As a Teacher-Librarian, literature and the impact of reading on learners and learning, has been a key focus of my practice. In the first forum post for Literature Across the Curriculum, students were asked why read? In response to this, some of the reasons I listed included:
“comprehension skills; meaning making; language mastery; motivation to learn; memory; engagement with language; understanding and making sense of the world; pleasure; and deep engagement.”
As a result of the learning throughout this subject, some of the other reasons I would add include: to live vicariously; to explore diverse topics and subsequent perspective; enjoy the pleasure of finding a mirror to oneself; to explore ones own nature, thoughts and feeling; to build social skills; and to seek information.
The course work for Literature Across the Curriculum has broadened my understanding of the value of literature in education beyond the English classroom. The requirement to produce a unit of work that used literature to teach one of the cross curriculum priority areas was one of the challenges that contributed to this learning. The ideas generated for this unit of work have already been shared with teachers in my school and there is much enthusiasm for a fiction unit such as this to be incorporated into our curriculum mapping. The course has also led to professional growth by expanding my knowledge of the special role teacher-librarians play to ensure stories are a part of the lives and learning of the young people and to develop readers who choose to read. The readings about the necessity of enabling adults to match the right book to the right child highlighted the need for teacher-librarians to have knowledge of both books and children’s biopsychosocial development. This was a pertinent reminder for those of us in Queensland secondary schools that have Year 7 joining our communities this year.
Exploring the connections between the digital environment and the world of books was a learning outcome of Module 4 entitled Literature and the digital experience. The trends in this area mean that the professional practice of a teacher-librarian in the twenty-first century requires understanding eBooks, hypertext fiction, book apps and stories in multi-media formats. It also necessitates considering if/how these can be incorporated into library collections and pedagogy. Furthermore, it impacts our understanding of literacy, which is changing to incorporate new ways of reading. My own explorations during this module led me to discover the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and publish an article about these on my libraries website (http://mta-icentre.mta.qld.edu.au/). One key statement that I take away from the course is that in the digital age, the ability to read remains the key to successful participation in society.
As the subject draws to a close, the challenges and opportunities afforded have been many and have already started to impact my working life. In particular, I believe these understandings need to be translated to my professional practices as a teacher-librarian to build literacy and inspire a love of reading.
If you thought kids’ and teens’ reading was going downhill due to time spent on screens and devices – then, think again. Two articles recently publish are testament to the increase in popularity of books for these audiences. On December 16 (2014), literary editor, Jonathon Sturgeon, stated that book trade sales “were buoyed by a substantial increase in sales of Young Adult and Children’s books, up 22.4 percent” during the past year. On Sunday, November 11 (2015), the Sunday Mail published an article in it’s “U” lift out that also discussed the worldwide sales increase of children’s and young adult books. Australia alone, it said, recorded a $1.1 million sales increase in this section of the publishing market.
This is great news for me on many levels – as a parent of teenagers, as a Teacher-Librarian who is promoting books and reading every day of her working life and as an avid reader of YA fiction. It is also great news for our local independent bookstores, Riverbend Books and Avid Reader who do such great work in sourcing and promoting the best books and authors for this age group.
Over the Christmas break, I took the opportunity to delve into some new YA books and revisit an old favourite. For those interested in YA, my reviews of these are below and many other reviews can be found on my Goodreads page.
Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Written by teen author, Amy Zhang, this story starts with the attempted suicide of ‘it’ girl, Liz Emersen who deliberately drives her mercedes off the road into a tree. Clearly depressed, Liz is unhappy but not a victim. She herself is a mean girl and a bully and having realised the terrible things she has done, decides the solution is to end her life. The novel then covers fragments from before, during and after the attempted suicide.
This story shows incredible insight into the lives of teenagers who can be unlikeable, decent, vulnerable and flawed all at once. Even though they may not have experienced the extremes of teenage behaviours portrayed in this novel, many high school students would be able to identify with the characters, events, emotions and certainly the issues dealt with in this book.
