Tag Archives: young adult literature

A Worthwhile and Swift Read

This post is written by member Gary Pankiewicz.

Some might find it strange for a forty-something language arts educator to reach for a children’s novel over a brief school vacation, but, in this case, I highly recommend it. Up to my ears with work and graduate study—and reserving time for my wife and three boys—a short text gave me a quick literacy fix when I was over busy. Simply put, the accessible approach in a children’s novel inspired timely literacy reflective practice in my adult life.

the-dreamer-cover-812x1024Knowing that my reading time would be short, I packed up a copy of The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Peter Sis in my travel bag. I had just read and researched Muñoz Ryan’s Echo for a new unit plan for work, and I pulled The Dreamer from the school library because I wanted to read more of Muñoz Ryan’s writing. There would only be time to dip into a Franzen novel, but there was ample time to dig into The Dreamer. In my experience, children’s novels and young adult books can provide that same spark to grapple with complexity and perspective—the thing I love most about any literary text. Emphatically, reading The Dreamer was like taking a soothing medicine, albeit cherry-flavored, on the course for sustained healing and appetite anew. What began for me as a quick literacy escape during a busy spring break burgeoned into an opportunity to stay connected with the artistry of teaching English—and the craftsmanship of being a dad.

Thinking about the book and literacy classrooms. In the text, Netfali, the young protagonist, is a soon-to-be realized poet on a journey that uncoils his spirited imagination and jettisons his artful capacity. He comes up against trials with those who do not understand his perspective or his emotion. This leads to a thorough exploration of one’s fear and a discerning look at humanity in our communities. For me, the highlight of the book came from Netfali’s care for an injured swan with metaphorical play that foreshadowed the book’s climax. All the while, peppered poetic interludes and illustrations showcased multimodal expressions that implored rereading and rethinking throughout.

Thinking about the book as a literacy educator and as a parent. Since children are the intended audience for the book, I often found myself reading with young people and their perceptions in mind. Netfali’s most personal challenge resides in a father who insists on more “useful” goals and a community that may not be ready for Netfali’s unrealized voice. This was a big reminder to be weary of squelching dreams through professional and personal utilitarianism. For example, the support of rigorous trajectories for college readiness is important, but, for many students (and kids), this work could easily become tedious without opportunities for choice and voice in the literacy classroom as well as in their lives at home. Indeed, analyzing these characters’ actions and motivations served as a call-to-action to encourage vision—especially in our apprentice-like students and children. Do I model passion enough, and do I give enough room for my kids to find theirs? Like Netfali’s uncle Orlando, educators and parents must proclaim our relational pride more often and encourage our kids’ revelry—strategically. Let’s go!

To say that I love a good children’s novel or young adult book privileges adult books through the implied contrast. So, let’s just say that I really enjoyed reading The Dreamer. It refreshed my connection to the eloquence of literacy with an opportune invitation to rework my own story.

Some other recommended swift reads:

A little research into the novel also introduced me to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. But, I’ll save my nod to poetry for my next blog.

Gary Pankiewicz is the K-12 Language Arts and Literacy Supervisor in the Fair Lawn, NJ, School District and NCTE member since 2003. He is also an adjunct professor and doctoral candidate at Montclair State University.

READ the Map!

This post is written by member Kelly Tumy.

Young adult literature has earned a place in secondary classrooms, but are we doing enough to recognize the different elements in this genre, allowing students to experience the complete book?  Examining what YA authors do when they create maps to use in their narrative spaces and taking time to really read a map will open new avenues for every kind of reader in our classrooms. Have you ever really looked at a map? I mean, really looked at it, and not just looked at it, but examined it, READ it? YA authors have, and their maps have real purpose linked to their narratives that is just waiting to be discovered.

I had the opportunity to develop and present a workshop this year with a geography professor from the University of Houston-Clear Lake—Dr. Jeffrey Lash—who opened my eyes to the wonders of maps. I had always been curious about why maps were included in many of the YA books I read, but the intent didn’t dawn on me until I was in a session with Jeff, and he asked us to read a map. Read a map?  Don’t we just look at maps and draw conclusions and find our way?  I was shown such an enlightening path to working with maps that I knew I wanted to go back and re-read books with maps and make map-reading a part of the learning environment for both teachers and students.

Credit: Jordan Saia (jordansaia.com)

Choosing books was easy as Six of Crows had just come out, and I was intrigued by the double map in the front of the book.  I then added Snow like Ashes, We Were Liars, and City of a Thousand Dolls. Starting with some popular YA sites like Book Riot, I found some articles that actually address how maps become a part of a book’s narrative.  Then, making connections between how the setting influences the narrative, why the map was included, how characters change over time, and how the maps influenced my understanding of that character and those changes, I began seeing how maps shaped each narrative.

