Teen summer reads: 5 books to help young people understand racism


Jessica Gannaway, University of Melbourne and Melitta Hogarth, University of Melbourne

This article is part of three-part series on summer reads for young people after a very unique year.


US teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead in 2012 by a neighbourhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman who was later acquitted of the murder. This saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The racist social and political issues in the US saw the deaths and violence on Black bodies brought front and centre through acts of protest.

The arguments against the alleged police brutality in the US were easily translatable to the Australian context.

The Black Lives Matters movement was renewed following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May this year. And together with US counterparts, tens of thousands of Australians marched across our cities to draw attention to racial profiling, police brutality and the more than 400 Indigenous people who have died in police custody since a royal commission into the problem was held in 1991.

The global movement brought unprecedented sales of books about race and anti-racism. This turn toward texts is indicative of the role they play in helping us make sense of major social issues.

Angie Thomas, author of the 2017 bestseller “The Hate U Give”, has spoken about the role of literature in igniting awareness, resistance and change.

I think books […] play a huge role in opening people’s eyes and they’re a form of activism in their own right, in the fact that they do empower people and show others the lives of people who may not be like themselves.

Research has long shown a link between the books we read and our development of empathy. But more recent research has highlighted it is important we don’t see books as immediate fixes to complex social issues, especially when we import these books from other locations and times.

Our reading must be accompanied by close attention to the ways racism and prejudice unfold in our own location.




Read more:
5 Australian books that can help young people understand their place in the world


Coming to understand the impact and complexity of racism in this way is referred to as “racial literacy”. Here are five books that can help young people build racial literacy around the varied forms of racism and discrimination.

Dear Martin is build around the question: what would Martin Luther King do?
Penguin

1. Dear Martin

by Nic Stone

Dear Martin explores issues of race through the eyes of conscientious 17 year old, Justyce McAllister.

Built around the central question, “What would Martin (Luther King) do?”, this novel brings to light the litany of decisions and ethical conundrums thrust into Justyce’s lap daily, as he navigates a world affected by racism and prejudice.

2. Punching the Air

by Ibi Zobai and Yusuf Salaam

Written by one of five young men imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit.
Harper Collins

In 1989, five young men were falsely accused of the assault and murder of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. Now documented in Ava Duvernay’s Neflix miniseries When They See Us, the Five were exonerated 12 years later.

But the story stands as a haunting reminder of the inequalities experienced by Black men and the life-altering consequences this can wreak on innocent lives.

One of these young men, Yusuf Salaam, collaborates with award-winning author and prison reform activist Ibi Zobai, to craft a story that examines these themes through a narrative of a wrongfully incarcerated young man navigating his teenage years in prison.

3. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

edited by Anita Heiss

An anthology of essays written by those with lived experience of racial issues.
Black Inc books

This anthology of 50 chapters provides an opportunity to deeply listen and understand the lived experiences of Indigenous Australians and the ways racism takes all manner of overt, subtle and systemic forms.

Particularly noteworthy are the chapters by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Celeste Liddle, in which the authors describe both the nature of racism experienced by them from the schoolyard, and the broader historical context on which this racism is based.

4. Slay

by Brittney Morris

Explores racial themes through an online game.
Simon & Schuster

This novel centres on 17-year-old Kiera, a talented young developer who creates a multiplayer role-playing game. The game is a “mecca of black excellence” and an escape from the racism often experienced by those “game-playing while black”.

When an offline murder is traced back to the game, Kiera grapples with the complexity of both the implications of her creation and the conversations it triggers.

Slay weaves social commentary into the dialogue between characters from all walks of life, covering everything from cultural appropriation, to whether racism can ever be “reversed”.

5. Living on Stolen Land

by Ambelin Kwaymullina

This is made up of prose verses like ‘Bias’ and ‘Listening’.
Magabala Books

Many books here centre around the kind of racial stereotyping and violence that put the Black Lives Matter movement on the map. But understanding racism in the Australian context also involves examining colonialism and the racist underpinnings of our history.

Living on Stolen Land centres Indigenous sovereignty in the conversation about race. Using prose verses such as those titled “Bias” and “Listening”, it leads readers through examining unconscious beliefs and moving toward being a genuine ally of Indigenous people.

Author and educator Layla F Saad has suggested when we read texts about social issues like racism, we read for transformation, not merely information.

A range of texts have been developed to support families in having these transformative discussions together. Maxine Beneba Clarkes’ “When We Say Black Lives Matter”, for instance, is a beautifully illustrated picture book that focuses on the strength and resilience of black children and communities. While texts like Our Home our Heartbeat by Adam Briggs centres on key Indigenous figures to be celebrated.




