A Case for YA in the Classroom

#TB Bonding with students over books & authors.

#TB Bonding with students over books & authors.


On the first day of school I received an email from a student that made me smile. She wrote:

I know that you enjoy reading and so do I. I was wondering if you knew any good books I could read on the genre of sci-fi and fantasy?”

Can you imagine receiving an email like that on the first day of school? Classes were only 30 minutes and all I did was introduce myself, but I mentioned that I love to read and that I read diversely. This young lady, in her desire to become more well-read, reached out to a person who has the potential to make a difference in her life. That is a huge resonsibplity and one that I don’t take lightly. Of course, I sent her a long list of books and in the weeks since we’ve had some fun discussions about literature. In fact, as my students have been choosing a novel for their first unit (see my previous post that explains in detail) I’ve been having plenty of discussions and recommending books for them to read. I’ve also had students share with me books that they loved (I’ve finally read Go Ask Alice due to student pressure) and also conversations about books my students and I have both read.

I share with you this story because as an English teacher, I am in the perfect position to help encourage my students to become readers and to enjoy reading. Many students come to me who only see reading as a chore, a task that they must accomplish in order to receive a good grade. Very few of them realize that reading can be done for pleasure as well. Many of my students, when I ask them about books they read when they were little, can name a number of childhood favorites, so they clearly loved to read when they were younger. At some point, the joy of reading was beat out of them and now they come to me and balk at the 7-8 books I intend to have them read this year. How does this happen and how can we change this?

And that is one of the reasons why I choose the books I do. I use contemporary YA literature as a hook to get students to return to the pleasure of reading. I love reading YA novels because when students ask for recommendations, I can give honest feedback. Students look to teachers as leaders and when a student hears me say, “I loved this book because of xyz and I think you’ll love it too,” they are more than likely to pick up that book and read it. I’ve had numerous students choose books based on suggestions I’ve made for them. However, before I make recommendations I ask them, “What types of books do you like?” and then recommend based on their response. That is also another reason I read diversely; by reading books from all different genres I am able to provide suggestions based on student interest.

I write all this to encourage teachers to read diversely themselves and to not be afraid to use YA books in your classroom. We get stuck on “rigor”  and mistakenly believe that students need to read the “canon”, and by doing that we actually are not connecting with our students at all. We beat the love of reading out of them when we choose books from the “dead white men club”. I’m not saying that we throw out all those books all together, but that we work to achieve a balance of books that speak to students lives in the here and now, and allow our students the ability to see themselves reflected on the page. Remember, that as of 2014-2015 school year the number of students of color exceeds the number of white students. We are failing ALL students when we only have them read one type of story. By also reading diversely yourself, and reading YA, you are telling your students that teenage lives are important and worthy. That the stories of teenagers are important.

So teachers, try it. Ask your students what they like to read and encourage them to share some of their books with you. After all, I would have never read the Percy Jackson series, The Heroes of Olympus series, the Twilight saga, Go Ask Alice, and many other books if I never took an interest in the books my students were reading. By doing so, I made lasting connections with these students, who years later, still recommend books to me. And in return, some of my students have rediscovered the love of reading again. A win for all of us.

Speaking of reading good books and discussions, here are Rich In Color we will be reading and discussing Annick Press’s newest non-fiction release “Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City.”  Check out the summary below and read along to share with us your thoughts in November.

Urban-TribesUrban Tribes: Native Americans in the City Edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale

The majority of Natives in North America live “off the rez.” How do they stay rooted to their culture? How do they connect with their community?

Urban Tribes offers unique insight into this growing and often misperceived group. This anthology profiles young urban Natives and how they connect with Native culture and values in their contemporary lives.

Their stories are as diverse as they are. From a young Dene woman pursuing an MBA at Stanford University to a Pima photographer in Phoenix to a Mohawk actress in New York City, these urban Natives share their unique insight to bridge the divide between their past and their future, their cultural home, and their adopted cities.

