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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
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Connecting Religious Teens With Literature

Connecting Religious Teens with Literature, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6

Presenters: Sarah Holtkamp, Jennifer Lowe

Holtkamp and Lowe, librarians from Tinley Park Public Library, Illinois, explained their library, and their community, and how that led them to this topic. The books that were discussed were varied. In the links below is Holtkamp’s and Lowe’s blog for this presentation, including all books mentioned (plus some other titles!). So, instead of noting all the books they mentioned, I’ll give a brief overview of just how varied the books are that can meet the community need.

Religion is something personal and can mean different things to different people. So, too, can “clean books.” Religion (and the request for books that include religion) can make people anxious and nervous, especially because it can mean so many things.

Holtkamp and Lowe concentrated Evangelical Christianity and Muslims, because those are the two groups in their library.  

What is Christian Fiction? Here, the focus was Evangelical Christians and Holtkamp and Lowe defined that for the audience (conversionism, activism, Biblicism, etc.) and then noted that the books in this area expound and illustrate that particular worldview.

Some of the books are by secular publishers, for example, EVOLUTION, ME & OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE by Robin Brande: “this isn’t negative towards religion; it is a beautiful portrayal of and exploration of faith.” Others were familiar Christian fiction authors, such as Melody Carlson “the superstar of Christian fiction. Fantasy books were included, such as HEALER’S APPRENTICE by Dickerson, which is “magical” but it is all done in the name of Jesus Christ, with the characters praying to God.

Next, Holtkamp and Lowe discussed the difficulty in finding titles for their Muslim booklists. They addressed common misconceptions (that Muslims and Arabs are interchangeable, for example) and that it was difficult finding books featuring American Muslim teens. One terrific nonfiction book they highlighted was THE AMERICAN MUSLIM TEENAGERS HANDBOOK, written by two teens and their parents, which was full of both information and humor. Most of the fiction titles ended up being about Muslim teens in countries other than the United States.

Finally, Holtkamp and Lowe presented a “clean reads” booklist. They noted that “clean” means something different to everyone and emphasized the need for a good readers advisory interview to know what the patron means by “clean.” As with the other titles, Holtkamp and Lowe went beyond the “obvious” clean titles. For example, they included YOU by Charles Benoit. Yes, there are serious questions and themes, but it illustrates the consequences of choice and does so without using four letter words. Some people who want “clean” want books like YOU, they just don’t want the language.


YALSA Interview with Sarah Holtkamp & Jennifer Lowe

Handouts from the presentation at the YALSA Lit Symposium NING

Connecting Religious Teens With Literature website with resources related to this presentation, including Holtkamp’s and Lowe’s booklists and links to other applicable booklists

Thanks to RIF for making it possible to attend the Symposium.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. Wow– it STILL sounds like too complicated an issue! It’s so hard to know what people are REALLY asking when they ask for a [insert-religion-here] book. I always think of Madeleine L’Engle (because I can’t help always thinking of her, I went and named my daughter after her), who was such a devout and outspoken Christian, and yet so many people try to ban her books as being UN-Christian… gah. It’s so interesting though. I really wish more people had commented on this today to extend the discussion. Or, I really wish I had been at this presentation in person!

  2. rockinlibrarian, i think in January I’ll do a follow up post to get more suggestions and discuss it more. it is interesting — and it also gets iinto some very specific type of requests, asking about books in ways that we may have always thought about.

  3. I was catching up with your blog and was surprised to see my presentation discussed! Thank you for the positive comments and I look forward to your follow-up post with more suggestions. This is a very intersting topic and makes for a fun discussion.

  4. Sarah, I really enjoyed your presentation (as you can tell) This is, IMHO, one of the most intriguing aspects of readers advisory and one that should be discussed more.