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22 July 2009

Mark Day in The Australian wrote an article that said this:

TEENAGERS are not like us. They grunt rather than converse, slouch rather than walk, sleep till noon and their preferred dress is grunge—any black T-shirt featuring gross green slime dripping from a skull will do. They don’t read, don’t pay for music, don’t listen to adults and don’t care about Twitter.

Below is my response.

Hi Mark,

I run a website for teenagers about books and reading at the State Library of Victoria, and I wanted to bring a couple of things to your attention after reading your article in the Australian on Monday.

You're wrong when you say young people don't read. Really wrong. In Australia last year, six of the top ten bestsellers in ALL genres were young adult fiction titles. In the US, Borders is ditching their music/DVD sections and replacing them with sprawling teen sections to capitalise on the enormous boom in young adult fiction. Last year, booksales as a whole dropped 4.7%, but YA sales were up 13%. Our website gets thousands of visitors a day, young people desperate to talk about their favourite books. Young people respond creatively to the books they read, with fan fiction, art and music. They love literature so much that they want to spend more time with the characters they love.

The "fragmented, flipperty-gibbet" teens you disparage so flippantly are the most active generation in terms of volunteering, working for charity organisations, and engaging in issues like climate change and human rights. They are socially aware and active. Last year in the US thousands of teens and YA authors banded together in an online community called YA for Obama. The young people were frustrated that they couldn't vote in the US election, and were eager to find other ways that they could make a difference and affect social change. I attended an online chatroom in YA for Obama during one of the Presidential Debates, and found the room full of not just Americans, but British kids up past their bed time and Australians in the computer room at school on their lunch break. And let me tell you, these teenagers had a more comprehensive understanding of the complexity of the US political system than, I suspect, the vast majority of American voting adults. They knew about and cared about the issues. They had opinions, and were desperate to make a difference.

And sure, there's plenty of them who don't read newspapers. But for every teen you find me who doesn't read a newspaper, I'll find you fifty adults who don't either.

However, if you did want teenagers to start reading your newspaper, I'll offer you three suggestions.

1. Stop filling your pages with poorly-researched offensive comments about them.
2. Include content that is relevant to a teenage audience. Hey, you could even publish some content written by teenagers (The Guardian does this regularly with enormous success).
3. Start the newspaper reading habit early. Have a children's section of the paper. A REAL children's section, not a token half page with a Wordsearch puzzle. Address news stories that are relevant to kids and write them in a language they'll understand. You can find examples of this in Canada and the UK.

It's a shame that our society - and in particular our media - seem to be so obsessed with dragging new generations down. It would be awesome to see a little more encouragement of young people, and a little less small-minded snippery.


Lili Wilkinson.


Misrule said...

Go Lili! Love to hear his response!

Laura said...

Yay Lili! Go Gen Y!

But anyway, teenagers do read books. Um, TWILIGHT?

Steph Bowe said...

Laura: And lots of other books too.

I read the rest of that article, and I've surmised that Mark Day is either a complete tool or just very, very ignorant. Maybe a bit of both. (He's also obviously very wrong: I love reading, I always pay for music, I respect and listen to adults, and I love Twitter. I also get up at six-thirty every morning. I know I'm not the only teenager who does these things.)

And, just so you know, I read The Herald Sun. And occasionally The Age.

Penni said...


I don't read the paper or consume much 'news' at all, I feel it's full of artificially inflated 'bad news' stories designed to make me worry more, spend more, hate more... Actually I read the paper more as a teenager than I do now, as a 34 year old. Somehow even as a non-consumer of news, I hear about what's important.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, Lili! And congratulations on *Pink* - love it.

simmone said...

good onya lili!

Charlie Butler said...

Great response. I deal with teenagers every day in my work, and I find them far more committed, sorted and interesting than most adults, or (to be honest) than my own generation was at their age.

Lucy Coats said...

Well done, Lili. I have 2 teenagers (one of whom is dyslexic). Neither of them wear green slime skulls at present (though they both have their own quite vociferous ideas about fashion); while there is, it has to be said, occasional grunting, there is also articulate and interesting conversation. They both read--currently 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Animal Farm' (not school set texts, but because they want to). All teenagers do not come out of the same box--they are individuals, and there should be less of this tarring them all with one brush.

As for YA fiction--I read a lot of it. Quite often I find that the plots, ideas and general writing standards are of a much higher quality than some of the adult books on the shelves.

We are currently fighting a campaign in the UK to have statutory provision of a library in every school (there is a statutory provision for prisons here, but not for schools, which is a disgrace). If you provide books for teenagers, plus a good, knowledgable librarian, then they will come and read them.

Lucy Coats at

Book Maven said...

If teenagers don't read, how come I spend every weekend answering their e-mails about my books?

And lots of them are Australian.

Mary Hoffman

Gillian Philip said...

Well said, Lili. Lucy's right. I decided I wanted to write YA fiction because what I saw on the shelves was better written and smarter and far more exciting than a lot of 'adult' fiction.
But I remember getting a rejection for 'Crossing The Line' on the grounds that 'the protagonist is likeable, but I found him too articulate and wise for his age.' Because, of course, all 17-year-olds talk exclusively in grunts, yada yada... (Luckily Bloomsbury disagreed.)
More power to your virtual pen.
Gillian Philip

What Kate did next ... said...

Go Lili. Hear hear!

Michelle said...


Julia said...

Yay! Excellent response to an uninformed... uh... uh... person.

Tony said...

Great response, Lili.

Matthews said...

At the risk of being unpopular, I'm not sure I've met a teenager of either Mark or Lili's description.

Many (most?) teenagers are somewhere in the middle, depending on their current interests, mood and how stressed they're feeling. Just like adults. Just like babies.

"Teenager" is a strange concept anyway, a relatively new phenomenon. Same with "Gen X" and "Gen Y". I'm supposedly Gen Y, but I don't have much affiliation with that...

Lucinda Matthews said...

That last comment was by me...I only have no idea why it signed me on with my parent's google address. They live thousands of miles away.


jellyfish said...

Just adding my voice to the chorus. Nice work. As the kids would say, pwned!

Three feuds and counting!

(can't be bothered signing in :)

ClareSnow said...

And another thing, I thought grunge went out right about the time I stopped being a teenager. As much as I love(d) grunge, I haven't heard the word used in the last decade, except last month when triple j had the hottest 100 aka hits from the 90s :)

limeywesty said...

*standing ovation*