Read more:
Teen summer reads: 5 novels to help cope with adversity and alienation


The Conversation


Jessica Gannaway, Lecturer, University of Melbourne and Melitta Hogarth, Assistant Dean Indigenous/ Senior lecturer, University of Melbourne

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

Teen summer reads: 5 novels to help cope with adversity and alienation



Shutterstock

Kate Douglas, Flinders University

This article is part of our three-part series on summer reads for young people after a very unique year.


2020 has been a particularly tough year for those approaching the latter years of high school.

Young people have witnessed large-scale economic insecurity and unstable education systems. Teenagers have reported high levels of stress and anxiety. But they have also demonstrated outstanding resilience and resolve in adapting to the “new normal”.

During COVID-19, cultural texts have become more important than ever — a place to turn to for knowledge, reflection, support and escape.




Read more:
How reading habits have changed during the COVID-19 lockdown


Reading can be therapeutic for young readers during difficult times. It offers something other media doesn’t — greater social and emotional benefits. It also does more to stimulate the imagination and creates a sense of moral achievement in readers.

With this in mind, here are some summer reading ideas for older teenagers. The texts I have chosen demonstrate how young characters have coped with trauma and uncertainty.

Research suggests young people are more likely to listen to their peers than their teachers when it comes to reading recommendations.

So, I spoke to my 18-year-old son and asked him to name five types of books he would like to read over the summer.

He suggested:

  • a classic book he’s always wanted to read but hasn’t
  • a book penned by a young author
  • a “throwback” young adult novel he has already read
  • an autobiography of someone who has overcome adversity
  • something provocative that was published this year.

Inevitably some of my selections meet more than one of his criteria.

1. The classic: The Outsiders (1967)

by S.E. Hinton

The cover of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders
The Outsiders is thought to be one of the first novels written specifically for young adults.
Penguin

The Outsiders is thought to be one of the first novels written specifically for young adults. The coming of age novel explores the class divide between the rival Greasers and Socs gangs in the American South in the mid-1960s.

The book’s challenging and emotive representations of inequality, violence, crises of conscience, and the powerful love of family and friends, make it an enduring standout for young readers. The first-person narration constructs intimacy between the reader and our protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, as he approaches an increasingly uncertain future.

Hinton started the book at 15, finished it at 16, and it was published when she was 18. It is said she wrote the book because it was the sort of book she herself wanted to read.

In a year when many young people have experienced isolation and separation, Ponyboy’s wisdoms should resonate powerfully:

It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.

2. Autobiography (memoir): Crazy Brave (2012)

by Joy Harjo

Cover of Crazy Brave: a memoir
Joy Harjo’s memoir is confronting and, at times, graphic.
W.W. Norton

Cherokee, Creek painter, musician and US Poet Laureate, Harjo wrote her memoir when she was 61.

Crazy Brave recalls her early life from birth to her early 20s. The story is abstract and non-linear in structure, making the memoir unpredictable, which destabilises the reader’s experience.

Harjo’s memoir is confronting and, at times, graphic. But her spiritual connections, and trust of her own “knowing” (instinct, or inner vision) will inspire readers keen to escape problematic right or wrong, or black and white perceptions of experience. As Harjo astutely observes:

In the end, we must each tend to our own gulfs of sadness, though others can assist us with kindness, food, good words, and music. Our human tendency is to fill these holes with distractions like shopping and fast romance, or with drugs and alcohol.

3. Young author: A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing (2020)

by Jessie Tu

The cover of Jessie Tu's A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing
This is not a fun read, but it is a timely one.
Allen & Unwin

28-year-old Tu’s debut novel presents 22-year-old violinist child prodigy Jena Chung. We follow Jena’s sense of alienation and detachment as she attempts to find meaning in the world.

Lonely Girl is not a fun read, but it is a timely one. We need to see more Asian-Australia women’s voices in literature because of the important provocations they make about race and misogyny in Australia. Tu wanted this novel to be a conversation starter and it certainly is.

Tu’s is a powerful intervention young readers will appreciate. It is a book about making bad choices while feeling so much pressure to be “good”:

I throw myself into things, expecting always to get what I want. And I always get what I want. Now it feels like I’ve failed all over again. Only this time there’s no motivation behind it. I’ve just failed myself, and it hurts in a strange, unfamiliar way. The wound is deeper than anything I’ve ever felt.

This novel contains graphic representations of sex. It is recommended for readers 17 and over.

