My son Kyle’s first word was “Car”. His second word was “Bang”. So I’m hoping this isn’t a harbinger of things to come.
I recently came across a frightening article published by the US National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. The article presented the results of a Reading at Risk survey done by the National Endowment for the Arts and charted the dramatic decline of reading in young adults in the US over the last 20 years. There is no reason to believe that we have fared any better with this group of readers.
Young adult is a murky catchphrase used in academic and library circles. It’s basically is a broad net categorising readers who have graduated from picture books and beginning chapter books, but are not yet ready for adult reading. It can mean readers from 12 to 18. Sometimes readers up to 21 are called young adults and some people push the beginning of YA readers to 14. In any case, it is that no-man’s land between children’s literature and adult literature.
The article claimed that the gender gap in reading by young adults has widened considerably. In overall book reading, young women fell from 63 per cent to 59 per cent; young men dropped from 55 per cent to 43 per cent. This drop in reading could clearly be seen in academic performance. Girls and young women scored consistently higher in literacy skills assessments than their male peers at every grade level.
“Since the greatest predicator of academic success for any individual is proficiency in reading and writing skills, it means that boys are at a considerable disadvantage,” the article said. The study went on to remind us of what we all know: “The more students read, the better their vocabularies and comprehension skills, the more they will be able to write and communicate, the more they will learn and grow in critical and creative thinking skills.
Boys need to read magazines and newspapers, books of nonfiction and fiction, and they need to do more than the skimming many boys engage in on the Internet. “Much of the material on the Internet, although it is technically reading material, does not provide strong content or comprehensive substance.
Often, it is not monitored and has no quality standards. It’s great for overall breadth, but not for in-depth reading. And it is only through consistent in-depth reading that young people can develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to enrich their personal lives, compete successfully in the workplace, and become responsible citizens.”
For young adult readers searching for authors they might like, the US National Book Awards suggests Guys Write For Guys Read: Boys’ Favorite Authors Write About Being Boys, compiled by Jon Scieszka, most famous for his historical fiction in the Time Warp series, a popular read for elementary students (www.guysread.com). Here are some books I suggest for young adult readers.
1. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (beginning with the Lightning Thief) by Rick Riordan—a fast-paced read with Greek mythology
2. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan—an exciting read with Egyptian mythology
3. Maximum Ride by James Patterson—a thriller by an author much respected by adults
4. 39 Clues by various authors—a detective series that will build analytical skills
5. The Dark Tower by Stephen King—Roland, a gunslinger of the future, finds himself back in the 1980s in a struggle of good over evil
1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope—an inspiring story of a poor boy in Africa who helped his village to get electricity
2. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah—the story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone
3. Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleishman—the story of the great magician.
Graphic novels are popular among teenagers. Don’t think less of these books because of their comic-book style. They are great for that “visual” reader who needs to develop a variety of literacy skills.
1. Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age and His Search for Soft Trousers by Raymond Briggs
2. The Adventures of Sparrowboy by Brian Pinkney
3. Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria by Aaron Shepard, illustrated by David Wisniewski
4. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
5. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Caribbean books for Young Adults
1. The Island Fiction series, including The Chalice Project by Lisa Allen-Agostini—a sci-fi story set in Jamaica and Trinidad, and Time Swimmer by Gerald Hausman, a Caribbean version of the Odyssey
2. Alonso and the Drug Baron by Evan Jones—a side-splitting comedy set in Jamaica for older young adult readers
3. Miguel Street by VS Naipaul—a Trinidadian classic!
4. Boldly the Trips and Mysterious the Trips by Roy Galt—adventures set in Trinidad
It is important to catch young readers and nurture an interest in reading through this crucial young adult stage. It can be done with interesting books that capture young readers’ attention and address their problems and concerns.