Locker Combinations is a Book Case feature by BookPage contributor and young adult (YA) literature expert Jill Ratzan. Using a variety of literary, cultural and educational perspectives, Jill guest blogs about the latest in YA lit and the general direction, trends and changes of the field. This month, Jill tackles reluctant readers.
"My teacher told me to pick out a book," the seventh grader standing at my library reference desk complains. Clearly, she wishes she'd been sent to choose a poisonous octopus instead.
Avid readers can easily be boggled at best—and horrified at worst—by teens who seem completely uninterested in reading. As adults who love the written word, we want the teens in our lives to love it too. So how can we reach out to teens who don't like to read?
Librarians use the term "reluctant readers" to describe young people like the one above. The term is both alliterative and subversive: Reluctance doesn't imply refusal, just hesitation. The idea is that the right book can overcome a potential reader's misgivings and inspire them to give reading a chance.
Reluctant readers love lists: They're easy to follow and present information in quick, short chunks. In that spirit, here's a list of four ideas for matching reluctant teen readers with books they're likely to enjoy. Or, at least, not likely to hate.
1. Take advantage of resource lists.
The American Library Association publishes an annual list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, including a Top Ten Quick Picks list. These lists feature "books that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure; [they are] geared to the teenager who, for whatever reason, does not like to read."
On this year's list, I love Game by Barry Lyga, the second book in a series about a boy who vows to catch serial killers . . . starting with his own father. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, about an alien invasion, has also been a big hit with the reluctant readers in my neighborhood.
Many public libraries put together their own lists too. For example, check out the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's "But I HATE to Read!" list for teens, whose refreshingly honest title speaks directly to its target audience.
2. Choose books with inherently high-interest topics.
Alien invasions and serial killers are usually good bets. In a press release announcing the 2014 Quick Picks choices, Derek Ivie, chair of the Quick Picks committee, enumerates other topics and formats of perpetual interest, including "zombies, dystopias, dogs, crafts, [and] graphic novels." (He goes on to apologize that "there are no graphic novels of zombie dogs making crafts in a dystopian world" but adds, "Maybe next year?")
3. Choose books that don't look intimidating.
Page counts should be low and amount of white space should be high. Illustrations, if they're relevant, should be plentiful. And, of course, cover art should be inviting and book description blurbs should be attention-grabbing. My favorite blurb from this year's Quick Picks list is for Eat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart: "Jake and Amanda just ate most of their friends. They feel really bad about it."
University of Richmond Department of Education Curriculum Materials Center director (and BookPage contributor!) Angela Leeper has the right idea when she assembles this terrific list of Books Under 200 Pages for Booklist magazine. These 20 choices are sure to be hits among teens who might eschew more intimidating-looking tomes.
(Of course, rules were made to be broken: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, which takes up only 72 pages in its Dover edition, is a much more difficult read than the 870-page Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But in general, shorter books help reading seem more manageable.)
4. Discard your avid-reader instincts.
Gold and silver award seals, like those of the Newbery and Printz medals, can be off-putting to reluctant teen readers, who associate them with uninteresting, difficult books that carry that known kiss of death: adult approval. (Again, every rule has its exceptions: Rainbow Rowell's love story between two misfit 1980s teens, Eleanor & Park, was named both a Printz Honor book and a Quick Pick for 2014.)
While avid readers often relish the cracking sound that a pristine hardcover makes the first time it's opened, a reluctant teen reader might have just the opposite view. A creased spine and worn out pages indicate a book that's been well-loved. Teens are observant people and they notice these cues.
So what about my seventh grader? After being assured that it had not won a Newbery—but that it had been made into a movie—she left with a well-worn paperback copy of the YA suspense classic I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. I hope she didn't hate it.
Lena Dunham's envelope-pushing HBO series "Girls"—which recently wrapped up its third season—has won her legions of fans and plenty of critical praise. The irreverent and witty 27-year-old actress, director, show runner and writer will soon be adding "author" to her résumé with the release of her feverishly anticipated first book, Not That Kind of Girl.
Random House is officially set to publish Dunham's blend of advice and memoir on October 7.
Duhman recently unveiled the simple, '70s inspired cover via Instagram:
Hungry for more details? Read a description of Not That Kind of Girl in Dunham's own words below:
If I can take what I’ve learned in this life and make one treacherous relationship or degrading job easier for you, perhaps even prevent you from becoming temporarily vegan, then every misstep of mine will have been worthwhile. This book contains stories about wonderful nights with terrible boys and terrible days with wonderful friends, about ambition and the two existential crises I had before the age of twenty. About fashion and its many discontents. About publicly sharing your body, having to prove yourself in a meeting full of fifty-year-old men and the health fears (tinnitus, lamp dust, infertility) that keep me up at night. I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you with this book, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or having the kind of sexual encounter where you keep your sneakers on. No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a registered dietician. I am not a married mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in self-actualization, sending hopeful dispatches from the front lines of that struggle.
