Because I work in a library in the middle of Lancaster County, PA, a place where, if there were no tourists, you’d likely see more Amish out and about than those who aren’t, I’m often asked the question, “What do the Amish read?” I’m not quite sure why there’s a fascination with what the Amish read. Maybe people think that all the Amish read are Bibles (or maybe that they can’t read, since they only attend school through 8th grade, but I promise you, they probably read better than most non-Amish 8th-graders), or maybe people have watched too many episodes of The Amish Mafia and think the Amish frequent the library to read up on the likes of Al Capone. Or maybe it’s just part of an overall fascination with the Amish.
Whatever the reason for the curiosity, I will attempt to answer the question. You must keep in mind, though, that with any population, it’s difficult to generalize. Some Amish really might be reading up on Al Capone. Others might be reading 50 Shades of Grey. You never know, but there are a few patterns I can share with you, so I thought I’d do that. This is, by no means, a complete list, but it will give you an idea.
Children and Teens (The children and teens read much more than their parents do. Here’s a select list of what you might find in their bags):
The kids love Scooby Doo, anything Scooby Doo will do. We have Scooby Doo chapter books, Scooby Doo picture books, Scooby Doo easy readers. You name it, we’ve got it, and they check these books out by the basketful.
Tintin. This one really surprises me. My American friends probably aren’t all that familiar with Tintin (although maybe since the movies came out, you are), whom I discovered the summer I was five when my family lived in England. All the old Tintin comics have been re-issued in single volumes and collections, and we can’t keep them on the shelves, thanks to the Amish boys.
Matt Christopher (another favorite of the boys). I haven’t actually read any Matt Christopher books myself, but again, anything that has his name on it is bound to look well-read in our library.
The Berenstain Bears. I read them when I was a kid. Who would’ve thought they’d practically be a corporation of their own by 2014? Again, we have everything from easy readers to chapter books, and they fly off the shelves in the hands of Amish children.
Anne of Green Gables, all of L.M. Montgomery’s books are popular with the Amish girls, as are the Little House books. Neither of these surprises me. By the way, the Little House books have all kinds of spin-offs now that tell the stories of other characters like Ma.
Anything by Thornton Burgess. I’m pretty sure the only ones checking out these old-fashioned books, most of which have very plain covers, are the Amish.
In the you-might-be-surprised category: the girls like to read The Babysitters Club books, and the teenage girls like to read Sweet Valley High books. They’re also wild about the Heartland series.
Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys are favorites.
In the not-surprising-at-all category: they like a lot of the series and authors published by “Christian” publishers like The Sugarcreek Gang, Ken Munro’s mysteries, FaithGirlz, Nancy Rue, the Mandie books, and Robin Jones Gunn.
Biographies of sports figures are also very popular with the boys.
Most of the Amish women who come into the library read solely from what we call the “Inspirational fiction” shelves. These are books published by “Christian” publishers, like Zondervan and Bethany House. They often feature Amish or Mennonite characters, but not always, and provide stories with moral messages. Authors include people like Beverly Lewis, Karen Kingsbury, Janette Oke, Lauraine Snelling, Wanda Brunstetter, etc. If you ever visit Lancaster County, you will find all these authors in the book sections of gift shops.
The women also check out books on specific types of gardening, like organic, and natural health and nutrition.
Sometimes the men join their wives or sisters in pulling books from the inspirational shelves. Mostly, though, they head for the westerns. Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey are favorites, as well as whatever westerns they can find on the “inspirational fiction” shelves.
They check out nonfiction books on hunting and building and, sometimes, farming (like organic) techniques.
There you have it, a very generalized list that you should not take literally, thinking that this is absolutely what the Amish read, but it should give you an idea of the sorts of things I find them checking out at our library.