Monday, August 3, 2009

BlogTalkRadio: Books for Teens

I am honored to be a guest of Eric Komoroff and the Community of Unity on the Youth Empowered BlogTalkRadio show on Monday, 08/03/09 at 6 pm. In an effort to provide an easy reference for some of the resources we'll be discussing, I've listed many of the authors and books I plan to mention below. Our conversation will touch on these possible points:

1. Why read?

Walter Dean Myers gave a keynote speech at IRA (the International Reading Association) some years ago, and I vividly remember two points he made:

A. It used to be that if you had a strong back, you could work. That’s no longer true. You have to read in order to be employed.
B. Myers does a lot of volunteer work in prisons, teaching inmates to read. He made the point that in Japan, prisoners are not released until they can read.

2. How do we get kids to read?

A. Jean Carlos Artiles, interviewed on this program on July 20, talked about “feeling alone.”
One of the great benefits of reading is that you discover other people who feel the way you do, who confront the same situations you do.
J.C. Artiles also advised parents, “You’re not raising yourselves, you’re raising your children.” To that end, it’s important to point kids to strong sources for books – local libraries, many of which have teen programs; bookstores, many of which invite teens to blog about new books and teen events; and not to “require reading,” but rather point them toward books they might enjoy. And then let them do their own discovering. Ultimately, they will enjoy most the books they discover for themselves (even if you're the one who initially points them out).

B. Jon Scieszka, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, offers these excellent tips, which I believe are appropriate for parents of kids from birth through the teenage years:

--Expand your definition of reading beyond fiction and novels. Lots of kids love to read non-fiction, humor, comic strips, magazines, illustrated stories, audio recordings, and websites. It’s all reading. It’s all a good way to become a reader.

--Let kids choose reading that interests them. It may not be the reading you like, but making the choice is important to kids.

--Be a good reading role model. Talk to your kids about how you choose what you read. Share your reading likes and dislikes. Let kids see you reading.

--Try not to demonize TV, computer games, and new technologies. These media do compete for kids’ time, but they are not the “bad guy.” Help kids become media literate. Show them how different media tell stories in different ways.

--Think global. Act local. There are all kinds of good people and worthy groups working to help kids read. Teachers, librarians, and booksellers are a wonderful resource. Ask them for book recommendations. Many of them already have programs in place for teens, teen volunteers, teen bloggers, a chance to write book recommendations.

3. Now that they're reading, which books have value?
All books have value, in the sense that it’s important to permit teens to explore books, try different titles, series books, magazines, comics, nonfiction, photo essays. It really goes along with what Jon Scieszka said (above) about letting kids “choose reading that interests them.” For teens, it’s often about reading what your peers are reading, so the more you can encourage your teen to get involved at your local bookstore or library where they can meet up with other kids who enjoy reading, the better. Your local librarian and bookseller are great sources for new books, too.

4. What does "reading level" mean and should we care?
I’m not a fan of “reading levels.” I understand the impulse to be able to easily categorize books into grade levels and thus make recommendations, but I find reading levels terribly misleading. There are books written on a “fifth-grade level” that have very mature themes, and there are books written at a higher grade level on accessible topics of great interest to kids who will stretch to read more challenging books because they’re passionate about the subject matter. So I think it’s really important to listen to teens talk about what interests them, and guide them to resources and titles that cover subjects and themes they’d enjoy.

5. What are some good sources for finding books?

I’ve culled my favorites in the list 20 Classic YA Books, a mix of recent and established books for teens, on my Twenty by Jenny Web site.

And here are some terrific additional resources:

2009 Best Books for Young Adults / ALA (American Library Association)

Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers / ALA

Graphic Novels recommended by First Second Books

Many authors who write for teens also have Web sites and blogs. Encourage them to Google their favorite authors and see if they can find out more about the authors and their books.

And if the teen in your life is interested in writing, I highly recommend SmithTeens:
SmithTeens is an online community of teen writers who are publishing six-word memoirs online. The first published collection -- in book form -- of the online community’s work will be published in September, I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets. The site is curated by professional editors, so there is no inappropriate content on the site, and teens can connect immediately with other teens who are interested in the same things they are.

I hope these are helpful suggestions, and that you'll tune in to BlogTalkRadio (which will be available even after the show airs) if you'd like to hear the full discussion with Eric Komoroff.

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