4. Written in 2020: The Morbids (2020)

by Ewa Ramsey

The cover of Ewa Ramsey's, The Morbids
This is Newcastle-based author Ewa Ramsey’s debut novel.
Allen & Unwin

This is a wonderfully compassionate book about living with anxiety caused by our 20-something protagonist Caitlin’s fear of death. The Morbids explores the value of friendship and romance amid youthful fears and phobias.

Ramsey’s debut novel is a difficult read. The style of the novel (fragmented, sometimes repetitive language) attempts to bring the reader closer to the experience of mental illness. But the characterisations are warm and the moral is ultimately hopeful.

It’s a book about therapy and letting people in when it is the last thing you feel like you can do, because “Sometimes you need to give up on death … to have the time of your life”.

5. Throwback: Love, Creekwood (2020)

by Becky Albertalli

The cover of Becky Albertalli's, Love, Creekwood
Love, Creekwood is narrated via the characters’ emails to each other.
Penguin

Not exactly a throwback, but if you enjoyed Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda as much as my teens and I did, here is the latest instalment of the Simonverse.

Love, Creekwood is a short epistolary romance novella (the story is narrated via the characters’ emails to each other). It is “part 3.5” in the series and functions as an epilogue.

Love, Creekwood follows the characters to college and we follow the progression of two same-sex relationships. The book explores the challenges of being too close and too far away from a partner. It explores the mental health struggles often triggered by loneliness and fear.

Love, Creekwood is a light-hearted but genuine representation of what the first year of university can feel like.

As Simon explains:

When we say we want to freeze time, what we mean is that we want to control our memories. We want to choose which moments we’ll keep forever. We want to guarantee the best ones won’t slip away from us somehow. So when something beautiful happens, there’s this impulse to press pause and save the game. We want to make sure we can find our way back to that moment.

Albertalli is donating all proceeds from the sale of this novella to The Trevor Project, an organisation committed to crisis and suicide prevention for LGBTQIA youth.




Read more:
Teen summer reads: how to escape to another world after a year stuck in this one


The author would like to thank to Katerina Bryant, Kylie Cardell, Joshua Douglas-Spencer and Emma Maguire for sharing ideas for this article.The Conversation

Kate Douglas, Professor, Flinders University

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

Teen summer reads: how to escape to another world after a year stuck in this one



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Troy Potter, University of Melbourne

This article is part of three-part series on summer reads for young people after a very unique year.


As this tumultuous year comes to a close, the Australian summer is an ideal time to relax and escape through reading.

Like many people, Australian teenagers have experienced higher rates of psychological distress this year as a result of the COVID pandemic. Reading is one way for teens to remove themselves, if only temporarily, from their current stresses.

As fantasy writer Neil Gaiman said:

Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them.

Young adult novels also present alternative ways of being and resolving crises. This is because a defining characteristic of young adult books relates to power. In novels for young adults, teen protagonists learn how to use their power to navigate social situations, whether in families, schools, their community or, indeed, other worlds.

In this way, young adult literature can be considered both a form of escapism and empowerment.

According to Teen Reading in the Digital Era — a study conducted by Deakin University — teenagers have diverse reading preferences. The study identified five of these: fantasy, contemporary realist fiction, science fiction, autobiography or biography, and action or adventure.

With this in mind, here are some recommendations for your teen’s summer reading to help them both escape and, hopefully, re-empower themselves.

Aurora has woken up in the year 2380.
Penguin Random House

The Aurora Cycle

by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Teenagers who feel they’re finally emerging from a tough year of restrictions may empathise with Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, who has woken up from a 200-year cryosleep (where your body is cooled down and preserved in liquid nitrogen) to find herself in the year 2380.

Aurora secretly joins a group of graduating cadets on their first mission. What should be a simple cargo run ends up being a cat-and-mouse chase across the galaxy. In trying to find her place in a new universe, Aurora and the cadets uncover an ancient alien species who has spent millions of years preparing to take over the galaxy.

Told from the perspective of each of the seven teenage protagonists, the Aurora Cycle is a new action science-fiction series. It currently comprises the books Aurora Rising (2019) and Aurora Burning (2020).

Other intergalactic action-adventure sci-fi books teenagers may enjoy include A Confusion of Princes (2012) by Garth Nix, Mindcull (2019) by K. H. Canobi, and Kaufman and Kristoff’s earlier series, The Illuminae Files (2015–2016).

Monuments is a duology.
Hachette

Monuments (2019) and Rebel Gods (2020)

by Will Kostakis

A scavenger hunt for buried gods may be just the thing teenagers need to get their minds moving. In this urban fantasy duology, Connor learns about the Monuments — powerful gods who have hidden themselves to protect humanity.