I know we've got some "Girls" fans out there! What do you think, readers? Are you excited to pick up a copy of Not That Kind of Girl?
Young adult mystery Death Spiral is working double duty: It introduces the Poisoned Pencil, the new YA mystery imprint of Poisoned Pen Press, and kicks off the Faith Flores Science Mysteries.
Death Spiral might be intended for teen readers, but this science thriller tackles some dark stuff. Sixteen-year-old Faith Flores wants to go to college and study science, but she has a lot to overcome. When her junkie mom dies, Faith doesn’t believe it was an overdose, and she begins a dangerous search for the truth that takes her from the drug houses of North Philadelphia to the labs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Author Janie Chodosh is a "scientist wannabe and a naturalist." Chodosh shares 10 fascinating tidbits on the science behind her debut:
Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery is a genetics-based mystery. Check out this list of interesting genetics facts that inspired the story of Faith Flores and her quest to find the true cause of her mother’s death from a supposed heroin overdose.
1) The human genome consists of approximately 3 billion chemical base pairs and about 21,000 protein-coding genes. There are probably thousands more genes. Despite so many base pairs, any pair of humans is 99.9% identical in DNA.
2) Many genes play a role in addiction. For example, The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine.
3) Although no mice were tested on to write this book, with the help of mouse studies, scientists have identified many genes that play roles in addiction. The reason mice are so helpful in studying addiction is because the reward pathway in our brains functions in much the same way in mice as it does in people. (If you want to know about mice and their addiction issues, read the subpoints; if rodent addiction is not of interest to you, move on to #4.)
a) Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol.
b) Mice bred to lack the β2 subunit of nicotinic cholinergic receptors have a reduced reward response to cocaine.
c) Mice with low levels of neuropeptide Y drink more alcohol, whereas those with higher levels tend to abstain.
4) Gene therapy is a set of methods that uses genes to treat or prevent disease by inserting genes into a patient’s cells. There are three approaches to gene therapy: replacing a disease-causing gene with a healthy copy of the gene; inactivating a mutated gene; or introducing a new gene to help fight a disease.
5) When many people, including yours truly, think of patents, they think of things like curling irons and doodads that make cars work. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office has been issuing patents on genetic material since 1982. There are currently 3,000 to 5,000 patents on human genes in the United States.
6) However, (see #5) on June 13, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that human genes could not be patented.
7) Opponents of genetic patents worry about the financial aspect of gene patenting. What about this: If just one company is allowed to patent a particular genetic test or treatment, they will have a monopoly for the term of the patent and can charge whatever they like for it, limiting access to people who cannot afford to pay. Or this: Without any competition from other researchers, the company who owns the patent wouldn't necessarily have to respond to consumer feedback.
8) Myriad Genetics filed several patents for BRCA1 and BRCA2, genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. In March 2010, a U.S. District Court ruled that the company's patent claims were invalid because genetic material was, in fact, a product of nature.
9) The age of personal genomic medicine is here. Whereas it used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a genome sequenced, the cost has gone as low as $1,000 and will continue to get cheaper. However, getting the meaning out of the data might cost you a lot more. Plus, where are you going to keep that valuable information?
10) We can find now find out if we are carriers for thousands of different diseases with a genetic component—things like Alzheimer’s Disease, Schizophrenia and Huntington’s Disease. Now, the question is, do we want to know? And if you know, it might have an impact on your siblings and children.
Thanks, Janie! Readers, Death Spiral is out now.
• The HuffPost rounded up a collection of simply delightful—some downright amusing—bookplates.
• You may want to bookmark Flavorwire's roundup of 50 (!) of the best Southern novels for the next time you're craving a richly rewarding read set below the Mason-Dixon line.
• In other news, what do you think about Daniel McCaig's Ruth's Journey, the forthcoming (in October) prequel to Gone with the Wind, which will focus on the character of Mammy?
• I need another mug about as much as I need another tote bag. But this series of literary-themed cups compiled by BuzzFeed has me contemplating adding to my collection.
• We've all mused over which of our favorite authors or characters we'd like to invite to a gathering. In a refreshing (and amusing) twist, The Toast offers up six literary characters who, let's face it, would probably be terrible dinner party guests.
• Can Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory really be 50 years old? To celebrate, Penguin Young Readers and Dylan's Candy Bar are offering a pretty sweet contest.
RITA Award-winning romance author Robin D. Owens has just launched a brand new paranormal series with Ghost Seer (out this week). In it, Denverite Clare Cermak inherits her recently departed great-aunt's ability to communicate with ghosts. When she encounters the restless spirit of an Old West gunslinger and Zach, a handsome (and very much alive) private investigator, things start to get interesting. In this guest blog post, Denver native Owens offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the inspiration behind the fun new series.
