Cross-Unders

The following piece is cross-posted on the ALSC Blog. For more cross-under resources, visit The Hub.

Whether we’re serving older teens whose tastes have matured or trying to appease faculty members who need to catch up on a book club, we’re all familiar with adult cross-overs–books originally published for adults that nonetheless have teen appeal. (YALSA even has an award for them!) But what about cross-unders?

With limited budgets, it can be tempting to limit young adult collections to titles actually written for young adults. And the question of where to shelve books has always been a touchy subject–if teens are reading adult books, should the library buy two copies? Are teens even allowed in the children’s area? In schools, we can’t expect teens to leave the building to find the books they want to read–and again, high school students may not even be able to check out books from the middle or elementary schools, and vice versa.

Double- or triple-purchasing books can be a hard pill to swallow. After all, every book purchased for multiple departments or areas means a unique title can’t be purchased. We all have to remember that our patrons–whether they’re teens, tweens or adults–may not feel comfortable seeking out their books in unfamiliar (and potentially unfriendly) departments. They may not even be able to check out books elsewhere, so why not have the books where our our readers want to be? After all, lots of our teen readers have reasons for choosing cross-under titles–or would gladly choose them if they found them on our shelves. So who are those readers?


1. ELL readers. Teens for whom English is a second language need independent reading options. While they may not be reading at grade level in English, many of them are fluent readers in their primary language, and they’ll want pleasure reading that reflects their tastes. Find out what kind of books they like to read in any language to find out what they’ll want in English. Like many of their peers who started reading cross-under titles in middle school, they may find that the vocabulary and themes of a series rise to to the level of their developing skills.

2. Reluctant and struggling readers. Teens reading below grade level and teens who recoil at the thought of reading a dense book for English class may gravitate toward quicker middle-grade reads. Individual page counts may be lower but the allure of a cliffhanger may keep these teens reading until the end of the series–and wanting more.

3. Younger teens. Remember that teens starting high school are fresh out of middle school. Just as all teens don’t automatically start reading adult titles (and abandoning YA books entirely) when they turn 18, younger teens are still invested in the series and authors that hooked them in earlier grades. Teens feeling overwhelmed by the different culture of high school and heavier academic loads may find comfort in books with familiar characters, particularly ones they can read quickly and easily. And teens of all ages, just like adults, feel the pull of a great series. New volumes of a series will attract teens even if they feel a little like they’ve outgrown them.

4. Loyalists. Some of the most sophisticated teen readers will check out everything from adult mysteries to middle-grade fantasy. They don’t “need” a cross-under book, any more than I “need” to keep re-watching Gilmore Girls. They check these books out because they love them, and because they love see other readers discover them for the first time. Your most voracious bookworms can be a great source of suggestions for cross-under titles. Even if they don’t plan on completing a series or re-reading a volume themselves, they’ll help you fill the shelves for other teens.

Some cross-under titles and series for your shelves:
The Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford
The Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband Chronicles series by John Flanagan
The Pendragon Adventure by DJ MacHale
The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

2 thoughts on “Cross-Unders

  1. Great post and SO TRUE! One could argue that Harry Potter is both a cross over and a cross under. As the HS librarian in a K-12 school, the MS librarian and I often debate who gets the copy of a new title. Sometimes we have doubles, sometimes they are in her section, and sometimes in mine. No matter what, it’s key to feed those under readers just like the over ones.

  2. Good point on Harry Potter. As with any series that grows more sophisticated in later volumes, you’re bound to have some over and under with different readers. And of course you could argue that all YA and children’s books have cross-under potential for adult readers, too.

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