Unflinchingly honest and deeply moving, the contributors explore a wide range of topics: from the trials and tribulations of dating in the city to the alienating experience of leaving a remote reserve to attend high school in the city, from the mainstream success of the Electric Pow Wow music genre to the humiliation of racist school mascots.

Each of the personal perspectives helps to illuminate larger political issues. An innovative and highly visual design offers a dynamic reading experience.


Mini-review: Evolution

20734195Title:  Evolution (Extraction #3)
Author: Stephanie Diaz
Genres: science fiction, dystopian
Pages: 320
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Griffin
Availability: September 8th 2015

Summary: Clementine’s world is on the brink of destruction. An army of aliens from the distant planet Marden has arrived with a massive fleet of battleships, intent on finally putting an end to the war Kiel’s old rulers initiated. With the Alliance headquarters reduced to rubble and one of the rebel leaders close to death, Clementine and her friends have no choice but to retreat to the Core to escape the alien ships attacking the Surface.

But safety in the Core means forming a temporary alliance with their sworn enemy, Commander Charlie. He’s a ruthless man and a liar, but striking a bargain with him—his pardon in exchange for their help defeating the Mardenites—is the only way the rebels might survive the war. And Charlie needs their help too, for Marden’s force is more powerful than anyone anticipated, with weapons and technologies never before seen on Kiel. Unless old feuds can be set aside long enough for a diplomatic solution to be found, all of Kiel’s people will be destroyed, and everything Clementine and her friends have sacrificed in their fight for peace will have been for nothing. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Evolution is a great conclusion to the Extraction series that neatly ties up the story. If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, Extraction and Rebellion, then you really should. Evolution definitely doesn’t function as a standalone book.

Its strengths are what made the first book in the series great — the science fiction twist to a dystopian story. The final book in the series follows through on this, giving Clementine the chance to unravel the mysteries behind the dystopian state of her world, and find out the history behind the Mardenite aliens. While Evolution sometimes loses focus with a huge cast of characters, the detailed futuristic world alone makes the book worth a read. Definitely check out the series if you love science fiction!

Recommendation: Borrow it someday, particularly if you’re a fan of the Extraction series! This is a satisfying conclusion to the series.


New Releases

Two new books this week and one is a new fantasy that Jessica reviewed this past Friday and loved (cliky to read review). Based on her review, I’m going to get this book as soon as my TBR stack gets a bit lower (maybe?).

18068907Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1) by Kate Elliott

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott begins a new trilogy with her debut young adult novel, weaving an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But at night she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multi-level athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between a girl of mixed race and a Patron boy causes heads to turn. When a scheming lord tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test Kal’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a powerful clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.


Into the Dangerous WorldBy Julie Chibbaro, Illustrated by Jean-Marc Superville Sovak
Viking Books for Young Readers

Ror lives to draw—to her, it’s like breathing; it’s how she understands life. When her father dies, she finds herself at a crossroads. Should she paint in the classic tradition, the way he taught her? Go to college, like her art teacher wants? Or should she listen to Trey, the seductive street artist who leads the crew Noise Ink? She is a brilliant artist—but will she use her talent, or waste it?

Into the Dangerous World breaks new ground in fiction—and its indelible visual images will live inside your head.


Just One Book This Week

We found one book for our readers this week. What do you think?

22718808Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond
Roaring Book Press

A story about first love, first fights, and finding yourself in a messed up world, from the acclaimed author of Happyface.

Walter Wilcox has never been in love. That is, until he meets Naomi, and sparks, and clever jokes, fly. But when his cop dad is caught in a racial profiling scandal, Walter and Naomi, who is African American, are called out at school, home, and online. Can their bond (and mutual love of the Foo Fighters) keep them together?

With black-and-white illustrations throughout and a heartfelt, humorous voice, Bright Lights, Dark Nights authentically captures just how tough first love can be…and why it’s worth fighting for.


