Youth Review Forum Countdown: Chat with Melissa Keil and Christine Bongers

It’s been almost a week since the CBCA winners announcement, and this year Claire Zorn’s ‘The Protected’ took away the coveted title of CBCA Older Reader Book of the Year. A win well deserved; the title was well-received by the students I have the pleasure of working with.

But although we’re heading towards the end of Book Week activities, there is one event a horde of year 9 students across several schools are holding their breath in anticipation for: YOUTH REVIEW FORUM!

What is Youth Review Forum, you ask? Well, each year, groups of avid year 9 readers from several schools across Sydney take part in an initiative designed to give students a voice regarding the six Older Reader titles short listed by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. The Youth Review Forum fosters discussion and debate about what has been deemed the crème de la crème of Australian Young Adult fiction. To read more about the Youth Review Forum go here.

This year’s Short List offered the following titles:

CBCA collage

With the date for the Youth Review Forum this upcoming Monday, most of my eager year 9 readers have finished all six titles. Their opinions on each of the texts are interesting to say the least, and I’ll unpack their thoughts on the Short List in a blog post to come at a later date. All I’ll say at this point is that, although the group enjoyed ‘The Protected’, it has named The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl and The Intruder as their stand-out favourites. I contacted Melissa Keil and Christine Bongers to line up a twitter chat with my students and the talented writers were happy to oblige.

Click on the images below, to read the storified chats. And keep your eye out for @tlkat’s tweets on Monday morning, August 31, where I’ll be madly tweeting the varied views and heated opinions of young adult readers as they discuss the CBCA Older Reader titles at the Youth Review Forum #yrforum

Christine Bongers Storify

Melissa Keil Storify

Kids, Reading and Shortlists

CBCA Shortlist 2014

Each year, the Children’s Book Council of Australia, a not-for-profit organization aiming to promote literature for young Australians, presents awards for books of high literary merit in several categories. One of these categories, Older Readers, is intended for books written for a young adult audience. Although the CBCA judges may take children’s opinions into account during the judging process, the Awards are ‘primarily for literary quality, and children do not take part in the formal judging process.’(Awards FAQs, 2014, Children’s Book Council of Australia, accessed 28 July 2014,
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this. However, I feel the intended reading audience should at least be given an avenue to voice their opinions. After all, these six texts were specifically written for this age group.
Enter the Youth Review Forum. Originally designed by Mrs Janelle Francis, then Head of Library at St Vincent’s, Potts Point, the Forum gives young adult readers a voice in regards to the shortlist. In preparation for the Forum, students read and discuss the six shortlisted Older Reader titles, and debate which of these they feel deserves the coveted Book of the Year for Older Readers award.
How It Works:

  1. Gather a group of four to five schools in your local area to be involved.
  2. Within your school, promote Youth Review Forum across a suitable grade (we invite year 9 students to take part) and sign up a group of interested students (10-15), willing to read the six titles over the coming three months.
  3. As soon as the CBCA shortlist is announced (usually sometime early April) purchase four to five copies of the shortlisted titles for your library collection and get your group of students reading.
  4. Meet weekly with your group to discuss the books in book-club fashion
  5. As Book Week approaches, nominate 2 students to sit as your school’s representatives on the Youth Review Forum Panel.
  6. During Book Week, meet with other involved schools for the actual Youth Review Forum to discuss the books. By now, the winner will have been announced and, more often than not, the judges’ decision will be hotly disputed by most Youth Review Forum panelists.

A good moderator is essential for the smooth running of the Forum and in recent years, we have been very lucky to procure Mr. Paul MacDonald, owner of the Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. Paul’s close ties to the children’s publishing industry, and years of lecturing English at university, make him an ideal Forum moderator.

It is always interesting to note that the panel rarely comes to a consensus as to which book should have won. This is an indication of the broad literature palette of young adult readers; it’s hard to meet everyone’s tastes. This year’s Older Readers shortlist includes:

The Incredible Here and Now – Felicity Castagna
Life in Outer Space – Melissa Keil
Wildlife – Fiona Wood
Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Allyse Near
The First Third – Will Kostakis
The Sky So Heavy – Claire Zorn

So far, the discussion in this year’s group has been lively and contenders for Book of the Year are fast emerging. But that’s a whole other blog post 

How do you encourage your students to read nominated titles on various shortlists? What works? What doesn’t? I’d love to hear about your approaches.

Is the English Curriculum Killing Kids’ Love of Reading?

