someday they can try some classics that may push the boundaries.

  24. Thank you for this! Back in library school I remember asking the YALSA list serve for book recommendations for Christian teens and got a very weak response overall and of what I did receive about 50% of the books were books discouraging about faith, rather than uplifting. It is great to see articles like this that acknowledge that diversity is about SO much more than skin color, it’s also about ideas and beliefs, etc. I identify with “Araceli” in the article, having been a conservative Hispanic teen myself. And I’m not catholic to boot (which seems to be the default for even “conservative” Hispanic teens). I ended up reading fantasy/sci-fi, classics and older teen lit (I loved the Laurlene McDaniel books)., but mostly skipped the “YA” section standards. I hope this article can start a discussion about all facets of diversity. I especially hope that YA librarians will be more welcoming to teens of faith and/or with conservative values, instead of serving them begrudgingly if at all.

    • Thank you for your story. I suspected my students’ choices were more universal (love how you loved McDaniel, too!). There’s so much to diversity that we miss when we privilege some parts of our identity over others.

  25. Thanks so much for this, Nicole! I’ve been searching for ways to get my stories in the hands of more teens and I appreciate the shout out to conservative teens without boxing them in. Really appreciate this very encouraging article.

    Rajdeep Paulus
    Author of Swimming Through Clouds

    • Thanks so much…I’ll give yours a read when I get a moment (I have this ever-growing list thanks to the article, and I’m excited about everything). From the descriptions, it sounds like you’ve got an intriguing series started.

  26. This is a perfectly timed article. I’m currently in an online grad-level course for School Library and I currently work in a Catholic high school library. Our assignment this week was to comment on the ALA’s “Bill of Rights” and I was having a hard time formulating the words to explain that while I try and stock books that are open and non-censoring but at the same time I need to ensure that my library only contains “the good, the true and the beautiful”.

    • It’s always hard when I talk about “Catholic censorship.” Do people EXPECT you to have, say, abortion books (at least, the in favor of sort) in your library? Not really. They expect to find them at a public library, sure. One trouble I have with the ALA Bill of Rights is that it assumes all libraries are public which accidentally implies that a private library isn’t a real library. We just serve different audiences is all. I don’t get to call for banning of books in public spheres (I get to argue for ADDITIONS), but in my own house, so to speak, it’s different. The public library is everyone’s house. The Catholic school library is a Catholic school house. It changes things.

  27. I appreciate this topic but I think you leaned a little heavy on the religious teens. When I was in high school I was chaste because I grew up in what I would call a “good” family – not because I was religious. Conservative is a nice term for it, I appreciate that. I did not want to read about sex, drugs, and the like (mature topics) simply because I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t watch a lot of TV, my parents set a curfew for me, and I chose my friends and activities based on what you might call “good, clean fun.” I didn’t read a lot in middle and high school but now that I am recommending books for students with similar backgrounds to mine, I appreciate this list of authors to take a look at for this type of recommendation. It seems like everything new coming out is peppered with strong teen relationships and authors are not censoring much!

  28. Thanks for the list! I’ll be spreading this around.

    One correction, though. Well, two. First, Regina Doman’s Fairy Tale Novels aren’t fantasy. They’re based on fairy tale type stories (in order: Snow White and Rose Red; Snow White and the Seven Dwarves; Sleeping Beauty; The Twelve Dancing Princesses; Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves; and Rapunzel), but they’re all set in a real-world setting with no magic or other fantastical elements.

    The second is that the sixth novel (Rapunzel Let Down) is classified as an adult novel, due to the frank subject matter (teen pregnancy and abortion issues). It’s listed separately on the Chesterton Press website.

    Full disclosure: I’m friends with Regina, and I was the editor on Rapunzel Let Down.

  29. Maureen says:

    My teens love the modern fairy tale series by Regina Doman, so I was happy to see one of her books in your reading list. I think they should be on every YA library shelf. Though written from a Catholic worldview (the author is Catholic) they’re not the sappy, preachy books you tend to see in Christian fiction. I think teens of any faith would enjoy them. Though it should be noted that the latest book in the series, Rapunzel Let Down, does have sex scenes. They’re important to the story, and mild compared to a lot of YA books, but still you should be aware of that before recommending to conservative teens. Overall, the series is fantastic.

  30. Kim Johnson says:

    Any ideas for memoir/ autobiography?

  31. Thanks for this article. I saw a lonely journey of my teen as he went through a gifted High school when he did not want to read some of the regular course books. They were filled with topics and scenes that were clearly very indecent. Being my oldest I was unaware that this would be one of his struggles through High School. However after talking to the teachers they were accommodative enough to give him ‘clean literature’ as an alternative to what other students were reading. My son preferred that although he was the only one in the entire high school using this alternate curriculum. We are a muslim family and is nice to know that there is work being done at the community level to help our kids who are uncomfortable with the topics mentioned. I would also like to mention here that is very difficult to get English teachers who can understand that we can use ‘clean books’without compromising on students’ learning of the English language. I am a vunteer at an online Islamic school and the biggest struggle has been recruitment of an English teacher as compared to other teachers. If any of you would know of an English teacher who could teach in an online school from home please let me know:) Thank you for your work. I think making coalitions with conservative thinking beyond just religious groups can help our children not feel so lonely.

  32. Thank you for this article. I also feel that this area needs more attention in the talk about diverse books.