5 great reads for young critical thinkers



An image from the book cover for ‘SLAY,’ one of the top 2019 five books for young critical thinkers.
(Simon and Schuster)

Heba Elsherief, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

At this time of year, “best of” lists abound, vying for our attention. But teachers and parents committed to principles of social justice are generally left searching for something more than the usual top 10 list of best-of books.

We hope the reads we give are not just entertaining but also educational.

I’ve previously written on children’s literature and presented book lists for critical thinkers on The Conversation Canada. The authors I listed lead to a treasure trove — for example, S.K. Ali’s Love from A to Z — but what follows is a new list of recommendations. They are books published from September 2019 that I hope will both entice readers and foster critical thinking.

This book list is not exhaustive and I present it more as suggestions — ones that may warrant further research. Teachers and parents will want to look up any trigger warnings.

Also, I recommend adults read books along with younger readers: it’s vital to meaningful conversations. I think adult readers may be pleasantly surprised by the rich and important storytelling happening in the young adult literary world.


‘All American Muslim Girl’ book cover.
(Macmillan Publishers)

All-American Muslim Girl, by Nadine Jolie Courtney, defies what you think you might know about female Muslim representation in an American context.

Allie Abraham is the main character whose born-Muslim father dislikes that she’s becoming more spiritual. The family has just moved to a small town, a microcosm of a nation where Islamophobia has become normalized. Allie falls for the son of Jack Henderson, the county’s “shock jock” behind the spread of hatred.

It’s a quiet but complex story about the search for identity and learning to find your own way. Allie is a likable character whose moral compass is wholesome and whose struggles to sift through opposing influences read as authentic and heart-warming. There’s an education and historical element to be found here on Circassian Muslims.


Book cover for ‘The Fountains of Silence.’
(Penguin Random House)

The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys. Since reading Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea, probably one of my most recommended historical YA novels, I’ve been on the lookout for her work. In her latest, Sepetys takes readers to Spain in the 1950’s under the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Beyond giving us a look into the sorrow-filled aftermath of civil war, there are lessons here for those dealing with questions of privilege and the responsibilities to do something positive with that privilege.

Daniel Matheson is the protagonist photographer and son of an American oil tycoon who falls in love with Ana, the hotel maid and daughter of parents killed and imprisoned by the regime. She needs to keep silent in a country that relies on controlling people by fear. But Ana finds herself confiding in Daniel and Daniel begins to look beyond what he thinks he sees on the surface.

The best historical novels say something about contemporary times as well and Sepetys doesn’t disappoint. Readers will find parallels that speak to our silences regarding blatant injustices happening today.


SLAY, by Brittney Morris, is one I’d been hearing about for a long time before its September release. People called it a mash-up of The Hate U Give, and Ready Player One with a Black Panther-esque gaming world at its core.

Kiera Johnson is pretty much the only Black girl into STEM at her mostly white school. Beneath her honours persona, she’s hiding a secret life as the developer of an online game called SLAY. The game is supposed to be a safe-space for hundreds of thousands of Black gamers but when a teen is murdered in real life over a dispute in the game world, the game is exposed to accusations and threats.

Kiera fights to protect the world she created on several fronts. Although this is a novel that defies what stereotypes of Black girlhood may look like, it is also a super-inspiring read about the power of aligning your dreams with making the world a better, more inclusive space.


Book cover for ‘The Grace Year.’
(Macmillan)

The Grace Year, by Kim Liggett, has already been optioned for film and been compared to The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale. It does not have an obvious diversity element built into it but it does have its strengths for critical readers.

It’s a dystopian story about Tierney James who lives in a patriarchal, puritanical society that sends girls in their 16th year out to “release their magic” into the wild. The belief is that girls on the cusp of womanhood have an energy that, unless expended, would bring the moral degeneration of their community. In the author’s note at the end, Liggett tells the story of how she was inspired to tell this story because of “the things we do to young girls.”

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The prose is elegant and captivating, but the world is cruel and disturbing. The book was hard to read at times despite its female empowerment message. Accordingly, for this recommendation, I’d stress the necessity of reviewing the trigger warnings.


Book cover for ‘It’s a Whole Spiel.’
(Knopf)

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman, is for readers who prefer shorter stories rather than one long tale. Some are funny, others are sad, but all, in one way or another, address what growing up Jewish meant to the writer.

Bursting with diverse and intersectional representations (there’s queer and disabled reps here too, for instance), this anthology, much like All-American Muslim Girl, demonstrates that people of marginalized faiths aren’t a monolith and defy the stereotypes around them.

This book would be great for young Jewish readers, certainly for the chance to see themselves reflected in the books they read, but I see the benefit for non-Jewish readers as well. As children’s literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop explains, books can be as windows, mirrors and sliding doors. Bishop wrote:

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.

