Relatable Books for Adolescents

This semester in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature, students were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By K. Salinas

I have been teaching for eight years now and have noticed a major problem with the literature selection available in schools; it is not relatable. The “classics” have long been a tradition in most high school classrooms, yet today’s youth has a difficult time relating to some of them. That is not to say they should be eliminated altogether, but perhaps be supplemented by books that modern adolescents find more appealing.

As an undergraduate, I had the pleasure of being introduced to texts written by local authors. It was such an amazing experience. I always enjoyed reading a variety of genres, from mystery to historical fiction, however; reading books that referenced local places in the Rio Grande Valley was a whole new experience for me. I could not put the books down. I looked forward to class and the weekly discussions we had pertaining to the books. I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t wait to introduce these books to my students when I begin teaching!”

The Jumping Tree by Rene Saldana, Jr.
The Jumping Tree by Rene Saldana, Jr.
Crazy Loco by David Rice
Crazy Loco by David Rice

Fast forward to after graduation and the beginning of my first teaching job, and, well, I had lost sight of this. I got caught up in the numerous duties that go into being a teacher. I quickly began to rely on the district mandated curriculum, which of course included all of the classic works of literature that I read as a high school student myself.

As the years passed, I found myself thinking back to the books I was introduced to as an undergraduate. I checked out the one copy of Crazy Loco from the campus library and began by occasionally reading the short stories to my classes when we had a few moments to spare. Honestly, my students lived for those stories. They requested to hear one from the moment they walked in the door. Even some of my reluctant readers wanted to come to the front of the class, sit on my stool, and read the stories to the others. It was amazing. However, once again I let the pressures of testing and other matters take precedent, and the book sat on my desk, untouched, nearly the entire second semester.

It was not until I began taking graduate reading courses that I realized what a disservice I had done to my students. I had a flashback of the adolescent literature course I had taken before I began teaching, and I realized I did not follow through with what I knew was best for my students. True, the curriculum does not include the types of books that I have experienced over the course of my undergraduate and graduate work; however, it does allow for teacher selected materials, which includes readings at my discretion. As I have finally begun incorporating books that I know my students can relate to and enjoy, I have seen a whole different side to them. They are excited to read about teens facing issues, such as; peer pressure, gangs, and bullying. After all, these are the same issues they are living on a day to day basis.

It is an amazing feeling to know my students are finally gaining a love for reading that they never had before. Finding relevant books is not always an easy task, especially the older I get. However, it can be done. I spend more time talking with my students about their interests, and finding out what issues they are facing as teenagers. I also make an effort to incorporate multicultural texts that my students can relate to. It is amazing what a difference can be seen when relatable books are incorporated into the classroom. Below are just a few of the numerous books that I have found. By simply conducting a Google search, you will find the possibilities to be endless.

Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
Hard Time by Janet Bode and Stan Mack
Hard Time by Janet Bode and Stan Mack
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

Not-Just-The-Same-Ol’ Book Report

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Kelly

Many of us grew up having to write and present book reports. Even for those of us who loved to read, these reports were often boring and tedious. Unfortunately, this type of traditional book report still rears its ugly head in some classrooms. As educators who seek to promote a love of reading in our students, we know that simply asking our students to write pages about what they read and experienced in a book is not the best approach. But what else can be done? Rather than simply saying “Create something”, I like to give my students a few suggestions on how they can respond.  Here are some reader’s response projects that my students have enjoyed creating and sharing with the class.

Character Soundtrack

Ask students to select a character (usually their favorite) from the novel and choose five major moments of the book that reveal something about that character.  They will then find five songs that they believe accurately represent the character at this moment and make a five-song soundtrack for this character. Lastly, I require that students write a description of the instance and the connection that each song has to the character and the moment in the book (including page numbers).  For high school students, I ask for textual evidence in the form of direct quotes. In order to make this easier, you may want to introduce the projects before students read the book and suggest that they mark or highlight their favorite lines and pages about the characters.

The obvious downfall to this project is that it’s very difficult to work on in class since downloading music isn’t allowed on most school campus. Students can, however, look for lyrics and then download their songs on their own at home.

