6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips

Continue reading “6 Effective Nonfiction Note-Taking Tips”

Resources for Teaching Reading Online

 

As a middle and high school teacher, I was never really given a reading program to use with my students. I loved this flexibility,  but it was time consuming to find the resources I wanted to use with my students.

As many educators are putting together their own collection of online reading resources, I wanted to share my experiences with ones that have helped my readers.  I have used these programs with general education students, special education and honors students.

Raz-kids– This is an awesome online reading program. I love that students have access to their account 24/7 and that parents can see what their student is reading. This site is great for students in grades K-6. I did use this for my readers in 6th grade and some of them were too advanced for the program, so I gave them a supplemental novel to focus on instead. The leveled libraries are filled with a mixture of fiction and nonfiction texts that require students to read each work multiple times by listening to it and reading it independently. The comprehension quizzes focus on specific topics (characterization, plot, cause and effects) so teachers are able to really see the areas of strengths and weaknesses. The system also creates progress reports based on this data, which I’ve actually used in parent conferences.

Teachers do have the ability to conduct running record assessments with the program as well. I have used some of the passages, but have never had students record themselves with the software.

ReadWorks– I found ReadWorks when I first started teaching in 2010 and have used it since. This is one of those rare programs that can be used with grades K-12. The site has SO many filer options for finding the perfect text. Users can search using Lexile levels, grade level, fiction/nonfiction, content type, activity type, etc. I typically use grade or Lexile level and fiction/nonfiction to find the passages I want. Users can listen to an audio version and/or read the text independently before tackling some reading comprehension questions. Being super honest, I wish that the questions were a little more challenging at times, especially for the older grades, but these work really well for my population of students.

While teachers can print the passages and questions, you can also set up online classrooms through the site and electronically assign students assignments. I have used this feature tutoring and it was super easy to navigate and access.

Reading Detective by The Critical Thinking Co.- This is hands down my FAVORITE  resource to use with my kiddos. Each passage is one page and has a page of questions that accompany it. The questions are absolutely incredible by requiring readers to use their higher thinking skills. The questions also constantly ask for textual evidence to support answers, expecting students to look at specific sentences and paragraphs.

I’m currently using the traditional book version, and using my document camera or taking pictures on my phone of passages. However, the company offers e-book, win software and app versions that I will definitely be looking into in the next few weeks to make my life easier.

Vooks– I came across Vooks earlier this year when I saw they were doing free accounts for teachers. This resource is geared towards preschool and elementary aged kiddos, so I don’t use it as much with my students. Each book is read aloud and students watch the book come to life through video. It feels like like a mix between a read aloud and watching a cartoon, which is really cool for readers.

Epic– this is a one of a kind resource. It’s a digital library for grades P-6 that includes popular texts for students to read. It includes works such as Fancy Nancy, Frog and Toad and Ella Enchanted. I would recommend using this program for mini lessons and activities.

 

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

eNinja Book Review

One of my favorite aspects about being an English teacher is using books to teach my students life lessons. I believe that picture books can teach kids at all ages how to handle life situations, even high school students. I’ve been teaching virtually with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum for three years, and now more than ever, students need guidance in making the transition to online learning.

eNinja, written by Mary Nhin and illustrated by Jelena Stupar, is a relatable picture book that shows readers how to be successful with online learning.

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE Mary Nhin fan (How to Win the World Cup in Your Pajamas Book Review, Arial the Youtube Book Review, Arial the Chef Book Review, and Arial the Secret Santa Book Review) and her Ninja series is just as fabulous as her other works.

eNinja follows Ninja on the journey of transitioning to online learning. This can be a very big change for students, and Ninja isn’t so sure about this way of learning. With the help of a friend, Ninja learns the secret to this transition: the 3 P’s (polite, positive and prepared). I LOVE that readers have an easy way to remember how to handle online learning.

