Teen Read Week: Reading for the fun of it

By on

By Steve Zalusky

Cynthia Shutts has an omnivorous passion for Young Adult literature.

She said she logs between 300 and 400 books per year. Her favorites include “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces,” by Isabel Quintero.  “I felt like it was just so realistic, because you could feel that you were actually in California and you could feel what the characters were feeling,” she said.

Shutts is not a teen. But as a librarian, she passes on her love of YA literature to the teens who patronize the White Oak Library District.  Her library will be among those celebrating Teen Read Week, an annual celebration that promotes the many ways librarians encourage all teens to be regular readers and library users.

This year, Teen Read Week, a national initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), features a multi-lingual "Read for the fun of it!" theme. The theme highlights the resources and services available to the 22 percent of the nation’s youth who speak a language other than English at home.

Ten libraries will be promoting the theme with grant dollars they received through the Teen Read Week Activity Grant, bestowed by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to help fund each library’s literacy-focused Teen Read Week activities.

Recipients include the Brien McMahon High School Library in Norwalk, Connecticut. Librarian Cathy Andronik said she was successful last year with a DonorsChoose grant that funded purchase of Spanish-language translations of young adult novels.

As a result, though, she said, “The ESL kids who spoke something other than Spanish said, ‘What about us?’ And so I said, ‘If I happen across a grant, we’ll do that.’”

She said her school ‘s population is multicultural - one-third white, one-third Hispanic and one-third black.

“About 43 different languages are spoken at home in one of our feeder schools,” she said.

The idea to apply for the grant came from children last year.

“One of our bilingual classes needed space, and they ended up temporarily in the library,” she said. “And the kids were asking to look at Spanish language books. What we had was mostly for the AP class, which they weren’t that interested in. We had classic poetry like Pablo Neruda.   We had Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  And the kids said, ‘Do you have ‘The Hunger Games’ in Spanish? Do you have ‘The Fault in our Stars’ in Spanish?’ I said, ‘No, but we probably should.’”

Part of the money from the Activity Grant, she said, is going towards purchasing translations of YA literature in French, Italian and other languages.

In addition, she said, “We’re also going to have to have a series of movie nights, because kids who speak any language go to the movies.”

She added, “That’s how I found that many of the Spanish language kids were becoming familiar with the YA books. They knew ‘The Hunger Games’ because they had seen the movie. They knew ‘The Fault In Our Stars,’ not from the book, but from the movie. And so I’m going to have movies all that week.”

Other movies being shown that week will be “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “The Maze Runner.”

The movies will be shown in conjunction with promoting the books.  Cathy said, “I will have all the languages of the books available, because it’s amazing how kids see the movie and they want to read the books.”

Regarding the importance of Teen Week, she said, “I hear so many people say that high school kids don’t read. And it is just so untrue. I have going on 50 kids in my book club, and they are enthusiastic about it. So high school kids do read, but it’s also very easy to lose them at that age.

“We just need to keep them reading. If we can keep that going, then we will have adults who read too.”

One adult reader of YA books is Shutts, whose White Oak Library District serves an area in Chicago’s Southwest suburbs and was one of the 10 grant winners.  She literally passes her enthusiasm on to the teen readers who will be celebrating Teen Read Week by holding a teen book swap, using her own books as part of it.

“What I do is, because I buy so many books for myself, and also I get some ARCs (Advance Reading Copy).  I keep the ARCs after I have read them and what I do is I save all of my donations that are not quite prize books or collection worthy and I put them in a pile for our teen book swap,” she said.

She said she tells the teens they can bring their own books but adds she doesn’t make them do it, “Because I would rather have everyone go away with a book.”  This year, the book swap will be expanded with an ebook demo.

With the grant funds, she said the library, based on an idea from librarian Brittany Whyte, will be involving teens and families of students for whom English is a second language in games that have a literacy component.

Even though there are ESL classes and conversation clubs, “We have kind of noticed that the teens weren’t as involved in it, but they would always be there with their families. And we wanted to find a way that we could involve the teens so it could become more of a family activity.”

One of the games the library will be using is the block-stacking game Jenga, with the variation that letters will be placed on the tiles to make it a literacy game.  Shutts said, “Growing up, my grandmother (who came from Morocco) was an English as a Second Language learner, so I kind of know how important it is to learn English in a fun way.”

Shutts said Teen Read Week is important because, “Literacy will help the teens the most in their lives, because literacy teaches you creativity skills, it teaches you all sorts of things, plus it makes you be able to go to different places, worlds that you may have never seen.”

She added, “When you read diverse literature, it’s a window and a mirror to different people.”

Among the Teen Read Week activities will be the final week of voting for the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten. Teens are encouraged to vote for up to three of their favorite titles now through Oct. 15. The “top ten” titles will be announced the week after Teen Read Week. Libraries are also encouraged to share the video featuring the 26 nominated titles on their library’s website.

Official Teen Read Week products are available for purchase through the ALA Store.  Products include a themed posterbookmarks, a manual, and more. 

You can also share Teen Read Week program ideas by submitting them at http://hq.yalsa.net/index.

For years, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has provided Youth Literacy Grants to schools, public libraries, and nonprofit organizations in hopes to provide assistance in implementing and expanding literacy programs for youth. For more information about Dollar General and its Youth Literacy Grants, visit www.dollargeneral.com.

The mission of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) is to support library staff in alleviating the challenges teens face, and in putting all teens ‒ especially those with the greatest needs ‒ on the path to successful and fulfilling lives. For more information about YALSA or to access national guidelines and other resources go to www.ala.org/yalsa, or contact the YALSA office by phone, (800) 545-2433, ext. 4390; or e-mail: yalsa@ala.org.

Join the conversation on Twitter with #TRW16.