The teenager's route to serious reading

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Teachers can have a decisive influence on a young person's choice of reading. When I was 12, an English teacher who was using Animal Farm in class said that 1984 was a much better book, but that it contained scenes that were too sexy for classroom work. Whoosh - a group of us went to the nearest bookshop straight after school and bought up their entire supply.

Though I continued to read Ian Fleming, Lesley Charteris, and schoolboy smut of the period such as The Passion Flower Hotel, George Orwell's book (in its plain orange Penguin edition) marked the point at which I began to select books of serious literary merit.

Today, there is an enormous amount of excellent fiction published for the 12-plus audience, but much of it fails to grab the attention. There are many reasons for this: coursework pressures in other subjects; a lot of set texts to read; the demands of other leisure activities; and that often, teachers themselves are not aware of the books available.

Teenagers do still read for pleasure. Does it matter that many of them move directly into books for adults? Bill Bryson and the memoirs of Gulf War veterans were found to be the preferred reading of teenage boys in a Hampshire scheme that involved fathers and sons reading together. It does matter, because many of the books published as teenage or young adult fiction are exceptionally fine novels.

Adolescents will be drawn naturally to the likes of Steinbeck or Kerouac. The same is also true of Robert Cormier, Philip Pullman and, because of press coverage, Melvin Burgess and David Almond. For that reason alone, these authors have been omitted from the following Top Ten recommendations for older readers - a list designed for any teacher working with Year 7s and above.

TOP TEN RECOMMENDATIONS

1 AND SMITH MUST SCORE

by Peter Hayden (Crazy Horse Press)

A brilliant footballing novel about a Brighton supporter who moves north, published by the autor's own imprint.

2 MAKE LEMONADE

by Virginia Euwer Wolff (Faber)

A novel of breathless, heartwrenching momentum; a narrative tour de force. Printed in short lines rather than orthodox paragraphs, and best read in a single sitting.

3 MOVING TIMES

by Rachel Anderson (Hodder)

An evocative trilogy: Bloom of Youth, Grandmother's Footsteps and Stronger than Mountains, about growing up after the war.

4 POSTCARDS FROM NO MAN'S LAND

by Aidan Chambers (The Bodley Head)

An outstanding novel set in Amsterdam that addresses different attitudes towards sexuality.

5 RULES OF THE ROAD

by Joan Bauer (Orion)

A moving and comic novel with a heroine who is messianic about the shoe trade and customer care.

6 SOUNDTRACK

. by Julie Bertagna (Mammoth)

The chapter titles are evocative of CD track listings. Bertagna has a poet's ear, and is one of the UK's most exciting writers of teenage fiction.

7 THE GIVER

by Lois Lowry (HarperCollins) A winner of the American Newbery Medal and one of those unforgettable novels that raises political and philosophical issues.

8 THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM

by Christopher Paul Curtis (Orion)

A novel set in the 1960s that is tangentially about the civil rights movement (the Birmingham in the title is Birmingham, Alabama). Read pages 12 to 15 aloud to a class, in which Byron gets his lips stuck to the wing mirror of the family's Brown Bomber, and you'll have everyone queueing up to borrow the book.

9 TIGHTROPE

by Gillian Cross (Oxford Children's Books)

This taut and theatrical story will surprise those who know Cross only as the author of the Demon Headmaster novels. It was one of the best teenage novels of 1999.

10 Z FOR ZACHARIAH

by Robert O'Brien (Puffin)

A classic end-of-the-world novel, cleverly constructed in diary form. Difficult to find in bookshops. Try a library, or the Internet.


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