Rudine Sims Bishop, author of the essay ‘Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors’

[Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day.]The Conversation

Heba Elsherief, Adjunct professor in Education, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Love, laughter, adventure and fantasy: a summer reading list for teens



Summer is a great time to catch up on some reading.
from shutterstock.com

Margot Hillel, Australian Catholic University

An Australian summer can be a holiday by the beach, recovering from exams, or anticipating the next stage of schooling. The summer break can also offer a wonderful opportunity to catch up on some reading.

Award-winning author and illustrator Shaun Tan wrote the

lessons we learn from […] stories are best applied to a similar study of life in general […] At its most successful, fiction offers us devices for interpreting reality.

(If you aren’t familiar with Tan’s work, look out for The Arrival, Cicada and Tales from the Inner City, among others).

Research from New Zealand suggests young adults like to read books which make them laugh, “let them use their imagination, have a mystery or problem to solve, have characters they wish they could be like”.

Based on this, here are some recommendations your teen could read this summer.

For teens in years 10-12

Living on Hope Street (2017)

Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton said:

When I was a young adult I cherished those books that took me seriously, that acknowledged the world was a complicated and often troubled place.


Allen & Unwin

Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren does just that. Hope Street is a fictional Australian street with a diverse population.

This diversity is replicated in the book’s multiple-voice narrative structure.

The voices are initially separate but come together in a way that reflects the development of the community.

The characters range in age from school children to a Vietnam war veteran and include a refugee family. Hope Street has messages of tolerance, love, courage, friendship and the importance of family.




Read more:
5 reasons I always get children picture books for Christmas


The Things That Will Not Stand (2018)

Novels invite the reader to imagine themselves as the characters and understand other people’s situations.


Readings

In The Things That Will Not Stand, by Michael Gerard Bauer, two teenagers, Sebastian and Tolly, attend a university open day together.

They meet a girl who is not quite what she seems but who so intrigues Sebastian, he stays on long after Tolly has gone home and the open day activities have finished, just so he can see her again.

There are some very funny scenes throughout the book, usually involving Tolly.

The action takes place on just one day, a day which both boys will remember for ever.

This book will particularly appeal to readers at the upper levels of secondary school, inviting them to imagine themselves in the place of the characters.

All the Crooked Saints (2017)


Scholastic

Maggie Stiefvater sets this book in a remote Colorado town, Bicho Raro, where a most unusual family lives – a family that appears to perform miracles. Into this tiny town comes Pete, whose application to join the army has been rejected and he is seeking to come to terms with that disappointment by hitchhiking.

He has been picked up by Tony, a DJ trying to escape fame and heading to Bicho Raro because he has heard about the family that can perform miracles.

Their visit changes both of them for the better. There is a lot here for older teenage readers as the book involves romance and humour, and has touches of magic and fantasy.

Stiefvaster also explores concepts of good and bad and the importance of knowing ourselves.




Read more:
Young adult fiction’s dark themes give the hope to cope



Pan Macmillan

Words in Deep Blue (2016)

This novel by Cath Crowley is largely set in the delightfully-named secondhand bookshop, Howling Books.

It is a paean of praise to books, the important part they can play in our lives and helping us come to terms with grief.

This is also a celebration of words and friendship, with characters older readers will relate to.


For teens in years 7-9

Dragonfly Song (2016)


Allen & Unwin

Ancient Crete is the setting for Wendy Orr’s Dragonfly Song. The book tells of those chosen to be the tribute to the Bull King (he chooses a tribute every year).

The outcast girl, called No-Name by everyone, seizes the opportunity to become one of the tributes, a task she knows to be demanding and often dangerous. She will have to brave the bloody bull dances in his royal court.

Will she actually survive the test?

The book is inspired by the legend of the Minotaur. It is thoroughly researched, lyrically written and invites readers to imagine themselves in No-name’s place.


Harper Collins

His Name was Walter (2018)

A group of students and their teacher, separated from the others on a school excursion, find an odd-looking book in a deserted house. Emily Rodda beautifully uses the device of a story within a story in His Name Was Walter.

What happens next is mysterious and intriguing as past and present combine. The ending is both poignant and satisfying.

Hatchet (1986)


Scholastic

Imagine finding yourself stranded in an unknown wilderness without a mobile phone. This is exactly what happens to Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.

It’s a kind of modern Robinson Crusoe story, first published in 1986 before the proliferation of mobile phones.

In this adventure, Brian has to be inventive and resilient to survive. The book is the first in a series of five. One review suggested, for many readers, Hatchet was “the first school-assigned book they fell in love with”.

How to Bee (2017)


Allen & Unwin

How would life be without bees? How would the pollination of plants, so essential to life on earth, happen?

This intriguing story, by Bren MacDibble, explores that idea and sets up a scenario where children do the pollinating – but only the bravest and quickest.