Prepared. Being prepared means more than just showing up to class in an online environment. As the text mentions, students should charge their devices, have a quiet spot in the house to work, and all of the necessary supplies within arms reach. Staying organized is really the key. Even as a virtual teacher, I take these steps to make sure I am ready to go for all of classes.

Polite. For me, this one is a biggie. Since I use Zoom constantly for student interaction, it’s important to follow the advice given in this part of the book. Some of the suggestions include: don’t be on another device, have loud background noises, and wait for the teacher to listen to questions or raise my hand. There is a fantastic illustration to show students online etiquette, which I would suggest putting next to a student’s learning area as a reminder.

Positive. Is online learning a big change? Yes. Can be hard and scary? Absolutely. The fact that Ninja expresses these feelings allows readers to connect with the character, because chances are readers feel the same way. I LOVE that Nhin doesn’t just have Ninja talk about his feelings, but also explains ways to help alleviate them. Students should use checklists and schedules to keep them on track. The book literally ends on a positive note :).

But, wait! As always with a Mary Nhin book, she thinks of some extras. At the end of eNinja, readers are given advanced learning tips (which are AMAZING ones to use) a virtual meeting success cheat sheet that includes being prepared, polite and positive.

Even though this is a picture book, I would recommend it for students in grades K-12. It is a quick read that offers solutions to some problems that students can face making the transition to an online classroom.

To purchase the book click here.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Accommodating Special Education Students in the Virtual Classroom

As a virtual English teacher, I’ve worked with classified students in grades 6-12. Parents and brick and mortar teachers are often amazed that special education students choose to do virtual learning (before the pandemic).

Yes, there are special education students who attend online programs. Yes, they can be successful.

This week I co-hosted a professional development presentation for Edmentum’s EdOptions Academy (EOA) on Implementing Special Education Accommodations in a Virtual World. I was able to show other virtual teachers samples of assignments I used with my classified students and how I evaluated them.

Today, I would like to share some of my experiences and examples in the hopes of helping teachers outside of EOA. These ideas can be used in brick and mortar classrooms, blending learning and distance learning environments.

Preparing to Make Accommodations

  1. Be familiar with a student’s IEP. When I worked in a brick and mortar school, I would sometimes have 20 students with IEPs. It can be A LOT to remember the specific details for every student, so I would often take quick notes about the classification(s) and accommodations. The same concept applies to the virtual learning environment.
  2. Use your knowledge of the student. In the virtual world, this can be done in a number of ways. Call/text/Zoom/email with the student and get to know who the student really is. What’s their favorite sport? What hobbies do they like? Also, feel free to talk to the parents, school, Child Study Team and special education teachers about the student. The more knowledge you have about each student the more you can make appropriate accommodations.
  3. Be flexible with grading assignments. This is a biggie. Many teachers use specific rubrics to grade assignments, but when making accommodations these rubrics may not be relevant. In these cases, it’s important that we think outside the box and use our content knowledge to assess if the student fulfilled expectations. We may need to create another rubric specifically for that child, or only include certain parts of the original rubric, it really comes down to the teacher to decide. Regardless of what a teacher chooses to do, always make sure to include specific feedback.
  4. Be aware of reading levels. To be super honest, this is a really big component of online learning. Students are required to do A LOT of reading (assignments, comments, lectures, directions, etc.). If a student has a reading level of third grade and is taking a sixth grade English course, he or she is going to be reading texts at the sixth grade level. This can be quite a challenge for many students who aren’t at that reading level yet. Since students are required to read in all courses, even a math teacher should be aware of a student’s reading level.

