Hesitant YA Readers and Censorship

As undergraduate literary critics, as lovers of all things English, as monstrous gluttons of poetry and fiction who have probably always enjoyed a literary snack before bed, it may come as a surprise (or not) that there is a large population of youth who do not enjoy reading, at all.

In a world of immediate access, of Instagram and Facebook, of movies that do all of the imagining for you, where bite-size tidbits of social media gratification keep young adults hooked in to the digital networks, how can we, as ambassadors of literature, get the world’s young population reading again?

In my experience in Junior and Senior High schools all over southern Alberta, the biggest population of non-readers seems to be the young adult male. Often, when asked, the non-reading boys say books are too girly (it doesn’t help their case that a majority of ELA teachers are female, and so may be biased towards more “feminine” books), or too boring. I fear that a large portion of the books offered in school are in fact boring, due to the school’s censorship of material. Schools banning books due to content is a slippery slope in my opinion, and can easily begin to look like a school board pushing its own agenda, rather than protecting the innocence of the students.

This needs to change. Not only is it true that (largely thanks to the internet and social media) students are beginning to see more mature and serious topics at a younger age, it is often vulgar and dangerous topics that interest hesitant readers. This may be because the readers can more easily empathize with the characters in these books, or it may simply be of interest. It’s been shown that schools which provide Free Voluntary Reading, where students have a mandated period of time to read whatever they want “is effective in increasing and improving reading… results in superior general knowledge… improves spelling, writing, grammar… helps ELL learners dramatically… improves scores on reading tests and other subject matter tests… results in better reading comprehension, writing style, and increased vocabulary.. [and] develops better thinkers.” (source) It is important for students to be able to read what they want to read (with parental consent) during this time, and to have a good reading role model.

Some young males may still be hesitant to read during this free read time, but it is likely because they do not know how to find books that they will actually enjoy. Having a good knowledge of YA literature is key to helping those non-readers. Knowing a good librarian is a huge benefit, but just knowing where to start is also helpful. Here are a few books I’ve read, which were suggested by hesitant readers.

Carter Finally Gets It – Brent Crawford https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3599928-carter-finally-gets-it?ac=1 (this book is part of a series… good to keep those readers going)

Post by Daniel Lafferty

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2 thoughts on “Hesitant YA Readers and Censorship

  1. Peyton says:

    You bring up an excellent point about trying to get kids to read enjoyable material and the lack of said material being available in schools. Do you think that one of the reasons that teachers stick to the same material is that it may be difficult to change the curriculum, or that there is a lack of teachable YA books that the school and parents will approve of? Censorship is also playing into this, but who is doing the censoring? Teachers, parents or the school boards? Another reason that kids may not be reading so much is because the libraries that are available to them do not have the finds to afford a lot of books that cover wide ranges of subjects, themes, etc. I like your idea of offering students time to read in class, but won’t this cut into time the teacher needs to teach. What if instead they were asked to read at home for at least and hour a day? Would this be a good substitute? Or will it be more likely that students will not read at home?

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  2. Kevan says:

    This topic hits close to home for me. While I’m not a member of the education faculty, I do have a younger brother who often complains about the required reading in his high school English classes. Your blog post echoed his complaints with eerie accuracy. He’s reading some of the classics that I loved when I was his age (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Kite Runner, for example), but begrudgingly. I devoured those books outside of class; he can barely bring himself to finish them by the deadline.

    The only time I remember seeing him excited about reading was when he studied The Hunger Games in middle school. He actually went out and bought the SERIES after reading the first one, and then read them all through TWICE. You can argue that reading Suzanne Collins isn’t as educational as reading William Golding, but I’d say it’s better to have kids reading her books outside of class than reading nothing at all.

    Maybe the solution isn’t just to provide kids with more resources for extra-curricular reading (though that is a fabulous idea), but instead to “update” the texts that are required. If we can get the reluctant readers excited about something like Looking For Alaska after making them suffer though Lord Of The Flies, maybe they’d be more willing to pick up a new book on the weekends.

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