Tag Archives: young adult literature

Young Adult Literature’s Obsession with Death: 10 YA Titles coping with the loss of a loved one

Death in young adult literature is not a new topic. I have found myself reading a number of ya titles that focus on the loss of siblings. In many cases, the protagonists feel as if they failed their parents some how for being the child who is still alive. Death is a scary topic for some and the idea of living when someone close to you is gone is challenging. Here are ten contemporary young adult titles that deal with moving on after the a sister, brother, friend and loved one passes away suddenly.

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Not Your Perfect Mexican American Daughter (2017) by Erika L. Sánchez is about sixteen year old Julia who is coping with the loss of her older sister, Olga. Olga’s death was sudden and tragic. Julia compares herself to her “perfect” older sister and this causes much tension with her parents. Julia is funny and has high hopes for going to college to become a writer, but that is not what a perfect Mexican American daughter would do. 

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In Love Letters to the Dead (2014) by Ava Dellaira, Laurel is assigned by her English teacher to write a letter to a dead person.  Although she never turns in the assignment. through her letters to Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse Laurel describes the events that led up to her sister’s death. 

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Gae Polisner’s The Summer of Letting Go (2014) takes place four years after Francesca’s younger brother, Simon, drowned at the beach. Francesca blames herself for his death and is witness to her family falling apart after the tragedy. This particular summer she meets a young child the same age as her brother was when he died and Francesca believes this could be her brother’s reincarnation.

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Anything by Jason Reynolds is poignant and powerful. His novel written in narrative verse, A Long Way Down (2017) takes place in 60 seconds on an elevator where 15 year old Will decides whether he will murder the guy who killed his brother. As the elevator stops at each floor, he is given time to contemplate his actions.

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Neal Shusterman is a master storyteller and his new series Scythe (2016) will not disappoint. In this world where only Scythes can end a life, there is no hunger, disease, or war. Two teens are selected to be trained in the “art of killing.” Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. They must navigate this new world and new position that brings with it power, corruption for some, and a new way of seeing life. The next installment, Thunder Head was released early this year.

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History is All You Left Me (2017) by Adam Silvera is a love story between Griffin and Theo. When Theo drowns in a freak accident or suicide, Griffin must go on but that seems impossible with his first love gone.

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Jenifer Niven’s All the Bright Places (2015) takes place after Violet’s sister has died. She is obsessed with death and when she meets Finch – who is struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide – their friendship offers hope for both of them. Some times hope is not enough.

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E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (2014) is a puzzle that readers must piece together to understand the tragedy that shook a family and the narrator. A wealthy family, on a private island, teenagers frocking – but what happened in the past and what is the present?

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Death is unexpected in The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (2016). Three friends are close and support systems for each other. This story shows readers that we do not have to turn out like our parents. This moving story shows how friendship sustain young people when family falls short.

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Goodbye Days, also by Jeff Zentner (2017) is about celebrating life after your three best friends are killed in a car accident. When Carver Briggs sent a text message to his friends he did not think that text would kill them and he blames himself for the car accident and their deaths. It is his friend Blakes’s grandmother who helps him to make peace with their loss and his future.

 

 

 

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Wise Words & Lessons From YA Authors

Check out YA author, Jason Reynold’s interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah from January 23, 2018. Jason Reynolds is one of the best young adult authors currently writing powerful and award winning novels. His comments about expanding (and reimagining) the literature canon and the importance of literacy to change the world are key.

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f043712f-4655-4c8a-b60f-fca1e4c6ca9fListening to The Yarn Podcast, by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp on Apple Podcasts, listeners dive into young adult author’s adventures writing the books they do. Angie Thomas, author of one of the most powerful books of 2017, The Hate U Give, describes in episode #56 the extensive research she conducted and how current events, specifically The Black Lives Matter movement helped her to write, understand her frustrations and anger, but also convey hope, community and love. Thomas states, “empathy is more important than sympathy.”

