All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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The MashUp: A Blog About Books For Teens

Jamie Watson: The MashUp Blogger

Jamie Watson is's consultant for young adult literature. Jamie is a reviewer for School Library Journal and she is active in the Young Adult Library Services Association, serving on several of its committees, including Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults. She is a librarian in suburban Baltimore.

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2008 becomes 2009

February  9, 2009
Once the Children's Literature awards are given out, 2008 really draws to a close.  And now, what's an avid reader to do? Read the 2008 titles that you haven't yet read, or clean the slate and start digging into 2009?

I've found this year's awards to be a good mix of the expected and unusual, the popular and unheard of. My favorite book didn't win the big one but it did win the Schneider Family Book Award for portrayal of a disability. And there's no denying that the book that did win the big one was highly deserving, and it is bringing a lot of positive attention to the awards, after a few months of backlash.

Meanwhile, for the 4th year in a row, an Australian book was recognized by the Printz committee, but this time, the book received the hightest honor. I've not read Jellicoe Road yet, but would love to hear from some who did - what did you think? And what is going on in Australia?

Speaking of Australia, I am excited to read Shaun Tan's new illustrated work, Tales from Outer Suburbia , due out this month. More later if I like it!

Meanwhile, I'm thinking that I can't let 2008 go by the wayside without reading Graceling, Madapple and Terry Pratchett's Nation. (Which I've also heard is a great listen.) 

Here's to another year of good books for all types of readers!

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A Winner for All?

February 20, 2008

This year's Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult literature went to The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. 14-year old Symone gets to take the trip of a lifetime, to Antarctica, following in the footsteps of her (imaginary?) explorer companion. No part of the trip is as it originally seems, and eventually Symone isn't sure she will survive. The writing is exceptional and the award deserving.

The book is also a challenging and unique read, filled with shifts in time, an unreliable narrator, and a daunting length. It would be tough to recommend this to the average reader, let alone a reluctant reader. It is for what librarians call "special readers" those who are looking for things outside the average hot teen read. The Printz does not take into account audience or appeal, just literary merit. it's wonderful when a book has both, but let's be honest, not all do.

So what's a good winter read for the average or reluctant reader? I suggest Roland Smith's Peak, with a 14-year old character, Peak, who is the son of two mountain climbers. After he gets in trouble for scaling a building, he goes to stay with his father, who leads expeditions to Mt. Everest. Peak has a chance to become the youngest person to reach the summit, but there are of course complications. This is an action-packed story that will appeal to adventure lovers, and good and reluctant readers alike. (The title was selected for both Best Books for Young Adults, which focuses on literary quality, and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, concentrating on appealing books for those who don't like to read.)

There's an art to finding the right book for the right teen at the right time--it's important to look everywhere for suggestions. "Best" doesn't always mean a perfect fit.

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February 22, 2009
Popular wisdom decrees summer to be the time for brainless, action-packed movies and books.  The superhero movies will start to appear in the spring, and the "beach reads" right along with them.

But I find this time of year to be most perfect for these escapist reads. The holidays are long past, but the warm weather still seems so far off. Why not read an adventure story to pass away a cold gray February weekend?

One book, or series of books, that would make a great summer action movie is Kenneth Oppel's Airborn and Skybreaker. I recently read Skybreaker, and couldn't believe how a book of over 300 pages could feel like one you could easily finish in a sitting.

In Airborn, we meet Matt Cruse, a poor cabin boy, and wealthy Kate and her chaperone, Miss Simpkins, who are traveling aboard an airship. When pirates attack the airship, Matt realizes that Kate is starving for adventure, and they team up to not only defeat the pirates but to discover if the strange, "cloud cat" creatures really exist.

Skybreaker, the sequel, shows Matt attempting to become an airship pilot, but adventure is not far behind. Kate returns, but also beautiful gypsy Nadira, and cocky pilot Hal, who together form a, shall we say, love quadrangle? They are all chasing the runaway ship Hyperion, rumored to be full of treasure. Once they locate the Hyperion, the pace goes even faster, with the end satisfying but still leaving hope for more stories of this crew.  This series brings to mind almost nothing more than the Indiana Jones series, with not only the pacing, but the delicious bad guys and the hint of romance that never gets in the way of the action.

Another clever adventure book is Don Wood's Into the Volcano. This author, best known for his picture book collaborations with wife Audrey, here makes a graphic novel for older elementary/middle school readers. Two brothers, Duff and Sumo, are sent to stay with their aunt in Hawaii, an aunt they've never met. Once the brothers arrive, they continue to be suspicious that something is amiss, and the "trip" they go on proves this to be true - they are literally heading right into an exploding volcano. Just as in Skybreaker, whether characters are good or bad stays questionable for large parts of the book, as does the survival of several characters. (A minor character does die in Skybreaker.) And unsurprisingly, both of the adventures are after hidden treasure.

Both of these reads would be recommended for fans of the Alex Rider series, or for anyone, particularly boys, who want a good adventure.

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Another Take on Required Reading

August 30, 2008
In Sunday's Washington Post, I was interested to see this take on Required Reading for high school English classes right after posting the blog about it myself.

I liked that the author admits she has more questions than answers. Otherwise motivated students can become disengaged when faced with dull reading assignments, doing only the minimum required.  I'm sure books that she lists as most popular with her students, The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye, are not at all universally loved by all students.

She also touches briefly on one of the conundrums of adding contemporary teen literature to assigned reading - it's not the dryness of the literature that turns kids off, it can be the dryness of the assignment, rendering even the most popular of teen literature as nothing more than "homework."

I think teachers, librarians, and parents who are visiting this site are trying their best to instill a love of literature in their teens. There might not be one size fits all, but having the discussion, and asking hard questions, helps to find the best fit we can.

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