Accommodations in the Virtual Classroom

  1. Offer extended time. This is a very simple and effective way to help classified students, especially in the virtual world. It’s also helpful to check-in with the student and remind him or her with how much extra time they have left. For instance, if there is an assignment due on Wednesday, maybe consider having it due for classified students on Friday. On Thursday check-in with students and give them suggestions online learning graphicabout what they need to finish for the assignment to be submitted on Friday.
  2. Reduce assignment length. Personally, I use this accommodation quite a bit with my special education students. If the original assignment for students is to write an essay, I may have them write a paragraph instead.
  3. Support public speaking. A curriculum typically has a speaking/presentation component that can be fulfilled in the virtual classroom. There are a few different ways students can present a speech: 1. video chat with the teacher one-on-one, 2. participate in a phone call with the teacher (if a student gets anxious about looking at an audience), 3. record a selfie video of the student reading the speech and then send it to the teacher or post it on Youtube and share the link. It’s also important to remember that students don’t have to memorize their speech. I usually tell my students to practice reading aloud their information a few times before presenting.
  4. Providing alternate texts. As I mentioned before, reading level plays a huge role in virtual learning. If a student can only read at a 5th grade level, but they are taking 8th grade English, this could be a challenge for him or her. Teachers can provide an alternate text that still focuses on the theme/topic of the original text, but is better aligned with the student’s reading level. For instance,  my 7th grade English students are expected to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”, to focus on how history (The Inquisition) impacts literature. This original text is too complex for my classified students, so I have them read chapter one of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry because it is connected to the Holocaust. I keep the same historical focus as I would with the original text, but now students have access to a text that they can handle.
  5. Provide novel support. Students will read a few novels a year in their English/ELARead Aloud courses. Getting students to just read the book can sometimes be a challenge, let alone having them complete activities and assignments based on the reading. Teachers can supply students with an audio version, guided notes, reading comprehension questions, and chapter summaries. However, another spectacular option that I have done is to provide students with a read aloud (see Effective Read Alouds in the Virtual Classroom) where I would read a few chapters aloud and then discuss plot, characterization, theme and quote analysis. I would record these sessions in Zoom and keep track of the links on a document that I could send to any student who needed access to the text. Students can watch, rewind and fast forward the video as many times as they want.
  6. Include outlines and graphic organizers. Just as in brick and mortar classrooms, outlines and graphic organizers are fabulous resources to give to students. If students need to compare/contrast, provide a Venn Diagram in an editable document for students to use. For writing a lab report, give students an outline to complete before writing the report.
  7. Help guide research. Utilizing textual evidence and research take place across all content areas. It can be overwhelming for classified students to look at a Google search bar and start the research process, let alone tackle a database. Two of my favorite options for research are to give students a list of key words to use in their search, and provide a list of links for students to use to complete assignments.
  8. Provide structure with note-taking. Learning in the virtual environment requires students to be more independent with their learning, and oftentimes students will need to take notes on the content in their courses. This can be challenging because students may not know what to record or how to record the information. Some options for students are to include guided notes, fill in the blank PowerPoint slides, and give note-taking templates (Cornell Notes, etc.).

As with all accommodations, different options work for different students. At the end of the day, it is up to the teacher to decide how to best support students.

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Reading Comprehension at Home: 5 Things Parents Can Do

Whenever I chat with parents, they always express concern with their child’s reading comprehension. They worry that their child struggles with reading because they don’t understand what they are reading. While every child learns differently, there are some general tips and tricks that parents can do to help their learners at home. Below are some of my favorite, easy to incorporate ideas that I share with my families:

