More thoughts about teens and reading

What a very interesting discussion this is turning out to be! If you haven’t seen the earlier bits yet, you’ll need to read here and here. It’s a complex thing, this ‘getting teens to read’ business.

As I read the article on the Sapling site, there were several things that just didn’t sit quite right with me, from my experiences as a school librarian, and as a parent of two teens. Several times the voice in my head was saying “OK, but…

My words here are fuelled by a genuine desire to see more teens reading more and enjoying it more, including more NZ writing. I also love the chance to talk about this stuff with other people, and although blog posts and comments in themselves maybe aren’t that productive, it’s a place to start a conversation. Here we go 🙂

“…peer recommendation is by far the most powerful driver when teenagers are choosing their next book, so it makes sense to provide a platform for reviews by young readers, for young readers.”

OK, but is the right platform for that teen-reader-to-teen-reader review and recommendation, a website where the input from teens is mostly limited to quite formal, 500+ word reviews? Contrast that with something Insta-friendly or Snapchat compatible such as #booksnaps, as Steph points out. Or the type of YA reader hub that’s exemplified by Inside a Dog or #LoveOZYA? A huge part of what we are all trying to do is to get young people reading, sharing, and recommending books with each other. So shouldn’t we be doing more to try and meet them where they are? To respect what they want, and how they do things?

“…how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?”

OK, yes, good point. And Bridget’s comment about text responses that do well in assessments is spot on. Neither teachers nor students want to risk getting fewer credits, or missing out on endorsements, by choosing something new and untested in that way. Especially when every NCEA credit in English (reading or writing) is hard-earned. I also think that there is a lack of local OER material to support teachers who might want to introduce contemporary/local texts but baulk at how much work that means for them. Especially if they’re not reading much (or any!) contemporary YA of any origin and just don’t know what’s available and awesome right now. How can we address that? Some teachers do share resources they’ve created (via the Secondary English list on TKI for instance) but I reckon there’s still a huge gap. Particularly for contemporary and local texts. Definitely something where the YA lit community – library people, publishers, and authors, and the Hooked On Books people and the Sapling etc – might be able to help. I’m talking about this sort of thing for a start.

“…there is little awareness of New Zealand children’s and Young Adult fiction by undergraduates…”

This is a “yes, and…” for me. What about pre-service teachers? How are they introduced to C&YA lit so that they begin their careers with an understanding and a love of stories and reading, and knowledge of what’s out there, and what’s local, and… and… and…? Again, how do we respond to that need? What about ongoing professional development for teachers, and for children’s and youth librarians in public libraries and schools? What about programmes for developing parents as readers — for themselves, and with their children? There are pockets of awesomeness to be found, but it needs to be a bigger movement.

“None of them had read any of Mahy’s extraordinary young adult novels.”

Yes, but surely that’s because the three books mentioned are 30+ old?! I guess they’re the right age for people who might be youngish teachers now, for example, so maybe they might have been expected to have read them as teenagers. For me though, their publication fell into the gap where I was too old to read them as a young adult myself, too young to have kids who might read them at the time, and too busy having a different career to know about it from a professional perspective. Publishers, please do reprint them with great new covers though, if they still stand on their own merits, that’d be awesome (and that is not sarcasm!)

“… teens choose their own books without an adult steering them to old favourites.”

OMG yes. Take it from someone who once tried to introduce her tween daughter to Anne of Green Gables. Big mistake. But isn’t that the way it should be, actually? We want young readers to choose books independently, right? I agree that reviews have a part to play in that. But: see everything above. Readers Advisory is so NOT about steering other people towards your old favourites. It’s about using all sorts of strategies – maybe reviews, but so much more than that too – to find the best match for each reader, right now. Today I read a blog post from YA writer Annie Barrows. Go ahead and read it here. I swear she could have been writing about my own kids. Or any number of their friends. And teenagers you no doubt know as well. What do they actually want to read? Pretty sure it (mostly) isn’t novels written 30 years ago that older people think are classics (but see above about reprints! 🙂

“Everyone staying up to read the new YA books being released a chapter each night.”

Yes! But this is already, literally, what loads of teens actually are doing, only it’s in places like Wattpad’s teen fiction or Archive of our own (AO3) where very few parents and teachers — us older folks 🙂 — venture to tread. We could celebrate it already, and support it if we wanted to. Instead, it’s banned in silent reading classes throughout the country, or blocked by school networks. But just because it goes on ‘under the radar’ as it were, that doesn’t mean it’s any less beneficial or important to kids than the reading we think they should be doing. Perhaps it’s actually a place best left to them, where they can read whatever the hell they want without having to justify or explain it to anyone.

“…special funding for New Zealand books in every classroom…”

Mmm. Well as a school library person my immediate reaction to this is, “how about more funding for NZ books in every school library, where everyone in the school can access them? How about targeted non-ops grant funding for school library staff so that schools can have a C&YA lit reader/enthusiast/specialist to help teachers, students, parents and whānau get to know and love stories from everywhere, including New Zealand stories, written here, about here, with us at the heart of them. Just for the love of it.

