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Teens See Their Lives Mirrored in Reading List

“Sneak-reading” Shows Students Re-discovered Love for Books

When students say reading doesn’t interest them, Godwin Heights High School English teacher Jessica Molloy steps up to her new book collection. She makes it a mission to find books that capture their attention.

She introduced one book-resistant student to her shelves lined with hundreds of contemporary young adult novels. Soon he was sneak-reading during classes. “Challenge accepted,” Molloy said. “Now I can’t get him to stop reading.”

In Molloy’s classroom, several seniors recently browsed through books, commenting about those they’ve read and loved, and grabbing new ones to bring home and start reading. They recently finished Molloy’s “Contemporary Young Adult Novels” course, during which they were introduced to books that parallel their own lives in many ways.

They are still debating their opinions on novels that have stuck in their heads. Looking for Alaska, by John Green, Feed by M.T. Anderson, Hate List, by Jennifer Brown… just mention the titles and you get strong reactions.

Senior Tenin Jabathere said the class gave her the opportunity to dig deeper into books she enjoys
Senior Tenin Jabathere said the class gave her the opportunity to dig deeper into books she enjoys

The semester-long class, which Molloy hopes to offer again next school year, left students thinking about books in new ways.

“It was like a big book club. I got to read genres I like and talk about them with other people. It was really interesting because some people got stuff from the book I never would have,” said senior Ashley Soto. “Once they’ve had this class, students won’t say reading’s boring anymore.”

“I like how the books connected with today, with us, so we can relate with the books,” added senior Tenin Jabathere.

Molloy said her passion for literacy in young adults was reignited during a Grand Valley State University graduate class She wanted to offer students the chance to study books they love and can relate to. She also wanted to show herself as a reader to students, and great way to do that was to connect over books they would enjoy.

“I realized that my students were missing out on both choice in reading and content that respected and honored their own life experiences,” she said. “I made it my mission to bring more young adult literature into my classroom.”

Students, like senior Tien Huynh have discovered people have very different reactions to the novels they read
Students, like senior Tien Huynh have discovered people have very different reactions to the novels they read

Hundreds of Books Donated

Starting the class required building a book collection. Molloy created an Amazon wish list and sent it out on social media to friends and family. Soon, boxes of books were showing up at her doorstep. She now has 650 for her classroom, about 400 which have been donated. She’s always eager to add more.

“You can read about a book online and see its release date and the next day after it’s released we have it in the classroom,” Ashley said. “It’s cool to have books on the top-sellers’ lists here in the class.”

Molloy said because they are reading more, their vocabularies have expanded and they pay closer attention to what is happening in the books. “The literature we read together honors students’ lives and experiences more authentically than classic literature, which helped students to engage.”

Senior Hector Zoleta reads a book from teacher Jessica Molloy’s new book collection
Senior Hector Zoleta reads a book from teacher Jessica Molloy’s new book collection

The class even prompted students to take action. They made a presentation for administrators on preventing school violence and increasing safety after reading Hate List, a novel about two teenagers who create a list of peers they hate which results in a school-shooting.

Picking up a book is no longer a chore, students said. “Before the class, the last time I picked up a book and wanted to read it was eighth grade,” said senior Hector Zoleta. “It made me want to start reading again and have that love for reading.”


Books that Have Caught Godwin Students Attention

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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