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A genre alphabet: guidance for secondary students.

Students, especially the younger ones, sometimes ask me why the fiction books in the school library are not organised by genre, as they may have encountered this system in their primary schools. I tell them that some libraries and librarians do use this system, but I choose not to because of 'genre overlap': where would one put a book such as Life: An Exploded Diagram (Mal Peet), which is a romance but also a historical novel? Or Anthony Horowitz's Diamond Brothers series, which are crime but also comedy? I also think that not labelling by genre encourages experimentation, which leads to wider reading outside a student's comfort zone.

For those students who still wish for guidance, I recently compiled a 'Genre Alphabet, a (very) personal selection from common genres, in language appropriate for KS3. Finding a discussion point for each letter of the alphabet called for some ingenuity! This alphabet is appearing in instalments in the library's termly newsletter, with an invitation that if anyone feels their favourite book has been missed, they should tell the librarian and it might feature in the next newsletter. I hope that this alphabet may spark some ideas for other school librarians' own personal selections by genre.

A is for Adventure. Some popular series include Chris Ryan's Alpha Force series (Ryan has been an SAS commando and writes for both adults and children), Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls spy series, the CHERUB books by Robert Muchamore, the Higher Institute of Villainous Education series by Mark Walden, and Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books. Another prolific author is Sophie McKenzie, whose books include Blood Ties and The Medusa Project.

B is for Birthday Boy. Todd is about to turn thirteen and become a man. But his world is different from ours--there are no women or girls in his town, and the men can't avoid reading each other's thoughts. Oh, and Todd's dog can talk. Todd is the hero of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, a book that combines sci-fi, romance and action with totally gripping writing. Highly recommended. B is also for Bilbo Baggins. If you haven't yet read The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), read it this term. It's a great story and in my opinion is much better than Lord of the Rings.

C is for Crime. I love the Echo Falls Mystery series by Peter Abrahams--Ingrid, the 13-year-old detective, is so sparky you can't help liking her. The setting is small-town America, and Down the Rabbit Hole is Ingrid's first case. Another modern crime classic is The London Eye Mystery (Siobhan Dowd). How does someone vanish from one of the sealed pods on the London Eye? Finally, don't forget the most famous detective ever, Sherlock Holmes. Get hold of Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories and start with Silver Blaze or The Speckled Band.

D is for Dystopia. This roughly means a futuristic world where everything is pretty horrible. Some very popular recent films and books use this type of setting: The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), Divergent (Veronica Roth) and The Maze Runner (James Dashner). Less well-known but still satisfyingly depressing are Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse and Slated by Teri Terry.

E is for Elephant. This of course isn't a genre, but the number of books starring elephants is surprising. Michael Morpurgo contributes Running Wild (elephant saves boy from tsunami) and An Elephant in the Garden (zoo is bombed in World War II). Rachel Campbell-Johnson's The Child's Elephant features child guerrilla fighters, and Lauren St John's The Elephant's Tale is set in the deserts of Namibia. Don't ignore the best animal stories of all time, in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book. If you think you know this from the Disney film, look again--the book couldn't be more different. The story 'Toomai of the Elephants' features a boy who has grown up with elephants until they finally let him in on their big secret...

F is for Fantasy. There are dozens of titles available; I've already mentioned The Hobbit. The Ropemaker by Peter Dickinson is a totally gripping book set in a world with unicorns and magic-makers, which also includes characters who behave and have feelings like real people. Any book by Alan Garner (try Elidor) features densely woven fantasy that draws on actual myth and haunts the mind long after reading it. A lighter style of fantasy is Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy, beginning with The Amulet of Samarkand. If your fantasy absolutely has to include dragons, try Eragon (C. Paolini) or the Dragon Orb series by Mark Robson. For an affectionate and very funny send-up of the genre, read Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

G is for 'Girls' Books'. This is a term I hate, as girls can of course read any book they want, but it's useful shorthand for a genre that deals with school, friendships, boyfriends and 'real life'. Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicolson series (Thongs, Angus and Full-Frontal Snogging) is very funny, while Helen Bailey's Electra Brown books (Life at the Shallow End) and Cathy Cassidy's Chocolate Box Girls books (Cherry Crush) are also popular.

H is for Horror. Another genre where we are spoilt for choice. Michael Grant's Gone series (all the adults are, you guessed it, gone) and Charlie Higson's The Enemy (zombies attack) have many faithful followers, as does Darren Shan, who has written so many horror books I've lost count. His current series, ZOM-B, is about ... I'm sure you can guess. A subtler author of horror is Marcus Sedgwick--try White Crow, a spine-chiller about two girls who set out to investigate life after death.

I is for Illness. Books about young people or parents with terminal illness became popular a few years ago; the genre is sometimes called 'sick-lit'. The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) is the most famous, but others include Before I Die, also entitled Now Is Good (Jenny Downham), and Life on the Refrigerator Door (A. Kuipers). A prize-winning example of this genre that is guaranteed to make you cry is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

J is for Japan. Martial arts are the backdrop to Chris Bradford's Young Samurai series, while Lian Hearn's Across the Nightingale Floor is set in a land of warlords and feuding clans. Graham Marks conjures up modern Japan in the fast-moving thriller Tokyo: All Alone in the Big City. Many will also think of manga at this point--this Japanese comic-book format is very popular and includes many different genres such as adventure, romance and martial arts. Some well-liked series are Naruto (M. Kishimoto), One Piece (E. Oda) and +Anima (N. Mukai).

