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Rah! Rah! Rah! Sis boom bah! School Is in Session, and It’s Time to Get Fired Up about Reading and Writing, a guest post by McCall Hoyle

McCall Hoyle, avid reader, high school English teacher, and published author of young adult books, shares her thoughts on the importance of firing up everyone involved in education when it comes to reading and writing for pleasure. Yes, just for pleasure. No grades. No logs. No strings attached.

 

As a high school English teacher, my job is to teach standards that pertain to reading, writing, listening, and speaking. I could do that all day long using nonfiction and classic works of literature. But teaching is about so much more than content. Like many educators, and I include librarians in the educator category, I see teaching as a calling. For me, teaching language arts is about more than decoding and comprehending words or constructing grammatically correct sentences.

 

Teaching language arts is about inviting students into the humanities to explore the lives of others and to wrestle with where they belong in this world. I also really, really want students to take risks and experiment with using their own voices aloud and on paper. And what better way to facilitate reading and writing than by immersing students in tons and tons of popular fiction?

 

Here are some of McCall's students in her school’s media center “tasting” books they might want to read for pleasure.

Some of McCall’s students in her school’s media center “tasting” books they may want to read for pleasure.

Nancie Atwell, my teaching role model and hero, cites a study in her book The Reading Zone. She references a study conducted by the International Reading Association that shows the single greatest indicator of academic success across contents is the amount of time young people spend reading for pleasure. If we trust Atwell and the IRA, and I certainly do, we best start spending lots and lots of money on all kinds of books. We must stock our public and school libraries, and even more importantly, our classrooms with high-interest books. Teens need to be surrounded by books. Books need to be displayed face out, and they need to represent a wide variety of genres, and characters, and authors that kids look like, sound like, and can relate to.

 

We know these things, yet time and time again, we in the classroom get sucked into the stresses and pressures imposed by pages worth of standards and hours and hours devoted to high-stakes tests, and in libraries there are the pressures of recommended summer reading lists and encouraging students to read what their parents and teachers want them to read.

 

Reading for pleasure matters. Experimenting with writing, and that includes poetry and fiction, not just five-paragraph essays matters too. That means we must arm ourselves with knowledge. We must charge ourselves to read more professional texts. Think the new release–180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle or an oldie but goodie, like Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone. We must vow to set aside time and money to attend professional conferences such as ALA and NCTE. And we must remind ourselves and each other daily of the importance of the work we do as teachers and as librarians.

Note the book tasting comes with placemats, menus, and silver trays!

Note the book tasting comes with placemats, menus, and silver trays!

Today, as we look out at the school year ahead, we must suit up in our metaphoric cheerleading uniforms and pick up the biggest megaphones we can find, and shout from the rooftops the principles that guide us in authentically teaching kids what it looks like to be literate in the twenty-first century.

 

Meet McCall Hoyle

Photo credit: Lily McGregor

Photo credit: Lily McGregor

McCall Hoyle writes novels for teens about friendship, first love, and girls finding the strength to overcome great challenges. She is a high school English teacher. Her own less-than-perfect teenage experiences and those of the girls she teaches inspire many of the struggles in her books. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family and their odd assortment of pets—a food-obsessed beagle, a grumpy rescue cat, and a three-and-a-half-legged kitten.

 

 

 

 

meet the skyMcCall’s second novel, Meet the Sky, releases September 4, 2018 from HarperCollins/Blink. It’s a story about a seventeen-year-old girl named, who’s struggling to keep her fractured family together. Sophie’s all about sticking to a plan—keeping the family business running, saving money for college one day, and making sure her mom and sister don’t endure another tragedy. Then a hurricane forms off the coast of the Outer Banks, and Sophie realizes nature is one thing she can’t control. She ends up stranded in the middle of the storm with Finn, the boy her broke her heart freshman year.

To learn more about McCall, her teaching, or her books find her on the web at mccallhoyle.com.

You can also find her on the following social media platforms.

Instagram: @McCallHoyleBooks

Facebook: @McCallHoyleBooks

Twitter: @McCallHoyle

 

Sunday Reflections: When Darkness Means You Can’t Read – Reflections on Mental Health and Reading

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TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses depression, anxiety, mental illness and suicide

Recently, Time magazine reported that less 1/3 of teens don’t read for pleasure. At the same time, a lot of YA/Teen librarians are looking at their circulation statistics and wondering why they’re going down. I did a completely informal and unscientific Twitter poll, and about half of the 88 respondants indicated that their circulation stats were going down. This was not surprising to me because it’s something that I see a lot of my peers talking about and working to fix.