Miriam Forster, A City of a Thousand Dolls

But the real gem of doing this work was the collegiality and the cross-curricular connections I was able to make with Dr. Lash. He dutifully read all the books I sent him; he shared map resources from National Geographic and took all the participants, including me, on some incredibly deep map-reading exercises.  Building on the work of Phil Gershmel, we navigated the shores of Ketterdam from Six of Crows with a new lens—a geography lens. We read the map and learned how to identify and analyze patterns, regions, movement, and hierarchies.  We practiced comparing places and interpreting how elements on the map were connected or influenced each other all the while making connections back to each narrative. In We Were Liars, we explored the fictitious yet ominously real island off the coast of Massachusetts inhabited by an incredibly wealthy family. We made comparisons, we made associations with another famous family, and we examined how the island changed over time based on traditional and nontraditional inhabitants. In short, we gave the narrative dimension by examining, reading the maps. Lash shared he was not a reader until a middle school teacher gave him a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition complete with a fold-out map, and then he was hooked—all he wanted was a book with a map to explore, read, and keep him engaged in reading.

Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo

What are we doing to keep learners engaged in reading?  I never would have believed that maps would have such an influence on me as a reader—I took the road less traveled and found something new about the YA genre that I love.  Teachers need to remember that literature will always create a sense of place—how we examine that place outside of traditional language arts study will determine the number of children we engage and how many lifelong readers we grow in our classrooms.

Kelly E. Tumy is the curriculum director for English language arts and social studies for the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, TX. She is currently the vice president for membership and affiliates for the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts and a passionate advocate of young adult literature in the secondary classroom. 

YA Lit

ya-misconWhile some of us packed up and went home after the NCTE Annual Convention, many people stayed for the 2016 ALAN Workshop. It was hosted at the Georgia World Congress Center and continued the tradition of celebrating the very best of young adult literature. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) promotes communication and cooperation among teachers, authors, librarians, publishers, teacher-educators and their students, and others who are particularly interested in the area of young adult literature. Members receive three issues annually of The ALAN Review, a journal emphasizing new books, research, and methods of teaching adolescent literature. Many attendees of the 2016 ALAN workshop have been posting on social media about their time there. Interested in Young Adult Literature? See what NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org have to offer!

Text Messages: Recommendations for Adolescent Readers is a podcast providing families, educators, out-of-school practitioners, and tutors reading recommendations they can pass along to teen readers. Each episode will feature in-depth recommendations of titles that will engage and excite teen readers. Text Messages is hosted by current ALAN President, Jennifer Buehler.

With a supporting explication of NCTE’s Policy Research Brief Reading Instruction for All Students and lively vignettes of teachers and students reading with passion and purpose, Teaching Reading with YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives is designed to help teachers develop their own version of YA pedagogy and a vision for teaching YA lit in the middle and secondary classroom. Visit the Companion Site for more from the author.

Teaching YA Lit through Differentiated Instruction offers suggestions for incorporating YA lit into the high school curriculum. Each chapter opens with an introduction to and description of a different popular genre or award category of YA lit—science fiction, realistic teen fiction, graphic novels, Pura Belpré award winners, nonfiction texts, poetry, historical YA fiction—and then offers suggestions within that genre for whole-class instruction juxtaposed with a young adult novel more suited for independent reading or small-group activities. See more in a web seminar recorded by the authors.

Engaging American Novels: Lessons from the Classroom focuses on ten frequently taught American novels, both classic and contemporary, that can help promote engagement in reading. Texts highlighted include To Kill a Mockingbird, The Chocolate War, The Outsiders, and Out of the Dust. Teachers are challenged to think about how students best engage with texts, especially novels. Many of the titles in this book have been challenged or censored. The NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers faced with challenges to texts (e.g. literary works, films and videos, drama productions) or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools.

How do you incorporate YA Lit in your classroom?

Honoring Students’ Interests in Sports to Support Literacy Learning, Part II

This post (the second of two parts) is written by member Alan Brown. Luke Rodesiler wrote the first part. 

revised-alan-brown-photo-for-publicationThere is an unfair perception about reading that abounds from many corners of the universe, and it’s one I encountered frequently during my youth. It is the notion of reading as a passive, feminine activity, particularly when contrasted with activities that are often considered more active and masculine, such as playing sports. The end result is the boy crisis we hear about so often not only in schools but also in the media, as described by Watson, Kehler, and Martino in their commentary “The Problem of Boys’ Literacy Underachievement: Raising Some Questions.”

Examples and discussions of masculinity in sports are not hard to find. One discussion I found particularly interesting involved Brendan Dwyer, a researcher in the field of sport administration, who was quoted in a recent article about fantasy baseball by Nadia Kounang as saying, “Sports in general has been a space for men to communicate . . . and now fantasy sports is an enhanced version of that . . . . I like to equate it to the male version of a book club.” For English teachers with a passion for inference, we understand the implications of this suggestion: fantasy sports are for boys, and book clubs are for girls.

