Questions & Authors: Easing Into Summer with Great Reads

June 4th, 2009

School is out, or will be soon, for most of the country. This is a great time to get kids hooked on some great summer reads. Teri Lesesne, author of Naked Reading and Making the Match, offers some suggestions that will make for some magical — and educational — summer reading for all kids.

My 16 year old is keeping a countdown clock on her laptop. It is ticking away the last weeks of school. It is not that she does not love school; she does. What she is looking forward to, though, is the luxury of time. That struck such a resonant chord with me. More than anything else, I think my teen looks forward to summer because she becomes “time wealthy.” She can sleep late, certainly. What she most loves about the abundance of time is that she is free to read those books that have been accumulating throughout the school year: the ones not assigned for her English classes. Summertime and the reading is easy, or it should be.

Easy does not mean, however, that books are without rigor. Often, I think, books for young adults tend to be snubbed by some adults who think that they are little more than pablum; nothing nutritious can be gleaned from reading books written specifically for young adults. Perhaps these adults can be forgiven; they must not have read some of the books from the last couple of years that challenge teen readers. That is what great YA literature does: it offers teen readers the chance to explore all sorts of new terrain in terms of issues and topics. What sets these books apart from their adult counterparts, though , is that YA literature is developmentally appropriate for teen readers. For example, how does legislation such as The Patriot Act impact on the lives of teens? Cory Doctorow explores this territory in Little Brother. Doctorow takes readers into the lives of a handful of teens who are arrested following the terrorist bombing of a bridge in San Francisco. he teens are held captive by federal agents until they (the teens) unlock their computers and cell phones and give the agents total access to their accounts and records. One teen, Markus (aka, w1n5t0n), dares to defy his captors for a time. Ultimately, though, he capitulates. The experience makes Markus begin to question authority.The comparison to books such as 1984 is inevitable and valid, too. However, the central character here is a teen, not an adult.

With the recent downturn in the economy, one of the most startling set of statistics concerned the rise in the number of handguns being sold. As people worry about their own survival in tough economic times, sometimes they also fear that someone will come to take what little they have. It is not too big a leap from here to futuristic scenarios where the wealth is in the hands of a few, a few who are corrupt to boot. Suzanne Collins delves into such as future in her proposed trilogy which begins with The Hunger Games and continues with the second book, Catching Fire . Katniss and Peeta must defeat the other players (all of whom are children) in the annual “Hunger Games” in order to survive and win rations which will allow their family members to survive as well. Dystopic views of the future abound in literature for young adults from Lois Lowry’s The Giver to Mary Pearson’s chilling The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin. For students who might prefer some nonfiction, books such as Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic by John DeGraaf or Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On ( Not) Getting By in America. The Hunger Games is one of the books nominated to YALSA’s “Teens Top Ten” list for 2009. To see the other books teens can read and then vote for in the fall, visit the YALSA web site and click on the link to Teens Top Ten. And while you are there, take a look at the winners for “Teens Top Ten” for 2008 (and earlier, too) and see how many of these titles are ones you know and have read. If teens are voting these are their favorites, perhaps we need to know a little something about them, too?

What about offering readers a chance to explore some history through YA books? Often, nonfiction is overlooked for recreational reading. However, there are terrific choices available to teens who want to learn more about a wide variety of subjects. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice provides readers with insight into the role of this teen during the bus boycott in the South of Jim Crow legislation. Ellen Levine’s Freedom’s Children includes a vignette of Claudette Colvin plus dozens of other young people who took part in the Civil Rights Movement. I have been writing lately about the concept of reading ladders, a concept that helps us move readers from one book to the next and from there to another. A reading ladder for this issue might include the picture book A Taste of Colored Water and then progress to the two books about Claudette Colvin and continue on to novels such as The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 or one of Mildred Taylor’s novel in the Roll of Thunder series or any other novel set during these tumultuous times. Take a small step off to another reading ladder and recommend Gary Schmidt’s Trouble, a book that examines prejudice against Asian-Americans in the 1980s. Or select Denied, Detained, Deported: Stories from the Dark Side of American Immigration by Ann Bausum for a look at how immigrants were denied entry into the U.S. across history. Summer reading might just afford teachers the opportunity to construct ladders so that students can experience a story or history in interconnected ways rather than one piece at a time.

How wonderful to be a teen again and see the wealth of time summer offers. I am certain that you, too, have an ever-growing (and more than likely toppling) stack of books to engage you over the summer. Let me add just a handful of titles from the hundreds of YA books published this year already. These books represent the array available in YA literature: books for tweens and younger teens, fiction and nonfiction, reimaginings of familiar stories, and (most of all) accessible enjoyable texts. I discuss these books at my blog. Stop by and see how I am spending those precious extra minutes summer offers.

Some Suggestions for Summer Reading:

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill is a modern day “Faust” set in El Paso. See what happens when the devil comes to collect on a deal made by Bug’s grandfather that involves two souls and a primo Cadillac.

A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story set in contemporary time. Imagine waking from a 200 year nap to discover that your entire world has undergone tremendous changes.

Knucklehead: Tales and Mostly True Stories about Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka. This slice of life autobiography is a quick and incredibly funny read. Scieszka is the US Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for a reason.

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick follows the life of a soldier wounded in Iraq. As Matt’s memory of his injury return, he faces some tough moral decisions.

Hamlet by John Marsden is a prose variant that contains much of Shakespeare’s characters and plot with a few new twists.

Entry Filed under: Questions & Authors,Reading

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