31 Days of Teens’ Top Ten: Behind Bars

Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year! Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Readers ages twelve to eighteen will vote online between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16; the winners will be announced during Teen Read Week.


In my current position I don’t get to cover the teen desk very often, and often feel a bit out of touch with what books are big with teens right now. Once a week, however, I go to our county’s Juvenile Court Center and run the library there. I maintain the collection (with a very small budget and a lot of galleys) and get the books into the hands of the students in residence. Having little else to do, they are voracious readers. So I thought I would look back at a few years of the TTT list to see which titles have been popular with my teens. I added the reason after each entry. As they don’t hear about books in traditional channels (most don’t visit the library or read at all when ‘on the outs’) I thought you might be interested to know just how certain things get popular there.


  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins –  a select few teens have been begging for this, and I finally donated my copy to the collection so that they could read the entire series!
  • Matched by Allie Condie – Once they saw me reading it, about a dozen teens asked to be put on the list.
  • I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore – This one is making the rounds right now. A guard read it and asked that I order it – his book talks have been far more effective than mine would be, and I’ll be lucky to get this one back!
  • Angel: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson – Although they like his ‘Alex Cross’ books best, anything by James Patterson is in constant circulation



  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – the new Juvenile Court supervisor allocated a generous amount of money for books for the library this year (up from $0!), so I was able to get rid of World Book 1976 and 20 pristine Large Print Jan Karon titles. The donations we formerly exclusively relied upon to form the collection aren’t all as bad as those examples, but surprisingly, no one was donating books like Catching Fire! It’s nice to be able to get newer books to the students.
  • Heist Society by Ally CarterThis is a book that I personally loved, and have recommended it to many students, once I determine whether they’re asking me for books with action (cue Indiana Jones theme) or action (cue cheesy 70’s porno theme)


  • Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer – While not universally popular, The Twilight Saga has a pretty big following at the Juvenile Court Center. I was able to get two copies of the complete boxed set, so many teens are trying this out, now that we have all the books in the series. The determining factor is whether their friends think it’s ‘cool’, or ‘corny’. Word of mouth is the biggest seller for books at the center. They also are very strongly influenced by covers, and any posters I put up create an avalanche of book requests.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Someone donated a paperback copy, I told a few of the teens about it, and haven’t seen it since. The most popular books never come back, or come back destroyed.
  • Wake by Lisa McMann – The first book in the series by Lisa McMann was a galley copy I brought in. Several teens liked it so much that they begged me to buy the sequel! My book purchasing is nearly entirely derived from requests from the teens, and a couple of guards who read a lot of teen fiction.

So you’re probably wondering what our Juvenile Court Teens’ Top Ten list would include? I would venture to give my opinion that it would include (in no particular order):


  1. anything by Ni-Ni Simone
  2. Ride Wit’ Me by Deja King
  3. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  4. No Choirboy by Susan Kuklin
  5. Most of the Kimani TRU books, especially the Keysha novels by Earl Sewell
  6. Bluford High series
  7. Denim Diaries series
  8. Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon
  9. Simone Elkeles’ Perfect Chemistry and Rules of Attraction
  10. Baby Girl Drama series by Babygirl Daniels

Of course, if you asked them, they might tell you something completely different, but these are the center-acceptable books that get requested the most, and that I have to replace the most often.

I hope that you enjoyed your glimpse behind bars, and that this post prompts you to check out what library services are provided to incarcerated youth in your area. They love to read and talk about books, and appreciate the chance to do so with someone who’s really interested in helping them out. It is the most valuable part of my job, and I look forward to my weekly visit as much as they do.


-Robyn E. Vittek, listening to The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper