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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Award predictions

January 24, 2009
What an exciting past week, no matter what your passion! Whether it be something with lasting historical value, such as the inauguration, remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, or something more lighthearted like the teams to be playing in the Super Bowl, or the Oscar nominations, everyone surely had something to get excited about.

Librarians are beginning to arrive at their Midwinter conference to continue the excitement into the world of children's literature, when the "Academy Awards of Children's Literature" are announced Monday morning.

Just like football teams, and Oscar nominations, those in the know love to make predictions. Of course, very very few of us, if any, will have read the volume of books at the intensity that those on an award committee do. But it's still fun to make your opinion known.

One of the first books I read this year has stayed with me all year as the biggest Newbery contender. Waiting for Normal is the story of 12-year old Addie, who lives in a trailer with her "Mommers" who has just divorced Addie's stepfather. Mommers is inattentive to say the least, and Addie really raises herself, even as she creates a makeshift family. Leslie Connor lets the story unfold slowly and organically, much like real life. There is suspense, and sadness but ultimately happiness.

I can't wait to hear the announcement of what our voraciously reading committee members pick! And this year, I'm on the
Robert F. Sibert medal committee for best informational book, and I can't wait to see what our committee picks as well! Tune in Monday.

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Missed classics

January 12, 2009
Recently, for another work related task, I needed to re-read some classic works of literature for young adults. Or, in some cases, to read them for the first time.

One of the titles I'd never read was Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved . This, the 1981  Newbery winner, is the story of two sisters growing up on a crabbing island in the Chesapeake Bay. The book beautifully touches on first crushes, sibling rivalry, family dynamics, and each story is told with equal power and love, right up to the highly moving ending. Truly, my synopsis cannot do it justice.

Such a big part of the children's literature canon is this book, that to be honest, I was convinced once I started reading it, I'd realize I HAD read it, and just forgotten, but I don't think that was the case. I would have been in high school when it came out, and probably not paying too much attention to children's books at that point. And then, as I began my children's literature career, I went back and read so many books I'd missed as a child, but somehow, this one never found it's way to my nightstand.

Honestly, the same thing happens with adult classics too. There are so many adult titles that I've just never had occasion to read - in the last year alone I've read A Confederacy of Dunces (also given an award in 1981, although it was the Pulitzer Prize.) and Atlas Shrugged. I know enough to have been able to talk halfway intelligently about either of these books, but until this year, they'd just never risen to the top.

Non-librarians are often thrilled to know they've read something I haven't, and usually try to convince me to read them (The Great Gatsby will probably get read someday, Moby Dick, on the other hand, is doubtful.) But when pressed, nearly everyone will have a title in which they say, "I've always meant to read that."

I'd love to know what titles have just always passed you by. Because even as technology becomes more and more important, those old classics still have their power as fabulous works of literature. Maybe we can all agree to read something that we "should have" read a long time ago. Make it your New Year's Resolution!

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Graphic Non-fiction

December 19, 2008
I love non-fiction. One of the greatest reading experiences is reading a non-fiction book about a subject that you're already familiar with, and finding a fact that makes you say "I didn't know that!!"

I also love graphic novels. My tastes don't tend to run to the things that are popular with teens (basically manga), although I did become a fan of Death Note. And this year's Skim may be my favorite teen book of the year. But my personal tastes run more toward the literary and adult, such as Daniel Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Joe Sacco.

But my feeling about non-fiction graphic works has tended towards the lukewarm, other than a few literary exceptions, such as the above-mentioned Sacco. I have felt as if they were cynical grabs towards meeting kids where they are, thinking that the format was the sole thing that interested them, as opposed to looking at the big picture, that graphic novels, particularly manga, appealed to kids because of their fast-paced storylines, the familiarity of a series, tie-ins to cartoons seen on tv, and more. All "comics" are not created equal, if they were, literary graphic novels would fly off the shelves just as fast as throwaway manga.

A recent article in School Library Journal may have oversoid somewhat the appeal of the non-fiction graphic work, but it does have a good list of some that are better than others. Even though I doubt teens will self-select it, I highly recommend Thoreau at Walden, as told by John Porcellino. Using only quotes from Thoreau's works, and an earth-toned pallette, Porcellino captures the "simple living" philosophy of Thoreau. if Walden or other of Thoreau's works is assigned in the classroom, this would be a fine companion to understanding the philosophy of Thoreau.

I'd love to hear more concrete examples of non-fiction graphic novels that have resonated with teen readers.

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Reading for the Weekend: India

December  4, 2008

This past week has brought so much sad news to us from India, the second most populous country in the world, but a country of which we hear comparatively little news.

In recent years, there have been many books for young readers set in India or the Indian diaspora. Most notably is this year's Climbing the Stairs. Set during World War II amid the burgeoning Indian independence movement, this book offers a lot of detail about Indian history, while also telling the story of our heroine Vidya, who wants only to further her education, not to be married off.

A similar character is found in Kashmira Sheth's Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet, although this time the book is set in contemporary Mumbai. Jeeta also wants an education, rather than marriage, and it doesn't help that her dark skin makes her difficult to marry her off. This is a good immersion into contemporary Indian culture.

There are also several good books about the Indian diaspora. In the United States, 2.6 million people are of Indian descent. Born Confused is a wonderful portrayal of ethnicity and assimilation, set in suburban New York. Dimple just wants to be like the others in her suburban school,but when her blond best friend becomes infatuated with an Indian boy,  Dimple discovers that being "cool" and being Indian aren't mutually exclusive.

There is a wonderful series of light books for girls set in England, starting with Bindi Babes. These books for middle-grade readers involve three Indian sisters who live with their father after the death of their mother, and their attempts to engineer the events in the adults of their lives.

Finally, an even lesser known story of India is that of the Indian population in East Africa, featured in Child of Dandelions. Here, Indians living in Uganda, even those who were Ugandan citizens are being asked to leave the country within 90 days. While hopelessly violent and sad, this book again features a strong heroine trying to keep her family together in frightening times.

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