Penny longs to be one of these, but can she, especially when it looks as though she might be taken away from the life she has known?




Read more:
Honest and subtle: writing about sex in young adult literature


The Conversation


Margot Hillel, Professor, Children’s Literature, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Books of the Last Decade that Should be Read More


The link below is to an article that takes a look at books of the last decade that should be read more – at least in the opinion of the article’s writer.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/26-books-from-the-last-decade-that-if-you-havent-read-you-should/

Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy from the 2010s


The link below is to an article that considers some of the best science fiction and fantasy reads from the 2010s.

For more visit:
https://bookmarks.reviews/10-sci-fi-and-fantasy-must-reads-from-the-2010s/

Old white men dominate school English booklists. It’s time more Australian schools taught Australian books



Shakespeare’s plays are still some of the most studied texts in school English.
from shutterstock.com

Larissa McLean Davies, University of Melbourne

In recent weeks, Australian universities’ commitment to teaching Australian literature has come under scrutiny. This came amid revelations Sydney University has withdrawn funding from its Chair of Australian Literature – the nation’s first.

Later news of the possible closure of UWA Publishing compounded anxiety about the future of Australian literary studies. An article in The Australian newspaper noted there is no local university in which an undergraduate student can specialise in Australian literature.




Read more:
The open access shift at UWA Publishing is an experiment doomed to fail


The concern goes beyond tertiary studies. We conducted a project exploring secondary school teachers’ engagement with Australian texts. We found Australian books are not consistently taught in classrooms and, when they are, they more often than not marginalise female, refugee and Indigenous authors.

A professor famously said he would teach the novel Kangaroo, in the absence of appropriate texts by Australian authors.
Wikimedia commons

The demographic of Australian classrooms has changed significantly in the past fifty years. But the texts studied in English have remained remarkably stable.

In our multi-cultural society, where compulsory schooling is intended to help develop critically informed and empathetic citizens, this situation requires serious attention.

Why teachers don’t teach Aussie books

Studying English and literature in settler societies was historically intended to support students to value “Englishness”. As a result, Australian literature, if it was acknowledged at all, was systematically marginalised and maligned in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the 1940s – in a precursor to what we now call the “cultural cringe” – an English professor famously renounced Australian literature. He said that, in the absence of appropriate books by Australians, he would lecture on DH Lawrence’s novel, Kangaroo.




Read more:
‘Australia has no culture’: changing the mindset of the cringe


Australia’s first national curriculum, in 2008, attempted to respond to this enduring imperial literary legacy. It mandated teaching Australian literature, placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature at the heart of this commitment.

Harper Lee is one of two female authors on the list of the top 15 books taught by English teachers we compiled from our national survey.
Wikimedia commons

Most states and territories have mandated text lists for school senior years, which generally include titles by Indigenous authors. But recent research in Victoria has shown school uptake of these texts is limited.

Our research shows teachers are often reluctant to select books by Australian authors. Reasons for this include a limited knowledge of diverse Australian texts, often due to a lack of exposure to Australian literature at school and university.

There are fewer teaching resources for Australian literature too and teachers are concerned about inaccurately representing the stories of Indigenous Australians.

Some teachers we spoke to also raised questions about the quality of Australian literature, as compared with more established canonical texts. One teacher said:

While I appreciate that it is important to have Australian literature in the curriculum […] I find that Australian texts are often very similar and this limits the number of themes and ideas the students are exposed to over the course of their education.

We also conducted a national survey of more than 700 English teachers, asking them what books they taught in class. The following top 15 texts were most referenced:



This should not be seen as a definitive list of texts most used in Australian classrooms. But it does offer insight into the relative status of Australian literature in the curriculum.

Most works on this list are written in the past, by male British or American writers. Most of these have formed part of the school literary canon for generations. There are only two texts by women, Hinton and Lee, and no texts by Australian women, migrant Australians or Aboriginal writers.




Read more:
Diversity, the Stella Count and the whiteness of Australian publishing


The only texts by Australians cited here are Marsden’s 1990s dystopian invasion series and Silvey’s 2009 coming of age novel.

How do we change it?

Our research showed teachers need more time, knowledge, resources and confidence to include more Australian literature in the classroom. This is not surprising given teachers we surveyed and interviewed often completed both secondary and tertiary studies in English without significant experiences of Australian literature.

Coleman’s speculative fiction novel has been studied by our teacher researchers.

In response, colleagues and I have partnered with the Stella Prize (a literary award for Australian women writers) to develop the teacher-researchers project.

Teachers select a text from the Stella long-list. They then work intensively with the project team – which includes teacher-educators and Australian literary studies experts – and university archives or other cultural collections, to develop resources to teach their chosen texts that can be shared.

Texts in this pilot project have included Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neervan, Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman and The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke.