Joined by Sarah and Locky, Connor searches across contemporary Sydney, trying to uncover the gods. However, despite their awesome powers, the Monuments need protecting, too. The problem is Connor doesn’t know who he can trust with the knowledge and power of the gods.

This is author Will Kostakis’ first foray into the fantastical.

Other fantasy novels for teenagers to get lost in include the bewitching The Last Balfour (2019) by Cait Duggan; Four Dead Queens (2019) — a murder mystery by by Astrid Scholte; and the Old Kingdom series (1995–2016) by Garth Nix.

This novel is mainly made up of instant messenger conversations.
Harper Collins

The Long Distance Playlist (2020)

by Tara Eglington

Having spent more time on a screen this year than before, what better way for teenagers to re-engage with novels than to read one that’s written in instant messenger, text, emails, prose and playlists?

Eglington’s fourth young adult novel centres on teenagers Taylor and Isolde, who live in Wanaka (New Zealand) and Sydney, respectively. Friends since childhood, the two reconnect across the Tasman after an 18-month long fight.

As they exchange cross-country messages over the course of the year, they help support each other through their ordeals and, in doing so, realise relationships can develop over distances.

Two more realist young adult novels in which teenagers connect with others include 19 Love Songs (2020) by David Levithan and It Sounded Better in My Head (2019) by Nina Kenwood.

This graphic novel is a biography of a man who fought against Nazi oppression.
John Hendrix

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler (2018)

by John Hendrix

Teenagers who prefer to read about the lives of others may be interested in this graphic biography. It tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who resisted the Nazi regime and was associated with the plot to kill Hitler.

Using a red-black-teal colour scheme, the mixture of text and illustration details Bonhoeffer’s life and outlines the larger historical context of Hitler’s rise to power and the second world war. Cited material is asterisked, and a select bibliography and limited notes are included.

A graphic autobiography (about a girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution) teenagers may also enjoy is Persepolis (2000) by Marjane Satrapi.




Read more:
5 Australian books that can help young people understand their place in the world


For other lists of recommended young adult novels, check out the CBCA’s notables or Inside a Dog, a website for teens to share reviews, recommendations and their own creative writing.The Conversation

Troy Potter, Lecturer, The University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

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.

Shakespeare: research blows away stereotypes and reveals teenagers actually love the Bard


Cathy Baldwin, The Open University

When you think of inner-city teenagers, what springs to mind? For many, it’s hoodies, video games – and probably hating Shakespeare. But my research proves that this stereotype is far from the truth.

Shakespeare holds a contested place in the English national curriculum as the only compulsory writer to be studied between the ages of 11 and 16. This imposed curriculum attempts to situate Shakespeare’s plays as part of national culture, rather than purely as an exemplar of high art. But teens are rarely asked directly about their experiences of education, and about its relevance to them.

Instead, they are often represented as a homogenous group who are bored and resistant to studying Shakespeare, particularly when it comes to struggling with the language he used.

However, my research with over 800 students in four London secondary schools offers a very different picture. I asked these 13 to 14-year-olds what they think and/or feel when they hear the word “Shakespeare” – and some of their answers defied expectations.

What students say

Many students told me that they actually enjoy studying Shakespeare in school. From comments such as “I feel happy because I like most of his plays”, to “I feel excited because Shakespeare was the best writer ever […] a legend or genius”, they expressed levels of interest in Shakespeare that are rarely acknowledged.

These students also did not see the language as a barrier, but as a challenge to be embraced. One commented: “I also get quite happy because we do not often look at texts with old English.”

In this large cohort of students, some comments stand out, showing how varied and individual their responses are. One described Shakespeare as “one of my inspirations for writing poetry”, while another said that “although I don’t really like English, I like his plays a lot”.

Teachers seem to play a key role in developing a positive attitude in some of their students. One student said that “all the work I’ve done on Shakespeare has been interesting and fun”, while another said she “really enjoyed the last play that we did”.

This study did not look in detail at what actually happens in the classroom, but many of the students’ comments suggest that having the confidence to approach a Shakespeare text with a positive attitude partly comes from the teacher’s attitude to him and his work.

‘Be not afraid of greatness …’

In addition to the wholly positive comments, some students demonstrated a more mixed response to the subject. One student told me that “sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes it’s just boring ‘cause in Year 7 I remember we did this one play for a very long time and it was just kind of the same thing every lesson for a double lesson”.

