Recommendations: Writing/Poetry as a hobby in YA

To go with the creativity buzzzing through this week’s reading recs on the slide, here are three great titles that feature characters who enjoy writing as a pastime in YA novels:

Haunt Me, Liz Kessler

In this beautifully-written dual-narrative romance, writing is a key thing joining the two together. Joe wakes up to find his family moving out and no-one can see or hear him… Then another family moves in and gradually Erin discovers Joe’s presence.

A highly unusual premise, which works really well and has Liz Kessler’s trademark love of the sea evident.

Apple and Rain, Sarah Crossan

This beautiful family drama features a teacher who introduces Apple to writing and to poetry in particular as a way of helping her deal with the messiness of her life and her emotions. Poor Apple has to cope with a somewhat chaotic home life due to the actions of her mother – she left her with Nana eleven years ago, to pursue an acting career. Now she’s back, Apple thinks everything will be better, as Mum’s a lot more fun that strict old Nana.

The Sky Is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson

In this lyrical, poetic book, main character Lennie can barely contain her urge to write, scribbling on napkins and scraps of paper. This may have been the first YA novel in which I read teen poetry that felt fresh and plausible as teen, and yet didn’t make me cringe (but then the author is a poet as well as a novelist…). In the story, writing is used as emotional expression and therapy and exists already for Lennie before the story begins – it’s a clear part of her identity. The main thrust of the story is Lennie’s rebuilding of her life after her sister’s death – a plot which I personally found very realistically handled, as Lennie has ups and downs and also does other things (including considering romance) and has guilt about doing other things. It’s emotionally complex and messy, just as grief actually is.

Reading Recommendations Slide 17: Film and Photography as Hobbies

Back to a thematic link for this week, although this is not so much the central theme as a thread that appears in all of these stories via characters’ hobbies/ work/ career goals that enables readers with similar interests to relate.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 3 – Film and Photography

The last theme posted was for fans of DC and/or Marvel. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Asking For It: Review and A Level Language NEA Original Writing Practice Task (Book of the Month in depth)

Age range: upper YA (14+)

Themes: justice, gender, rape culture, social media

Genre: contemporary

Narrative style: first-person present tense; structurally separated into ‘last year’ and ‘this year’ (although all is expressed in present tense)

This is a punchily-written contemporary novel which explores the lead up to and aftermath of a gang rape of a teen girl at a party. Reviews all describe it using words like ‘unflinching’ and ‘brave’ and it has won and been nominated for a slew of awards, because it is an important book, published just before the recent stream of scandals that have hit Hollywood and caused people to discuss sexual behaviour again. This book is the perfect way to bring about that discussion with teens, as it is a great story which is not at all ‘preachy’, but alarmingly realistic in its presentation of people’s ‘shades of grey’ reactions.

I personally think it’s a stroke of genius that the main character is a ‘queen bee’ type and very definitely written to be unlikable – and yet once the rape has happened, I am firmly on her side. The pacing and use of point of view, particularly since Emma does not remember the event itself and must piece it together from things other tell her (and social media), are especially strong factors in the book’s crafting. It’s an absolute masterclass in addressing social issues through fiction, and that’s why the teaching activity for this post is a writing-based one.

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Here is a set of prompts for analysis on the first five pages, which are shared on the Irish Times website (but, again, I would also recommend buying a copy for your classroom/school library/self). I intend this as a practice task for working with a style model for the Original Writing part of the English Language NEA. Obviously, this extract is longer than students are permitted to write, but it helps them to get into the language and content of the text more if they can see a little more of it.

  • Which tense is used (and why)?
  • How does O’Neill create a picture of Emma’s mother as unreasonable?
    • find some relevant quotations and then identify the linguistic features used to craft this impression. How is this constructed?
  • How is dialogue presented?
    • Look at all the examples of dialogue and identify the tags/quotatives (speech verbs) used. Why is it done this way?
  • Examine the longer paragraph (‘The door closes behind her… jerking her head at me.’ p.6-7).
    • Why is this set of ideas presented in this way? What is the purpose of this block of text? How is this section different from the rest – in content and in style (features)?
  • What other features of this extract do you find interesting/effective in setting up this novel?