  1. Background information. This is HUGE! The more background students have about a topic or idea before reading about it, the more their brain is prepared to learn new information. Take a look at the passage or book your learner is reading and provide them with some information about the topic. For instance, if your student is going to read Anne Frank, find a Youtube video about WWII. Videos and movies are a great resource for background information, especially since kids will be reading in the near future.
  2. Predictions. This strategy works really well with elementary students, who seem to really enjoy it. Stop periodically and ask your learner what they think will happen next, where will the character go, will the problem get worse? Always try to keep the questions opened-ended so kids can explain their answers fully using examples from the text. Feel free to ask follow up questions, such as why or how to get your student to expand on their prediction.
  3. Stop and check. Kids need to learn to check in with themselves while they’re reading. No one wants to sit and waste 20 minutes reading a short story to realize none of it makes sense. Help your child figure out when is an appropriate time for them to stop in their reading and do a quick reading comprehension self check. Maybe have younger students stop after every paragraph or page and see if they can summarize what they just read to you. For older students, maybe have them stop and give a summary or main idea every 10 pages or chapter. If your child got all the big ideas then keep reading. If he or she missed some big concepts go back and re-read.
  4. Re-read. This is by far the best reading comprehension strategy for kids to use, in my opinion. Once a student realizes they are lost or confused, re-reading can usually help them get back on track. We all zone out sometimes when we read, or get mixed up at a particular part, so re-reading is a great, quick way to clarify any confusion and continue reading. Sometimes just re-reading a sentence or two does the trick, but if a student needs to re-read a few paragraphs or a page let them.
  5. Visualizing. I knew I was a strong reader as a kid when I could read a novel with no pictures and have a movie playing in my head. Elementary students rely on pictures in books to help them visualize when they are learning to read, but as kids get older and the texts become more complex, usually there aren’t any pictures to help students. That is where visualizing comes in. Usually a novel will provide readers with a great description of a setting or character. Stop and have kids draw what the description is using colors. For those that don’t like to draw (like myself) show kids some pictures. For instance, in Divergent readers are introduced to the city of Chicago, so show students pictures of the city to help them visualize.

 

Does your learner in grades 3-12 need additional support with reading comprehension? Check out https://www.littlereadingcoachllc.com/ for details about online reading and writing tutoring.

E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

I spent five years in middle school classrooms and one year as a literacy coach before making the transition to being a virtual teacher. I’m currently in my third year as an online English teacher with EdOptions Academy by Edmentum, and also an online tutor with Little Reading Coach.

Making the transition from a brick and mortar classroom to a virtual one can be overwhelming in the beginning, but once a student gets the hang of things life gets much easier.

Below are ways for helping kids of all ages make the transition to e-learning environments.

Know what platforms are being used. Kids use multiple learning sites, platforms and textbooks every day in a brick and mortar school, and the same applies to the online environment. For each class, make a list of all websites, textbooks, etc. with log in information (usually a username and password). This will automatically turn into a handy cheat sheet so you can avoid the stress of looking for important information (like trying to remember 600 different passwords). Feel free to use my version here.

Make a schedule. Learning at home means a very different routine for some kids, which in itself can be stressful. If your school doesn’t have a specific schedule for your child to follow, create your own. Here are some suggestions I have given my virtual families over the last few years:

Focus on one subject a day. This works well for kids who feel very overwhelmed or struggle to work well independently without a teacher standing in front of them.

Spend 1 hour on each subject. This schedule works for kids who just need a routine in place. It helps to keep the schedule the same every day. Have it written down on a white board or piece of paper so it’s within sight while a student is working. I also suggest having the student set an alarm on their phone or computer to let them know when 1 hour is up. (I say 1 hour because it will take kids longer to do work at home depending on the subject).

Have an alternating schedule. I like this one best for elementary and early middle school kids. Mondays and Wednesdays could be Language Arts and Social Studies, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be Math and Science and Friday’s could be specials/electives.

Have a learning area. Designate a place where a student will be doing their work. This could be at a kitchen table, desk, etc. Make sure all materials are in this area (chargers, paper, pencils, books, etc.).

Make a to do list. This is by far my favorite piece of advice. Before your student starts working every day, have him or her make a to do list of all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Make it as specific as you can and encourage your learner to check things off as they go. For instance, if your student needs to watch 2 videos, answer questions and write a response, write the title of each video on the to do list. This breaks down the tasks for kids and even though it may seem like a lot, encourage them to take their time.

Communicate with teachers. Star this. Write it on the schedule you create. This is by far the the number 1 best way to be successful with online learning. If your learner has a question, email the teacher. If your student is confused about instructions, email the teacher. If your learner is falling behind on the work, email the teacher. Communication is the ultimate tool to help kids. Don’t be afraid to be the annoying parent/guardian because once your student gets into the groove they will feel more confident and capable of learning from home and the emails will lessen.

