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Books and Beyond

As texting, gaming, and TV cause teen reading to decline, here are ways to reverse the trend.

   

From a teacher blog about young adult literature, to a Spotify playlist featuring the favorite tunes of a young adult fiction writer, to a graphic novel that began life as classic literature, to a Tumblr campaign promoting diverse books, educators, publishers, authors, and illustrators are all tuning into teen readers.

The efforts come at an important time. A recent survey by Common Sense Media shows that—particularly for teens—pleasure reading is on a steady decline. But survey results also show that when children and teens are engaged in reading for pleasure early on, they remain strong readers well into their teens and beyond. Here’s how you can bring back the joy of reading.

Include student choices

“I encourage teachers to look outside of the usual texts in their classroom and give students a choice and a voice,” says Sarah Andersen, a Michigan blogger and English teacher

Michigan teacher and young adult literature blogger Sarah Andersen says the survey results should encourage teachers to build up their classroom library. Andersen, an English teacher at Fenton High School in Fenton, writes the YA Love blog, popular with teachers and students alike.

“I encourage teachers to look outside of the usual texts in their classroom and give students a choice and a voice,” says Andersen. “I include student reviews, and they’re a favorite among my teacher and student followers.”

At Fenton, Andersen and Fenton's media specialist created a reading club and students display their favorite book choices on their lockers. “Since working on the club, I’ve seen the number of books checked out double and often see students huddled together, talking about books they’ve read. Who wouldn’t want that?”

Tackle tough topics

Today’s books often generate rich and sometimes revealing discussions. Split, by Swati Avasti, is a book Andersen covers in her blog.

“Swati Avasthi has written a really eye-opening novel about the cycle of abuse,” writes Andersen. “I think many of us have an idea of what an abusive household is like, but reading about it from main character Jace’s perspective is a completely different experience. As a teacher, sometimes it’s obvious when a student is being abused, and I know I need to take action. I hope that by having this book in my classroom, I’ll be able to help those students open up and find the help they need.”

Another novel about abuse resonated with one of Andersen’s students but in an unexpected way. “I had a student come up to me one day worried that he risked becoming an abuser himself,” recalls Andersen. “He wanted to get help to stop the cycle. That’s the power of a good book.”

Include graphic novels

“I love graphic novels and use quite a few in my class. For more visual learners, it’s a great way to get them into the book and get them hooked on reading,” says Andersen. “Some even offer a window into history. Take Gene Luen Yang’s award-winning Boxers and Saints, for example. It’s told from two perspectives of the Boxer Rebellion in China.”

Incorporating graphic novels into your curriculum doesn’t mean giving up on the classics, says graphic novelist and illustrator Gareth Hinds, who recreates such classics as Beowulf, The Odyssey, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet in stunning detail. “My work is just a different entry point,” says Hinds. “Teachers have often used them for students who may initially find the original inaccessible—English language learners for example, or struggling readers. But it doesn’t mean they don’t also use the original. They often use our books side-by-side with terrific results.”

Diversify your reading list

Ellen Oh, author of the YA novel Prophecy, and a founder of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, says educators should re-examine their summer, back-to-school, and classroom reading lists. “Take a look at the great range of books being written by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters,” says Oh. “They’re offering wonderful books that draw readers in.”

Teachers often use graphic novels "side-by-side with terrific results,” says author Gareth Hinds.

Matt de la Peña, award-winning author of Mexican White Boy and The Living agrees. “Books featuring diverse characters or experiences make a connection with today’s diverse student body,” says Peña. “Years ago, on a school visit, I asked how many multiracial students were in the room and only a handful of students raised their hand. Today, an entire classroom may be multiracial.”

But these books aren’t just for diverse students. “Inside and Out and Back Again, a terrific book about a Vietnamese girl who left her war-torn country and ended up in Alabama, is not just for the Vietnamese girl in the room but for all of the students in the room,” says Peña. Learn more about the campaign at weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com. For more ways to bring works by diverse authors into the classroom, check out diversifYA.com.

Use social media

If educators aren’t privy to the vast universe of young adult literature, where do you start? Believe it or not, says Andersen, begin with the very world that some view as a threat to reading: Social media.

Publishers and authors have a tremendous presence in the digital world and they’re pulling in readers, says Macmillan vice president Angus Killick, who helped create Macmillan’s popular FierceReads twitter campaign and author tour.

Harper Collins is another good example. The publisher’s EpicReads.com site offers a peek at new books, and some include a suggested music playlist, such as the Spotify collection of tunes chosen by author Lauren Oliver for her novel Panic.

Social media also gives your students a chance to connect with their favorite authors, whether it’s through Skype, Twitter, or Tumblr. “Authors are a great source of material for your classroom,” says Andersen. “Take the time this summer to check out author Web sites, Twitter campaigns, and book trailers. John Green for example, has 200,000 followers and he posts history lessons, video blogs, and booklists.

Whether it’s social media, graphic novels, or diverse books, finding new ways to reintroduce students to the joys of reading may just make them lifelong readers, says Andersen. “You’ll be so glad you did and so will your students.”


RELATED ITEMS

Audio of the WeNeedDiverseBooks panel at BookCon 2014 in New York

The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks by diversebooks

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