The Front Page (Newspaper articles)

For this assignment, students choose three major “news worthy” events from the novel. They then create the front page of a newspaper, including three articles (about three different events), pictures, headlines, and titles. I encourage them to use a real newspaper as a model.

Character’s Journal

Students can select and follow one character from their novel and create their journal.  I have found that this is usually most interesting if students select a minor character, or a character who doesn’t speak much in the novel. Students write 5 one-page long journal entries about different points in the novel from the character’s perspective. Students can even enjoy binding them together in a “journal” and creating a cover. I showed students my journal from high school (which was covered with magazine clippings, pictures, and other objects) as an inspiration for their covers.


A dramaturge is someone who focuses on the social particulars of a certain time period. As the dramaturge for their book, students choose either to examine the food, the clothing, or the music of setting. This is especially fun when students know very little of the historical and cultural background of the novel. How students present their research is up to the teacher; it could be in traditional report format, presentation board, multi-media presentation, or even through a pamphlet. I have asked also students to present their findings to the class in the form of the food, song, or visuals.

Theme Billboard

Students create a “billboard” that displays a theme from the novel for “by passers” that catches their attention. Students are highly encouraged to pay careful attention to colors, symbols, motifs, important quotations, and figurative language used in the novel to help them develop their ideas.  I have required an added writing assignment in which students provide an explanation of how the author presents that theme in the novel, including textual evidence and page numbers, but that can be at the discretion of the teacher.

Each of these projects allows students to respond to the novel in a meaningful way, while still focusing on important literary objectives. I highly recommend providing students with strong examples of your expectations before they begin. Then, sit back and watch their reading come alive!

Building and Keeping a Love for Reading

This semester, students in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Angelina Martinez

When I first began my Master’s program in Early Childhood, I had no idea how much the reading process actually consisted of. There are endless things to teach children when they are young so that they can become good readers, or at least on level readers. Imagine my surprise when I discovered so many of my seventh graders were reading at the second and third grade level. How is it that this happens when they are taught so much about reading from the moment they first step into school?

After reading many assigned articles and books, one of which stood out more than others, Reading Without Nonsense by Frank Smith, I can see many reasons why this could happen. First off, Frank Smith mentions that children will learn to read by reading; the isolated phonics drills that schools put such emphasis on, will come naturally if we just let children read and surround them with it as well. It is important to also know that if a child cannot read, then they should be read to. Through observations and listening of the words, they are learning. Somewhere along the line, reading to children just stops, mostly because they learn to do it on their own. Problem is that not all children can read very well independently, so why should we stop modeling and reading to them because the majority can? This is where the strugglers fall between the gaps and can risk staying behind their entire educational career.

I have also noticed that when children are very young they are usually encouraged to read books they enjoy. Teachers make the reading fun and enjoyable. As the years pass and they get older, more reading is done through passages and assigned books from the teacher. Their choices are limited in the classroom, and as they get older the focus becomes more on efferent reading and strategies to help them pass the much-dreaded STAAR test. The fun in reading gets lost and the meaningfulness behind it disappears. They rarely make the personal connections they used to as a child or during their early elementary years. As demonstrated and discussed in our Children’s and Adolescent Literature class, many things can be taught and covered through meaningful assignments and literature. Teachers and principals who worry so much about the TEKS need to find ways that engage and motivate students to read and enjoy so.

Teaching and motivating children to love reading does not only fall into the hands of the teacher, but to the parents as well. Most children have their first and many experiences with reading at home before they even start school. It is important for parents to see that any opportunity for reading, whether it is an article in a newspaper or a recipe from a cookbook, is a step in the right direction. Parents who have had bad experiences with school or reading sometimes feel as if they are incapable of helping their children with reading and believe it is something the teacher should deal with because it is his or her “job”. This is a cycle that is usually passed on and should, and can, be broken. Working together as a team; student, parent, and teacher, we can help build strong readers and allow children to indulge in their love of reading both in and out of school.

