The root read is derived from the past tense and past participle of German known as rɛd. In Old Frisian and Middle Dutch the meaning was “to advise, to deliberate, to help, to suggest, to convince, or to guess” (read). Adding the “ing” turns read into a noun of action. Thus, one requirement of reading is the act of doing such things as advising or deliberating.
The OED defines reading when used as a noun as “The action of perusing written or printed matter; the practice of occupying oneself in this way” or “the ability to read” (reading). Emphasizing one’s duty to actively invest time and thought into the process, the verb form denotes “to consider, interpret, or discern”. Reading is more than just the ability to read or the act of perusing new material. It is the ability to do that along with actively considering, interpreting, discerning, and understanding a text. The American Professor of English, Robert Scholes wrote: “Reading, though it may be a kind of action, is not the whole action but a part of it, remaining incomplete unless and until it is absorbed and transformed in the thoughts and deeds of readers. I believe that reading should answer to social and ethical concerns” (Cliff Hodges).
History of Reading
Reading, specifically in the sense of the Young Adult (YA) Literature, has evolved and changed over the years. Before books were placed in the hands of eager young readers, they first had to be placed in the hands of the common people. Reading has passed through many different contexts, with each context placing differing emphases on the importance of reading. Religious, political, and educational powers have all taken turns dominating the skill of reading constructing it into a “theological framwork” needed to interact in the world today. (Snook 345).
Religious Historical Context
During the Renaissance and Middle ages, reading was dramatically changed when William Tyndale undertook the life-threatening task of translating the New Testament; Tyndale’s work was translated, printed, and circulated in the common vernacular. The 1526 Tyndale Bible paved the way for other religious reformations. With the rise of the Reformation, the skill of reading took on the role of not only entertainment and stories, but also that of salvation. The reformation lead by Martin Luther focused on the power of reading by emphasizing the doctrine of sola scriptura and everyone’s individual responsibility to read and understand the scriptures (Mullett 91). As authors and writers embraced the new era of writing for reading audiences, works by Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, and many others moved to the forefront of reading. The religious requirements of reading mandated that individuals, especially in England, learned how to read. During these early periods, reading was viewed as a symbol of class and sophistication.
Social Historical Context
As the centuries throughout the 1600’s and the 1800’s unfolded, the preoccupation around reading, specifically for young adults, became wide spread with the introduction of the American Sunday School Union. Young readers were instructed with moralistic stories about good boys and girls and the results of virtue. Mark Twain’s work, “The Story of the Good Little Boy” satires these kinds of works and highlights how the children with the best virtues typically die. Other typical books that were directed at young audiences were filled with domestic duties and responsibilities. Two authors who were highly popular in the 19th century for young readers were Louisa May Alcott and Horatio Alger. Towards the later end of the 19th century the introduction of the dime novel and pulp fiction put books into the hands of younger readers. The accessibility of such texts enabled reading to became more available to more people, especially young people.
Transition to YA Literature of Today
With the turn of the century, the gatekeepers of young adult readers began to place a larger focus in college preparation and developing a classical cannon of literature (Ivey and Johnston 255). This new focus changed reading for young people as adults became more concerned with the “quality” of what is being read. The obsession of quality resulted in the creation of the educational canon. During this time period, recreational reading was not widely accepted. However, by the late the enterprise of a young adult audience and capitalizing on their desires to read was spearheaded by Edward Stratemeyer and the introduction of series, or “sitcom” books. Works such as the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift permeated young adult reading. Adults argued that these predictable and static books served no purpose in heightening intelligence or preparing young adults for college or other aspects of adult life. The world of young adult reading gained it’s modern footholds with the publication of Pigman, The Outsiders, and The Contender in the late 1960’s. These books paved the way for young adult reading to not only be an educational experience, but also address realistic and “tough” issues.
Reading for young adult audiences today carries many different implications. Young adults carry the responsibility of proficiency exams and standardized tests, while maintaining the growing trend of young adult recreational reading. In today’s world, reading is often a skill that is taken for granted, but is also one that is dearly missed if one isn’t able to read. The tension between reading canonical classics verses reading popular young adult literature permeates the educational system. Oftentimes, classics are still viewed as the most important form of reading because they have the most cultural significance (Glaus 410). The value of being “college ready” has been associated with reading complex classical texts, even though most teachers report that they believe only 20 percent of their students actually read the assigned texts (Glaus 407). The challenge of the educators of today is that many students simply don’t like to read.
