Recently a report on high school students and reading levels came out with an alarming headline: “High Schoolers Reading at 5th Grade-Level.” Covered previously here at The Hub, the report gathered data suggesting that a majority of high school students are reading below grade level. It also asked an important question: what should kids be reading? One answer to this question is using more young adult literature in high school classes to increase interest and reading levels. YA is more popular than ever thanks to a certain dystopian series being turned into an insanely popular movie. But this strategy is not without its drawbacks.
Last month a teacher in South Carolina was suspended for reading aloud a passage from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, a YA science fiction book considered by many a classic and often taught in schools in units dealing with identity and morality. The Arizona State Legislature passed legislation last year effectively banning YA titles that had previously been used in successful multicultural studies curriculum. John Green recently defended his book Looking For Alaska (the 2006 Printz Award winner) on Twitter after it was removed from a school reading list on the basis it is “pornographic.”
YA books are far from being universally accepted in school classrooms. Their inclusion presents unique challenges (sometimes literally) but also amazing opportunities. A compelling reason to include YA literature in classrooms is content. Teens, like most readers, appreciate characters and situation that are familiar to them and their lives. Readers have a stronger connection to the text when they can see themselves and their struggles in the story. YA literature also offers readers diverse characters, compelling stories, and high quality writing. When incorporated into literature curricula, YA titles can offer a wide spectrum of views on popular themes like identity, conflict, society and survival. YA literature can be easily incorporated into classroom through literature circles, supplemental reading lists, multimedia projects, and of course being paired with canonical texts typically used in classrooms.
Here’s a list of YA titles that would fit into the classroom, organized by theme.
Identity or Sense of Self
- Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going (2004 Printz honor book, 2005 Popular Paperback, 2012 Popular Paperback)
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (who won the first-ever Margaret A. Edwards Award)
- I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly (2010 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels)
- Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel(2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults)
- Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli(2001 Best Books for Young Adults, 2002 Amazing Audiobooks, 2005 Popular Paperbacks)
- Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (2010 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2010 Amazing Audiobooks)
- Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (2013 Popular Paperbacks nominee)
- Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd (2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults)
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2004 Best Books for Young Adults, 2004 Alex Award winner, 2007 Popular Paperbacks)
- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012 Readers’ Choice list)
- American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2007 Printz Award winner, 2007 Best Books for Young Adults, 2007 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels, 2013 Popular Paperbacks nominee)
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson (2007 Printz Honor book, 2007 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults)
- ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool: a year in an american high school by Elisha Cooper
- Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes (2003 Best Books for Young Adults, 2003 Quick Picks, 2007 Popular Paperbacks)
- Holes by Louis Sachar (1999 Best Books for Young Adults, 1999 Quick Picks for Young Adults, 2000 Amazing Audiobooks, 2006 Popular Paperbacks)
- Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy by L.A. Meyer (2004 Best Books for Young Adults, 2008 Amazing Audiobooks, 2008 Odyssey Award honor book, 2012 Popular Paperbacks)
- Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
- Nation by Terry Pratchett (2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2009 Printz Honor book, 2009 Amazing Audiobooks, 2009 Odyssey Honor book)
What other titles do you think would work in the classroom? Any great resources for teachers and educators on using YA in the classroom?
— Amanda Margis, currently reading Uglies: Shay’s Story by Scott Westerfeld and listening to The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides