Americans are reading less and less, and teenagers are reading the least of all.
These are the conclusions of "To Read or Not to Read," a recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts. And the results of this decline in reading? Lower academic achievement, lower voting rates, less community volunteerism ... the list goes on.
But you can make a difference: The greatest predictor of whether children and teens read for pleasure is the number of books in the home. Give one of these surefire hits to a young teen in your life.
For sports fans, try any one of the addicting novels by Chris Crutcher. A family therapist who writes extremely popular teen novels, Crutcher always combines dramatic, realistic life situations with gripping sports action. "Whale Talk" (Laurel Leaf, $6.99), about a swimmer, and "Ironman" (Harper, Tempest $6.99), about a triathlete, are two of my favorites.
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Plenty of action and danger make "Peak," by Roland Smith (Gulliver, $17), perfect for adventure readers. A 14-year-old daredevil, arrested after a climbing stunt, is rescued from the juvenile justice system by his formerly absent father. Dad, who runs a mountain-climbing expedition business, has a plan to gain publicity by having his son be the youngest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Mystery lovers will be up at night to find out what happens to "The Killer's Cousin," by Nancy Werlin (Laurel Leaf, $5.99).
David, a high school senior, is accused of murdering his girlfriend. Although he goes to trial and is acquitted, he can no longer live a normal life in his hometown. In order to escape the publicity, he moves to his uncle's house only to become enmeshed in dark secrets surrounding his cousin's suicide.
The most popular teen romance in several years is "Twilight," by Stephanie Meyer (Little Brown, $9.99). That the romance is between a high school junior and a handsome vampire only seems to add to the appeal. Bella is new to the small town of Forks, Wash. Many students at her new school are eager to know her, but she is irresistibly drawn to Edward, the one boy who seems to want nothing to do with her.
Finally, for the dragon-loving crowd, you can't go wrong with "The Last Dragon," by Sylvana DeMari (McLeod, $6.99). Yorsh is a very young and naive elf who is struggling to survive in a cruel world where unending rain has brought immense hardship to all. By the time he grows to adolescence, however, he understands his destiny is to discover and protect the last living dragon, and thereby save the world.
One last gift-giving tip -- why not sign up your teen for a library card? Once hooked on one of these titles, readers can borrow the sequels or more books by the same author. You can get a card at any library branch, or online at the library's Web site, http://stanislauslibrary.org.
Susan Cassidy is a children's librarian with the Stanislaus County Library.