Classics to Contemporaries
Thus with this definition and understanding of reading, what kind of texts elicit proper reading? Gabrielle Cliff Hodges states, “In the process, the skill of being able to decode is transformed into knowledge about reading, interpretation and criticism and hence its potential power.” From this perspective, we conclude that any form of text (including those that do not carry canonical significance) that is being decoded and adding to one’s knowledge is a proper gateway which one can use to imply that he is reading. Many educators and teachers are challenging the idea that the literary canon is not the only source of rich material that can cause one to think (Ostenson and Wadham 6).
The rise of Young Adult literature such as verse novels, graphic novels, and sick-literature are proving that they too can elicit provoking thought that results in profound knowledge of real human experiences. Lisa Zunshine’s research findings on the need for more fiction reading instead of textbook nonfiction within classrooms states, “To explain such counterintuitive findings, Peskin and Astington suggest that “the teaching of information does not automatically lead to learning.” What is required instead is a “constructive, effortful process where the learner actively reorganizes perceptions and makes inferences…. These inferences lead to an understanding that may be all the deeper because the children had to strive to infer meaning. Ironically, the more direct, explicit condition may have produced less conceptual development precisely because it was explicit” (Zunshine 1). Reading many forms of texts allows one to use and develop different skills such as inferring that can increase one’s ability to cognitively process events positively.
Young Adult Literature Today
An evoking form of reading, especially in Young Adult literature, is the verse novel. Simplistic in nature, one may be tempted to say that a verse novel cannot be a form of proper reading. However, verse novel invites the reader to question and infer and fill in the empty space with the reader’s own interpretation. Consider this passage from Love that Dog by Sharon Creech about a young boy discovering his love for writing poetry but afraid to share it:
you can type up
the thing about
trying not to think about
leave my name off it
because it was
coming out of my head
and I wasn’t paying
too much attention
to which words
when. (Creech 65)
This quote is rich, informative, and real for many young people. Sharing one’s words is similar to sharing one’s soul and secrets. This invites readers to question whether they would be willing to share their own words. It suggests that sometimes the things we say or think are better left anonymous. As simple as this may be, it meets all the requirements of reading. One must have the literacy skills to first read, but it also allows one to have an experience that pushes already obtained knowledge and questions everyday actions and thoughts.
What Should be Read?
The balance between classics and young adult literature is one of the greatest challenges facing teachers and educators of today. The more and more that teachers focus on reading as a skill and an action, the more and more they turn to Young Adult literature because more students are able to relate Young Adult texts. It is suggested “that many teenagers are not ready for classical literature because many such books do not deal with teenage concerns, and they were written primarily for educated adults” (Glaus 408). Although “proper reading” is connected with the canonical classics, lifelong reading, for may students, comes from reading Young Adult literature. “Their lived experiences have already prepared them to make a strong connection with a YA book” and those connection make reading meaningful (Ostenson and Wadham 10). In today’s world, reading has been socially connected with education, but with the rise of Young Adult literature and providing a text that teenagers are interested in reading, reading is becoming a lifelong skill of decoding and interpreting that people continue even after their education is complete.
Cliff Hodges, Gabrielle. Researching and Teaching Reading. Florence, US: Routledge, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 31 May 2016.
Creech, Sharon. Love that Dog. HarperCollins Publishers, NY, 2001. Print.
Glaus, Marci. “Text Complexity And Young Adult Literature: Establishing Its Place.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 57.5 (2014): 407-416. Web. 31 May 2016.
Ivey, Gay, and Peter H Johnston. “Engagement with Young Adult Literature: Outcomes and Processes.” Reading Research Quarterly 48.3 (2013): 255-275. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 31 May 2016.
Mullett, Michael A.. Martin Luther. Florence: Taylor and Francis, 2014. Ebook Library. Web. 05 Mar. 2016.
Ostenson, Jonathan, and Rachel Wadham. “Young Adult Literature and the Common Core: A Surprisingly Good Fit.” American Secondary Education 41.1 (2012): 4. MasterFILE Complete. Web. 31 May 2016.
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Snook, Edith. “Recent Studies in Early Modern Reading.” English Literary Renaissance 43.2 (2013): 343-378. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 May 2016
Twain, Mark. Story of the Bad Little Boy.
Zunshine, Lisa. “What reading fiction has to do with doing well academically.” Style Spring 2014: 87+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 31 May 2016.