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What Can I Read? (Nov. 02)

Encouraging Adolescents in--and beyond--the Classroom

To find out what his high school students were choosing to read, Chris Crowe would notice what they were carrying around the halls, listen in on their book talk, and ask them to talk about their reading.

While many students will easily find reading material they enjoy, he says it's a good idea for teachers to become familiar with young adult literature--books specifically written for and marketed to adolescents and teenagers. Often these titles can spark interest in a reluctant reader and supercharge the learning environment.

An avid reader from a young age, Crowe, who is now professor of English at Brigham Young University and Chair of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN), wishes teachers had introduced him to works for adolescents in addition to assigning time-honored material.

He appreciates the fact that many teachers are turning to the ever-growing pool of literature for adolescents and young adults and hopes teachers will find a useful resource in his own new novel, Mississippi Trial, 1955.

He envisions that teachers might want to use it alongside other works that address the complex issues of family relationships and the struggle against racism such as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. He also thinks it could supplement a study of U.S. History from the 1950s, including early civil rights events.

Crowe has a nonfiction book about the case coming out in summer 2003 (Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case). He suggests The Lynching of Emmett Till: A Documentary Narrative edited by Christopher Metress as another recent title for those who want to tap into primary sources, such as newspaper and magazine articles of the time.

"I hope readers of my novel will gain an appreciation for their own relationships with their parents," Crowe says. "My narrator, Hiram Hillburn, initially doesn't appreciate his father at all, but as the story progresses, Hiram begins to understand his father better. I think all teenagers have trouble viewing their parents fairly.

"In addition to that, I hope readers will learn about the infamous murder of Emmett Till in 1955. The murder and the trial of his killers were huge media events in 1955 and had a catalytic effect on the modern civil rights movement, but most history books don't even mention Emmett Till. I would also hope that readers would come away with a desire to be less prejudiced and more tolerant of others."

(Looking for more? Crowe has an essay about the murder of Emmett Till and its historical significance among the teacher resources available at http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/. (Click on "History.") You can read an excerpt from his novel at http://www.penguinputnam.com/static/packages/us/freshprint/mississippi.html.)

Keeping Readers Going

Author Tonya Bolden thinks it's a shame that around the age of ten children generally stop reading to grown-ups. "Adults love to be read to," she says. In fact, it would make her very happy if groups of people would get together to read and share her book, Tell All the Children Our Story: Memories and Mementos of Being Young and Black in America.

In addition to read-alouds, she thinks teachers could share the book with their classes and then ask students to discuss some of its main themes--the importance of one's own history and ways to cherish the mementos of our lives. She suggests that students could do a scrapbook of their lives, or write an autobiography and complement it with photos of themselves at different ages.

Bolden edited another recent release, 33 Things Every Girl Should Know about Women's History, that also invites exploration in and beyond the classroom. After reading the book's collection of poems, essays, letters, fiction, information, quotes, and photos, Bolden could see students doing an oral history project, where they would interview "terrific women, not just famous women, but heroic women in their everyday lives."

Students also could further explore any person or issue in the book, or they could list and research 33 more things that everyone should know about women's history. Or, to engage the dramatic, she suggests that classes could act out Roberta W. Francis's one-act play, "The ERA That's Yet to Come."

Saying that she's "a teacher at heart," Bolden believes it's important to tell students about the range of books available. "Whatever interests them, whether it's science fiction, history, biography, poetry, they can find it," she says. "What they have to do is speak up. If they can't find them, that's what librarians are for. Librarians long for people to come to them and say, 'I am interested in this topic,' and then ask for recommendations."

(Looking for more? You can read excerpts from Bolden's books when you visit her Web site at http://www.tonyabolden.com/.)

Don't Miss the Point

Taking a cue from his 12-year-old son's motivations for reading, author Graham Salisbury says that "books for young readers have to engage them early on. They have to be interesting, and have movement, and, ideally, be relevant to their lives, or entertaining enough to hold their interest. The best books for young readers do this--and they are stories with meaning."

Although an avid reader these days, and especially willing to suggest the wealth of titles for young adults that he knows about to his sons, Salisbury says he didn't read a lot when he was growing up in Hawaii. He preferred an outdoor, active lifestyle, and he remembers that reading just wasn't stressed.

But these days he sees teachers, librarians, and parents as the "guides and encouragers" who can help young people find books to supplement their recreational reading.

Fun to read, but with a point, is how he describes some of his own work for "middle readers." He says most of his readers come from grades four to eight, but notes that some of his titles, such as Blue Skin of the Sea, can appeal to readers from fourth grade on up.

Lord of the Deep, a novel, and Island Boyz, a collection of short stories, are two of his recent titles.

He promises that Lord of the Deep will generate discussion. It explores the themes of family, forgiveness, and fear, he says, "however, most important to me is the idea of personal integrity--what will you stand up for, and under what pressure, and how strong are you?" Like his Under the Blood-Red Sun, this book has an open ending, which he says can mirror many of life's open-ended problems.

He also feels that Island Boyz is "loaded" with themes, issues, and characters that can spark discussion.

(Looking for more? Check out the special section for teachers on his Web site at http://www.grahamsalisbury.com/. Teachers' guides for Lord of the Deep and many other titles are available at http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/guides/.)

Annual Convention Connection

These and many other authors will present at NCTE's Annual Convention to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, November 21-26. You can look up author names in the index of the Convention Program for complete details.

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