Robert Lipsyte refers to divisive sporting environments that separate students from athletes and readers from so-called nonreaders as being overtly influenced by jock culture. So it’s refreshing to learn about Andrew Luck’s book club as a high-profile method for connecting adolescents, sports, and literature, and I am always excited to see award-winning children’s and young adult authors such as Matt de la Peña emphasize sports as an entry point to literature.

Years ago I created a sports literacy blog for students, teachers, librarians, and parents to help them connect sports and young adult literature. What was missing, at least for me, was the opportunity to put these resources into practice. As a result, I started my first after-school sports literacy program at a local high school in 2013. Years later, I have just begun my first middle-grades sports literacy program at a school with dedicated teachers and administrators trying desperately to decrease the reading proficiency achievement gap in their school.

This program is grounded in sociocultural theory in that students develop literacy skills while engaging in activities related to their personal, everyday interests. The program’s motto is simple: sports talk, free snacks, good books. Through social activities and sports-related young adult literature, students have an opportunity to explore the world around them, including academic objectives and social pressures that are part of the transition to high school. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Thursday afternoon.

If you are interested in learning more about meaningful and productive ways to engage students in reading, writing, and other literacy practices, I hope you will consider picking up a copy of NCTE’s new release Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports: A Guide for the English Classroom, which I coedited with my colleague Luke Rodesiler. This edited book includes contributions and sample lesson plans from experienced English teachers, teacher educators, scholars, and young adult authors from across the country.

You may also want to mark your calendars for Thursday, February 23, when Luke and I will host a live Web seminar exploring critical literacy at the intersections of sport and society. The seminar, which begins at 4:30 p.m. (EST), is free to NCTE members.

Thanks for taking the time to read these blog posts, and we hope you will consider, if you haven’t already, honoring students’ interests in sports to support literacy learning.

Layout 1Alan Brown is an assistant professor of English education at Wake Forest University. Along with Luke Rodesiler, he is the coeditor of Developing Contemporary Literacies through Sports: A Guide for the English Classroom, a new release from NCTE. Luke and Alan are co-chairs of the Featured Session: G.01: The Intersection of Literacy, Sports, Culture and Society. 

Research of a Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case: Loving vs. Virginia

The following guest post is by author Patricia Hruby Powell.  Powell will be one of our featured speakers at the Middle Level Mosaic at the 2016 Annual Convention.

PatriciaHrubyPowellLoving vs. Virginia is an informational book or a “documentary novel.” The story is told in verse in the voices of Mildred Jeter (African American and Native American) and Richard Loving (White). The couple grew up together, fell in love, married in Washington, DC, came home to Virginia in 1958, and were arrested in bed. It’s hard to believe that less than 60 years ago, interracial marriage was illegal in half of the United States.

Research included my watching Nancy Buirski’s documentary The Loving Story repeatedly. I viewed news clips, studied Hope Ryden’s 1960s film footage of the Lovings, read newspaper and magazine articles contemporary to the times. I read extensively about the convoluted court case that led to the US Supreme Court. I searched for photos and quotes. But perhaps the most fun was interviewing the “players” of my story.

Sadly, both Richard and Mildred Loving are deceased—Mildred died in 2008, and Richard only nine years after the US Supreme Court decision of 1967 which ruled in their favor. But I did speak extensively to Mildred’s brothers, Lewis Jeter and Otha Jeter; Otha Jeter still lives in the neighborhood in Caroline County where they all grew up together. Their neighborhood—or section—was remarkably integrated. Blacks, Whites, and Native Americans worked together, partied together, and in some cases, fell in love. This took place in a state so segregated that state statistician Walter Plecker instated the “Racial Integrity Act” as a health bulletin (!) declaring that interracial marriage was illegal.

One of my favorite interviews was with Richard’s friend, Ray Green. He and five buddies stood around a pickup truck outside a rural convenience store with my husband and me and chatted about their friends, the Lovings. They told stories, laughed, and gave details that would be the foundation of scenes in my book.

Another great part of the research? Remembering how it felt to fall in love. I listened to music that I listened to in my 20s when I was falling in love regularly. My husband and I spoke about falling in love—reminding each other of our stories.

My husband, being a white Southern man, had special insight into Richard. Studying Richard in film clips and reading his words from previous interviews was essential in recreating his character.

From the clips, I know Mildred was soft spoken, a gentle mother to their three children, and altogether charming. The couple was clearly in love. They did not want to be the center of this important civil rights issue. They just wanted to live their quiet lives together—at home in Caroline County.

LovingVsVirginacoverPatricia Hruby Powell’s Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle 2014) garnered Honors from the Boston Globe, The Horn Book, Robert F. Sibert, BolognaRagazzi, Coretta Scott King (for Christian Robinson’s illustrations), and a Parent’s Choice Gold, among others. Loving vs. Virginia (Chronicle 2017) is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Patricia is a former dancer and librarian living in Champaign, IL. Readers have a chance to receive one of  three free copies of her book, Loving V. Virginia, prior to its January 2017 release date by signing up to receive her blog