I recently read, The 57 Bus, a nonfiction young adult book by Dashka Slater. This is based on the true events that happened on bus 57 in Oakland, California when an agender teenager, Sasha was set on fire by a sixteen year old African American young man, Richard in 2013. The YA book details the teens, their families, friends, and schools involved before and in the aftermath. The book takes a close up look of gender identity and the juvenile justice system in America. Author, Slater first wrote about this event for The New York Times Magazine in 2015 and now digs deeper into the events. From the adolescent brain to restorative justice, Slater tries to address all angles in this story to do exactly what Thomas stated in her podcast, to build empathy and expand our understanding of who we label as “others.” 9780374303235

After reading The 57 Bus, I was listening to Tim Ferriss interview Catherine Hoke. Catherine Hoke (@catherine_hoke) is the founder of the non-profit Defy Ventures. Defy’s vision is to end mass incarceration by using entrepreneurship as a tool to transform legacies and human potential. In the interview Hoke talks about looking at people, not their past actions and mistakes. She believes people can be rehabilitated. Cat is the author of the new book, A Second Chance: For You, For Me, and For the Rest of Us,

In the case of all of these texts that I share, it is not about people per say, but community. Building community and supporting everyone and making a difference.

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Writing & Blogging About YA Lit

This semester I am teaching a young adult literature class to graduate students. The students are required to keep a blog that catalogues all the books that they read for the course. There are many ways that they can respond to young adult literature and I thought it would be interesting and engaging to have them write each post in a different format. These are the blog post choices they were assigned.

“When one has read a book, I think there is nothing so nice as discussing it with someone else – even though it sometimes produces rather fierce arguments.”

– CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greaves

Introductory Blog Post Assignment  – This first blog post will ask you to think about, explore, and document your own relationship to and experiences with reading. Using words and images, address the following in your first blog post:

  1. How did you learn to read? Who and what influenced your relationship to reading and writing in and out of school?
  2. What do you believe are the purposes of reading, in and out of school?
  3. How does your relationship and experiences with reading shape your approach to teaching reading?
  4. What are the top ten books that have influenced your reading life? How have those books influenced you?
  5. What do you hope to get out of this class, both personally and professionally, in terms of your relationship with reading? Do you have any reading goals?

 

Book Talk Flier – Create a one page document that briefly describes, summarizes, and sells the book to young adults. Your fliers must include key information about the book, who might be interested in reading it, key review quotes that you (find or create) that suggest the importance of the book and why young adults might find it interesting. Your flier must also include visuals – a picture of the cover of the book and any other images that you think might help adolescents to be drawn into the book. Be creative and use interesting layouts and fonts.

Book Trailer – Create an original video presentation designed to motivate teens to check out the book.

Top Ten Post  – Also known as the If You Like  . . .  Check Out . . .  

Create a list of ten related titles that share similar themes, issues, or genre. For more ideas about this type of post, check out https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/category/top-ten-lists/

Book Review – Write a review of the book. Book reviews contain both summary and personal response. For sample book reviews check out The New York Times Book Review or The Nerdy Book Club Book Reviews. Feel free to write your book review, create a podcast or video cast of your book review.

Ways In/Ways Out/Ways Through the Text – Design three activities/lessons that actively involves young adults in reading the text. “Ways In” is an introductory activity that motivates students to engage with the text. What specific literacy strategies will you use? “Ways Through” are the literacy strategies and tools to help students make sense of and understand the text. “Ways Out” are activities that let students demonstrate their relationship to the text and their comprehension of the key ideas they encountered with the text.

Discussion Questions for Novels – Develop 10-15 questions that would prompt deep discussion about each novel. Work towards open-ended questions that have no correct answer; questions that would challenge us to think deeply, thereby prompting an engaging conversation. These questions should pertain directly to your book and your personal reading experience, rather than to general analysis of literary elements or queries over authorial intentions.  

Book Q & A – Based on Richard Peck’s 10 Questions to Ask About a A Novel

  1. What would the story be like if the main character was the opposite sex?
  2. Why is the story set where it is?
  3. If you were to film this story, what characters would you eliminate if you could not use them all?
  4. Would you film this story in black or white or color?
  5. How is the main character different from you?
  6. Why or why not would this story make a good TV series?
  7. Name something in this story that has happened to you?
  8. Reread the first paragraphs of chapter one. What is in it to make you want to continue reading?
  9. If you had to design a cover for this book, what would it look like?
  10. What does the title tell you about this book? Does it tell the truth?

