Bookworms unite: students going beyond the reading curriculum

by Caitlyn Quint and Daniela Montufar – Soria | Contributing Writers

The clock strikes eleven, but for freshman Regina Molina her free time has just begun. She lays comfortably on her bed and grabs her copy of  “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak from her bedside table, lays back and starts to read.

“I read about two books per week I would say, that is if I don’t have too much homework,” Molina said. “I have a pretty good amount of time to read but I wish I could have more, homework kind of limits us and so do sports, but I do get enough reading done throughout the week.”

While on the other side of town, sophomore Melissa Santos lays comfortably on the sofa going through yet another episode of “Vampire Diaries,” her books long forgotten.

“I have a lot of homework. By the time I’m done I just want to watch TV or go to sleep, the last thing I want to do is read a book,” Santos said. “It’s very unlikely for me to read books and whenever I do, it takes me a while to finish them.”

The same happens with senior Jaylen Dawson, who explains her free time is spent on the Internet or her phone instead of reading.

“There’s nothing moving in front of you, like if you have a video game something is moving you have to actually interact with the game. While when you’re reading you’re just sitting there looking at a page.” Dawson said.

It’s no secret that the number of teenage readers has drastically diminished in the last couple of years. Even though the amount of teen books has increased, giving teens a large variety of options to choose from. Technology, excessive homework, and parenting itself, are some of the reasons given to justify this modern problem.

“First, they are too busy with their activities outside of school,” English I teacher Lisa Knight said. “Then students who have parents that are habitual readers are more likely to be readers themselves, unfortunately that’s not very common and then social media and electronic devices are competing for their attention.”

With all this new technology, it becomes less likely for a teen to actually go to a bookstore, as these new devices like iPads, Kindles, and Nooks allow them to have a fair amount of books for a lesser price, at the commodity of their homes.

“I can’t remember the last time I went to a bookstore. Maybe a month ago, but I didn’t buy anything.” Melissa said. “I like books but it is easier for me to read in the iPad because that’s how I purchase them.”

However there are others who’d rather read in actual books than e-books, leaving some hope for the survival of bookstores and libraries, ensuring that books are not an endangered species.

“I actually prefer books because they kind of remind me of old times,” Molina said. “I actually like going through the pages and on e-books I feel kind of limited. I don’t feel free to flip back and forward, so often as I do with normal books.”

Director of Johnson High School’s book club and current librarian, Teresa Sanchez, provides an insight to the problem. Provided that the school library specializes in books that teens are interested in and what students will be needing for their classes.

“Students come here by free will, we still have a lot of students that do read and we do have books circulate in and out of the library, I believe our stats are about 400-450 a month,” Sanchez said. “I believe It could be better, it definitely could be better with the population of Johnson of almost 3 thousand students, I would hope that it would be better but again time comes into play. Our students are busy.”

Outside the school at bookstores like Barnes & Noble the circulation of teenagers leaves a lot to be desired. Jackie L. Dyess, Community Relation Manager at the store provides an approximate the amount of teenagers that go to the store in a weekly basis.

“Maybe 200 hundred. There can always be more,” Dyess said, “Some of them are coming with other family members, or sometimes they are coming to the cafe, or sometimes they are buying presents for somebody else, a gift item or a book or something else. For the ones who come to find something for their own personal reading, sometimes it’s magazines that they are purchasing, sometimes it’s manga or graphic novels or comics that they are purchasing. So we carry all of those but we do have a pretty good teen selection in terms of actual book that a lot of them buy as well.”

Students have their reasons to avoid reading like the plague, most of them reduce their reading to whatever is required for school. The program English Teachers are following focuses in Classic Literature and famous works that illustrate the nature and correct usage of the language, in an attempt to teach the students to identify quality in book.

“We finished the Odyssey and we’re beginning Romeo and Juliet, that’s what the District guidelines have said,” English teacher Lisa Knight said, “They chose those books because they are classics. All these books are very challenging.”

And when it comes to genders, there’s a common belief that there are more books destined for female readers than there are for guys; hence, there are more female readers than male readers.

“I have approximately twelve members in the book club, last year we had a male, but this year we have only females,” Sanchez said. “I have a lot of male readers that read a lot here, but I’m not really sure. I’m thinking that the male that started here last year probably was overwhelmed when he walked in and there were twelve girls and him!”

However not everyone would necessarily agree with that, arguing that it depends on which books you’re looking for.

Daniela Montufar-Soria is a member of the Journalism I course in the JHS Publications Program. She produced this feature story as a contributing writer to MyJagNews.

“A few years ago, with the success of Twilight and some of those books, there were a lot of vampire love story whatever’s, which some people might term as ‘books that girls would buy’, although a lot of guys bought them too and read them,” Dyess said, “But now we’re seeing more of the…survival fantasy adventure type books which actually appeal to both boys and girls. You know Hunger Games is one of the most well known because of the movie, but there’s a lot of other books that are similar to that and we see that the guys are buying those as well as the girls.”

