Monday, October 29, 2012

What My Students Are Reading

This school year I made the move from high school to middle school, and now I'm teaching 8th grade English. 8th graders are at an odd age range when it comes to books. They are a bit too old for most Middle Grade and still not quite ready for everything that YA has to offer - they turn 13 at some point in the school year, so they really are right at that threshold between tween and teen.

I've been chatting with friends about what my kids like to read, so I thought it would be a good idea to share with you, YA Confidential readers, what Real Life 8th Graders are reading and what they want to read.

Vampires and Werewolves and Zombies, Oh My!
After hearing all the time from the publishing world how dead paranormal is, I was pretty shocked by how many of my students wanted to read it. I'm constantly asked for vampire books (but "not Twilight vampires"), werewolves, werewolves fighting vampires, and zombies. I book talked This Is Not A Test at the beginning of the year, and now all they want is zombies, zombies, and more zombies. So, paranormal may be dead somewhere down the line in publishing, but real life kids are definitely wanting to read it. I can't keep it on my shelves.

What the heck is a FAERIE?
As they browse the paranormal stacks, one thing my students constantly ask me is, "What does this word mean?" And I know before I even look at the book that they are pointing to the word faerie. I explain what a faerie is / what it means, and every time, EVERY SINGLE TIME, they get irritated. "Why can't they just spell it the normal way?" Then they always put the book back. At this age they are extremely literal, and they get annoyed when things don't make sense the way they think they should. So the word faerie, even though it doesn't mean the same sort of creature as fairy, annoys them, and they continually refuse to read faerie books.

"Girl" Books 
Weirdly enough, everyone seems obsessed with the Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison. Boys and Girls. This is extra weird because I had this entire series in my high school classroom and I could never get anyone to read them. I would hand them to girls all the time, but they would always give up halfway through the first book. I don't know if it was the Brit slang or what, but no one could get into them. These kids, though, they're eating them up. I think because the titles have words like "thong," "sex god," and "nunga nungas" in them. Every single one of these books is gone from my shelf at all times, and they get passed around like crazy.

Also passed around like crazy, even with the guys: Gossip Girl, The Au-Pairs, anything with a scantily clad girl on the front cover. I think the guys are curious about what's inside, like they hold the secret to getting a girl or something, and I think this is actually pretty smart.

"We shouldn't be reading this."
When moving from high school to middle school, I was pretty concerned about what books I should include in my classroom library. In high school, my policy was ALL THE BOOKS, but I knew I couldn't do that in 8th grade. In the end I decided anything from the MG or YA shelf in the bookstore was okay, and I let the parents know that's what would be available to their students. The funny thing is, I don't even have to worry about what is appropriate for these kids because they absolutely know what they should and shouldn't be reading.

It's awesome to me the way the self-censor. I recommended a book to a kid, and he put it back within a few minutes of reading it, letting me know that, "This book has a bad word in it. I don't want to read it." Anything with too much violence, sex, or language, they stop reading it and put it back immediately.

The funny thing is, I now have this reputation as having this shelf full of "books we shouldn't be reading," (their words) like I'm trying to corrupt them or something.

Judging A Book By It's Cover
They absolutely judge books by their cover. I handed a reluctant reader The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, thinking he would love it. But he scoffed at the cover. He pointed to the word Indian and then the drawings on the front, and said he would never read this book. It didn't matter that I promised him it was funny, or that I showed him the illustrations inside. He didn't like the cover or the title for whatever reason and refused to give it a try. This happens with many, many books. They won't even spend time reading the back cover if they don't like the picture on the cover and the title.

What They're Asking Me For
More illustrated books, a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid. (They absolutely love Diary of a Wimpy Kid!) Steampunk. (Honestly, I'm a little surprised they know what this is. But it makes me happy!) Paranormal...lots of it. Mysteries, especially girl mysteries. Friendship stories. ALL THE RICK RIORDAN. (Seriously. They love his books.)

What do you think about my students' reading choices? Any surprises? 


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