- Although all of us continue developing throughout our lives, teens follow particularly unpredictable and varied paths of psychological and intellectual development. This broad spectrum of skills and behaviors makes recommending any single tome problematic at best.
- Each teen comes from a different family, cultural, and religious (or non-religious) background, and these combine to influence readiness for increasingly mature or diverse or challenging content.
- Many teens are regularly in crisis about one aspect or another of their lives, and while the right book at the right time can offer solace and wisdom or even simply a much-needed temporary escape from their turmoil, even a book "every teen should read" can be an unwelcome catalyst or escalator for intense emotional dramas at this stage in their lives.
1. The founding documents of her or his country, especially those that set the guiding philosophy, structure, and ethics of his/her government. Understanding the foundations allows each citizen to support, critique, and even strive to revise the fundamental ideology of that citizen's country.
2. The foundational texts of all major world religions. Without understanding, there is zero potential for true dialogue, let alone collaboration or peace.
3. The major artworks of every major world culture. Yes, I hold that artworks are texts, and that they're produced in cultural contexts - even when they fight against them - and that great art from every culture inspires awe and transcendence. It's a gateway to understanding.
4. The seminal stories (myths, folktales, fairy tales) of major world cultures. (See above for rationale.)
5. The most beautiful and powerful poems of major world cultures. (See above for rationale.)
6. The great films and plays of major world cultures. (See above for rationale.)
7. At least a few of the works - of whatever genre - that his/her parents, siblings, and other relatives treasure. The teen needn't love these or agree with them, but - again - knowledge may at least lead to understanding.
8. Twilight. Kidding. So kidding.
I know, I'm begging many questions: What's a major world culture? What's beautiful? What's powerful? What's great? How much analysis is necessary to understand a text? These questions are up for debate, no doubt, and so worth consistently, vigilantly discussing and revisiting and adjusting every year, every month if possible. Every parent, teacher, and friend of teenagers should be doing that, if we really care about them.
And, I know that minority opinions can be incredibly liberating, often surpassing the dominant ideas in a culture. But I'll wager that the strongest foundation for responsibly championing any idea - minority or otherwise - is understanding the dominant cultural forces.
But beyond the "should reads", and perhaps more importantly, we must help teens determine the "next great read" for each of them, individually. It's our obligation, I suspect, and not an simple one - be we teachers, parents, friends, siblings - to help teens learn how to make wise choices on their own personal reading paths, and to know when & how to seek out conversation and support when they happen upon a challenging text that they can't quite process on their own.
I'm sure there's more to add, and I'm hoping you're going to help me out here... So tell me what you think, what you'd include in the above categories, what else I should consider.
Many thanks as always to the provocative and fun prompts offered every Tuesday at The Broke And The Bookish. If you have a moment or two, do hop over there to see what they - and scores of other bloggers - have to say about this matter.