It’s official: teens are abandoning reading for pleasure

That’s what a recent roundup of studies by Common Sense Media reports. According to the data gathered by the not-for-profit organization, almost half of 17-year olds say they’re lucky to pick up a book for their reading pleasure in the course of the entire year. Although the cited studies do not claim any direct correlation between teen reading decline and the uptake of digital technologies over the last decade or more, the connection has been drawn. After all, there is now so much more vying for young people’s attention, especially in the digital and online realm, that the connection between low rates of reading and high rates of e-entertainment is inevitable.
In part, I agree. As a teacher and parent I can see that the computer and iPad have a pull the humble, non-interactive bookshelf can’t compete with. But I wonder if there might be something else at play – like the foundations we’re laying in middle and high school, foundations that may well be undermining rather than fostering our children’s development as life-long readers.
Dare I say it? I’m talking about the prescribed texts we make our students read in the English curriculum.
Do I need to duck? Anyone throwing anything yet?

Just hear me out.

In early April, author Keith Cronin posted a thought provoking piece titled How to Make Somebody Hate Reading over on the literary blog Writer Unboxed. Speaking from both a writer’s as well as a parent’s point of view, Cronin argues that the pro-classics biased American high school English curricula is rapidly turning kids off reading and that, in their attempt to teach kids to appreciate literature, schools are killing their enjoyment of it. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that we should aim to have kids first enjoy what they read, Cronin argues, which then may lead them to take an interest in deeper literary analysis and harder to tackle works? Lord Voldemort before Lord of the Flies anyone?

Killing Reading
Cronin isn’t proposing we abandon studying the ‘great’ and ‘important’ texts in our canon, but in his opinion, “anything that gets kids reading is good.” And with the recent research results released by Common Sense Media, I couldn’t agree more.
The harsh reality is, in today’s technology saturated environment, there are many more things vying for our kids’ attention than there were even a decade ago. Reading is already behind the eight ball. If the only experience of it our children have is negative because of the school English curriculum, then it’s no surprise we are producing droves of adult non-readers.

Like Cronin, I’m not suggesting we ditch Dickens. I have an English teaching background and know the value of delving deeper into a challenging text. There is great satisfaction in unearthing and grappling with the many complex layers a well written novel can offer. But just like we would never expect our students to solve lengthy calculus problems early on in their mathematical learning journey, we might want to avoid teaching literary analysis using hundred year old texts kids will struggle to see the relevance of. There is a wealth of well-written, relevant, modern Young Adult literature that allows for plenty of engaging in-depth study.
So where do we stand? Is Australia following in America’s footsteps? Are we already there? What is your school’s English department doing to fire up our kids’ love of reading? I’d rather you weigh in on the argument than throw something.

I’m A TL And I Read YA – The Importance Of Reading What Our Students Read

"Miss, I need a new book!"

“Miss, I need a new book!”

One of the most satisfying things about the new school year is the stream of students coming through the LRC doors hunting for new books to read. They’ve devoured the stack they borrowed for the summer holidays and now they’re back and hungry for more.
And they’re asking you for recommendations. Yes, you!

Here’s where we, as Teacher Librarians, have an opportunity like no other teacher in the entire school community – we can tell those story hungry students all about the fantastic children’s and young adult reads we enjoyed over the break and see if any of these might appeal to them. In doing so, we lay the foundation for return visits and more conversations about literature and what to read. This is good, we want this, because research shows that reading for pleasure gives children an academic advantage, and as Teacher Librarians we’re all about helping students meet academic outcomes.

Did you spot the important bit in the above paragraph? That’s right “… the fantastic children’s and young adult books we’ve read…” We need to read what our students are reading so we know which books to point them to next.

I love young adult literature, which is one of the many reasons I was drawn to the teacher librarian profession. Thankfully, most of my colleagues feel the same. But occasionally I come across others in the field for whom a book recommendation comes from the list of titles they themselves read as a teen. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for such reading recommendations, but for me, that’s just not good enough. Let me say it again:

As TLs , we need to read what our students read so we can point them in the direction of their next book.

Author and former high school English teacher, Andy Griffiths, agrees. In last Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald he states: ”We need trained teacher librarians to be on top of all this and to be able to show the kids what’s new and what they might be interested in […] to put the right book in their hands at the right time.”

And the right book at the right time will not always come from the classics section. For some kids the road to Austen and Dickens is long, and it is up to us to pave it with appropriate literary stepping stones, using our students’ interests to guide us.
Dr Belle Alderman, Professor of children’s literature at the University of Canberra, believes “All children love stories. Rather than saying they are reluctant readers, what is it we aren’t giving them to make them want to read and enjoy it?”

We’re all busy and we can’t read every book in our collection, even though some students are under the impression that we have, but we should make it our business to delve deeper into the fictional worlds our students visit so we can connect with them in a meaningful way.

Open book shot 2

So what’s the latest children’s or young adult book you’ve read?