  1. #1 by Angela Soutar on September 7, 2017 - 10:03 AM

    Very interesting discussion;
    Lots of conundrums.
    Yes, the lack of publicity for NZ writers makes popularity and sales a real hindrance, on the other hand we are a small country and word of mouth still works. Sometimes it just needs a slot on morning tv and radio to start the process.
    As far as reading the 20-30 year old NZ greats , there are some positives: parents who read them and enjoyed them, e.g. Tessa Duder’s Alex series , often comment that they recommend them to their children, nieces and nephews, etc. Fortunately these were reprinted reasonably recently which is the other major hurdle in NZ … A battered outdated cover is quite off putting as well as librarians withdrawing them!
    However, if the students can manage to read battered copies of various English and American classics which portray a different society and time from today, then they can surely occasionally manage a NZ one from the past.
    There is a gradual reissuing of Mahy’s work going on, but other writers may never be reprinted.
    I can understand that the prep work an English teacher needs to do and the lack of already published student guides as a disincentive but they are not going to have to cover that many books are they? And isn’t that their job? Don’t they enjoy reading? The word of the teacher is so influential.
    Anyway, at least in primary and intermediate schools we are doing our best to keep some well known NZ authors in front of the children … if they cover a wide enough reading range, which might at least dispose them to try reading their more advanced works.
    I thought the list of books which a school librarian put up recently was brilliant ….. If you like The Hunger Games you might like…… Sorry can’t stop this post to look it up again and acknowledge you by name or I’ll lose the above ….

  2. #2 by Bridget Schaumann on September 7, 2017 - 2:39 PM

    Hmmm I’m not sure I agree Angela. I want to know why these books are considered superior to those which are being published now. There is seriously a problem when we are not considering that new and modern literature is the equivalent of those which were written 30 years ago. If a book is award winning, it might not be to our taste, but we would hope that it has some relevance to those readers it is intended for. Just like those published years ago were. I simply cannot imagine my students engaging with Alex now. I loved those books when I first started in school libraries 20 years ago, but not for this generation now. And yes, classics are always relevant but not to the exclusion of the modern, I honestly felt that the article was very dismissive of the work of the modern generation of YA writers.

    There are so many things in the article that I take exception to:
    The presumption that only those proper people know how to write a book review and what it should be like. Hurumph!
    The presumption that young people are to be dismissed as not quite literate enough
    The presumption that the view of the writer is the only view
    The complete lack of understanding of how schools work and not even a mention of school libraries
    The fact that it is a blatant plug for her website
    The implication that modern writing was somehow lesser than that of the past

    Now, some of the above may just have been my outrage and given that the whole article incensed me from the beginning, I may have gotten my ‘knickers in somewhat of a twist’ and drawn implications which were not intended. But, the holier than thou attitude was very pervasive and it made me very cross. See my blog for that.

    • #3 by Miriam Tuohy on September 7, 2017 - 3:18 PM

      My younger daughter read this post last night because she was curious what I needed her laptop for 🙂 her comments were basically this:
      SLANZA conference should have more actual students involved, sharing with librarians and others, what they really think, feel, and want. And what they read, where and how and why. Oh, and on the subject of English set texts, this:
      “Basically the teacher chooses an old book, forces everyone to read it, then you have to use some f###ing old resource, then write an essay”. Please imagine that with her tone of absolute derision and disgust in mind. I have to say, I agree with her on all counts!

  3. #4 by Bridget Schaumann on September 7, 2017 - 3:58 PM

    That younger daughter is wise M. Given she is in the focus group we are talking about here, we need to listen to her.

  4. #5 by Fiona on September 8, 2017 - 6:08 PM

    When talking with my lovelies, I acknowledge that Wattpad isn’t my thing but that I still want them to tell me about the great stuff they’ve discovered on it, because they do discover great stuff! Wattpad and fan-fic are accepted by me for reading challenges, although I’ve had some interesting discussions with my colleagues about it, but if they’re reading, then I’m happy. I’ve used GoodReads with my Y9-10s for the last 3 years but am going to stop as they aren’t fussed on it. No compulsory reviews though, just recording reading, and talking about reading too. We’ve got a reading challenge category called ‘Modern Classic’ and Alex and The Changeover fits into that, because each are over 25 years old! The Changeover is going gangbusters with one class because I read some of it to them and then we watched the YouTube/FB stuff, but otherwise they wouldn’t have touched it. And trying to get teachers to update set texts OMG! My HoD has a Y7 class and she wanted the text that she taught some time ago (taught early 2000s, published early 90s). I persuaded her to read Wonder and the class has loved it. She’s not as thrilled but the work they’re doing is great – better than the ancient text she was thinking about…

  5. #6 by Fiona O'Connell on September 12, 2017 - 9:38 PM

    Miriam, loved the piece you added from Annie Barrows. Resonated with my two youngest teens. Lots of food for thought here.

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