Literacy and Adolescent Literature

by Grace Williamson

Literacy, by its classic definition, refers to the ability to read and write in one’s chosen or given language. More importantly, though, literacy describes one’s competence in a specific area. Limiting the definition of literacy to reading and writing neglects other forms of literacy that are crucial to growth and development: emotional literacy, political literacy, cultural literacy, and social literacy. Although English teaching may focus on reading and writing, such modes of literacy are crucial in developing the many other forms.

Adolescent literature is a bit harder to define. For me, adolescent literature is that which pertains to youth in theme, characterization, and context. YA and Middle grade books can be adolescent ones, but I do not feel that all YA literature is in fact adolescent. A YA book may tackle very adult topics, but through the lens of an adolescent. It is easy to take that word–adolescence–and twist it into meaning naive or immature. This could not be farther from the truth! The term, in literature, refers most closely to a perspective, an introduction to an important perspective.

Teaching literacy and adolescent literature go hand in hand; we can use adolescent literature to teach reading and writing, but also to teach emotional, political, cultural, and social literacy.

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