This project will expand the literary knowledge and experiences of teachers, students and school communities involved. But a concerted, bipartisan and enduring commitment to resourcing scholarship and teaching of Australian writing across universities and schools is imperative.

If we are to ensure all students experience Australian stories from the past and the present, Australian writing, in all its rich diversity, must be a central part of a literary education.The Conversation

Larissa McLean Davies, Associate Professor Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why nonfiction books dominate bestseller lists in South Africa



File 20190423 175510 1w4md7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s “Gangster State” is one of South Africa’s top sellers.
Charles Leonard

Beth le Roux, University of Pretoria

Books in South Africa don’t often make headline news. But a controversial subject, protests and disruptions at a book launch, and threats of book burning are sufficient to get South Africans talking about the place of books in society once again.

This is exactly what has happened with investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s latest book “Gangster State”.

“Gangster State” is an exposé of current African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Ace Magashule’s alleged murky dealings as premier of the Free State province, and his rise to one of the governing party’s most influential positions. The book has stirred up passionate reactions, both for and against its contents.

This last happened in late 2017 when another investigative reporter Jacques Pauw published a similar book, “The President’s Keepers”. That book dealt with South Africa’s previous head of state, Jacob Zuma, who’s been closely linked to massive corruption. Zuma denies the allegations.




Read more:
Two books that tell the unsettling tale of South Africa’s descent


Clearly, this kind of book touches a certain chord in South African society. A quick glance through the top-selling books in the past few years shows that non-fiction, and particularly political non-fiction dealing with very topical events, is the most popular genre.

The trend can be traced back through a number of years, with nonfiction consistently dominating the Nielsen’s BookScan sales charts – the most comprehensive figures collected on book sales through commercial booksellers. This raises the question: why do political books do so well in South Africa?

Celebrities

This isn’t a uniquely South Africa phenomenon. Nonfiction is popular around the world. Celebrities’ memoirs or biographies, as well as history titles, are more likely to become bestsellers than any other kinds of nonfiction. Indeed, Michelle Obama’s memoir “Becoming” caused a paper shortage in the US towards the end of 2018, as it was reprinted in such large quantities and at short notice to keep up with audience demand. This title has now sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

Where South Africa differs is in the balance of sales between nonfiction and fiction. In most of the largest publishing markets, fiction is bought at much higher rates than nonfiction. In the US, for instance, average sales for fiction titles are between 4 000 and 8 000 copies, while the nonfiction average is lower, at 2 000 to 6 000 copies.

In South Africa, it’s the reverse. Nonfiction outsells fiction. This is not a new trend, either: political books found a ready audience throughout the apartheid period.

There are a few categories of nonfiction that do particularly well: political nonfiction, South African history (especially political history), religious books – and the ubiquitous cookbooks. The authors that have the edge tend to be journalists rather than academics, probably because their writing is so much more accessible.

Statistically, too, men write more nonfiction than women in South Africa, and so are more likely to produce top-selling titles, as was found by one of my post-graduate students, Kelly Ansara, in her Master’s study of the gender balance in SA publishing.

South African trends

In analysing the publishing lists and sales figures of the local nonfiction publishers – Pan Macmillan, Jonathan Ball, Penguin SA, Tafelberg and Jacana, on the whole – another difference becomes apparent. Books by and about celebrities are not as popular in South Africa as in the US and UK. Their sales are thus less predictable.

For instance, while former Springbok rugby coach Jake White’s “In Black and White” sold more than 60 000 copies in a week in 2008, star rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen’s “Man in the Mirror” was less successful. Comedian Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime”, has been extremely successful, but titles by local musicians and actors such as Bonang Matheba and Somizi Mhlongo have sold comparatively few copies.

The raft of competing titles that hit the shelves after the murder conviction of former Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius did not take off as well as expected. Excellent titles on topics as diverse as climate change and South African art sell a respectable number, but don’t make the bestseller list.

Many of the country’s nonfiction titles sell several thousand copies very quickly, but few of them have staying power. Current interest is intense in topics like state capture and corruption scandals. But it fades quickly, leading to a short shelf-life for a number of political books. Only a few gain the perennial interest and staying power of a title like “I Write What I Like” by Steve Biko or Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”.

Making sense

Many commentators suggest that the interest in political and current affairs titles reflects a nation trying to make sense of its tumultuous political environment. The huge political and social shifts of the past 20 to 30 years are still influencing South Africans’ daily lives. With one corruption scandal following another, trust in the authorities is low. But citizens still seek authoritative overviews and answers – in the nonfiction titles that line our shelves.

There is little reason to predict that the trend will change. However, if the threats mount, then we may see authors and publishers shifting to less controversial topics. For now, it’s great to see books in the news again.The Conversation

Beth le Roux, Associate Professor, Publishing, University of Pretoria

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.