Booksnaps – Create five or more different Booksnaps of your favorite or most telling passages in the text. Once you snap images of your favorite quotes, create visual representation of your thoughts with bitmojis and emojis, and adding them to a “Snap Story.” Check out Tara M. Martin @trarmartinEDUon social media for more.

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Exit Blog PostDescribe in narrative format the development of your relationship with reading during your time in this class.

  1. What was (were) your favorite book(s) that you read this semester?
  2. Did your personal relationship with reading grow or change during this course? If so, how? What classroom practices do you think contributed to your development?
  3. What practices/philosophies regarding reading and children’s literature do you plan to carry forward to your future students, and why?

What books from the book list and mentioned in class would you still like to read?

 

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Notable YA Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again when people begin reflecting and recounting the best, the top, or the most of one thing or another. So many great books were at the forefront of 2016 but these are the books that have left a lasting impression on me. Stories that I shared with my graduate students and read with my middle school students. I wanted to share the best young adult books that I have read this past year as I look forward to many interesting titles being published in the year ahead.

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The Reader is set in Kelanna,  a place where written words do not exist and there is no written language, except for the few protectors of “the book.” Some believe that the book has magic and can “turn salt into gold.” Sefia is a orphan after her father is murdered and her aunt is kidnapped. Sefia seeks to find her aunt and understand more about the mysterious book that was her father’s. With the help of a stranger, Sefia goes on an adventure to seek revenge,  find her aunt, and learn more about the powers of the book.

I cannot rave enough about this book. The play on words and double meanings of this adventure tale evolves into a story about the power of literacy and learning to read. Traci Chee has hidden a series of secret puzzles and mysteries to solve. This is a book that once you get to the end, you want to go back to the beginning and start reading again.

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Another debut author, this book is a story of friendship and love. It is also about not letting your parents define you or who you can become.  This story is about three teenage outcasts who lean on each other in good and bad times. There is love, death, secrets are revealed, and although there is no happy ending, Dill and Lydia learn to move on from their pain. This is a great book for someone who has exhausted John Green and Rainbow Rowell’s novels.

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THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK, but I am going to include it anyway because it was fascinating. Most high school students are reading Holocaust historical fiction and I would consider using parts of this book for a select group of high school students studying the Holocaust. Pearl and Stasha are twin sisters brought to Aushwitz with their mother and grandparents during WWII. Due to the fact that these sisters are identical twins they are taken by Dr. Mengele, a physician who was known to experiment upon concentration camp prisoners. Stasha and Pearl are tortured by Mengele and meet other children who are part of his zoo. Told in the sister’s alternating voices there are elements of strength, hope, resistance, and deep pain.

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I can tell you exactly where I was on 9.11: riding a train into New York City for work that stopped short of the city to let out passengers due to the circumstances after the first plane hit. My brother had just started his first year of college at George Washington University, two and half miles from the Pentagon and was walking to class. My sister was flying in from California on the red eye. Game Polisner, author of Summer of Letting Go, writes another heart wrenching tale about two teens and an unlikely friendship. Kyle was in school when the planes hit the towers and walks home across the Brooklyn Bridge where he finds a young girl covered in ash. Kyle brings her home to help her and the two watch the tragedy of the day unfold.

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So many young adult books tell the story of young people who feel alone, are considered outcasts, or ostracized by their families. In David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, five individuals find each other and help each other each with their own personal struggles. Vic’s father died after battling cancer and now his mother has a boyfriend who is moving in with his family. Vic finds list of places where his father wanted his ashes spread and the Kids of Appetite help him on his quest to fulfill his father’s last wishes. This quest helps him to make friends, fall in love, honor the kindness of strangers, and open up to the possibility of living a full life without his father.

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Fans of The One and Only Ivan, will fall in love with Pax. Told in alternating voices between Pax, a pet fox and Peter, Pax’s owner. Peter has raised and domesticated Pax since the fox was a small pup. Now that his father has been called to duty he makes Peter get rid of Pax by setting him out into the wild. Peter runs away in order to find Pax. This is the story of both their journeys in the wild until they find each other.