There are a lot of possible reasons as to why. For one, we know that more teens are reading digitally and these circulation statistics aren’t counted in traditional ways. If you use Hoopla, for example, they don’t separate YA books out in their reports. But we know that a lot of teens are migrating to digital content, both ebooks and audiobooks. In addition, a lot of teens are abandoning traditionally published fiction and embracing fanfiction on forums such at Wattpad. It’s not that teens aren’t reading, they’re just reading differently. And of course, we can’t ignore that a lot of teens are spending more time engaged with social media just as adults are.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent. (Source: http://theconversation.com/with-teen-mental-health-deteriorating-over-five-years-theres-a-likely-culprit-86996)

But I would like to suggest that another reason for the decline in reading pleasure would be the increase in mental illness. Statistically, we are seeing a growing number of teens report episodes of depression and anxiety. The Center for Disease Control reports that incidents of depression, anxiety and suicide having been steadily rising for teens, and I think this is a significant issue that needs to be addressed for a lot of obvious reasons, but also because I think it affects reading.

I am an adult human who struggles with depression and anxiety. I am prone to panic attacks and have some serious moments of suicidal ideation. As such, I find myself involved in a lot of online forums with others who struggle with these same issues. One of the things that seems common for a majority of us is that when we are in the midst of a depression or anxiety spiral, reading is hard. Full, immersive reading that requires a type of physical and emotional investment can be hard for people struggling with mental illness. Let me explain.

For a lot of us with depression and anxiety, the most basic of functions can require an amount of energy that can be hard to muster. Your body can feel heavy, weighed down. You’re tired a lot. And if you are in an anxiety spiral, there is a lot of negative self talk that is happening in your head that takes a very dominant position. All of this is a type of clutter in the mind and body that makes everything else so much harder. So your goal is to survive and, if possible, dull the static noises inside of you. For me, and many others like me, scrolling through social media and looking at pictures or reading fluff headlines while watching fluff tv in the background can sere as a means to try and help drown out the noises. It’s a type of survival technique to help get you through the moment. I personally find that Food Network or mindless comedies are great for this. They’re not heavy, they don’t require invested attention, and the fluff of it helps me to cope. And the act of scrolling and reading on the Internet takes up a space that darkness is trying to occupy.

These are coping techniques. I’m not saying that they are healthy ones, but I find them to be employed by a lot of my fellow depression and anxiety sufferers. For many of us, there are periods of time when reading for pleasure is just simply not an option.

In the height of my worst depressive episode, I went three months without being able to read a book. I typically read about 3 books a week, but there are often times when I can read no books at all because I can’t get my mind settled enough to commit to the act of reading. I have reason to believe that I am not the only person that this is true for.

Yes, it is different for some people and for them, reading is the escape that they need. Reading can be the coping mechanism that some need while for others it is an insurmountable hurdle. No two people struggle with the same mental health issues in the same ways. But I think it is important that we acknowledge two things when considering a decline in reading:

1. We live in a world where many people are facing increasing struggles with depression and anxiety.

2. For some people, un-managed mental health issues can result in the loss of the ability to read for periods of time.

I believe that it is important that we talk more about and provide better treatment and support for mental health issues in our world. I also think if we truly want to explore things like education and reading for pleasure, this is another reason we need to look into mental health more closely. Not every teen who chooses not to read is struggling with mental health issues, but I believe that some of them are and recognizing that will help us better understand the problem and get us talking about mental health, coping strategies, support and treatment. What if part of the reasons teens are reading less is because they are hurting more? It’s a question we should investigate.

Behold the Power of Reading; Or, how my 8-year-old was inspired to start her own #TrashTuesdays

Last Saturday, Thing 2 turned 8. For her birthday, a friend sent her the following three books:

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Monday night, The Teen, Thing 2 and I curled up and bed and read them together. We cried as we read Malala’s story. We were inspired as we read about Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

One thing that each of these stories has in common is that all three people started working at a young age to make the world a better place. They didn’t say, when I grow up . . . They started now. And that was a powerful message for Thing 2.

Thing 2 has often commented about the litter she sees around the world. We are an animal loving family and she is always worried about how the trash will harm not only the environment, but the animals. So that night, reading these books, she looked up at me and said, “I want us to go once a week as a family and clean up trash.” And so we did.

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Thus was born what she has called #TrashTuesday. (Please note, I have later learned that there is a movement to pick up 10 pieces of trash every Tuesday, but she doesn’t know this and I’m not going to tell her because I don’t want to undermine her passion.) So yesterday, we grabbed some gloves and a big plastic garbage bag and we walked around our neighborhood picking up trash. We picked up water bottles, drink cups, napkins, and empty cigarette packs. Lots of them. We walked up one street and down another. “Maybe we should do it two days a week”, she said to me. (PS, if you are looking for me on Friday, I apparently have to go out and collect trash again.)

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I couldn’t help but notice all the things that came out of a moment spent reading these books together. Yes, we got to cuddle and snuggle and practice our reading skills. Yes, we bonded as a family. But my girls also read powerful stories about people working hard and accomplishing things for the good of their world, and they were inspired. That inspiration didn’t just lead to a good feeling inside, it was an reminder to them that they can do something now, today – and they did. (The Teen might have gotten kind of dragged into it, but she’s a good kid and she’s supporting her sister.)

