Using the playlists and music and digital media citations within YA readings to draw students into reading YA books
You watch teens immersed in the world of headphone use, swaying to beloved music hits. While you as an adult Ela educator may share this passion, as someone accountable for their capacity to respond to printed text and to comprehend it; you so want them to transfer this easy music engagement to the text at hand. YA literature with its roots in teens’ inherent passions with many topics and instruments non text related, has major works which focus on musicians and in particular rock stars. Not only do these works sometimes engage teen rock star want- to- bes, but very well crafted ones such as Kwame Alexander’s Solo can be used in tandem with inherently multi sensory friendly Chromebooks to get students engagement in reading and comprehending rigorous thought provoking texts as they listen to music full blast.
Featured sample YA Book
Kwame Alexander With Mary Rand Hess
New York: Harper Collins, 2017.
Another compelling YA novel in verse (which is the craft format for musical lyrics) by Kwame Alexander, the Newbery 2015 medal winner for The Crossover, this one with its evocative cover design of a young man and his guitar immediately grabs its teen target audience.
Reading with Music Full Blast-Exercise 1
Teens can be asked prior to reading this book to discuss top guitarists on the charts and those they consider best in rock history past or on the current scene. They can even go online to get sample performance audio or videos. These can be saved to a shared Solo chromebook situtated website to see if any musicians referenced by the students are discussed in the book.
But the lure goes beyond the detailed individual poems/lyrics which nicely encapsulate a detailed history of many rock and roll and beyond great tracks. This is the story of a young man who on the surface is the son of a washed up narcissistic, rock and roll, Blade Morrison. Although it would initially seem that other than as a gossip top 1 percent entitled teen, few target readers could relate to his privileged Hollywood teen issues, Blade’s genuine issues- finding out he is adopted, being betrayed by his first teen love, sneaking around with that love, being uncertain of his talent or direction, dealing silently with the loss of his adopted mother, dealing angrily with his relapsing but never cured addicted father, sibling got your back but at your back relationship and dealing with public humiliation in front of his peers by his father: are all ironically part and parcel of universal teen angst, joy and rites of passage. Add to that a work that is over 400 pages long, but because of its story being crafted in extremely readable commentary about key rock and roll artists as well as original cut to emotions love poetry and family feelings, which quickly reads in under three hours. Who would not choose a work students and very adult close to his or emotions, would be captivated enough to read in a fell swoop?
Reading with Music Full Blast –Exercise 2
Ask that students listen to the specific music cited at the beginning of the chapter/the top of the chapter and then as listeners- react to the music – downloading it as audio file or providing its url. They can share commentary in the book they particularly agree or disagree with, wihin their chromebook circle. This exercise should engage many more musically focused students than are usually engaged in even YA books about musicians.
The use of teen focused analysis of rock and roll musical style and emotions and their fit to 21st century teen reality makes it a work that is particularly meaningful for adolescents as teens and as readers using reading to comprehend life and to mediate its challenges successfully with resilience. The very realistic and very richly colored not clear issues of trust, truth, rivalry, transparency, image and parental values which affect every teen relationship are bluntly presented here. Even the seemingly over the top adult addicted rock star father is shown in depth with his own emotional baggage and his own musical passion underneath his reality show and publicity stunts.
While, initially Blade as the adopted son of a rock star royalty with family friends who are pop icons, would not seem relatable to a broad spectrum of teens. His struggles and self questioning about his musicianship, his need to journey to confront his biological roots as well as his openness to the needs of others and ability to step up when he can help others: all are conditions of adolescent and young adult life which confront in some shape or other all teens. Blade follows his bliss and emotions which is laudable in and of itself. He also takes responsibility even though outwardly angry and defiant, for his father-adopted or not- and his recovery from addiction. He maintains text connections with his sister Storm and petty disputes or spats, solidly cares for her well being. Students can be asked as readers to comment on these texts between siblings and if appropriate/applicable, compare and contrast them with the text they exchange with their own siblings. These can be saved as commentary on how sibling relationships are affected and influenced by the capacity for text communications.
Most important within this work that certainly is driven by the guitar solo lyrics of the fictional Blade, the protagonist’s confronting the issues of what the residents of a Ghana village actually need (turns out to be a washing machine) through the headlines and reality show viewer trailer footage of a Rock Star’s funding a school or a hospital are solidly addressed. Blade’s solo first person narrative not only achingly shares his bleeding heartbreak, but also educates the teen reader about actual third world technology, social and medical needs (malaria and the need for mosquito nets). Students should research the use of mosquito nets and third world illnesses that do indeed kill in the third world. They can use their chromebooks to file informational reports and perhaps be challenged to produce poetry or lyrics about how this information impacts on their real life geographic peers in other countries.
While the work does not provide a deep back story of why Blade’s mother gave him up- the reality is that even after researching and connecting with biological parents , the holes or explanations for why these parents terminated their rights and signed for adoption are often never fully told. This is part of life’s reality.
Reading with the Music Full Blast-Exercise 3
All students can be challenged as appreciators, listeners or instrumentalists to anticipate the sound and style of Blade’s music. As a confirmation or refutation of that anticipation of sound, they can check out on Kwame’s site, Blade’s actual music- http://www.KwameAlexander.com/SoloMusicBonus. Beyond their listening to the music provided, they can comment on how it compares and contrasts with their anticipation of it. They can even compare it to other tracks they feel it is inspired by.
Reading with the Music Full Blast- Exercise 4
Students can also be challenged if they enjoyed the book to reread it in tandem with its playlist site and detail as reviewers, the ultimate reading with the music full blast experience.
In addition ,they can do secondary and primary source research about the literacy needs of Ghana and the author’s personal work there going as directed in the acknowledgements to : http://www.LeapforGhana.org. Finally they can follow up on the surprising for most American students fact that malaria is a deadly disease in the third world by taking the author’s suggestion and learning more at: http://www.Malarianomore.org.
Reading with the Music Full Blast-Exercise 5
For audio learners and music lovers, the work is filled with special domain music terms and references which can be compiled into a glossary that can be shared on the author’s site as well as uploaded to the class or library site that will enhance teen comprehension of the book. Using the chromebooks, students can reference audio files as part of their glossary of terms, making the glossary a lexicographical musical experience. Who says dictionaries have to be print text only!!!
The poems in this work while certainly reflecting the experiences of its 18yearold guitar strumming hero, also show the influence of great lyric song and poetry writers of the late twentieth century and 21st century. Blade was also the salutatorian of his class. Students can be challenged to identify lines and motifs that show how Blade is influenced by published poets and lyricists in his original work.
The last poem of the novel titled “I sing” which of course brings to mind 19th century Walt Whitman, includes the lyric-“I play the song/inside/that’s been waiting.” The power of the fictional Blade’s being open to his own lyric and adult voice and decisions, lies in its unlocking a parallel openness in readers to play their own inside sing takes on life. Ultimately “soloing” is the rite of passage to adulthood.
Other YA books that can be “read with the music full blast” include:
If I Stay – Gale Forman
Ballads of Suburbia – Stephanie Huehnert
Amplified – Tara Kelley
Audrey , Wait – Robin Benway
Virtuosity – Jessica Martinez
Where She Went – Gayle Forman
This Song Will Save Your Life – Leila Sales
Just Listen – Sarah Dressen
Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
Wise Young Foul- Sean Beaudoin
The Heartbreakers- Ali Novak
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist-Rachel Cohn and David Levitan
Good Enough –Paula Yoo
The Haters- Jesse Andrews
Dr. Rose Reissman,
Academic and Grant Funding Director for Sector 5
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