Beyond Books: Reversing the Teen Reading Decline

A teacher blog about young adult literature. A Spotify playlist of favorite tunes of a young adult fiction writer A classic novel turned graphic novel.  A tumblr campaign promoting diverse books.

These are just a few of the ways educators, publishers, authors and illustrators are trying to reach teen readers and turn them on to reading.

The efforts can’t come at a more important time. A recent survey by Common Sense Media shows reading for pleasure in a steady decline, particularly among teens. But according to the report, statistics also show that when the children and teens are engaged in reading for pleasure early on, they remain strong readers well into their teens.

Michigan teacher and young adult literature blogger Sara Andersen can vouch for those results. Andersen, an English teacher at Fenton High School in Fenton, Michigan writes the YAlove blog, popular with teacher and students alike.

“I created the blog to encourage teachers to look outside of the usual texts in their classroom and give students choices,” says Andersen. “ I also created a reading club with our media specialist. Since working on the club, I’ve seen the number of books checked out double and often see students huddled together, talking about books they’ve read. Who wouldn’t want that? The blog and its discussions of books we read often lead to deeper conversations and learning.”

Take Split, by Swati Avasti, a book Andersen discusses in her blog.

“Swati Avasthi has written a really eye-opening novel,” wrote Andersen in her blog. “I think many of us have an idea of what an abusive household is like, but reading about it from main character Jace’s perspective is a completely different experience.

As a teacher, sometimes it’s obvious when a student is being abused and I know I need to take action.  Unfortunately, some abusers know how to hide what they’re doing. I hope that by having this book in my classroom, I’ll be able to help those students open up and find the help they need. I also hope it will help those students who are suffering with becoming abusers themselves. This is an excellent novel that deserves more attention.”

On her blog shares student reviews of books they’ve read, another popular feature. “We’ve discussed dystopian novels such as Hunger Games and Divergent

And don’t forget graphic novels.  “I love graphic novels and use quite a few in my class. For more visual learners, it’s a great way to get them into the book and get them hooked on reading,” says Andersen. The novels don’t shy away from tough topics. Gene Luen Yang’s award-winning Boxers and Saints, told from two persepectives of the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Incorporating graphic novels into your curriculum doesn’t mean giving up on the classics says graphic novelist and illustrator Gareth Hinds, who recreates such classics as Beowulf, The Odyssey, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet in stunning detail. “My work is just a different entry point,” says Hinds. “Teachers have often used them for students who may initially find the original inaccessible, English Language Learners for example, or struggling readers. But it doesn’t mean they don’t also use the original. They often use our books side by side with terrific results.”

If educators aren’t privy to the vast universe of young adult literature, where do you start? Believe it or not, says Andersen, begin with the very world that some say threatens reading. Begin with social media.

“Publishers and authors have a tremendous presence in the digital world and they’re pulling in readers, says Macmillan Vice President Angus Killick, who helped create MacMillan’s FierceReads twitter campaign and author tour. “If you build it, teens will come.”

Harper Collins Epic Reads site not only offers a peek at some of their latest offerings, but for some, but a suggested music playlist, such as the Spotify playlist of  tunes chosen by author Lauren Oliver for her novel Panic  http://www.epicreads.com/blog/reading-playlist-panic/.

Simon and Schuster’s Pulse site for teens turned it into a twitter contest, with each tweet revealing a piece of the cover. The final reveal occurred after 1,000 tweets. And on Figment, figment.com, readers can read directly online.

Ellen Oh, a young adult author (Providence) and one of the founders of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign,  urges educators to diversify their lists too. “Take a look at the great range of books being written by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters,” says Oh. “Check out the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign tumblr  www.weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com . And don’t forget to check out DiversifYA at www.diversifyYA.com.

Finally, says Andersen, give your students a chance to connect with their favorite authors whether it’s through Skype, twitter, or  Tumblr. “Authors are a great source of material for your classroom. Take the time this summer to check out author websites, twitter campaigns, and book trailers., John Green for example, has 200,000 followers and he posts video blogs as well.  You’ll be so glad you did and so will your students.”

  • Mikey

    Written in July, and NO comments by March……and this on what I perceived to be the single biggest problem in upper level classrooms in my 31 year career as an English teacher! The fact is that fewer and fewer students even read the assignments anymore in the upper grades. Why should they? There are plenty of internet sites that will provide a nice summary of the piece, and they can be perused on the way to school.

    Please read every night to little ones, teach them the value of the written word, the beauty, the sheer art and resulting enjoyment might have long-lasting effects. Let’s not cave to popular culture. Let’s demand and find ways to make literature count in our students’ lives. And let’s comment on huge problems like this!