Take breaks. If you’re creating your own schedule factor in break times. Staring at a screen is physically and mentally draining. Make sure your learner is walking away from the screen frequently. Take a bathroom, drink or snack break. 

Be an actively engaged in your learner’s education. As a parent/guardian, you may need to be a more involved in the day to day assignments, depending on the age of the learner. Be in the know about what is going on with expectations from the school. I strongly suggest joining local Facebook groups, or creating a group text with other class moms to help one another stay up to date.

Breathe. The first few days are always the hardest. As an online educator, I promise things do get easier. Just remember you can always reach out to the teacher or school for any help.

 

Little Reading Coach offers online reading and writing tutoring for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

 

Multi-sensory Writing: It Makes a Difference

Students today write a lot more than we realize.  They constantly compose emails, text messages, captions for social media, and more. We live in a time where written expression is used constantly, and to thrive in today’s society, students are expected to participate.

Little Reading Coach believes in using a variety of methods for teaching writing. However, before students can write paragraphs and essays, they must first be able to understand the parts of speech that make up a sentence, which is why LRC starts at the beginning and gradually works students up to writing extended pieces.

Framing Your Thoughts (Sentence Structure) is a multi-sensory program by Project Read that LRC utilizes to help students master the art of writing. Using symbols, visuals, and hands-on interaction, this program provides writers with a different approach to learning how to structure effective sentences.

This type of program is ideal for students with dysgraphia, dyslexia, ESL/ELL, etc.,  as well as those who don’t seem to grasp learning to write in the traditional way. It breaks down sentence writing into parts of speech, and encourages students to diagram sentences using the specific symbols in the program. This deconstruction allows writers to “see” what makes a complete sentence and how to use the various parts of speech correctly and effectively.

Personally, I have used this program when I taught literacy support for 6th and 7th grade, and saw a tremendous difference in my students’ writing. The symbols and visuals allowed them to see why a sentence was a fragment and how to fix their mistakes. I have also used this program when tutoring middle and high school students who were reading on grade level, but needed some additional writing support. LRC offers multi-sensory writing for grades 3-12.

For more information about Little Reading Coach click here.

Songs & Books for Tweens/Teens About Moving

Moving has got to be one of the most stressful life situations. While it can be very difficult for adults to handle all of these changes at once, it is even more challenging for tweens and teens.

Many of us read or  listen to music to relate to circumstances that are happening in our lives. Below is a list of resources for middle and high school students to help with the transition of moving.

Songs

“Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch. This one definitely takes me back to high school and break ups, but in looking at the lyrics it’s truly a great song to address saying goodbye to someone who has made an impact.

“The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert. During my first year teaching, one of my students told me about this song when we read House on Mango Street. It’s a great reflection song for tweens/teens to remember the different memories of their childhood in the house they grew up in.

“Dare You to Move” by Switchfoot. Sometimes tweens/teens need a little pick me up and motivation to make it through big life changes. This song encourages listeners to keep it going.

“Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel. This classic, fun song is great for packing and lightening the mood.

“Where Are You Going?” by Dave Matthews. Ever get in a mood where you just want a slower song? Dave Matthews has got tweens/teens in that mood covered with this song.

Books

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements. For readers who love Frindle, this book is perfect to help with the transition of moving. Sixth grade twins are about to start a new school and things don’t go as planned. I would recommend this book for fifth and sixth grade readers.

Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry. If your kids love Number the Stars and The Giver, this is a perfect book to help cope with the struggles of moving. The twelve year old main character moves from an apartment to the suburbs. I would recommend this this book for grades 5-7.

The Kid in the Red Jacket by Barbara Park. For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this humorous middle school text is perfect. Howard believes that his parents have ruined his life by moving across the country. This story is all about making friends. I recommend it for readers in grades 5-7.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Behind all of the vampireness of this text, a component of the plot in the beginning is Bella moving from Florida to Washington. Not only does she deal with moving to a new state, she is also adjusting to living with a father she has only visited in the past. I recommend this book for readers in grades 6-12.