Here, the lessons were clearly not varied enough to hold this student’s attention all the time, although the comment suggests that the student knew that studying Shakespeare could be interesting and fun, even if it isn’t always like that in practice.

For others, the choice of play is key: “Some Shakespeare plays are more interesting than others, in my opinion.” One of the students I interviewed also articulated a clear tension in her attitudes towards studying Shakespeare. She said:

The good part is because everyone goes through different stuff, some people can relate and they can feel like they’re not alone or like this has happened before and studying Shakespeare makes you see the world differently, […] and the bad thing about it [is] learning how to write in the Shakespeare kind of structure when it won’t be useful in the future.

For a number of students, there are perhaps inevitable negative connotations attached to the word “Shakespeare”. Some did describe Shakespeare simply as “boring”, but others explained their reservations in more detail. One said: “I feel like I’ve heard the word Shakespeare too much and that I don’t want to talk about him.” Another thought “about long complicated language that no one understands”, while further complaints were about how “it is unnecessary to learn about as I don’t understand what’s beneficial for us as students”.

Overall, the students involved in this research demonstrated a breadth and depth of response to Shakespeare that counters the generalised belief that teenagers respond poorly to his work. Indeed, used as an introductory question to establish students’ attitudes to Shakespeare before attending a production at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, in London, I have been fascinated by the variety and subtlety of thought they have demonstrated.

As one said: “I feel honoured that I’ve covered Shakespeare in school, because telling people you have read his plays makes you sound smart.” The sense of privilege inherent in this comment, despite the fact that everyone studies Shakespeare at school, is clearly something to cherish.The Conversation

Cathy Baldwin, PhD Candidate in Education, The Open University

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

Why it matters that teens are reading less



File 20180703 116135 19y6rcl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
SAT reading scores in 2016 were the lowest they’ve ever been.
Aha-Soft/Shutterstock.com

Jean Twenge, San Diego State University

Most of us spend much more time with digital media than we did a decade ago. But today’s teens have come of age with smartphones in their pockets. Compared to teens a couple of decades ago, the way they interact with traditional media like books and movies is fundamentally different.

My co-authors and I analyzed nationally representative surveys of over one million U.S. teens collected since 1976 and discovered an almost seismic shift in how teens are spending their free time.

Increasingly, books seem to be gathering dust.

It’s all about the screens

By 2016, the average 12th grader said they spent a staggering six hours a day texting, on social media, and online during their free time. And that’s just three activities; if other digital media activities were included, that estimate would surely rise.

Teens didn’t always spend that much time with digital media. Online time has doubled since 2006, and social media use moved from a periodic activity to a daily one. By 2016, nearly nine out of 10 12th-grade girls said they visited social media sites every day.

Meanwhile, time spent playing video games rose from under an hour a day to an hour and a half on average. One out of 10 8th graders in 2016 spent 40 hours a week or more gaming – the time commitment of a full-time job.

With only so much time in the day, doesn’t something have to give?

Maybe not. Many scholars have insisted that time online does not displace time spent engaging with traditional media. Some people are just more interested in media and entertainment, they point out, so more of one type of media doesn’t necessarily mean less of the other.

However, that doesn’t tell us much about what happens across a whole cohort of people when time spent on digital media grows and grows. This is what large surveys conducted over the course of many years can tell us.

Movies and books go by the wayside

While 70 percent of 8th and 10th graders once went to the movies once a month or more, now only about half do. Going to the movies was equally popular from the late 1970s to the mid-2000s, suggesting that Blockbuster video and VCRs didn’t kill going to the movies.

But after 2007 – when Netflix introduced its video streaming service – moviegoing began to lose its appeal. More and more, watching a movie became a solitary experience. This fits a larger pattern: In another analysis, we found that today’s teens go out with their friends considerably less than previous generations did.

But the trends in moviegoing pale in comparison to the largest change we found: An enormous decline in reading. In 1980, 60 percent of 12th graders said they read a book, newspaper or magazine every day that wasn’t assigned for school.

By 2016, only 16 percent did – a huge drop, even though the book, newspaper or magazine could be one read on a digital device (the survey question doesn’t specify format).

The number of 12th graders who said they had not read any books for pleasure in the last year nearly tripled, landing at one out of three by 2016. For iGen – the generation born since 1995 who has spent their entire adolescence with smartphones – books, newspapers and magazines have less and less of a presence in their daily lives.

Of course, teens are still reading. But they’re reading short texts and Instagram captions, not longform articles that explore deep themes and require critical thinking and reflection. Perhaps as a result, SAT reading scores in 2016 were the lowest they have ever been since record keeping began in 1972.

