“You Mean We Get to Read a Fun Book?”
Young Adult Literature in the Middle School and High School Classroom
By A.J. Cattapan
As a young adult author and an English teacher, the use of young adult literature in the classroom has always fascinated me. When I was in junior high, young adult books were just starting to become popular. Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, and R.L. Stine were all the rage, but we saw those books in the library—not in the classroom.
By the late 1990s, however, things had changed. Teachers were starting to see the value of incorporating young adult literature into their actual curriculum and not just as “fun books” to read during independent reading time. Why?
Teachers realized the potential young adult books had to pull in even reluctant readers. Since young adult books focus on teenage characters dealing with problems and situations that many teens can relate to, middle school and high school students find them very appealing and accessible, much more so than the traditional “canon” of classical books.
So over the last twenty years, more and more teachers have found ways to use young adult books in their rooms. Even more importantly, this doesn’t have to happen at the expense of the classics. In fact, many reading teachers will often pair a young adult novel with a classical novel on a similar theme in order to compare and contrast them. The young adult novel often acts as a “hook” to get the students interested in the theme. The YA novel is usually easier to read than the classic book, so that students can kind of “warm up” to the topic before diving into the more difficult text.
For example, in my own sixth grade gifted reading class, my students are required to read at least two contemporary mystery novels over the summer. Since the books are modern-day YA or upper middle grade mysteries, the students can read them easily on their own over the summer. Then when the school year starts up, we talk about how deception played a role in these mysteries. How were the criminals deceptive? Did their deception help them or hinder them? How did the detectives use deception to help them capture the criminals? Then we move into our classical texts, Murder on the Orient Express and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Having already explored deception through young adult literature, the students are primed to explore the same theme in increasingly more challenging texts.
Social studies teachers are also making use of young adult literature in the classroom. They will use a historical young adult novel from the time period they are discussing in class in order to make that era come to life for their students.
So we won’t tell the classics that they need to go bye-bye. Just move on down the shelf a bit, and make a little room for some YA.
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About A.J. Cattapan
A.J. Cattapan is a writer, teacher, and theater lover living in the Chicago area. Her love of the theater began in the sixth grade when her mother took her to see a production of Guys and Dolls at the local high school. That same year, her reading teacher introduced her to Anne of Green Gables, and the dream to become a writer began.
All things come full circle, and now she’s a sixth grade reading and language arts teacher who hopes to inspire the next generation of writers. You can follow her writing adventures at http://www.ajcattapan.com