Category Archives: YA stuff

Street lit and stuff…

Yikes! It’s the 20th; how’d that happen?!

This weekend-dark, grey November days, spatterings of rain, “red skies in the morning~” (“sailor’s warning”). Exactly as you’d imagine. Time for snow; time for change.

So, Christina’s (excellent) presentation on Street Lit got me thinking…

Two things in particular: the comment by middle-school boys saying that the books gave them a road map of how (not) to; I thought that was really interesting. And the idea that the genre will appeal to readers who don’t necessarily see their lives reflected but  who can live vicariously through the characters or story.

It reminded me of this series of books I read (part of ) when I was about 13. I seem to remember them being pretty formulaic: the first half introduced the main character, usually a girl, who was either:
a) living on the street
b) on the outs with her parents,
c) had a substance abuse problem
There was always some sort of critical moment and then, the book takes a decidedly christian twist and she is “saved”.

I remember only reading until the “saved” part. For some reason, I was never as interested in the girls getting back on “the right path” as reading about how they ended up on “the wrong path”. My friends and I passed these books around; for kids living in small town Ontario, these stories of life in a big city, on the edge, on the street was scary, exciting, so “bad”…so different than our very quiet lives. But also, such a safe way to explore something else. Of course, I can’t speak in any way to the authenticity of these books: it was so long ago and I’m sure there was very little ethnic diversity but, it was over 20 years ago. But that being said, I can totally see why it’s important to ensure you have books which would fall under the “Street Lit” sticker (should they be stickered) even if you live in white, waspy, small town  Ontario. So while I do realize that it’s reflective of real life for some and for that reason very important  for those kids to see themselves in books, it’s also important just by virtue of why we read: it’s an opportunity to try out and try on something else.

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Posted by on November 20, 2011 in YA stuff


Non-fiction and stuff…

“Neither fiction nor nonfiction dictates a reader’s stance; the reader always does.”

I’m not sure why, but this quote in Cart’s chapter, resonated (not sure if that’s the right word) with me. I guess because it brings everything back to the reader. Which makes me think of always matching the book to the reader, and not vice versa. But I digress…

I appreciated Morgan’s comments on the DKs: the yays and the nays (or at least the not-so-muches); particularly the bit about it not necessarily being experts writing on the subject. Interesting point. I agree about them being hot sellers: no matter the age group, even kindergarteners not yet reading, are attracted to them and will take them out of the (school) library. For the older ones, these books hold great interest with their combination of text and images, great for sharing with a buddy or reading solo. And for the little ones, great opportunity to share with the adults in their lives (and no doubt more interesting for the adults than the 157the reading of “Goodnight Moon”!). Also, the new books often come with CDs of clipart (or something like that), so that adds to the appeal for some.

But yes, they do have their cons. The text, while in small chunks, can be quite dense in terms of vocabulary, and is often in quite a small font which can be a detraction for some readers.

I have always had a great experience teaching with non-fiction, and I’ve found it that it has far more “range” (trying not to use the word “appeal” again) across the board (in terms of reading skill level, and gender) than fiction. In fact, I always considered “my integrated non-fiction unit” to be my favourite to teach (well, 2nd favourite after poetry), as well as really, the easiest. That idea of  the portability of knowledge, to be able to take something away from what’s been read, and pass it on, seems to have a lot of appeal–certainly with the younger ones, and I’d like to think it carries over to the older ones as well.

Oh! The 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Non-Fiction for Young Adults:

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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in YA stuff


Book Review 2….

Death and Dying, Secrets and Sharing…

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Olive Barstow was dead. Martha Boyle didn’t know what to make of that. She knew even less what to make of the fact that Olive Barstow’s mother had given her a page from Olive’s journal; a page on which Olive had confided her secrets and hopes. To Martha’s surprise, these secrets and hopes involved her; in fact, Martha and Olive had some secrets in common and Martha realized that they could have been good friends.

And suddenly Olive went from someone Martha didn’t think of much at all, to someone she thought of all the time. Even on her annual family vacation to the ocean to visit her favourite grandmother, Godbee, Olive was there hovering around the fringes of Martha’s awareness. This particular vacation was different from others, and not just because of Olive: for the first time, Martha found herself interested in seeing Tate, one of a family of boys who lived down the beach from Godbee’s house.

Kevin Henkes, perhaps best known for his charming picture books such as Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse and Chrysanthemum, also writes for older readers. With the award-winning Olive’s Ocean, he has crafted a thoughtful coming of age story exploring the themes of identity, loss, and loyalty as a young girl comes to terms with the death of her classmate, her relationship with her aging grandmother, and the bittersweet taste of first romance.

Despite its short chapters and length, Olive’s Ocean is not a book for reluctant readers. The gentle pacing is well suited to the book’s contemplative style; however, it may deter less committed readers. Despite the publisher’s recommended reading age of 10 and up, it would take a skilled and sophisticated elementary reader to appreciate and understand the mature themes and tone this novel.