The creation of the Ghost Seer series began with a road trip. I was born and raised in Denver, but always dreamt of castles in Europe. Even though the history of the Old West was all around me, I took it for granted.
Two years ago, I wanted to come up with a new series concept, and my mother and a friend and I were driving to California. It's hard to ignore the landscape that shaped the people, or the history those people made—gold rushes, the Overland Stage, the Pony Express, mining towns and ranch wars and gunfighters—when you're traversing the Western United States mile by mile.
So with that landscape and the bits of history we read as we traveled, ideas turned in my mind of a contemporary paranormal series set in Denver. With ghosts. And a woman who wouldn't believe in them, a logical sort, an accountant—but she'd have to come to terms with her "gift" or go crazy or die.
So I thought of a psychic power that passes from family member to family member—the ability to see and communicate with ghosts—and Clare Cermak came into being. Clare had a weird great-aunt Sandra who recently died and left her a fortune, the psychic gift, and a ghost Labrador dog named Enzo to help her accept her new powers.
I am most well known for my telepathic animal companions in my books, and I sure like writing them, so writing Enzo helped me transition to the new series.
On the trip we discussed men, naturally, and I came up with Zach Slade, an edgy, wounded warrior type of hero. He's a former deputy sheriff from Montana who, along with his partner, made a mistake that got him shot and disabled. He, too, has to reshape his life. He's not too happy about giving up the public sector, or even interviewing at the Denver private investigation firm that his old boss recommended. But when he meets and flirts with Clare, he's intrigued by the shadows in her eyes that hint at a puzzle to be solved, and, of course, he's attracted.
As for the ghost, this guy was THE archetype for all the gunfighters of the Old West, a man Mark Twain (who never let the truth get in the way of a good story) made famous . . . at the time. Now, he and his story are barely known. He can't move on until he redeems himself for the worst act of his life. I really enjoyed visiting places my haunt had lived, taking pictures, soaking up the atmosphere.
Ghost Seer has romance: Clare with a paranormal gift, and Zach with a whiff of the paranormal, too. Enzo is there as mentor and comic relief, and there's a light suspense twist, along with historical fact as true as I could make it.
Throughout the series both Clare and Zach will grow, and face danger. For Ghost Layer (coming in September), I took a couple of facts that got juxtaposed in my mind—a millionaire who moved an entire ghost town to his ranch estate and a "romantic" ghost that appeared, skeleton and all, in ladies' beds after they died. My millionaire is having house parties, and the ghost is driving off his female guests as well as his staff. In this story, the apparition was murdered and wants Clare and Zach to find his killer before he can go on.
I am having a great time writing these and hope readers enjoy them, too. Thank you for this opportunity for me to gush about my new passion.
Thank you, Robin! What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out Ghost Seer?
Springtime is officially here! The sun is shining and the weather is finally warming up, so it's time to drag your grill out of the garage and show it some love. This two-part recipe for Grilled Steak Tips with Homemade Korean Barbecue Sauce comes from The Big Flavor Grill: No-Marinade, No-Hassle Recipes by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, who make grilling "radically easy, without marinating, brining or using fancy equipment."
Super-Basic Grilled Steak Tips
| Serves 4 to 6 |
Build a two-level fire in your grill, which means you put all the coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side free of coals. When the flames have died down, all the coals are covered with gray ash, and the temperature is medium-hot (you can hold your hand 6 inches above the coals for 3 to 4 seconds), you’re ready to cook.
Put the steak tips in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper and mix until the tips are evenly coated.
Put the tips on the grill directly over the coals and cook, rolling them around frequently so they get well browned on all sides, until done to your liking, about 8 to 10 minutes for medium rare. To check for doneness, cut into one of the chunks and see if it’s done just a bit less than the way you like it. (Remember that it will continue to cook after being taken off the heat.) Remove the steak tips from the grill, cover them with foil and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Grilled Steak Tips with Homemade Korean Barbecue Sauce
Check out your local Asian store, and you’ll likely find prepared ingredients that you’re not familiar with but which can quickly and easily add a ton of flavor to your food. The fermented red pepper paste known as gochujang, essential to many Korean dishes, is a perfect example.
While the fire heats up, combine in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring frequently, for about 12 minutes—you just want it heated up and well combined:
Now take it off the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Follow the recipe for Super-Basic Grilled Steak Tips on page 33 (listed above).
When the steak tips come off the grill, put them into a large bowl, add the barbecue sauce and toss well.
Toss together in a bowl and then sprinkle the steak tips with:
Jane Smiley has never been a novelist who lacked ambition, but her new project might be her biggest yet. She's embarked on a trilogy that covers the last century of American life—and the first volume, Some Luck, will be published on October 7.