Book preferences for teenagers vary from science-fiction and romance to historical non-fiction.

“It’s hard to say because again there is a variety, right now probably the Allegiant and Divergent series are probably one of the most popular, the final book in the series just came out so that automatically makes it a very popular book,” Dyess said, “We’ve also have books from James Dashner who did ‘The Maze runner’ those are very popular, ‘Enders Game’, and that was a very popular book with boys as well as girls even before the movie came out, that was obviously a very popular one for teens.”

At Johnson High School the problem is being dealt with, however there’s still a lot to be done. Teresa Sanchez explains what the campus is doing to encourage teenage reading.

“To promote reading I run several different contests, one of the contests, not contest, but incentives where I try to encourage students to read what are called Tayshas books and if they read five by December we give them a Barnes and Noble Gift card for ten dollars,” Sanchez said  “Some of the English teachers also are giving choice readings so with that we’re trying to encourage reading, and throughout the year I’d do different activities just to try to encourage the reading.”

When asked about book fairs, which are exhibitions where the latest works of the most popular authors of the moment are displayed with the purpose of encouraging reading, the possibility was almost immediately discarded arguing that it takes up too much time and space.  Even though this method has proven to be lucrative, being used in elementary school and middle school.

“I don’t have book fairs here and that’s mostly due to time, We’re used so much academically for classes that to set up a close down for a week,” Sanchez said. “I’m sure students wouldn’t like that, cause it does take most of the library and we can’t do anything else but book fair.”

Bookstores like Barnes & Noble, highlight and promote the books that they think would be of interest, determined by their corporate headquarters based on national sales and trends as well as arrangements with other publishers to try to encourage people to read and for their marketing within the store.

Caitlyn Quint is a contributing writer for MyJagNews. She produced this story as a student in the JHS Journalism I class.

“I’ll use Hunger Games as an example because that was a nationwide success, you’ll find that there are other authors that are similar to that, we sometimes put those on a particular table or in a particular section together because we know that many times people aren’t aware of these other books.” Dyess said.  “So if they come in and they see ‘The Hunger Games’ and they know what that’s about and they see other books that are similar to that then they are more likely to try those other authors, whereas if they just came in and everything was just alphabetical, they wouldn’t know where to start so they might not necessarily pick out the books.”

Bookstores work with the schools to do book fairs and fundraising, they work together and get a sense of what book the kids are actually asking for in the libraries, so they are more capable of making sure they have plenty of those books in the store to appeal to other teens who might not have thought to ask their own school librarian about.

“I’m the community relations manager so I work directly with the schools and businesses and things like that, so I work very closely with the teachers and the librarians in the schools to also try to identify the books that they think are going to be desired or are gonna be something that the teens would want to look at,” Dyess said. “So it sort of works both ways you know? They tell me the books that they are interested so I can help them get them into the library, which obviously then helps encourage teen reading.”

They also have periodic events or specialty programs. Though most of the time we hear more about the story time or things they do for the smaller kids, they also have some programs for middle school or teens, and sometimes they combine them with other activities.

“For instance when ‘The Hunger Games’ movie came out, we had a “Hunger Games night” and so there were a lot of activities for all ages, cause we had things for smaller children to do, but then we also had things for the teens and for the adults, so we try to promote things in that way.” Dyess said. “For instance over the summer we had a Lego architecture Competition which is the more advanced Lego, so again it’s more for teens and adults, but then that also leads people to books because there’s a lot of books on architecture, Lego design, on other types of things, so we highlight those books when we have activities.”

The problem with a lot of those things Dyess said is obviously scheduling; teens have a lot of other activities, so it’s sort of hard to have everybody come to a bookstore to do something on a regular basis.

To know about these events you can check the printed calendar that each store has, or you can also go online to, click on Stores & Events, enter your zip code, and find out about things happening at the various stores around town.

Even though all these measures are being taken, there’s still a lot to be done. According to teachers, sacrifices must be made. There can always be more, we just need some of time to  take a liking to this activity, and the rest will follow.

“They have to make time, they have to cut something else out in order to read, so maybe it’s not going to the movies or it’s not another activity that they have to give up.” Knight said. “Finding something that speaks to them regardless of their readability. It’s what’s going to wind students to do this, find something they are interested in and that would start the fire, the desire to read, hopefully.”

Everyone has an opinion, but in the end the only ones who can decide to either read or not are teens themselves, so we might as well listen to what they have to say and take into consideration their ideas.

“I don’t know, maybe instead of just saying “read this” give backgrounds like make the book sound really good to intrigue everyone, maybe encourage like the nook or e-readers. Maybe they’d like reading on that better that a regular book.” Molina said “I think students would read more if they were asked to read something they liked instead of what they’re asking them to read in school.”

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