Amy Zhang has produced a story that is really well written and thought provoking, which makes the reader aware that our actions contain consequences for others and ourselves. I echo the sentiment of other reviewers that it is amazing to think she wrote this while being at high school. Both the standard of writing and the final success of being published, should be inspirational to the many aspiring writers I teach. An excellent debut novel.
Withering-By-Sea by Judith Rossell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At the beginning of this book, Stella Montgomery is witness to a murder and her life is placed in danger as those responsible seek to capture both her and the object she has vowed to hide and protect. This is a most wonderful Victorian mystery and adventure that involves villains, trickery, magic, theatre, courageous children and many plot twists.
In the same vein as books such as The Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and The Billionaire’s Curse, this book contains kids being orphaned among emotionally absent adults. These kids have to become the heroes in their own lives to solve mysteries of the past and present and to survive the dark scenarios afoot.
Not only is this book very well written, but it also contains a scattering of great illustrations reflecting the author, Judith Rossell’s abilities as an illustrator as well as writer. In particular, the illustration of the “elegant, spindly legs” of the peer, the “seething” Aunts, and the Hotel Majestic with its “towers and turrets and curlicues and columns and chimneys and balconies and lots of curly metal sprouting here and there” very much add to atmosphere created throughout the pages of the book.
A great read, highly recommended for Middle School readers.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book tells the story of Hayley Kincain who has led anything but an ordinary childhood. At the point where the novel begins, Hayley is entering her senior years in high school. Prior to this she has been travelling the roads with her father in his truck, living an unconventional life while her Dad tries to escape the memories and post traumatic stress that haunt him as a returned soldier.
In her return to a ‘normal life’, Hayley makes friends with Gracie and then meets Finn. Both have the potential to be good for her if Hayley would let them in. Hayley is, however, afraid of this – if others see what is really going on with her Dad, his mental health, inability to keep a job, use of drugs to anaesthetise his pain, his neglect of Hayley’s needs and his violent episodes, then her new, ‘normal life’ might be threatened.
As things spiral out of control in Hayley’s life, it becomes impossible to put this book down so worried are you for both Hayley and her father. A good read.
Cracked by Clare Strahan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A story that encapsulates what is like to be fifteen. In this coming of age novel, we meet Clover. She is talented, passionate and at risk of ‘cracking’.
The plot of this novel follows Clover as she pushes everyone and everything, including herself, to the limit. She is passionate about the environment and decides to raise awareness about the loss of a local wildlife corridor through graffiti. In order to get her message across, she needs the help of her friend Keek and she draws him into her escapades. However, what some people deem art, others deem vandalism and she soon she and Keek are facing the consequences of being on the wrong side of the law. She also experiments with truancy, parties, smoking, drinking, and drugs and finds herself in trouble on a number of levels.
Throughout the story, Clover is also working out people – who are those she can trust, who are true and loyal friends, how do families function and what relationships are important? As a reader, you worry about her when she is hanging out with the cool girls, when she is flirting with one of the footy-boys who is after more than kissing and when she lies to her loyal and loving mother.
This book is a really good read, full of genuine characters and a protagonist who I could really identify with. I highly recommend it to students in Year 9 & 10.
An Old Favourite
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is the story of Connor O’Malley who has been having terrible nightmares ever since his mother started treatment for cancer. Then something extraordinary happens, a monster in the form of a gigantic, walking, talking yew tree starts to visit him regularly just after midnight and it wants something from him – it wants Connor to face the most dangerous thing of all – the truth.
This novel is multi-layered and explores a number of themes such as family relations, bullying and anger but at it’s heart it is about the inner thoughts of a boy who is facing the most frightening thing many of us can imagine. It is a very good treatment of the subject and not sentimental in the least. It is raw and honest and will stay with you for a long time after you close the last page.
The language in the book is simple and beautiful. The tree tells Connor it has three stories for him and then Connor must tell him a fourth and it will be the truth. The original story was conceived by Siobhan Dowd who herself passed away from cancer and it was completed by Patrick Ness, a superb storyteller, who tells us in the Author’s Note that his one criteria was “to write a book Siobhan would have liked”.