Swimming Sideways by CL Walters. This is the perfect YA novel for high school students who move. It tells the story of Abby adjusting to life after a move from Hawaii as she maneuvers friendships and relationships, while learning that the past does not always stay in the past. This book has been featured on My 10 Favorite YA Novels, 6 Favorite Indie YA Novels, and reviewed here.

 

 

 

My 10 Favorite YA Novels

The other day I shared a post about what makes YA so special (click here to read it), and it made me start thinking about all of the YA books that I love. So, I decided to share my personal list of favorite YA novels, in no particular order.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I literally can’t even type that title without smiling. I have loved this novel since it first came out, and have used it as a read aloud with my students every year. It’s honestly a book that has turned many of my non-readers into readers. I love it because the plot is fast paced with lots of twists, the characters are incredibly relatable, and there is just a hint of mystery that keeps readers on their toes. It’s not the typical mushy gushy teen love story, but shows the importance of teamwork in a relationship.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. These books just make my heart so happy. I have read this series more times than I can count, and I am now addicted to the audio books. This to me will always be a staple in YA literature culture because it sparked a movement in our society that showed the power of a book. I love it because it’s beyond imaginative and creative in terms of plot, the characterization is incredible as we see them grow up, and the timeless theme of good vs. evil is captivating.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. When I was in middle school I saw the TV movie of this novel and instantly fell in love with the story. For the next 15 years ish I read the series and followed Janie’s story. When the final story was released a few years ago, I knew I wanted to somehow introduce my students to this incredible mystery. I dedicated an entire school year read aloud to my honors sixth grade students every day for 10 minutes. We literally cried on the last day we finished the series because we were all so emotionally invested in the characters. I absolutely LOVE how intricate and complex the plot is, especially as readers discover more about certain characters. This is a fabulous option for students who love realistic mysteries.

The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I feel like I’m home whenever I re-read this series. The characters are some of my best friends, especially because they can always make me laugh with their wit and sarcasm. As a reader, I love that I can be a total English nerd and analyze this text for religious symbolism and a whole slew of inferences. This is definitely a series I would read with a pen and highlighter in hand. I tried to watch Shadowhunters when it was a TV series, and I couldn’t make it through the first episode because I didn’t want to destroy my personal version in my head. The use of fantasy in this series sucks readers into a world they will never want to leave. I’m also a fan of the maturity of this series, which gives it a really great YA feel.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. I truly don’t have enough words to describe my love for this novel. I remember reading it in 6th grade, and I still have my original copy. While the plot and characters are fabulous, I LOVE the underlying messages in this text. The battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, government control, and so, so much more. I love the feeling of empowerment this book gives readers to fight for what’s right. The symbolism is so decadent and rich, which makes it an amazing novel to use with middle school readers. Truthfully, I get excited whenever I do my Wrinkle unit.

Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn. I remember seeing this book at my local library as a teen and devouring it. Teens are always fascinated about being a celebrity and living that kind of lifestyle. Since I grew up in the 2000s, hello bubble gum pop era, this book got my attention. I love how the plot took readers on a realistic journey as Wonder went from working at Dairy Queen to being a pop sensation. It felt very 2000s, and was a fun, quick read.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I mentioned this text in my previous post, What’s So Special About YA?, so it obviously had to make my list. One of my favorite aspects about YA novels is there really are no boundaries when it comes to plot. This one touches on a very sensitive subject of abuse, but I think that’s why I like it so much. While it doesn’t sugar coat anything, the writing isn’t too in your face and instead shows readers Caitlin’s experience. I love the use of POV in this one, because we gain an insight into what victims of abuse go through.