Use what you’ve observed to write your own YA novel opening in which you set up the characters and setting, making sure to similarly make the social context clear: family, social status, pressures on the character etc.

 

Reading Recommendations Slide 16: For Marvel/DC Fans

A selection of comic-book/superhero-themed titles for this week’s recommendation slide, and since last week I offered stretch titles, this week I’ve got a couple of easy-reads/younger titles (Electrigirl and My Brother Is a Superhero). Both of these are books I’ve recommended to lower-attaining KS4 students before, although they’re intended more as upper KS2-lower KS3 reads.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 2 – For Marvel and DC Fans

The last theme posted was Romance. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 15: Romance

A selection of romantic titles for this week’s recommendation slide, including one with LGBT characters and some classics offered as stretch suggestions (Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights).

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 1 – Romance

I only post these up in term time, so the last theme posted was in December and it was novels with a particularly interesting/effective Narrative Voice. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Introducing January’s Book of the Month: Asking For It by Louise O’ Neill (including A Level Lang classroom/homework task)

This contemporary YA novel is a sharply written introduction to the complexity of sexual consent issues, particularly around intoxication. It also explores how victims and culprits are treated in social media and school hallways, often in harrowing detail. (It’s probably worth pointing out here that there are graphic aspects to this novel and it isn’t suitable for younger students. I personally would (and have) recommend(ed) it to some yr11s to read, but it isn’t suitable for all KS4 classes).

In my experience, readers of this novel invariably find it powerful and persuasive because it is involving and gripping as a novel. I would strongly recommend anyone teaching teenagers to read it and consider recommending it to as many teens as possible. It’s an important one and sometimes a difficult read emotionally, but by no means a book you have to force yourself to read. I’d love to be able to discuss this with a class, but I also recognise that it would be difficult to set for GCSE (although I’ve seen it selected for Lang/Lit NEA successfully).

The opening few pages can be found on the Irish Times website (I would still recommend purchasing a copy or two for yourself and the classroom) and this can make the basis for an interesting discussion of class and gender representation for AS Level English Lang:

Writers have to use shorthand and common assumptions, even stereotypes to create aspects of character quickly, especially at the start of a text (as this is). The more individualised the character, the more important they are. (Stretch/more able addition: the more individualised way a category is treated such as gender/class/race, the more important that category may turn out to be as a concept in this work). What can we infer and what stands out about the class/gender identities of the characters introduced in this extract? (NB the novel is set in ‘a small town in Ireland’ in 2015).

Look out for more in-depth comments in a fortnight and another teaching activity using this text.

Recommendations: Witches in YA

There’s something about dark, chilly nights and great witchy titles that just go together well, so I thought I’d share a few recommendations for some good ones for YA readers across a few genres.

A Witch In Winter, Ruth Warburton

This kicks off a contemporary-set trilogy (all of which are now out) which starts off ultra-modern with typical high-school, new-girl issues and quickly heads into beloved fantasy tropes with warring witch clans and centuries-old battles over power. The story kicks off with kids playing around with spells and the main character casts a love spell which works dramatically well, showing that she has power which she was previously unaware of. Fab, pacey writing with a keen ear for dialogue from the author who also writes adult thrillers as Ruth Ware (In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10).

The Graces, Laure Eve

Another contemporary-set novel (with a sequel, The Curses, coming out in 2018), based heavily around high school. Inspired by the film The Craft, this book focuses on the Grace family and the town’s legends about their being witches, which inspire a new arrival to be obsessed with them. Teen readers will lap up the creepy vibes and good sense of school hierarchies and politics.

 

 

Crow Moon, Anna McKerrow

Near-future dystopian set in an England that’s been split by ecological disaster, this novel kicks off a trilogy (of which the last was released recently). In this version of the world, Devon and Cornwall form the Greenworld, an eco-pagan, self-sufficient community separated from the rest of the world (the Redworld), where resources are scarce. Magic and mystery rule as young Danny comes into his witch powers in a world ruled by women. The trilogy is a great read, with each novel focusing on and narrated by a different young witch.

