Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Why and How Do You YA?

While summer reading for us often includes tackling at least one or two pedagogically oriented texts (Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain for Susan; Teaching Naked for Audrey), it also means inhaling several young adult novels that we’ve been itching to read since a colleague or student suggested it weeks or months earlier. (Consumed by us so far: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Still Life With Tornado by A.S. King, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, and On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (finally!).)

Though we dive into these YA novels for our own pleasure without apology, of course we also do so with at least part of our brains considering how/where/whether we might incorporate any of them into our own instruction, add them to our classroom libraries, or just keep them in mind for the right student or colleague to recommend them to. 

At the same time, Susan, in her role as curriculum and instruction supervisor at her school, has been engaging in her annual round of conversations with parents who raise concerns about some of the YA novels (Looking for Alaska by John Green and Tyrell by Coe Booth, in particular) that have been assigned as choices for summer reading. And while she fully supports her English teachers in their choices and believes that these novels give students the opportunity to think about challenging and sensitive issues and experiences that they may soon encounter, she has also been wondering about the fact that teachers often assign these books for summer reading, leaving students on their own to read them and wrestle with depictions of experiences and issues they may not be prepared for, sometimes with no follow-up discussion when the school year starts.

So we’re torn: We think it’s important to expose students to books that give them the opportunity to engage with and think about experiences and issues they might not have encountered themselves in a fictional space. But assigning these engaging and relevant YA books as independent summer reading might be just as problematic, although in a different way, than sending students off on their own to read The Great Gatsby or Their Eyes Were Watching God. However, we also are acutely aware – as we are currently working on an informational text set focused on Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson -- of how challenging it can be to teach and discuss these books in class.

And so we’d love to hear your thoughts – please feel free to add your comments below and/or complete this brief survey about your experiences with YA literature. We’ll report back on all the great wisdom you’ve shared in an upcoming post!


  1. Thank you for addressing this! I wrestle with the same issue, and have been working with my colleagues to figure out how to create space for students to process what they have read over the summer in a meaningful and collaborative way once they are back in school.

  2. That part is so important, but often thrown to the side in our eagerness to start the new school year. The above thoughts were sparked by hearing myself tell a parent, "don't worry, they won't discuss that part of the book in class," and then the rest of my brain saying, "wait, that's not right."