The Selection by Kiera Cass. Full disclosure, I’m addicted to reality TV, specifically the Real Housewives franchise. When I first started reading this series I could taste the reality TV feel right away. It’s very Bachelor in a sense. However, the reality feel doesn’t stay for very long before it morphs into a love story with some major problems. I loved the fun tone of this series and of course the idea of a prince and princess. I honestly made my classes have a reading day the day the final book came out just so I could read it (which they totally didn’t mind).

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I know, I know. Similar to Harry Potter, Twilight sparked something in our society which turned it into an incredible phenomenon. Werewolves, vampires and a love story don’t sound that exciting until you read the series. During the peak of its popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for readers to pick a team, which readers still take extremely seriously. I will forever be Team Jacob, and I apologize if I offend anyone. (Never go back to a man that left you). It’s an incredibly easy read that speaks to the heart of teenage girls because they all want that deep love.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. This is probably the most underrated YA book I’ve ever come across. For the life of me I don’t understand how it was never more popular. This was my very first unit plan during my practicum experience and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I love the realness of this novel. Steven’s little brother is diagnosed with cancer. We follow Steven as he deals with an incredibly challenging home life and dealing with middle school all at the same time. The dialogue and characterization are spot on for an 8th grade boy, which makes the story that much better.

 

What’s So Special About YA?

When we often think of children’s literature we immediately think of classics like The Secret Garden, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, etc. Yet, as many educators and parents know, a children’s section of a library does not just mean picture books.

When a child feels they have outgrown the “baby” books, but they are too young for the adult section, they are ready to enter the young adult (YA) section of a library.

But, what exactly is YA? What makes it so special? This genre is much more than just an in-between one for readers who are usually in middle and high school.

YA tends to focus on main characters who are between the ages of 12-18. Why? Because this is the main demographic of readers. Tween/teen readers want to read about characters who are around their age, so it makes sense that main characters in YA are on the younger side.

YA also tends to focus on plot points that deal with family, friendship, love, authority, leadership and growing up. While the YA genre can be broken down into subcategories such as sci-fi and fantasy, it’s important to realize that these same ideas are present regardless of the sub genre. Tween/teen readers are going through a lot at this stage of life. They are constantly dealing with bullying, social media, dating, family issues, puberty, and more. It’s not wonder they turn to YA novels to seek answers they may not even know they are looking for. While they probably won’t read a self help book, they may look at how Percy Jackson dealt with learning the truth about his family in The Lightning Thief, and see him as a role model.

YA novels are extremely powerful tools to help readers cope with reality.

Truthfully, any reader will tell you they read to escape reality, even if it’s just to relax at night before bed. The same happens to adolescent readers. If you were to Google popular YA novels, quite a few of them are sci-fi or fantasy based. Why? These types allow readers to completely forget about their reality. For just a little bit they can be a participant in The Hunger Games and watch Katniss kick some major butt.

There is also a sense of maturity in reading YA. Oftentimes the content can be more suggestive, gritty, and real. Gone are the G rated books, and readers can step into worlds where they mention sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking, violence, etc. This is where parents usually get nervous about YA. In truth, when I have read YA books aloud to my students I have omitted words, sentences, or whole sections of a chapter. We need to remember that these books are meant to draw in readers from ages 12-18, so of course there’s going to be some things not meant for sixth grade students.

However, with the aid of technology, it’s easy for a parent to check to see if a book is appropriate for a tween. My personal go to checker is CommonSenseMedia.org, which can be used as a guide for parents, educators and advocates.

Personally, I also find that YA is raw on an emotional level. Characters take us on an emotional journey with them as they make decisions and live through experiences. One of my favorite YA novels is Dreamland by Sarah Dessen. I read it in middle school and have returned to it a few times since then. We see the main character, Caitlin, go through the shock of dealing with her runaway sister, and how that emotional trauma led her down a dangerous path of drugs and a physically abusive relationship. Caitlin expresses why she stays with Rogerson and isolates herself from her friends and family, which is truly an emotional journey filled with anger, sadness, and love.

As an adult reader, I am still drawn to YA because of these factors. The writing is incredible, and the characters are truly real people to readers.