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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October  6, 2008
As I sit here watching the vice-presidential debate, I know that it will culminate in my voting on election day in November.  As a kid, I remember not caring about the presidential debates and speeches, but still loving accompanying my Mom to the voting booth on election day. 

Scholastic has been sponsoring a mock election for decades for those too young to vote officially. We're now approaching the last week of voting, so have kids and teens vote early and often! Scholastic has predicted all but Truman and Kennedy as the winner of their respective elections. The results will be posted in mid-October.

Their website also includes lesson plans, background information, and blogs from some kid reporters.

Another publisher, Bloomsbury, has published a fun book about presidential campaigning called See How they Run : Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes and the Race to the White House by Susan E. Goodman. In easy to read prose, and with funny cartoon illustrations, Goodman talks about such topics as campaign promises, election irregularities, and all kinds of trivia, including a presidential fact box.

Both of these sources make the election fun for those who will be affected but don't yet have a voice.

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Reading for the Weekend: Girl v. Boy

September 26, 2008
Girl v. Boy by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout is one of those books that is perfect for "regular" teen readers--teens who don't want a fantasy, or a horror novel, or one with lots of angst. It's about normal teens, doing everyday things, with a twist or two to make it interesting.

Lu lives in a working class Chicago home with her mom and her sister--both single moms. Lu is a good writer whose talents land her a spot on the school paper, pitted against an anonymous boy writer in a "he-said-she-said" column about the sexes.  The plot revolves around Lu's attempts to unmask her counterpart. There are several red herrings along the way, but the mystery boy is actually right in front of her all along.

Lu and most of her friends are Hispanic, but this fact isn't central to the story. It's refreshing to have a story with ethnic characters in which the point of the story is not their ethnicity. 

Girl v. Boy isn't necessarily great literature, but it is a good book to know for teen readers. It's entertaining, with just the right amount of  substance underneath. 

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Stand Up to Cancer

September 12, 2008
Last week the major TV networks collaborated to present Stand Up to Cancer, a new kind of telethon to raise money for cancer research.

However, literature about cancer seems to be stereotyped as "disease of the week" style weepies, but two recent books raise books on this topic to a very high level.

For middle school boys, James Preller's Six Innings seems to be a book about a Little League baseball game, with one inning per chapter and in fact, that is exactly what it is. Most of the boys take a turn expressing their feelings and concerns about both baseball and their lives. But overriding all of the stories is the story of Sam, our narrator and the scorekeeper. As the story progresses we realize Sam is in the booth because cancer has cost him the ability to walk. This book manages to talk about disease from a very boy friendly place.

But probably my favorite book of last year was Jenny Downham's Before I Die. This British import is the story of Tessa, who at 17 has been battling cancer most of her life. As she feels the end approaching, she creates a list of things she needs to do before she dies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list is full of boundary pushing activities, sex, drugs and mild criminal activity, many of which take place with some frank language.
But the end starts coming faster and faster, and Tessa really does cram a lot of living into her last days. You WILL cry at the end of this book.

We've come a long way since Love Story and early Lurlene McDaniel!

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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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