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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Summer Reading is Due!

August 21, 2008

This week, bookstores and libraries are full of kids rushing to finish summer reading assignments.

I was thinking back to one of my favorite required reading assignments, one that I did my senior year. Each student needed to do an author study that would last the whole year, reading five books and completing a lengthy paper. We got to choose our author (mainly from the canon) and which books we would read.

I chose Thomas Hardy, because I had recently watched the Polanski adaptation of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and thought the book had high promise to be romantic, and maybe a little naughty. (Little did I know that Jude the Obscure would be even naughtier!)

I fell in love with Hardy, and the themes of his work remain my favorites in literature and film--the struggle against fate and circumstances, and a lesser one that I like to call "smart people, foolish choices." I don't know whether I was drawn to him because I was already intrigued by these themes, or if my love of Hardy's books caused prompted by interest.

Most kids rail against summer reading, and I was no exception. I also had to read Great Expectations, a book with similar themes, and hated it. Why? The easy answer is, Great Expectations was required of all, but Hardy was my choice.

Required reading isn't necesarily a bad thing, but having some choice always helps. Do any of you have required books that you remember fondly?  

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Poetry Friday : The Surrender Tree

August  8, 2008

Though Cuba is so close to us here in the United States, many people know very little about Cuban history. Though hardly a complete history, The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle offers a glimpse into 19th century Cuba.

At first, a book of poetry about Cuba wouldn't seem to have a lot of teen appeal. But the simple yet beautiful language, combined with the ruthless violence of the slavehunters and the magical realism feel of Rosa's healing, brings an opening to introducing this time period to a high school student.

The story is told through the voice of several characters. Rosa is our main character, but a boy nicknamed Lieutenant Death gives voice to the slavehunters. Rosa begins as a young girl, but as she ages, she marries Jos, who then helps her in the healing arts, curing both rebels and the Spanish. In learning of this unfamiliar history, students should easily be able to draw parallels between America's own slave past, as well as the Native American repatriation.

Though none of the poems are lengthy, here is a particularly brief one of Rosa's that captures the spare language:

    This is how you clean a wound:
    Clean the flesh.
    Sew the skin.
    Pray for the soul.


Publisher's discussion guide for The Surrender Tree.

More novels in verse.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup.

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The Future of Reading - in the Past?

July 31, 2008
Two recent articles have been receiving lots of buzz in youth literature circles. One from The New Yorker has to do with legendary New York Public Librarian Anne Carroll Moore, and her vehement--and public-- dislike of Stuart Little. The new book by Leonard Marcus, Minders of Make Believe, shares other stories that are associated with Moore, many wonderful and inspiring, but also telling of her determination, in 1906, to "purge the library's collection of series fiction--books she considered trash."

Stuart Little? Series books? It's hard to imagine a public library without them!

Another heavily blogged about article is from Sunday's New York Times. "Online, R U Really Reading" talks about how kids might not read books, but spend hours online including some time writing fan fiction about existing books rather than reading the books themselves.

I can't help but wonder whether, in 50 or 100 years, we will look back at this fear of "online reading" with the same quaint sense of shock that we now look on Moore's desire to keep Stuart Little and series books out of her beloved New York Public Library?

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Poetry Friday : Black Stars in a White Night Sky

July 24, 2008
Elephants and autumn, and a bassoon-playing bison are just a few of the kid-friendly subjects in this clever collection by JonArno Lawson, a Canadian writer of poetry for all ages. I was immediately drawn to this collection, but really hooked at the poem "The Days Have Names," in which days and months have names, but "it doesn't seem to bother us/that weeks pass by anonymous."

Adding to the appeal are illustrations by Sherwin Tija. In a world where poetry is seldom kids' first choice for reading, these pictures help engage the reader, occasionally bringing to mind a graphic novel, and at other times, reminiscent of The Little Prince.

As in many collections, the poems aren't equally wonderful. But most children won't read a poetry collection from cover-to-cover, instead, they rely on a teacher/parent/librarian to help them find the good stuff, and this collection is quite a mine of good stuff, for kids from 10 to teen.

For a few more of Larson's poems, including his twist on the Humpty Dumpty story, visit his website .

For today's Poetry Friday round-up, visit A Year of Reading.

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