Awards for Olive’s Ocean:

Newbery Honor Book
ALA Notable Book
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Horn Book Fanfare

Recommended with reservations.

VOYA review code: 3P/J
Category: Contemporary realistic fiction

2003, Harper Trophy, 217p., $7.99

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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in YA stuff


Doing It: In YA Lit

hmmm…I take back what I said about having the reading interests of a 13 year old boy: I’ve just finished reading Doing It by Melvin Burgess…yeah, if this is anything to go by, I DEFINITELY DO NOT  have the same interests as a 13-year old boy…make that ANY teenage boy.


But I certainly can see how this book would be appealing: it seems a pretty honest portrayal of the minefield of teenage sexuality: full of surprises and dangerous to navigate. Do you run straight through and damn the consequences, or do you try a more stealthy approach? Either way, it’s a bit of a dodgy proposition, and you’ve no idea how things are going to turn out. Embarrassing (as in so embarrassing you’d rather die!) questions about changing bodies–poor Jonathon and his trip to the doctor had me cringing and giggling at the same time.

I remembered it being mentioned in class that there had been some issues about the cover: a “sanitizing” of it, for North American audiences…? I can’t quite remember. But I do know that the cover of the book I had really didn’t fit the story and I think this was the reason I had the boys pegged at far younger ages than they really were (which would have made the whole Ben & his teacher thing that much worse–ick. Really. I don’t want to go there.) Of course, I eventually caught on age wise, but it made me curious about the covers.

So, this is the cover I had on my copy:

And this is what I’m assuming is the original cover. Or at least a different one that is a bit more in keeping with the tone of the book, I think.

A little bit different, no? I think it was the mary-janes in the first picture that threw me off…

The girls in the book aren’t particularly well-treated…and I’m sure this ilicited much discussion. I’m not really sure what to do with that; I mean I know that  story is from the male perspective, and as an adult I can look at it and go, silly boys…and sillier girls for putting up with them. But, I’m looking at things from a whole different perspective. Hindsight and 20/20 and all that…So, really, I’m not sure how teen girls would take to this. I’d be really interested to know.

(Oh. And I have to add that I learned some new vocabulary. Despite the fact that, well, I guess I’m a bit of an anglophile, I did not know that “fanny” was a euphemism for something other than one’s butt. Let me tell ya’, it caused a bit of confusion on my part. Then the penny dropped…well, that and I looked it up on the urban dictionary.)

As for Forever, by Ms. Judy Blume, well, it’s probably been forever since I’ve read it. But what struck me was that it was sooo 70’s. I mean I know it was published in 1975, so let’s assume I read it about 10 years later, that would make me 15 or so, but I have no recollection of that. Maybe I wouldn’t have been aware of it: you know, the hip family, rug hooking together, fondues for New Year’s…wow.

But the relationship part. I thought it rang pretty true–particularly when Katherine and Michael are away from each other over the summer and how their oh-so-intense relationship just unravels. Like that. Undone.

When I flip through the book: a lot of dialogue. I’d say about 2/3 of everyone double-page spread would be dialogue. Which is interesting because my first reaction was that Doing It had a lot of dialogue but when I look back at it, it is nowhere as dialogue heavy as Forever. Interesting.

I’m guessing this is a new-ish cover for Forever; I’m glad they kept the bell-bottom jeans…

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Posted by on October 17, 2011 in YA stuff


Orca Soundings for Reluctant Readers? What about me?!

Ok…so, I’m beginning to think that I have the reading habits and interests of about a 13 year old boy…First, Jake, Reinvented and now this…

I’m digging the Orca Soundings. Or, at least if the one I read—Viral, by Alex Van Tol—is indicative of the rest, these are great little reads. I loved the fact that I read the book in about an hour. And really, it was all plot—we moved quickly through the storyline, although I have to say, I was bit disappointed with the ending, but then maybe that it didn’t tie up neatly is a good thing; life can be messy. But yeah, very conversational style in the narrative: a lot of short sentences to help keep up the pace and energy. Dialogue too: short, snappy…real.

Having just completed (along with Sarah) a lot (!!) of research on reluctant teen readers, I can totally see how these books work for the different types of reluctant readers: whether it’s the kid who says they don’t have time to read (but do have the skills), or the kid who doesn’t read because of a lack of skills, these books should appeal. First of all they’re short, so for the kid with no time: it’s a quick read. For the kid who struggles—not intimidating. I like how small they are too; really a “pocketbook”. This makes them easy to hide in your backpack if you don’t want to wreck your rep as a “non-reader”. Cool covers—very graphic, slick, and not childish. Also, having read the summaries for a few of them, they deal with the types of issues that teens could/would face. For example, Viral deals with what happens when the very real combination of alcohol, sex, and a camera phone come together in a perfect storm. I’m sure you get the picture…

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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in YA stuff


Kids and Reading…

Ahh! I found it! Thank god for CBC archives…I heard this one morning on my drive to school…

CBC Metro Morning: Children and Literature

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Posted by on October 8, 2011 in YA stuff