Literacy Beyond the Classroom

I’ve been focusing on reading and literacy within school, so I thought today I’d look at the importance of reading for pleasure. There has been a lot of research pointing to the importance of reading for enjoyment outside of the classroom, and this Education Week article sums up some of the main points nicely if you’re interested.

  1. Reading for pleasure has “a significant impact on…educational attainment and social mobility” (Wilhelm and Smith, 2014, para. 9). Research has shown that the more you read the better you read and that reading for pleasure translates into stronger literacy skills in the classroom.
  2. Reading about experiences that mirror your own life is important for positive identity development. Relatable texts can provide teens with a “roadmap” for dealing with the struggles they face, and it is particularly important for librarians to collect books that are reflective of the population they serve (Tatum, 2006, p. 48).
  3. Although these relatable texts are crucial, reading diverse texts also helps teens develop empathy for others. Research has shown that reading about other people’s lives and experiences helps teens develop skills to understand others’ mental states and emotions, which is an important skill for social interactions.

Reading for pleasure is crucial for children, teens, and adults alike, and the great thing is that all reading matters. Reading novels, poetry, online articles, newspapers, magazines, graphic novels, comic books, and everything in between will lead to stronger reading skills. Reading for enjoyment builds confidence and starts a habit that will continue to provide benefits throughout the reader’s life.

I try to make time every day to read for pleasure, and lately I’ve primarily been reading young adult books to deepen my knowledge of what is being written for teens. Here are my thoughts on the books I’ve read recently:

Plus One – Elizabeth Fama

Plus OneThis story takes place in a dystopian United States where the population has been divided into “Smudges” who must live their lives during the night and “Rays” who live during the day. Sol, a sixteen year old “Smudge” who lives with her dying grandfather, is separated from her brother who was transferred to day because of his technological skills. When her brother has a child, Sol will do anything to let her grandfather hold the “Ray” baby, even if it means stealing her from the hospital. When Sol begins her plot to kidnap the baby, she discovers secrets she never imagined, and finds unexpected help in a “Ray” medical apprentice, D’Arcy.

Recommended for: I would recommend this novel to teens who like dystopian romances, like the Hunger Games and Divergent. NovelList recommends the book for grades 6-12.

Everything Leads to You – Nina Lacour

everythingEmi is a high school senior living in Los Angeles who interns as a set designer in the film industry. Recovering from a break up with her ex-girlfriend, Emi distracts herself by tracking down a woman mentioned in a letter she and her best friend Charlotte found at a recently deceased Hollywood star’s estate sale. The letter leads them to a teen named Ava, who has a troubled past. Ava and Emi grow closer as they collaborate on a film, and Emi learns to trust her vision and stand on her own.

Recommended for: I would recommend this novel to teens who like realistic fiction with love stories or are interested in the film industry. NovelList recommends this book for grades 8-12.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds – Susann Cokal

woundsThis novel is set in the fictional Scandinavian kingdom of Skyggehaven in the 16th century. Ava Bingen, a young seamstress in the palace, gets caught up in the intrigue and betrayal that pervade the royal court. When the royal children suffer from a mysteries disease, no one is safe from suspicion. Cokal weaves together Ava’s story with those of the mute nursery maid Midi and the queen of kingdom, Isabel. The Kingdom of Little Wounds was a 2014 Printz Award Honor Book.

Recommended for: I would recommend this novel to teens who like dark historical fiction, multiple narrators, or strong female characters. NovelList recommends this book for grades 8-12, but be aware that there are depictions of rape and that the plot is geared towards mature readers.

The Impossible Knife of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson

knifeHayley and her father, a trucker and veteran of military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, finally settle back down in their home town for Hayley to finish high school after years of traveling together. Hayley has a hard time adjusting to school, however, because she is surrounded by “zombies” who are simply playing the game and comes home to a father whose struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder make daily life difficult. A fellow student, Finn, shows interest in getting to know Hayley, but for Hayley getting close to someone means facing her past and the reality of her father’s condition.

Recommended for: I would recommend this novel to teens who like realistic fiction, unconventional love stories, and books about family. NovelList recommends this book for grades 6-12.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out – Susan Kuklin

jacket.aspxThis book features interviews and portraits of six teens who identity as genderqueer, transgender, or intersex. The teens talk honestly about their challenges, triumphs, relationships, family lives, and transition processes. Because this book follows the stories of six different teens, it captures some of the complexity of gender identity and adds more voices to the diverse conversation about what it means to be trans or not fit into society’s rigid conceptions of gender.

Recommended for: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in gender identity and how gender is socially constructed. It would be valuable to both teens who are exploring gender identity or those who are hoping to learn more about others’ experiences. The School Library Journal recommends this book for grades 9-12.

Even though most reading for pleasure happens outside of school, librarians and teachers can play an important role by encouraging students’ interests, suggesting books based on students’ preferences, and offering students choice in what they read. Teachers, librarians, and community members can serve as role models for their students, so let’s start having conversations with students about what we like to read!


All images from NovelList.

Tatum, A. W. (2006, February). Engaging African American Males in Reading. Educational Leadership2006(2), 44–49.

Wilhelm, J. D., & Smith, M. W. (2014). Don’t Underestimate the Power of Pleasure Reading. Education Week, 33(18), 25. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/01/22/18wilhelm.h33.html

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