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So here’s what I would like to ask of you. Next Tuesday, wherever you are, grab some gloves and some trash bags and join my baby in doing what we can to act now to make our world better. Email me or Tweet me a picture of you and your trash with the hashtag #TrashTuesday. I will share these pictures with my two girls and show them that they can start something, that they can be empowered and inspire others, and together we can show these two little girls that we can work together to make our world a better place.

Sunday Reflections: Pet peeves and more

I run a YA book club through my local public library. It’s an incredibly diverse group. About half of our members are Muslim. We have homeschooled and unschooled kids. The age range runs from 14 to members in their first few years of college (members who’ve stuck around). I have an absolute blast with them. Our meetings don’t have a set format. Sometimes we all read one book (or choose a book to read out of a small pool). Sometimes we read thematically (like when we had the excellent discussion about sexual violence in YA lit). We often just come in ready to talk about whatever we’ve been reading and give lightning round book talks. There’s always a lot of great discussion and our TBR piles grow like crazy every meeting.

 

As you might expect, we all have different likes and dislikes. Often someone will read a book one of us loved and say, uh, really? I didn’t love it. Or someone will hate on a particular genre or stylistic choice, and someone else will be shocked anyone could hate that. The only real rule at book club is to let people talk and be respectful about everyone’s right to like and dislike a book for any given reason. Sometimes I find it so much more interesting to hear why someone disliked a book instead of why they liked it.

 

After our particularly ranty part of a meeting, I said, “Hey, next meeting let’s just talk about our reading pet peeves. Let’s get all our ranting out about what we dislike, what we’re so over, and what we flat-out hate.” They were game. Because of our diverse tastes, I knew that we’d all still add books to our TBR lists even if the titles came up in a rant-based way. One person’s pet peeve is another person’s interest, right? So we started to make a list–a list that briefly expanded to include all of the things we dislike in general (it was January, we hadn’t seen the sun in ages, we were all cranky). I opened the discussion up again on Facebook as I compiled the notes from our meeting and got even more input.

 

It’s not to say that all of us dislike all of these things, or that whoever dislikes the particular thing dislikes it across the board all the time. We agreed on many of the items. We argued others. I offered an adult-perspective smackdown on one. Some items on the list were things we hadn’t noticed before, but now we’re all on the lookout for them (and finding them).

 

Here’s our list:

When characters sit on public bathroom floors (This one is mine–it grosses me out to no end)

 

Characters letting out a breath they didn’t know they were holding

Characters who don’t grow/learn/change at all

 

Girls who like boys who seem to have NO appeal

 

Alternate narration

 

When characters have something they do over and over like bite their lip or whatever

 

Dystopia-fatigue

 

Quickly resolved endings

 

Plots that could be resolved by better communication/one simple thing

 

Is it a secret rule that every YA book has to have a redhead in it?


That “loser girl hates the world but ends up with popular boy” trope is getting real old.

 

“Bad boy/good girl” combination–so overplayed

 

instalove

 

car accidents (This one is also mine. I never paid attention to them, really, until I had a reason to, and now I can’t stop seeing them in YA books)

 

Pop culture references that will seem dated

 

When two people are making out and “their tongues battle for dominance.”

 

weird 90s references that seem unlikely for the character/setting

 

perfect or completely terrible adults who don’t sound like real adults

 

overuse of exclamation points

 

when books reference Harry Potter or Twilight

 

do all characters who are “weird” or “alternative” have to wear Converse?

 

books made up of lists

 

references to social media sites (and, conversely, acting like they don’t exist)

 

When a character has an ED, some other mental illness, or gay and that’s all they are…

 

When the character depicted on the cover looks nothing like how he or she is described in the book

 

manic pixie dream girls

Love triangles (THIS ONE had the most agreement: “Once in awhile they turn out pretty good. Most of the time they just get annoying.” “Love triangles are just annoying. They seem to be in every single book lately. If you loved someone but have feelings for someone else, break up and make a decision! You do it and  you then can have a relationship.”)

 

“The “he’s a bad boy but I can change him/he’s mean but he’s just misunderstood” idea. Playing with fire when you romanticize this and then give it to young girls.” (This was brought up by one of the teens. Another teen girl sort of swooned and said, “Yes, but he’s damaged and you can fix him!” Usually I try not to play the “let me give you some adult advice” card, but here I had to say, “Look, let me spare you a ton of heartache and wasted energy: NO. Do not find this idea appealing.”)

 

Cliffhangers

 

“I don’t like it when a book has a love interest that is some basic person. I like it better when they have a passion and love for making differences and being a leader of movements or their local book club.”

 

That’s our list. We’d love to hear about your personal reading pet peeves or things you’re just so over  in YA books. Leave us a comment or tag us in your tweets (@TLT16 and @CiteSomething).