Using Word Walls

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By B. Leal

Like many teachers in my district, I use word walls.  Every year, at the beginning of the year, the required word wall goes up. It usually contains the words required by the school, plus the vocabulary for the lesson to be taught, and perhaps some concepts we are to cover for the six weeks.  They sit in a corner of the room looking pretty and colorful, and students are supposed to look at them and somehow use them in their learning.  The problem with my word walls up to this point is that no one had ever told me how to use them.   I was told I needed to have words up on the wall, so words went up on the wall and sat there all year as just another decoration.

From Phonics to Fluency has made me think about and question my beliefs about word walls and their usefulness.  I used to see them as something static and teacher made to fulfill requirements.  Now, I am beginning to see them as something dynamic created with students’ help as a tool for learning.  Although a great deal of the activities in the book are geared towards elementary children, they served as a springboard for new ideas on how I want to implement word walls at the middle school level in the coming years.

Word walls should be something that students can utilize.  Perhaps it should continue to include the mandated words of the week from the school curriculum, but used as a way for students to learn new vocabulary.  Students will not learn the words by staring at them pasted on the wall.  Instead, they can play games with the words on the wall as they learn them.  They can use the words of the week to create a story or ask a question.  They can design categories for the walls and move them around as more words are added.  I would definitely not put up all one hundred words at the beginning of the year, but introduce them a little at a time to ensure students acquire them as new vocabulary.

Another great idea I picked up from From Phonics to Fluency is the creation of writing walls as an addition to word walls.  Students can pick sentences from their writing, or sentences they read in other’s writing, and post them on the writing wall.   This way, authentic writing they can use and imitate as they write surrounds students.  It validates their work, and perhaps helps them look carefully at what they write leading them to become better writers.

Word walls should not be up in a classroom, forgotten because no one knows what to do with them, but there because administration says they need to be there. We need to end word wall decorations and start using them as tools to help students learn new vocabulary, understand concepts, and help in their writing.

Reading, Thinking, and Having Fun

This semester students in READ 6310 were asked to contribute a blog post.

By B. Leal

Too often, teachers complain that their students don’t want to read or do the work in their classroom.  Taking a closer look at the curriculum we are required to teach should give us a clue as to why this may be.  At the middle school level, we are told what we should be doing from the beginning to the end of the six weeks for the entire year.  We are required to use the district approved literature book which contains excerpts of stories along with questions and worksheets.  Sure, teachers incorporate some hands on activities, but the majority of those concentrate on STAAR ready questions.  There is no room for our students to enjoy what they read.

Just Another HeroAfter reading several articles and a few books that stress using reader response to literature as a way to teach, I decided to start implementing it in my classroom.  For the first time, my students had a choice on what to read – something they are not used to at all.  It was so overwhelming; I had to narrow the choices for them.  We settled on Just Another Hero by Sharon M. Draper.  I did not create worksheets for the book, or make them take the dreaded Reading Renaissance test (although they could take the test if they chose to).  Instead, I preceded the first chapter with “Let’s try something new….”  We made journals where they responded after every chapter.  They even turned half of my room into a Facebook page where they would post as different characters.  For the first time this year, my classroom was filled with discussions.  Not just superficial discussions about their favorite characters or what happened in the book; but discussions about character decisions, how they would change the book, and how it connected to their lives.  They asked endless questions throughout the book, from each other, from themselves, and from me. 

 41I15br0SJL__BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_They enjoyed the reading so much, that they asked if we could continue with our literature response notebooks with another book.  For the first time since I became a reading teacher, my students were asking me to let them read.  So we moved on to Tears of a Tiger by the same author.  They wrote letters to a character.  They wrote diary entries.  They made character dolls to present to the class.  They wrote a letter to the author, and some even wanted to know if they could mail them.  They created story rays for the chapters.  They created collages with words and pictures to represent the chapters.  They even worked on an extra chapter for the book with partners.  They commented on how much writing they were doing in a reading class.  Most importantly, they began to admit that reading could be fun when we were not concentrating on the dreaded STAAR test.

