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Tag: high school

Interview with Julie Halpern, Author of The F-It List

The F It ListJulie Halpern has a knack of taking you back to high school by pulling out our best and worst memories of that time through her writing.  Her spot on comedic tone and skilful weaving of a story,  perfectly channels the essence of the high school experience. She has  been recognized on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults lists twice: in 2010 for Into the Wild Nerd Yonder and 2013 for Have a Nice Day.

The F-It List is Halpern’s fifth novel for teens, and it has laugh out loud humor while at the same time delivering an emotional punch to the gut.  The F-It List hit bookshelves this past Tuesday, November 12, and centers on the friendship of Alex and Becca.  When Alex’s father passed away, her best friend Becca made a poor choice and slept with Alex’s then boyfriend.  Needing a break from the drama, Alex spends a summer keeping away from Becca.  When she is ready to forgive at the start of the next school year, Alex discovers that Becca has cancer.  Together they rebuild their friendship while trying to complete Becca’s bucket list, or as they call it the F-It list.  Through this process Alex discovers a lot about grieving, love, friendship, and even herself.  Visit Julie Halpern’s website,, to learn more about her work.

This is your fifth novel for teen readers.  Has your writing style or writing process changed since your first novel was published?  What has stayed the same?

I don’t know how much my style has changed, except that (hopefully) it has improved! Practice makes perfect, and all. I have had a similar writing process for all five books, where I tend to write the first few chapters and then let them sit for a bit before I continue writing the book. I don’t outline, but I do make a list of important events (sometimes the list looks neat, sometimes it’s randomly-placed post-its) that I need to include. I tend to write my books on a schedule, meaning that the events in the book take place over a certain amount of time and I need to figure out how to make the schedule work in order to keep the book organized. Otherwise, I write my books through the eyes of the main character, and the characters dictate the words. Also, in terms of process, I hand-write all of my books into notebooks with a pen, and when I finish the first draft I have to type it all in (which becomes my second draft).  By now I know that I usually require two or three revisions after the second draft before I’m comfortable sending it to my editor. No one sees it before then.

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So, How Much Are Kids Really Reading?

The library and education worlds have been astir for the past couple weeks about a report from Accelerated Reader company Renaissance Learning entitled “What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools.” The report analyzes AR program data for the 2010-11 school year and shows the number of books and words that students in grades 1 to 12 read on average during that school year, as well as the average reading level of the 40 most commonly read books in each grade.

Hub blogger Becky O’Neil provided some fantastic commentary on this report in a post earlier this month called “Leveling Up and Keeping Score: High School Students Reading at 5th-Grade Levels, Report Says.” The biggest headline in her post, as well as in most of the news coverage of the report, is that the level of books students are reading plateaus after 5th grade. Students advance on grade level up to 5th grade, and then after that, the books that they most commonly read remain at just above the 5th grade level through 12th grade.

Reading Level of Most Commonly Read Books by Grade

Yet this report is heavy with other numbers that are just as interesting, in particular the number of books and words that students are reading on average in each grade, as well as the gender differences between boys and girls when it comes to reading.

What follows are a series of graphs depicting these reading trends according to the data in the Renaissance Learning Report.


Leveling Up and Keeping Score: High School Students Reading at 5th-Grade Levels, Report Says

Earlier this week, I came across a headline to raise the eyebrows of all of us lovers of reading: “American High School Students Are Reading Books At 5th-Grade-Appropriate Levels: Report.” Say what? As I skimmed the article, my bias meter went off–the report in question was authored by Renaissance Learning, Inc., creator of the Accelerated Reader (AR) reading assessment software. Wouldn’t Renaissance Learning have a vested interest in continued use of the AR software to improve reading abilities assessed as too low by … Renaissance Learning? Plus, I often resented AR for causing my most enthusiastic booktalks to be met with the response, “It sounds good, but I’m only allowed to read books at my AR level.” Arrow to a librarian’s heart, those words!

Still, I realized that–I can admit it–I have my own biases. I gravitate toward the cautionary views of Jim Trelease and Susan Straight; I like students to be able to take a book that sounds interesting to them without feeling like it’s worthless without a measurement or reward. But I’ve never tried to get to know or use AR, so I took it upon myself to do so, as well as to read their whole gosh-dang report. Phew! And with the caveat that I am not a teacher, reading specialist, or mathematician, here are some of my thoughts in the spirit of discussion:


Movie Review: Young Adult

If you’re anything like me, your teen-lit-loving heart gave a leap when you heard about the movie Young Adult. The film’s main character is a YA author, it’s written by Diablo Cody (who reached household-name status with Juno), and it features an incredible poster styled after the cheesy series covers that we all recognize with a grimace of nostalgia. Take a gander at the trailer if you haven’t yet:


Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a 37-year-old divorcee who works as a ghostwriter for a languishing YA series. As she struggles to produce the final book, ignoring her publisher’s frustrated voicemails and eavesdropping on teens for dialogue, the audience gets a painfully clear view of a highly flawed protagonist. Her high-rise apartment is trashed; her dating life consists of one-night stands; she pulls out her own hair; and starting the day with Diet Coke and ending it in a drunken collapse is a regular occurrence. When Mavis hears that her high-school flame, Buddy, has just had a baby, she sets off to her old hometown to win him back–in spite of the fact that he is happily married.

Without giving away too much, it’s safe to say that the title refers only tangentially to the literary genre we love here at The Hub. As Maureen Johnson has pointed out, it does portray a non-romanticized view of the writer’s life (looming deadlines, panicked calls, staring down the blank computer screen) that’s probably closer to reality than movies often show us. And fans of Juno will recognize the wry, cutting tone of the script and the darkly hilarious one-liners. But “young adult” refers to the much larger theme of being an adult who hasn’t grown up. Mavis isn’t just immature in her physical habits: she sees the world in black and white, and fosters delusions that damage herself and those around her.