It doesn’t bode well for their transition to college, either. Imagine going from reading two-sentence captions to trying to read even five pages of an 800-page college textbook at one sitting. Reading and comprehending longer books and chapters takes practice, and teens aren’t getting that practice.

There was a study from the Pew Research Center a few years ago finding that young people actually read more books than older people. But that included books for school and didn’t control for age. When we look at pleasure reading across time, iGen is reading markedly less than previous generations.

The way forward

So should we wrest smartphones from iGen’s hands and replace them with paper books?

Probably not: smartphones are teens’ main form of social communication.

However, that doesn’t mean they need to be on them constantly. Data connecting excessive digital media time to mental health issues suggests a limit of two hours a day of free time spent with screens, a restriction that will also allow time for other activities – like going to the movies with friends or reading.

Of the trends we found, the pronounced decline in reading is likely to have the biggest negative impact. Reading books and longer articles is one of the best ways to learn how to think critically, understand complex issues and separate fact from fiction. It’s crucial for being an informed voter, an involved citizen, a successful college student and a productive employee.

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If print starts to die, a lot will go with it.

Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology, San Diego State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five great reads to help teens become critical thinkers



File 20171212 9404 1vk4zo3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Whichwood is one of five great reads for teens that highlight authentic experiences, marginalized voices and critical thinking.
(Dutton Books)

Heba Elsherief, University of Toronto

Young adults who are, perhaps, still figuring out their needs don’t need to be overburdened with books they won’t like. The last thing we want is for a young reader to get turned off and lose out on the immeasurable benefits reading provides.

As a researcher looking at diverse representations in young adult literature, I often get asked for book recommendations.

Since I believe all readers are looking for an emotional connection to a story, I start with authenticity as my keystone. In order to form a connection with the experiences of characters, including their travel and journeys to new places, the writing should emerge from a place of authenticity.

Diversity plus critical issues

Author Corinne Duyvis started the hashtag #Ownvoices in 2015 to promote this idea of authenticity and “to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.”

Very basically, when an author shares one or more of the marginalities of their diverse protagonists, it is considered to be included in #Ownvoices. In terms of diversity, most publishers use the definition put out by We Need Diverse Books: “…including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of colour, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.”

The hashtag has taken on a life of its own since Duyvis recommended its use. Many published books now market themselves based on #Ownvoices. And Goodreads lists have taken up this call as well. Readers looking for #OwnVoices will find many suggestions – and many more coming in the new year.

I hope this is a turn in publishing and that the well of marginalized stories written by authors most qualified to tell them never runs dry. It’s the surest way to an authentic, empathy-promoting experience for readers.

The current Top Five

Many of the teachers or parents asking for recommendations are hoping to give young adult readers an exercise in critical literacy to provide them with the opportunity to think about something long after the final page is turned. By “something,” I mean an important social issue or nuanced knowledge about a difficult concept or historical time period.

If a book meets both of these criteria — and if I’ve read it myself or have placed it on my “to be read” shelf — it warrants a recommendation.

Here are five books, very recently published (between September and December of 2017), that have made my list. At the end of each book description, I’ve included a question that might serve a critical thinking discussion once the book has been read.

This list is clearly not exhaustive and I present these as suggestions — ones that may warrant further research. Teachers or parents who know the readers they’re offering books to may need to look up any trigger warnings beforehand.

I recommend adults read books along with younger readers: It’s vital to meaningful conversations. I have left questions in my descriptions to prompt some discussion. Furthermore, I think adult readers may be pleasantly surprised with the rich and important storytelling happening in the young adult literary world.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Starfish.
(Simon Pulse)

Starfish (Simon Pulse) features Kiko, who suffers from anxieties. She’s waiting to escape an abusive family situation by getting into the art school of her dreams but when she doesn’t get in, she takes the opportunity presented by a childhood friend to tour other schools.

Kiko, the main character who is half-Japanese, takes a journey that ends up being one of personal growth. The journey allows Kiko to embrace who she is, to learn more about her heritage and to speak up for herself. The writing is lyrical and endearing and we get a lot of Kiko’s internal thoughts and feelings.

There’s a love story here too. I would have liked it if Kiko’s path to self-love was not so knotted up with her childhood friend. But perhaps that’s me being old and young adult readers will like this aspect the best. What will you and your young adult readers think?

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End.
(Harper Collins)

They Both Die at the End (Harper Collins) is an interesting genre mashup — both speculative and contemporary. With the whole “there’s an app for that” times we live in, it feels very timely.

