Middle Kingdom: Hartland, Maine

The books that most delight mid­dle school and junior high read­ers often strad­dle a “Mid­dle King­dom” rang­ing from upper mid­dle grade to YA. Each month, Bookol­o­gy colum­nist Lisa Bullard will vis­it the Mid­dle King­dom by view­ing it through the eyes of a teacher or librar­i­an. Bookol­o­gy is delight­ed to cel­e­brate the work of these edu­ca­tors who have built vital book encamp­ments in the tran­si­tion­al ter­ri­to­ry of ear­ly adolescence.

This month’s jour­ney takes us to the Hart­land Pub­lic Library in rur­al Maine, where Lisa talks with librar­i­an John R. Clark.

Lisa: What are three to five things Bookol­o­gy read­ers should know about your com­mu­ni­ty or library?

Hart­land Library

John: Hart­land is very rur­al, eco­nom­i­cal­ly depressed, and isn’t close to any city with a book­store. That means the library assumes a much larg­er role in terms of offer­ing access to juve­nile fic­tion than a city like Port­land or Boston. We’ve tried to address this in cre­ative ways, like swap­ping books online at Paper­Back Swap, using rev­enue from books sold online to add to the col­lec­tion, and trad­ing with oth­er librar­i­ans in Maine when we get recent dupli­cates. Maine is big in size, but very close in terms of library coöper­a­tion. It helps immense­ly that we have a statewide inter­li­brary loan van ser­vice. That makes encour­ag­ing younger patrons to feel com­fort­able using inter­li­brary loan an easy process.

Lisa: I’ve heard that you’re retir­ing, so I have a cou­ple of con­nect­ed ques­tions I real­ly hope you’ll address giv­en your valu­able in-depth per­spec­tive: How have books for mid­dle king­dom read­ers changed dur­ing your tenure in the library? And have the types of books that read­ers this age ask for changed in any key way?

YA area
The new YA fic­tion corner

John: There has been a major shift in both juve­nile and young adult fic­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the past few years. I attribute this to two things. First, J.K. Rowl­ing stood the pub­lish­ing indus­try on its ear and sud­den­ly every­one real­ized that there was one heck of a mar­ket for books that involved fan­ta­sy and kids who weren’t ‘aver­age.’ The sec­ond was 911. I don’t think adults (except for writ­ers and librar­i­ans, maybe) had a clue how scary that made the world for every­one. Escape into books became a very healthy and pop­u­lar part of life. In the past few years, we have seen a sec­ond wave begin, that of address­ing all sorts of social/mental health/family issues in lit­er­a­ture. This is more pro­nounced in young adult, but things like divorce, gay par­ents, sib­ling loss, and bul­ly­ing are being addressed, very excel­lent­ly I might add, in juve­nile lit­er­a­ture. In fact, one of my blogs at Maine Crime Writ­ers recent­ly was about this phe­nom­e­non, which I think is a hip ver­sion of what we used to call bib­lio­ther­a­py when I worked in the men­tal health field. Kids have respond­ed very well to these books and I read them myself because I enjoy see­ing how dif­fer­ent authors address the top­ics. Juve­nile read­ers have respond­ed to these new top­ics and I often see them come in and ask specif­i­cal­ly for a book a friend read that they think will be inter­est­ing because of some­thing going on in their life.

Lisa: What five books (or series) are checked out most often by read­ers in the Mid­dle King­dom age range?


  1. any­thing by Rick Riordan
  2. any­thing by John Flanagan
  3. the Sara­nor­mal series by Phoebe Rivers
  4. Any­body Shin­ing by Frances O’Roark Dowell
  5. The Ques­tion of Mir­a­cles by Elana K. Arnold

Lisa: What book(s) do you per­son­al­ly love to place into mid­dle school read­ers’ hands?


  1. Half a Chance by Cyn­thia Lord
  2. A Hitch at the Fair­mont by Jim Averbeck
  3. The Secrets of Tree Tay­lor by Dan­di Daley Mackall
  4. A Mil­lion Miles from Boston by Karen Day
  5. The Junc­tion of Sun­shine and Lucky by Hol­ly Schindler
  6. Siz­zle by Lee McClain
  7. Count­ing by 7s by Hol­ly Gold­berg Sloan
  8. Lost Boy by Tim Green

Lisa: If you had a new staffer start­ing tomor­row, what piece of advice would you be sure to give them about work­ing with read­ers in this tran­si­tion­al age?

John: That’s easy, read in the genre if at all pos­si­ble because you can’t beat real, first­hand expe­ri­ence when it comes to talk­ing about books with teens and tweens.

Lisa: What do you like most about work­ing with middle-schoolers?

John: They’re real­ly excit­ed when they real­ize you under­stand their inter­ests and treat them as intel­li­gent human beings. It’s dou­bly reward­ing when they come in wav­ing the book you sug­gest­ed and say, “You rock! What else should I read?”

Lisa: Could you share some infor­ma­tion about your most popular/successful/innovative pro­gram for pro­mot­ing books and reading?

car photo
The car.

John: Sev­er­al years ago, I won a street-legal ver­sion of Kasey Kahne’s Dodge from Gillette. It includ­ed a trip to meet Kasey at the Citizen’s Bank 400 in Michi­gan. The staff of the pro­mo­tion com­pa­ny was real­ly inter­est­ed in my sum­mer give­away pro­gram for kids who read. They got var­i­ous NASCAR dri­vers and teams to send me a ton of posters, shirts, and ban­ners to use as read­ing incen­tives. I added in a bunch of stuff like MP3 play­ers and new DVDs we’d got­ten for Pep­si points and we gave away over $1,000 worth of prizes for a com­bined read­ing and writ­ing pro­gram. Kids were beyond thrilled.



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Bill Sullivan
Bill Sullivan
9 years ago

John — Been read­ing about you and it’s always a plea­sure. Hope you enjoy retire­ment but I sus­pect the rock­ing chair won’t get much use. You’re a hun­dred-mile-an-hour guy. Hope to stay current.

Bill Sul­li­van, Bangor