Normally when a middle-grader comes into the library looking for a book, librarians will focus on a title’s genre and subject matter. They’ll try to match these up to the reader’s interests, such as mysteries, sports books, or science fiction. But it can be tough to pin down the exact type of experience that our readers are looking for. Dominique McCafferty, the Childrens’ Collection Management Librarian at Library System & Services, recommends using a different method of finding the right read, using the super genres developed by Neal Wyatt and Joyce Saricks in their book,The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (3rd ed).
The super genres that Wyatt and Saricks use focus more on the experience of reading. Their genres are: Adrenaline, Intellect, Landscape, and Emotion. Each of these can contain a number of different subjects and interests. In this post, we’ll show you how the traditional genre of mysteries can translate into all of these different super genres. We’ll also give examples of how to broaden your reader’s interests using these same categories.
Books in the adrenaline genre are the ones that readers will finish in one-sitting. Adrenaline books are all about speed. Tightly plotted, and fast paced, Thrillers, suspense, and adventure are among the traditional genre types in the adrenaline category. Mysteries like The 39 Clues are a great example of mysteries that fall into the adrenaline genre. They Cahills race around the globe to beat their greedy relatives to the clues. They’re adventurous because the Cahills often face danger from not only their relatives but also the environment and other enemies. Ultimately, The 39 Clues are mysteries because the Cahills work to figure out the clues that were left behind by their grandmother and solve the mystery of their family. But because of their fast pace and the thrilling adventure, the series also fits well within the adrenaline genre.
Mysteries would normally be found in the intellect genre. This is the genre of books that challenge the mind with language, puzzles, and science. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin would be a classic example of mystery in this genre with it’s puzzles and wordplay. Books in the intellect genre can also have lyrical language. Science fiction also tends to fall into this genre because of the science and technology involved. In The Westing Game, a wealthy businessman leaves his fortune to the tenants of a neighboring apartment complex. But first, they need to solve the mystery that he’s left them. It’s a similar plot to The 39 Clues, but the focus in The Westing Game is not on adventure. In fact, most of the story takes place at the apartment complex. Instead, The Westing Game focuses on the puzzles left to each pair of heirs, making it an ideal selection for the intellect genre.
If mysteries are normally at home in the intellect genre, then the world-building genre would be the realm of fantasy. But not always. Books in the landscape genre transport readers to a wholly different realm. For example Kate Milford’s Greenglass House is the rich, spooky setting for her mystery of the same name. Sitting on the edge of a cliff, Greenglass House is an inn that welcomes smugglers. Mysterious guests pour into the inn during the winter months when it is normally quiet, and each has a story. When guests belongings start to go missing, it’s up to Milo, the son of the inns’s owners, and Meddy, the cook’s daughter to figure out the mystery of Greenglass House.
Finally, the emotion genre brings out strong emotions in its readers. Swoony stories of first crushes, touching family stories, and even horror stories all fall into this genre. Thornhill by Pam Smy is just such a horror story. Part graphic novel, Thornhill is a spine-tingling mystery about the last days of Thornhill Institute, and the new girl in town who is intrigued by its tragedy. In dual narratives, Thornhill tells the story of Mary, one of the last residents of the Institute who is bullied by the other girls, and much later, Ella, a lonely girl who becomes fascinated with Thornhill and the girl she sometimes sees still inside. Mary’s story is told through her diary entries, while Ella’s is told through black and white illustrations. It’s a spooky, atmospheric read, but it’s also a mystery, as Ella discovers the truth about the girl in Thornhill.
These titles would all appeal to mystery lovers, and the super genres help librarians narrow down the type of mystery a reader is looking for. But these categories help readers expand their horizons. For example, a reader interested in the fast-paced adrenaline genre might enjoy the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis. These historical fiction adventures place kids at the center of real life disasters. Or they might like Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia. In this fantasy, a seventh-grader plunges into a conflict between gods, heroes, and monsters.
In the intellect genre, readers can be as intrigued by novels in verse like Aida Salazar’s The Moon Within. But they may also enjoy the STEM thriller, Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs.
These all-encompassing genres are a great tool for librarians to help readers narrow down exactly what they’re looking for. And they also help readers to find new books that might interest them.
What a fascinating and helpful idea!