In an alternate reality, two teen boys spend a day together after learning it will be their last. There’s diverse representation here and definitely a message that seems suitable for young people attached to their phones at the expense of experiencing the world and making real connections.

In my literature classes, we talk a lot about how classic children’s books tend to have “didactic” elements – morals embedded into them and modes of socialization or teaching children how to be in the world. Thinking through themes a writer develops, how do contemporary didactic modes operate here or in young adult literature more generally?

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Dear Martin.
(Crown Books)

Dear Martin (Crown Books) takes up the story of Justyce McAllister, a full-scholarship, Ivy League-bound, Black 17-year-old boy who learns that when it comes to racism, none of these accomplishments matter.

The title takes its name from the letters Justyce writes to Martin Luther King, Jr. while he grapples with racial tensions and police oppression. It’s a story that seems ripped straight from the headlines and has been compared to The Hate U Give, this year’s very successful YA book by Angie Thomas. Both of these books are important and necessary, and sadly, deal with inequalities that plague young adults of colour. How can literature combat systematic oppression and social ills?

Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Warcross (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers) has already wracked up a record number of positive reviews from readers. It’s a new series by the author of other YA favourites, including The Young Elites series.

In it, teenage hacker Emika Chen finds herself embroiled in a virtual reality game that’s taken over the globe. It’s an international spy adventure with a diverse cast in a near-future sci-fi world and it’s pretty awesome!

I think this one will organically prompt a discussion about “global virtual crazes” – and while its clear these virtual crazes might be ‘bad’ I wonder if there are positives to be found also?

Whichwood by Tahera Mafi

Whichwood.
(Dutton Books)

Whichwood (Dutton Books for Young Readers) is the second book set in the Furthermore world. The first was a middle grade book but this one has been aged up to Young Adult. Inspired by Mafi’s Persian culture, it tells the story of Laylee, a 15-year-old with so much tragedy in her life, tasked with washing bodies of the dead to prepare them for the afterlife.

The ConversationI’ve long been a fan of Mafi’s — her writing is lush and her worlds are so imaginative. Moreover, it always feels like everything she writes is a metaphor for something larger. But because her plots are so gripping, it’s not always apparent what exactly. Notwithstanding that themes in literature vary depending on individual reader’s responses to content, what do your readers find are the takeaways in this one?

Heba Elsherief, PhD Candidate, Language and Literacies Education, University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Teenagers with low reading levels don’t find it any harder to get work


Cain Polidano, University of Melbourne and Chris Ryan, University of Melbourne

Teenagers with low reading levels, who went on to further education, don’t find it any harder to get a job at the age of 25, research shows.

At age 25, young Australians whose reading proficiency at age 15 was ranked low in the international literacy and numeracy test were employed at the same rates as those with higher levels of achievement.

For both the low (below level 3) and medium (level 3 and 4) reading proficiency groups, 58% were employed full-time, with a further 13-14% employed part-time.

Low proficiency levels in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests are deemed to be those at a level insufficient for students to perform the moderate reading tasks that are needed to meet real-life challenges and are below minimum Australian standards.

Around one-third of Australian 15 year olds had low reading proficiency levels, with just over one half were in the medium proficiency group.

The study also found that low school achievers work in jobs that have similar expected lifetime earnings as the medium reading proficiency group.

The results are particularly surprising because it is well known from other research that poor reading skills in adulthood are associated with poorer employment prospects and work in low-paid jobs.

It seems that not every teenager with low reading proficiency necessarily becomes an adult with poor reading skills.

Investment in VET is the key

These results can be explained by high rates of participation in, and good outcomes from, Vocational Education and Training (VET) by those with low reading proficiency.

Around 58% undertook VET study, 15% higher education study and 14% both.

In contrast, those from the medium group focused more on higher education — 42% higher education, 36% VET and 15% both.

Those from the low proficiency group compensate for studying below bachelor-level VET qualifications by choosing courses that have good labour market prospects.

Compared to the medium group which did not complete a university degree, the low group chose initial VET courses that had 6% higher graduate earnings.

It is thought that those with low reading proficiency at age 15 explore VET options from an early age.

Given the large number of VET courses available – and the fact that most are designed to prepare students for specific occupations – early career exploration may mean the low proficiency group is better prepared to make course choices.

Our approach

Australia is one of only a handful of countries with the capacity to track outcomes of PISA participants through its Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY).

In comparing outcomes, we also controlled for a range of differences between the student groups that may confound the analysis, such as family socioeconomic and demographic background and grade level at age 15.

The results rely on the survey respondents at age 25 being representative of those first surveyed at age 15, which can be problematic if attrition rates are high, as they are here at around 75%.