I have now read this book four times and each time; I love it more every time I read it. Here are some of the powerful quotes from the book:
“You know that your truth, the one that you hide, Connor O’Malley, is the thing you are most afraid of.” (p.46)
“Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all.” (p.72)
“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” (p.74)
“Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.” (p.74)
“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” (p.151)
“You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” (p.202)
“Of course you are afraid, the monster said, pushing him slowly forward. And yet you will still do it.” (p.212)
View all my reviews
Purdon, F. (2015, January 11). Youth on the same page. Sunday Mail [U on Sunday Lift Out], pp. 8-9.
What is contemporary realistic fiction?
Contemporary realistic fiction is a type of literature that is about people, their lives and circumstances. This genre of stories explores societal values, ethics and morals through the thoughts, feelings and actions of characters tested by life events. Race, class, violence, sex, relationships, drugs suicide and gender are some of the topics that may be examined in contemporary realistic fiction (Charles Sturt University, 2014a, para. 1).
Why is it important to include contemporary realistic fiction in a library collection for young adults?
Adolescence is a time of physical, intellectual, psychological and social development (Steinberg, 2014, para. 1). During this time, young adults begin to examine their identities, relationships with family and peers and their personal value systems (Bushan and McNerney, 2014, para. 8). A library collection that caters for adolescents would rightly include contemporary realistic fiction because of its potential to:
- allow the reader to vicariously experience challenging, sometimes dangerous situations, in a non-threatening fictional arena (Bushan and McNerney, 2014, para. 7)
- give an insight into how adolescent characters try to make sense of what is happening around them, take responsibility for their own actions and become active agents in their own lives (Michaels, 2004, p. 52);
- examine societal and individual situations from a variety of perspectives (Bushan and McNerney, 2014, para. 7) including ones that differ from the didactic advice of parents and teachers (Claasz, 2014, p.52);
- meet the teenage desire to explore their world by reading about life experiences that are threatening, bizarre, frightening and disturbing rather than ordinary (Nimon, 1998, p. 21);
- explore diverse topics and subsequent perspectives, thus providing the impetus to cultivate empathy: an essential21st century social skill (Claasz, 2014, p.52);
- enjoy the pleasure of finding a mirror for oneself (Noodleman and Reimer as cited in Charles Sturt University, 2014b, para. 12).
This list is expected to grow as my research continues into this genre and its value to a library collection for young adults. The view expressed by Cart provides a useful concluding statement when considering the value of contemporary realistic fiction:
“the most compelling argument one can offer for writing fiction about even the most unpleasant realities of teens’ lives … [is] life, even at its darkest, can hold the promise of hope and positive change – especially when we read about it with open minds and hearts, with intellectual attention and emotional empathy” (2011, p. 135).
Bushan, J. H., & McNerney, S. (2004). Moral choices: Building a bridge between YA literature and life. The Alan Review, 32(1). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v32n1/mcnerny.html
Cart, M. (2011). Young adult literature: From romance to realism. Chicago: American Library Association.
Charles Sturt University (CSU). (2014a). Diversity in children’s literature, ETL402 Literature Across the Curriculum. Retrieved December, 2014.
Charles Sturt University (CSU). (2014b). The value of literature to children, ETL402 Literature Across the Curriculum. Retrieved December, 2014.
Claasz, A. (2014). Contemporary realistic fiction for young adults. Access (10300155),28(2), 50-57.
Michaels, W. (2004). The realistic turn: Trends in recent Australian young adult fiction [online]. Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 14(1), 49-59. Retrieved December 14, 2014.
Nimon, M. (1998). Finding the acceptable boundaries: The challenge in young adult literature. Orana, 34(2), 18. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?sid=6b0dc4dd-773b-4708-be58-acb4719ba244%40sessionmgr112&vid=2&hid=110&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=1151550
Steinberg, L. (2014). Adolescent. In World Book Student. Retrieved from http://www.worldbookonline.com/student/article?id=ar005025