On My To-Read List

A lot of promising books are coming out next month, but I’ve got my eye on one book in particular. I’ve basically been (very impatiently) waiting for Sorcerer to the Crown from the moment I first read the plot synopsis. Its release date (September 1, 2015) can’t come soon enough! What do you have on your to-read list?

sorcerer_front mech.inddSorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal #1) by Zen Cho

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…[Image and summary via Goodreads]


Favorite Contemporary Novels

With half of the year behind us, I thought it would be fun to compile a list of some of our favorite books that we read in 2015. So enjoy this list of nine “buy it now” contemporary novels. Which ones have you read? Which ones just jumped to the top of your I-Have-to-Get-My-Hands-On-This List?

suitThe Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers || Review

Just when seventeen-year-old Matt thinks he can’t handle one more piece of terrible news, he meets a girl who’s dealt with a lot more—and who just might be able to clue him in on how to rise up when life keeps knocking him down—in this wry, gritty novel from the author of When I Was the Greatest.

Matt wears a black suit every day. No, not because his mom died—although she did, and it sucks. But he wears the suit for his gig at the local funeral home, which pays way better than the Cluck Bucket, and he needs the income since his dad can’t handle the bills (or anything, really) on his own. So while Dad’s snagging bottles of whiskey, Matt’s snagging fifteen bucks an hour. Not bad. But everything else? Not good. Then Matt meets Lovey. She’s got a crazy name, and she’s been through more crazy than he can imagine. Yet Lovey never cries. She’s tough. Really tough. Tough in the way Matt wishes he could be. Which is maybe why he’s drawn to her, and definitely why he can’t seem to shake her. Because there’s nothing more hopeful than finding a person who understands your loneliness—and who can maybe even help take it away.

delicateDelicate Monsters by Stephanie Kuehn
St. Martin’s Griffin || Review

When nearly killing a classmate gets seventeen-year-old Sadie Su kicked out of her third boarding school in four years, she returns to her family’s California vineyard estate. Here, she’s meant to stay out of trouble. Here, she’s meant to do a lot of things. But it’s hard. She’s bored. And when Sadie’s bored, the only thing she likes is trouble.

Emerson Tate’s a poor boy living in a rich town, with his widowed mother and strange, haunted little brother. All he wants his senior year is to play basketball and make something happen with the girl of his dreams. That’s why Emerson’s not happy Sadie’s back. An old childhood friend, she knows his worst secrets. The things he longs to forget. The things she won’t ever let him.

Haunted is a good word for fifteen-year-old Miles Tate. Miles can see the future, after all. And he knows his vision of tragic violence at his school will come true, because his visions always do. That’s what he tells the new girl in town. The one who listens to him. The one who recognizes the darkness in his past.

But can Miles stop the violence? Or has the future already been written? Maybe tragedy is his destiny. Maybe it’s all of theirs.

Gabi a Girl in PIecesGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Cinco Puntos Press || Review

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

NoneNone of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
Balzer + Bray || Review

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s world completely unravels. With everything she thought she knew thrown into question, can she come to terms with her new self?

Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

23013680The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee
Arthur A. Levine Books || Review

Higgs Boson Bing has seven days left before his perfect high school career is completed. Then it’s on to Harvard to fulfill the fantasy portrait of success that he and his parents have cultivated for the past four years. Four years of academic achievement. Four years of debate championships. Two years of dating the most popular girl in school. It was, literally, everything his parents could have wanted. Everything they wanted for Higgs’s older brother Jeffrey, in fact.

But something’s not right. And when Higgs’s girlfriend presents him with a seemingly innocent hypothetical question about whether or not he’d give her a kidney… the exposed fault lines reach straight down to the foundations of his life…

22328549My Heart & Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga
Balzer + Bray || Review

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution–Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner. Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.

22840182The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler
Simon Pulse || Review

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: An ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them . . .

This Side of HomeThis Side of Home by Renée Watson
Bloomsbury USA Childrens || Review

A captivating and poignant coming-of-age urban YA debut about sisters, friends, and what it means to embrace change.

Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.

In her inspired YA debut, Renée Watson explores the experience of young African-American women navigating the traditions and expectations of their culture.

tinyTiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
HarperTeen || Review

Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.