In the paper, we report a number of supplementary analyses that indicate that the results are unlikely to be affected by non-random attrition. The results also do not appear to reflect particularly high levels of motivation or ambition among the low skill group members who remain in the survey.

Implications for schools and policy

Further education and training plays a role in up-grading the skills of individuals.

A study of a Canadian PISA cohort reported that when respondents were re-tested at age 24, the reading levels among those who had undertaken post-school studies had increased from their age 15 levels.

The findings in our research underlines the role that VET plays in providing opportunities for low-achieving school students to engage further in study and participate fully in a modern economy.

It also demonstrates the importance of course choice in shaping outcomes.

For schools and education departments, the message is to not only ensure access to VET, but also to support young people in making good course choices. Early career counselling is a step in this direction.

We stress that these results do not mean that academic achievement is unimportant. On the contrary, we find more marked differences in labour market outcomes at 25 between those with high reading proficiency (levels 5 and above), suggesting substantial returns to achievement among the most skilled.

The Conversation

Cain Polidano, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne and Chris Ryan, Director, Economics of Education and Child Development, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to get teenagers to read


Margaret Kristin Merga, Murdoch University

Children are heartily encouraged to read in their early years of school. However, once students have mastered this skill and they move from learning to read, to reading to learn, the role of pleasure in the activity can be forgotten.

If reading is just seen as a tool for learning, the will to read may not be fostered in young people. Recreational book reading involves voluntary reading for pleasure, and research suggests that students in Australia and internationally are reading less over time.

Why is reading important?

Regular recreational book reading is one of the easiest ways for a student to continue developing their literacy skills. The ability to read fluently is by no means the end of development of literacy skills.

Reading for pleasure has been associated with a range of benefits, including achievement across a range of literacy outcomes, with literacy levels linked to advantages for academic and vocational prospects. Regular recreational reading also offers benefits for cognitive stamina and resistance to cognitive decline, the development of empathy, and even achievement in other subjects, including mathematics.

What is aliteracy?

While much of the discussion around reading is concerned with skill acquisition, which usually (but not always) occurs during the early years of schooling, there is little focus on will acquisition, where students who have developed the skill to read continue to choose to do so.

Students with the skill to read, but without this will, are deemed aliterate. They exclude themselves from the range of benefits conferred by regular reading, perhaps without ever understanding the consequences of their recreational choices.

The West Australian Study in Adolescent Book Reading (WASABR) examined adolescent attitudes to reading and how often they do it, as well as how teachers, schools and parents can contribute to supporting it. The WASABR found that the most common reason for infrequent reading was related to preference for other recreational activities.

Whose job is it to encourage teen reading?

Teachers and parents may cool off in encouragement once students have demonstrated that they can read. Research suggests that adolescent aliteracy may be inadvertently perpetuated by withdrawn encouragement from both parents and teachers.

Teens may stop reading because of a lack of encouragement.
Lettuce/Flickr, CC BY

Parents may assume that once the skill of reading has been acquired, their job is complete. They may assume the role of encouraging further literacy development lies with the school.

Teachers may struggle to find time to encourage reading within the demands of a crowded curriculum, which focuses on reading skill, without recognising the role that reading for pleasure plays in fostering reading skills. The WASABR study sought to provide insight into how teachers and parents can successfully continue to encourage recreational book reading into the teen years.

What can teachers and parents do to encourage regular reading?

  • Take students to the school or community library and encourage them to take self-selected reading materials home

  • don’t curtail reading aloud to young people at secondary level — this practice is enjoyed by teens, too

  • explicitly teach strategies for choosing books – don’t assume that this has been learned in primary school

  • be a model – read and show an interest in reading

  • find out what your young people like to read so that you can connect them with books of interest to them

  • talk about books in class or at home, not limiting the discussion to course texts

  • allow and encourage an aesthetic response – love characters, loathe characters, give up on books halfway through, re-read favourite books. Share what it means to be a passionate reader

  • communicate the value of the practice by putting aside class time or time at home for reading books for pleasure

  • finally, don’t assume that equipping them with an e-reader will automatically lead to increased engagement in reading. Research does not yet support the popular contention that young people prefer using e-readers. Thus continuing to provide access to paper books is important.

There may be confusion about what to read to experience literacy benefits. Books are the text type most consistently associated with literacy benefit; neither comics nor web pages have been associated with the same level of benefit at present.

The Conversation

Margaret Kristin Merga is Lecturer in English and the Curriculum and Researcher in Adolescent Literacy at Murdoch University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.