Readers, Texts, and Contexts in the Middle

Re-imagining Literature Education for Young Adolescents

Authored by: Thomas P. Crumpler , Linda Wedwick

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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Becoming a reader, as other authors in this section have shown, is often an unpredictable journey, usually marked by uncertainty and, if you’re lucky, well-timed guidance. No time is more uncertain for being a reader than during the middle years of young adolescence, when engaged literary reading seems to wane for many youth, while becoming the refuge for others. Thomas Crumpler and Linda Wedwick open up the pathways to reading with an analysis of recent research on readers’ approaches to literature, the literary content of particular relevance to this age group, and descriptions of the highly engaging forms of drama that can accompany reading in school and library settings.

When defining adolescence, a wide range of ages is typically included. For some researchers, the generally accepted age range for adolescence is 10 to 20. However, this generous age span is problematic when considering the changing nature of “physical and cognitive development on youth literacy practices” (Moje, Overby, Tysvaer, & Morris, 2008, p.110) and the changing contexts from primary school to middle school to high school that often mark significant shifts in adolescents’ interests, experiences, and responsibilities. While we recognize that certain continuity exists between elementary and secondary-aged readers (such as identifying with characters in a story), there is value in focusing on a narrower age range, 11–14 specifically, for interpreting research and for considering how to engage young people in literary reading. In this chapter we focus on the dimensions of reading experience, especially social contexts and individual engagement, that can be formative for readers who are leaving behind episodic, humorous fiction and entering into a more critical and exploratory approach to book selection and interpretation. We begin with brief portraits of three readers and analyze these through the lenses of identity, social and cultural expectations, and motivational differences among readers.

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