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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Historical Fiction

March 15, 2009
As I mentioned in my last post , I don't like historical fiction. I don't like to dismiss a genre out of hand, but what I can say is that when historical fiction reverts to traits that make me hate it, I hate it. What do I hate? Books that feel like they are a slave to their research, rather than a good story in which the research might make the facts accurate. Books in which I feel the point of the author/publisher was to add a fictional account to a curriculum.

It seems like there are loads of historical fiction titles coming out for a high school aged audience. Just recently I've read books about slavery, Henry VIII, World War II, and medieval England.

Reading Rants
has a wonderful ongoing list called Historical Fiction for Hipsters. She mentions why many teens find historical fiction boring (it IS boring, and dry, and about a topic they aren't interested in. And it's likely they are only reading it because they've been assigned.)

So who are reading these books? Who are these books marketed for? Of course, there are exceptions, such as the Libba Bray titles , and The Luxe series. I would love to hear from teens who read historical fiction by choice, and why they might like it.

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Reading for the Weekend - What I Saw and How I Lied

March  4, 2009
I remember reading an interview with an adult author some years ago in which he mentioned that he switched to a pen name mid-career. It seems his initial books hadn't sold well, and bookstore buyers and librarians weren't buying many copies of newer (better?) books based on the performance of his older works. In other words, he felt he could be more successful as an unknown entity then an experienced, but mediocre talent.

Like it or not, authors of series books are often looked at as "mediocre talents." For every Ann M. Martin, who created the Babysitter's Club and went on to write many well-reviewed books, there are others who toil in seriesdom.

This year's National Book Award winner for young people, Judy Blundell, is a wonderful example of an author who has made her career in series fiction and is now getting recognized for her own talent. Under such pen names as Jude Watson, Blundell wrote suspense series' books for teens and Star Wars novelizations. Her first book published under her own name, What I Saw and How I Lied , is a historical fiction book set in post World War II America. It's a time when South Florida was considered an exotic vacation destination, where it is easy to see a girl falling under the spell of first love.

As a reader who doesn't care for historical fiction, this is a title in the genre I'd recommend to those who "have" to read a historical fiction title. Blundell has the talent needed to write a quick read, something that she undoubtedly perfected in her series writing, but something that you also don't often find in historical fiction, which can tend to be overly descriptive to help set the scene. The book has plot twists and turns, a satisfying surprise ending, and wonderful characters (and a wonderful cover!)

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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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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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