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The highly anticipated sequel to The Red Queen; my students and I were in love with Aveyard’s first novel last year and couldn’t wait for book 2 to hit print. In this fast paced dystopian novel the demise of this crooked kingdom raises more questions than answers between the silvers and the reds. King Maven is a bad character who no one can trust. There are new characters with new special powers and tension between between Mare and Cal feelings for each other is not even close to being resolved. Mark you calendars now for King’s Cage February 2017.

What books would you include? Share your titles in the comments section below.

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Social Justice: A Young Adult Book List

Summer time allows me to catch up on reading and begin to plan for the ideas swimming in my brain for the new school year. Since I have moved around which core texts that I am teaching first in my eighth grade English class, and we will read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first quarter, I have decided that the first outside reading  assignment will focus on the theme of social justice.

Each quarter my students select an outside reading book to read independently and if students are aiming for honors English in the high school they read two outside reading books per quarter. The themes of the outside reading books change based on current events and genres. The most popular outside reading assignment this past year was graphic novels.

As students are reading the historical based text, To Kill a Mockingbird, I want them to be aware of the oppression and injustices that still exist in our world today.  I have carefully selected books that I have read and have been recommend to me that cover topics of racism, classism, homophobia, guerilla warfare in third world countries, and illegal immigration.  My over all theme throughout the year is community and empathy.  Below is the book list that I have compiled for September.

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Young Adult Literature Gluttony: Summer Vacation Week 1

Always in search of a great book to share with my students, I went binge reading this week. The books I read were jaw dropping, powerful voices, and rich in beautiful language.

Doll Bones

Holly Black’s Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book this year about three friends who go on a journey to find the answers to a the ghost possessed doll they call “Queen.” I would recommend this book to all middle school students because it touches on the question when should one stop playing with his/her toys from childhood? Do we have to stop playing make believe games we played as little children? Main character, Zach struggles with parental expectations and when to abandon the imaginary games he plays with friends, Alice and Poppy. The illustrations dispersed throughout the book emphasize the struggle to give up childish things to meet grown up expectations. All three friends are driven to go on this quest and along the way of finding answers about the ghost of a small child, the doll, and  answers about themselves.We Were Liars

 

We Were Liars by e. lockhart is one book that I had to read in one sitting to figure out what actually happened the summer a fire wrecked Cadence’s grandparent’s house on Beechwood Island. Beechwood Island is a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard that her grandfather made into a compound for the Sinclair family. A wealthy family from Boston, Massachusetts, spent every summer on the island. As the Sinclair daughters grew up, got married, and had families of their own, houses were added to the Island and now Cadence and her mother look forward every summer to joining her aunts, cousins, and grandfather on the island for summer fun. Although after summer fourteen, something happened and Cadence, our narrator is trying to piece together what really happened, the fire, and when the family started to unravel. The narrator’s voice is raw, curt, and draws the reader’s sympathy. By the end of the book you are trying to figure out what is the truth since the title suggests someone might not be telling the truth.

The Truth About Alice

Liars, bullying, bystanders, rumors, and cruelty among young people make up Jennifer Mathieu’s novel, The Truth About Alice. Author and English teacher, Mathieu, makes references to The Scarlet Letter, The Outsiders, and Anne Frank’s Diary throughout the novel told from multiple points of view. The story is about what everyone thinks happened at Elaine O’Dea’s party between football star Brandon Fitzsimmons and Alice Franklin. The rumors spread on social media and then a few days later when Brendan is killed in a car crash, the rumors take on a life of their own breathing hate in this small town in Texas. Think Friday Night Lights and Sharon Draper’s Tears of  a Tiger.  Few people try to seek the truth, there are no upstanders, and nobody will be the same after all the events that take place.

The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness is a compilation of essays and stories from Marina Keegan, a 2012 graduate from Yale University who died in a car crash a few days after her graduation. An aspiring writer with a job at The New Yorker to begin after graduation never came to fruition with her untimely and tragic death. Her parents compiled her writing, some which appeared in the Yale Daily News, into this collection. I am drawn more to the nonfiction essays, but her fiction writing is just as beautiful and honest. Keegan’s voice is confident, inspiring, and sensitive. I found it interesting that the first piece of fiction is about a young college student who’s boyfriend dies suddenly. In the first essay she declares, ” What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over . . . We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” Marina’s words offer young people that the world is full of possibility and choice is another opportunity.

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