Witchstruck, Victoria Lamb

Start of a historical trilogy about a witch set in Tudor times, with royalty and a witchfinder thrown in for good measure. The young witch, Meg Lytton, is also charged with looking after the imprisoned Lady Elizabeth at her half-sister, Queen Mary’s request.  She also has to hide her powers. These are pacey reads with plenty of historical detail and a good deal of intrigue, romance and suspense.

 

How To Hang a Witch, Adriana Mather

Contemporary-set high school paranormal drama with historical resonance. A new kid in school scenario, only this one is  set in Salem, and the new kid finds herself instantly unpopular simply because of her family name and its meaning in relation to the seventeenth-century witch trials (but yes, this is set in the 21st century!). The author makes interesting links between historical witch hunts and modern-day bullying in this novel packed with ghosts, witches, high school politics and a dash of romance.

Reading Recommendations Slide 14: Narrative Voice

A selection of books which all feature particularly effective narrative voice for this week: two thrillers and two contemporaries with different tones – both about family but in different ways. All are great reads, and all offer strong voices as part of that experience.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 8 – Strong voice

Last week’s theme was Christmas. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Book Stocking Filler Recommendations

Want recommendations for book gifts that aren’t necessarily the obvious titles this year? Look no further. I’ve got kids, teens and adults covered here.

The Incredible Billy Wild by Joanna Nadin

Buy it for: any child (7+) who would enjoy this ‘championing the outsider’ story that takes on the cruelties of the dog racing world in a child-friendly way. Also features a class talent show, chaotic parenting and some top-class mayhem (as you might expect when hiding a greyhound from your family…)

The Circus by Olivia Levez

Buy it for: fans of contemporary YA who will enjoy the gritty realism as posh girl Willow is forced to learn hard lessons on the streets, contrasted against the lure of the circus glamour as she hunts for clues to her long lost mother. Atmospheric, gripping and heart-wrenching.

More of Me by Kathryn Evans

Buy it for: those who enjoy YA with a sci-fi element. This features 15-year-old Teva who appears normal to the outside world but hides a weird secret at home: each year on her birthday, she separates and leaves behind a copy of herself. This means that she lives with an array of different versions of herself, including Fourteen, who is upset with her for ‘taking’ her friends and boyfriend…

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

Buy it for: teen romance fans who may enjoy the gentle (maybe not always so gentle) takedown of romance culture in this brilliant novel which explores – through a great story – how abusive acts are packaged as ‘romantic’ in the media. (The author also works as a teen relationships advisor online and her other novels are equally thought-provoking and promote healthy relationships.)

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Buy it for: fantasy fans who will tear through this ensemble heist story set in a brilliantly realised fantasy universe (the Grishaverse – also featured in the trilogy opening with Shadow and Bone). Strong on diversity and suitable for a YA or adult reader, the story concludes in Crooked Kingdom if you want to be really generous and gift the whole thing.

Sweetpea by C J Skuse

Buy it for: anyone over 18 likely to sympathise with serial killer Rhiannon’s outlook on those who cross her by bruising her produce at the supermarket, getting in her way at work or generally being a creepy bloke. Do not buy for those offended by graphic language, sex or violence. Deliciously black humour.

If You Could See Me Now by Keris Stainton

Buy it for: those who like their romance served up with wryly feminist observational comedy. Sharp, witty and with a light touch. Poor Izzy is just trying to get by, but everything is going wrong and then she decides to go for the big pitch at work and grab a promotion. Of course, just then something awful happens…

Reading Recommendations Slide 13: Christmas

Just the one book this week, as it’s a very special one: an anthology of festive short stories and poems on the theme of ‘home’, and with a donation to the homelessness charity Crisis from every copy sold. What could be more in the spirit of the season? I thought it would be good to push this at the start of December rather than the end of term, as it is a good one for pupils to look out for/ask for as they’re starting to feel festive (or if you’re looking for end-of-term prizes, of course, this would be very suitable for a wide range of students).

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 7 – Christmas

Last week’s theme was music. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.