Posts Tagged ‘at risk teens’

I first heard Paul Volponi speak at the 2006 ALAN Conference as one of the New Voices in Young Adult Literature.

I remember him being passionate about writing realistic books that would connect with reluctant readers. At the time, I was teaching English in a school for kids who had exhausted all their other public school options. Consistently throughout my fifteen year tenure in that school, over ninety per cent of my students were male struggling and reluctant readers. Many of them had been in detention. Most had intense home lives either living with their families, in foster care, or group homes. I was always on the lookout for books that would speak to them.

Paul Volponi’s books did not disappoint me. For six years Paul taught incarcerated teens on Rikers Island to read and write. He’s the real deal and has won a slew of awards for his YA novels.

Here’s a quote from his 2006 presentation: “Books for reluctant readers have to grab you around the throat in the first couple of pages and not let go.”

Paul has authored eight Young Adult novels. I’m giving away three of them. And yeah, they all grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go!

Black and White

Marcus and Eddie are best friends who found the strength to break through the racial barrier. Marcus is black; Eddie is white. Stars of their school basketball team, they are true leaders who look past the stereotypes and come out on top. They are inseparable, watching each other’s backs, both on and off the basketball court. But one decision—one mistake—will change their lives forever.


Cousins Clay and Addison were like brothers, growing up together in the projects, until they were ripped apart by a family argument. When they are reunited in a drug-treatment program, they try to work out their issues like a family. But one night, one wrong decision, leaves Clay shaken and Addison dead. And in the rash of events that follow, the truth of what actually happened on the rooftop of the apartment building is caught up in a clash of politics and racial issues. Will Clay be able to rise above the lies and face the truth?

Rucker Park Setup

Rucker Park—a place where some of basketball’s greatest pro players go up against street legends. Best friends Mackey and J.R. have waited their whole lives to win the basketball tournament here. But when the day of an important game arrives, J.R. is fatally stabbed. And while Mackey didn’t wield the knife, he feels responsible. Now he has a score to settle, but the killer is watching his every move. Caught between two opposing forces, Mackey is determined to finish the final game of the Rucker Park Tournament on his own terms. The question is, can he do it?

Three winners will be chosen randomly.

To enter:

1. Leave a comment by midnight EST June 25th, telling me which book you’d like to win (if you have a preference), and I’ll try to accommodate your choice. 

2. If you can think of one, please leave a title to a book you’ve read that you think would engage a reluctant or struggling reader. You can still enter the contest either way:-)

Thanks for stopping by!

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I lucked out and got one of the last seats available to an amazing play called Alice in the Underground, written by Cassidy Phillips with help from teens in the Street Advocacy and Outreach Program (SOAP) in Fairbanks, Alaska.

SOAP’s mission is to provide protection and support for teens who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

Many of the actors in the play have been or are homeless. They delivered poetic, gut-punching monologues about living with meth-addicted parents, being abandoned at truck stops in the middle of nowhere, and spending nights under bridges when the temperature was twenty below zero.

I spent most of my teaching career working in a small school for at risk teens and what I heard and saw on stage Friday night rang true.

I had many students who were homeless. Some got kicked out of their houses, others fled from abusive situations, and some ran because it was the best choice they could make at the time given their specific circumstances.

I have lots of great memories of connecting teens with books, taking them camping and ice fishing and bowling. And I have a slew of memories of breaking up fights, being threatened, meeting with angry parents, and occasionally dealing with weapons and drugs brought to school. But the first image that jumps into my mind when I think about my former job is greeting each student as they walked through the door and just trying to meet them where they were.

One of the actors last night said something like: When you see one of us on the streets just remember that we’re human, just like you.

Here is the quote, compliments of Security Guard in the comments below:

“As the warm sun returns and the ice breaks keep in mind the winter. Keep in mind my story. And when it is cold and you see me alone wandering the streets remember me… Remember that I am living and breathing this cold air with you.”

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When I was teaching I used to take my students to the World Ice Art Championships every year. Once I started writing full-time the ice carving displays slipped from my mind until this year when I decided to head down to the River to check them out. Experts come from all over the world to carve. They work with 3 foot by 5 foot by 8 foot blocks of ice that weigh about 10,000 pounds cut from local ponds .

These days I put most of my creative energy into writing. But in the recent past I’ve done some basket-making

and canoe building.

Both of these projects resulted from grants I’d written for a summer program that my former employer runs for at risk children. I was able to hire a local expert who worked with me to see these projects through to completion. I was fortunate that the school I worked for was very supportive of special projects, and I was able to create some projects that both engaged the students and fed my own creativity.

When I was doing those projects I wasn’t doing a lot of writing but I’m sure they helped my writing, especially the canoe building because it pushed me into new territory, showed me I could do something that I’d never done before. We did lots of problem solving as we encountered difficulties we hadn’t anticipated, kind of like writing a novel. For a while, every time we tried to bend the ribs in place they’d break.

What other creative outlets do you have besides writing?

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