The action begins in 1920s Iowa, where the Langdon family—Rosanna, Walter and their five children—live on a farm, and each chapter covers roughly a year. As the children grow up and move away (or not), Smiley takes a panoramic look at the first half of the century, encompassing the Depression, World War II and the early 1950s. Early buzz is that this one is old-fashioned storytelling at its best.
Smiley has already completed the next two novels in the trilogy (or "cycle," as her publisher has dubbed it), and they're tentatively scheduled for publication in the spring and fall of next year. Like Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, which concludes this fall, the Langdon books take a look at some of this century's most epic events—although with a smaller, more intimate cast of one everyday family.
Check out the opening lines:
Walter Langdon hadn’t walked out to check the fence along the creek for a couple of months—now that the cows were up by the barn for easier milking in the winter, he’d been putting off fence-mending—so he hadn’t seen the pair of owls nesting in the big elm. . . . Right then, he saw one of the owls fly out of a big cavity maybe ten to twelve feet up, either a big female or a very big male—at any rate, the biggest horned owl Walter had ever seen—and he paused and stood there a minute, still in the afternoon breeze, listening, but there was nothing. He saw why in a moment. The owl floated out for maybe twenty yards, dropped toward the snowy pasture. Then came a high screaming, and the owl rose again, this time with a full-grown rabbit in its talons, writhing, then hanging limp, probably deadened by fear. Walter shook himself.
Will you read it? What books are you looking forward to this fall? Click here for more news on 2014 releases.
Best-selling author John Grisham, who currently has over 275 million books in print worldwide, will explore some fresh territory with his 21st novel, which will be his first to feature a female protagonist—a young law associate named Samantha Kofer.
A title has yet to be released, but this high-stakes legal thriller is slated to go on sale October 21 and will be published by Doubleday. Find a brief and tantalizing description from the publisher below:
The Great Recession of 2008 left many young professionals out of work. Promising careers were suddenly ended as banks, hedge funds and law firms engaged in mass lay-offs and brutal belt tightening. Samantha Kofer was a third-year law associate at Scully & Pershing, New York City's largest law firm. Two weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, she lost her job, her security and her future. A week later, she was working as an unpaid intern in a legal aid clinic deep in small-town Appalachia. There, for the first time in her career, she was confronted with real clients with real problems. She also stumbled across secrets that should have remained buried deep in the mountains forever.
What do you think, readers? Are you excited about Grisham's decision to dive into the world of literary leading ladies?
My Wish List by Grégoire Delacourt
Penguin • $15 • ISBN 9780143124658
On sale March 25
Whether you actually play or not, you have probably imagined, just once, how your life could change if you won the lottery. It's also common to wonder, at midlife, how the life you have built measures up to the life you dreamed about when you were just starting out. French novelist Grégoire Delacourt takes this premise for his new novel, My Wish List, which was a #1 bestseller in France. His heroine, Jocelyne, owns a fabric shop and is happy with her 21-year marriage and her two children. But she can't help but think about how her life falls short of the life she imagined when she was in school.
Then Jocelyn wins 18 million euros in the lottery, and has the ability to make any dream come true. Faced with the reality of changing her life, she starts to wonder: Does she really want to?
Being rich means seeing all that's ugly and having the arrogance to think you can change things. All you have to do is pay for it.
But I'm not as rich as all that. I just happen to have a cheque for eighteen million five hundred and forty-seven thousand, three hundred and one euros and twenty-eight centimes, folded eight times and hidden inside a shoe. All I have is the temptation. A possible new life. A new house. A new TV set. Lots of new things.
But nothing really different.
Later, I rejoin my husband in the hotel restaurant. He has ordered a bottle of wine. We drink to each other. Let's hope nothing changes and we go on as we are, he says. Nothing really different.
What are you reading this week?
Emma Donoghue's 2010 novel Room took the literary world by storm, selling more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone. With only one short-story collection released since then, fans have been waiting a while for a new novel.
Luckily for them, the wait is over: Donoghue returns to her roots in well-researched historical fiction with Frog Music, which hits shelves next Tuesday!
Set in San Francisco during 1876, the novel is based on a real-life unsolved murder at the height of a summer heat wave and a deadly smallpox outbreak. Donoghue's story follows French burlesque dancer Blanche Beunon as she searches for clues to her cross-dressing, frog-hunting friend Jenny Bonnet's murder. Even more complications arise when Blanche's child, who was supposed to be safely cared for outside of Blanche's wild life, surfaces in need of help.
Our reviewer calls Donoghue's latest an "endlessly intriguing" book, filled with "intricate plot developments that will keep you revising your version of the action from one hour to the next."
Watch the trailer, complete with plenty of historic photographs, below.
What do you think, readers? Have you been waiting for this new novel from Donoghue?
Correction 4/1: An earlier version of this blog post listed Frog Music's publication date as April 1, not April 8.