K is for Kings and Queens. If you like historical fiction, try the My Story series (various authors)--these are short books set in all periods of history, from ancient Egypt to World War II. For a longer read, get Rosemary Sutcliffe's classic tale of Romans in Britain, The Eagle of the Ninth. Other authors in this genre are Theresa Breslin (Prisoner of the Inquisition), Mary Hooper (At the Sign of the Sugared Plum) and Sally Gardner (I, Coriander).

L is for Love Stories. Nicholas Sparks' bestselling books (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, etc.) are loved by millions of adult and teenage readers. Liz Rettig's stories (My Dating Disasters Diary) and Sue Limb's books (Flirting for England) are more light and frothy, and very funny.

M is for Myth and Magic. Everyone knows Harry Potter (or they should!) but have you tried Diana Wynne Jones' wonderful stories about schools and students of magic? Witch Week and Charmed Life are two titles, but anything by this author is worth reading. Another tale of a school of magic is A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. For myth, try the adventures of Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan. With fast and furious plots that derive from Greek legends, they're also very funny. A lesser-known book that draws on myth (Norse this time) is The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon.

N is for Narrator. Some books have a narrator who happens to be autistic, and this viewpoint affects the way the story is told. One example is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon); The London Eye Mystery is another (by Siobhan Dowd; it's also a great crime book). Also try Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Green) and the P.K. Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence, set in the Wild West.

O is for Outsider. Many school stories have a hero or heroine who is an outsider from the group. Will the outsider beat the group--or join it? Some examples are R. J. Palacio's heartwarming Wonder, Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli), The Boy Who Lost His Face (Louis Sachar), Malarkey (Keith Grey) and The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson (a sensitive book about gender transition).

P is for Parody. A good parody (i.e. send-up) of a book or genre can be very funny. Try Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody (Michael Gebler) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones) and The Hunger Pains and Nightlight, both by The Harvard Lampoon.

Q is for Queer Happenings. Some very strange things happen in Ali Sparkes' books--children who've been frozen for years come back to life (Frozen in Time), shapeshifters use their powers to become animals (Finding the Fox), and a teenager hears the dead talking (Unleashed). A quieter but equally strange tale unfolds in A Greyhound of a Girl (Roddy Doyle), a beautiful story about a long-dead mother who returns to help her child.

R is for Romeo and Juliet. Derived, obviously, from the Shakespeare play, this name is shorthand for a love story where the lovers are forever separated by society's expectations. Ideal if you like a sad ending. Life: an Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet is a very funny book (poor boy and rich girl fall in love in the 1960s), while Fireweed (Jill Paton Walsh) is a romance between two teenagers made homeless in the Blitz.

S is for Supernatural. The Power of Five by Anthony Horowitz is an incredibly gripping series combining action, mystery and a horrific supernatural threat--once you've read the first, Raven's Gate, you'll want to get all five. If this fiction alphabet seems to include a lot of books by Horowitz, it's for a reason--he's a very, very good adventure and thriller writer. S is also for Sports. Books about football include The Stretford Enders by Trevor Colgan, Keeper by Mal Peet and The Beautiful Game series by Narinder Dhami.

T is for Time Travel. Alex Scarrow's exciting TimeRiders series starts with three teenagers being recruited to a mysterious agency that exists 'to fix broken history', while Douglas Adams' Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the first of a very funny sci-fi series. For a classic of the genre, get hold of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

U is for the Unexpected. What if you woke up in someone else's body? That's the start of Flip by Martyn Bedford. Or: what if an iPhone smashed onto your head, entered your brain and gave you strange powers? Welcome to iBoy by Kevin Brooks. The short stories in any of Roald Dahl's collections (e.g. Skin) also feature some very unexpected things, such as a man with a priceless artwork on his back and a boy with swan's wings.

V is for Vampire. There are so many vampire books it's hard to choose. Many people know the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer; also see The Last Vampire series by Christopher Pike and the Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan. Tales of the undead with a sense of humour include Diary of a Wimpy Vampire (Tim Collins) and The Reformed Vampire Support Group (Catherine Jinks).

W is for War. This genre of course overlaps with historical fiction. Michael Morpurgo is known for several books set in wartime, including War Horse and Private Peaceful. Paul Dowswell has written great books set in the Napoleonic Wars (Powder Monkey) and the Cold War (Sektion 20). Tamar by Mal Peet and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein both feature spies in World War II.

W is also for Wildlife. Gill Lewis' animal stories include Sky Hawk and Moon Bear, while Lauren St John's series about African wildlife begins with The White Giraffe (she also writes fine horse books). Classics of this genre are the Adventure series (e.g. Amazon Adventure) by Willard Price, in which two boys travel the world collecting animals for their father's zoo. If you like your animals a bit more 'human, try the addictive Warrior Cats series by Erin Hunter.

X is for the Unknown. Try something new--read outside your comfort zone!

Y is for Young Heroes. SilverFin and other books in the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson are the adventures of James Bond as a boy. Also see the Young Sherlock books (e.g. Death Cloud) by Andrew Lane for a look at a teenage Holmes.

Z is for ZZZ. If the book you're reading bores you after the first few pages, get another one! You have the right not to finish a book you find boring.

Anna Quick is Librarian at the Grammar School and Sixth Form Centre in Guernsey.
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Author:Quick, Anna
Publication:School Librarian
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2015
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