Monday, July 18, 2016

Monday Musings: Why It's Okay To Read YA Books At Any Age

Odds are that when you were a small child someone, perhaps a parent or grandparent, read to you. Likewise, we're told that when we have our own children we should read to them. Studies and statistic prove reading to young children helps them learn their letters and helps them learn to read. At some point in their schooling, however, we're told they need to venture out and read to themselves, by themselves. Eventually our children become self-sufficient and don't wish for us to read to them anymore. This could be seen as the final chapter on a shared love of literature, but I say think broader.

One of the things I hear from fellow parents of tweens and teens is they have trouble communicating with and relating to their children. Reading YA (young adult) books is a good way to bridge that communication gap. It reminds you of what it was like to be so young, and can keep you up-to-date with what is happening now in their world. While many things we experienced will be experienced by our children, in some ways it's a whole new world. With the introduction of cell phones and the maturity of the information highway embarrassing situations can now be immortalized. Cyber bullying is such a common place occurrence that schools now have rules specifically written against such practices.  As a parent, you can use YA books as a tool to open conversations about these subjects with your child as well as other, more controversial and touchy, topics.

There are a number books on any given topic, but you can use YA books as the gateway into just about any subject. Take, for instance, the book 'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green, it's an excellent way to breach the topic of cancer. The book 'Thirteen Reasons Why' by Jay Asher can be used to bridge the topic of suicide. 'Speak' by Laurie Halse Anderson, is a good opening for a conversation about rape. While the above books are very topic specific, you can find other books that have behaviors you might want to curb or prevent in your child that are a little more subtly touched upon. 'The Coldest Girl in Coldtown' by Holly Black, for instance, has a girl who drinks too much and loves beating people at dares. Her need to be accepted leads her to some disturbing choices and behavior that can open up conversations using the character as example of what not to do. You can ask your child what they think about what the character did and whether they handled things appropriately. But don't make reading YA books with your kids just about life lessons or a means bridge tough subject matter. Instead make it a means for rekindling or maintaining that love of reading. A way to share a common hobby. A mechanism for bonding.

Now I know not every child loves reading, so here are some of the sneaky ways I get my kids interested in books.

1) On the way to school or when going on a long trip we listen to audio books. I will listen all the way through which means they usually miss parts and I purposefully try to make sure they aren't around when I listen to a good portion of the ending. They beg me to tell them what happened and are now used to my standard response of, "I guess you'll just have to read it to find out."

2) If I find out a popular book is being made into a movie I make my kids read it before they can see it. Some of the books made into movies we've read before seeing over the years include The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series, the Twilight series, the Divergent series, 'The Hobbit' (not a YA book, but you can see how this can continue on as they get older), 'The Maze Runner', the Percy Jackson series, 'The Giver', 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid', and many more.

3) I also like to discuss the books we read together. I ask questions about what they thought about what certain characters did and how they reacted to things that happened to them and around them. When a movie is involved, I ask which version they liked better. The book, by the way, almost always wins. My daughter is now of an age that when I ask some of these questions she'll respond, "Well if they'd done that there wouldn't be much of a story to tell now would there?" They truly do grow up too fast.

4) Another thing I do is to make sure the kids see me reading. The old adage "Lead by example" really does apply to your children. As an added bonus, it's a great way to keep your own mind nimble.

5) I also tend to gear my kid's birthday party themes towards books. For instance, one of my daughter's favorite birthday party was based off of 'The Hunger Games'. The party included a portion where points were earned by answering questions based off of the book. At the end of the party and many games and points later, prizes were given out based off of who had earned the most points. If you're wondering, everyone received a book as a prize.

Even if you don't have kids, however, you shouldn't be afraid to read YA books. They hold a vast amount of fun, impressive, and brilliant stories. Can you imagine thumbing your nose at the Harry Potter series, 'The Book Thief', or 'The Giver' just because they are labeled young adult?  Besides, according to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), "the conventional definition of “young adult” has expanded to include those as young as ten and, since the late 1990s, as old as twenty-five." I wouldn't be surprised if the age eventually expands beyond that, so you can consider yourself a trend setter. Plus, reading helps you maintain brain heath as you age. According to the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, reading books significantly decreased the odds of older people having mild cognitive impairment. So if you read YA books, and they make you happy, tell the naysayers that there is clinical proof that reading them is good for you. While the study didn't specifically focus on individuals who read YA books, you don't have to tell them that. Hey, I say it's all in how you interpret the data. *Grin*

YA books can also be a helpful resource and/or tool for teachers. You can use them to capture your students’ attention. If you're a history or government teacher, you can use some of these books as jump starters to talk about different types of societies and  governments. If you're an English teacher, you may want to consider substituting some of the more current YA books for Classics or pair some of the classics with more modern tales which can be found in YA books of similar themes. Some examples would be 'Speak' by Laurie Halse Andersen and 'The Scarlet Letter' by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 'Juliet Immortal' by Stacey Jay and 'Romeo & Juliet' by Shakespeare, 'Epic Fail' by Claire LaZebnik and 'Pride & Prejudice' by Jane Austen. There are several good lists floating around that contain even more pairings so the possibilities are numerous.

Notes to Keep You in the Know:
For more information about YA literature and Classic pairings, check out these two posts:

- An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings by Epic Reads:

- Pairing Young Adult Literature with Traditional Text(s) Books (a power point presentation) by
Jung Kim, Ph.D. of Lewis University:

Sources quoted:
~ Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) article on The Value of Young Adult Literature:

~ The Mayo Clinic Study of Aging:

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