My students are enjoying reading for the first time in a long time, and they are thinking critically on their own.  This is what choice has done for my students.  They decide what they will read and how they will respond.  It was hard at the beginning – hard for me to give up some control, and hard for them to deal with having a choice for the first time.

National Middle School Association

There are many professional organizations that can help literacy experts stay involved in the profession beyond their classroom or school assignment. Students in the spring semester of READ 6325 explored various professional organizations and are sharing what they learned through this blog series. 

By Rosie

The acronym NMSA stands for National Middle School Association. This organization is in the process or changing its name to Association for Middle Level Education, and the website is Professionals interested in joining this organization may choose to call 1-800-528-NMSA or 614-895-4730, e-mail at or fill out an application and print it to be mailed or faxed to:

NMSA Headquarters                                      Fax: 614-895-4750           
 4151 Executive Parkway, Suite 300
 Westerville, OH 43081

The organization has three different types of memberships, individual, institutional and Specialty memberships. Individual memberships have three categories: E-membership costs U.S $60.00 and is the same price for international membership. Professional membership costs U.S. $75.00 and international membership is $90.00. Premier membership is U.S. $110.00 and International membership is $125.00. The professional and premier members receive Middle School Journal and Middle Ground Magazine in print. E-membership receives the same journal and magazine but online. The three types of memberships have access to, Middle E-Connections, Research in Middle Level Education Online, The Family Connection, discount prices on NMSA publications, conferences, webinars, and other resources. Premier members receive also three books per year and a voucher for $100 for professional development.

Institutional memberships are more expensive. Fill out the application and there are the same three choices, e-membership, professional, and premier. E-membership, in the U.S. and international, has the cost of $220, receiving Middle School Journal and Middle Ground Magazine online. Institutional Professional membership costs $280 in U.S. and international $355. Institutional professional membership receives 5 copies of the Middle School Journal and Middle Ground Magazine. Premier membership costs $600 and international $750. This membership receives 10 copies of Middle School Journal and Middle Ground Magazine. Other benefits include access to, Middle E-Connections, Research in Middle Level Education Online, The Family Connection, discount prices on NMSA publications, conferences, webinars, and other resources. Only Institutional membership Premier receives from the Book Club three books per year and $100 voucher for professional development.

Specialty membership is for college students, parents, and retired teachers. The cost for this membership is the same for U.S. and international, $40. Their benefits are the same as the e-members. However, there is one difference; NMSA has collaborated with other organizations to have dual professional membership at discounted prices which vary according to the state. Website questions should be addressed to .

The focus of NMSA is students between the ages of 10-15 years old. This organization is committed to improve educational experiences for these teenagers. NMSA has three goals: support the education and well-being of teenagers, support middle school teachers by providing professional development, provide resources, and services that increase the efficiency of the middle school teachers, and solidify NMSA’s growth and leadership. 

Publications: NMSA has published many books but there are two new books: Teaming Rocks and Four Square and the Politics of Six Grade Lunch. This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents is the landmark position paper.

NMSA 38th Annual conference and Exhibit      Dates: Nov. 10-12, 2011     Place: Kentucky International Convention Center City and State: Louisville, Kentucky           Some Speakers: Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education; Henry Winkler, actor, author, and child advocate; Rick Wormeli, Mastery and How to Assess It; Charles Beamar, Classroom Management.

Individual NMSA Member $249 before Oct. 14, 2011 $349 after October 14, 2011
Individual Non-members $329 before Oct. 14, 2011 $429 after October 14, 2011
Teams 5 or more NMSA members $209 before Oct. 14, 2011 $284 after October 14, 2011
Groups of 20 or more NMSA Members $189 N/A
Groups of 100 or more NMSA members $159.00 N?A

Go to the website to see other prices.

Future Conferences:

Conference Dates City and State
NMSA 2012 Nov. 8-10, 2012 Portland, Oregon
NMSA 2013 Nov. 7-9, 2013 Nashville, Tennessee
NMSA 2014 Nov. 6-8, 2014 Nashville, Tennessee
NMSA 2015 Nov. 5-7, 2015 St. Louis, Missouri