August 2021
Tara McIlroy, Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan

Requesting help in choosing reading texts for English language teaching (ELT) is a commonly-asked question in online forums. The recently updated Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) descriptors include three elements that are relevant to literature learning: "Expressing a personal response to creative texts (including literature)", "Analysis and criticism of creative texts (including literature)" and "Reading as a leisure activity" (CEFR, 2018). Expressing personal responses, analysis, and criticism rely on interactive and productive uses of language in response to texts. A valuable resource for just such activity is the new edition of "Literature for Young Adults: Books (and more) for contemporary readers (2nd ed.)" (Knickerbocker & Rycik, 2020). Although both authors are U.S.-based, the book could be used by teachers and curriculum planners in different contexts. This book suggests texts for critical exploration of diversity, gender, race, or issues of disability. While not specifically designed for ELT, many of the suggested texts may be suitable in intensive reading, or creative writing classes.

Chapter One defines contemporary literature and examines the emergence of young adult literature as a sub-genre since World War 2. Chapter Two brings together book choices, teaching ideas, and classroom practices such as read-alouds and guided reading. Chapter Three deals with the language of literary conversations, including genre, reader-based approaches, and narrative perspectives, while Chapter Four looks at realistic fiction with themes such as school life, diversity, and culture.

Chapter Five focuses on historical fiction, which offers a chronological and contextualized view of fiction. Many of the examples in this chapter are U.S.-centered, although some focus on wartime experiences with international contexts. Chapter Six also looks back in time, focusing on traditional literature such as classic tales in the oral tradition (including Greek myths), fairy tales, and legends. The popularity of recent retellings of myths in popular culture and film shows that using old stories in new ways appeals to contemporary readers. Chapter Seven introduces science fiction, fantasy, and speculative (including dystopian) fiction. From Tolkien and Le Guin to Pullman and Gaiman, the chapter covers a considerable range of topics. If deciding on course texts or excerpts for close reading, this chapter offers many exciting ideas for young adult readers.

Chapters Eight-Ten discuss three further directions for engaging literary texts. Chapter Eight introduces, diaries, essays, personal narratives, literary journalism, and autobiographies. Nonfiction may also have literary and aesthetic features that require careful attention while reading. The difference between what Rosenblatt (1994) calls efferent reading (reading for information) and aesthetic reading (pleasure or leisure reading) may be understood on a cline instead of being a clear-cut distinction.) Biographies of famous people such as samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune or founding father Alexander Hamilton have international appeal. Contemporary readers may be particularly interested in the strength of the author's voice and a sense of being close to events described. Chapter Nine addresses creative nonfiction such as visual genres including graphic novels. Perhaps unusual for a book on literature, the genres poetry, short stories, and drama are not featured prominently in this book. The section on short stories includes classics and more contemporary stories. The section on drama within this chapter is relatively short, regrettably, as reading aloud and adapting drama are two versatile ways of bringing drama to modern readers. Chapter Ten investigates in some detail the use of films in literature classes.

For second language learners, unabridged texts need to be carefully selected and adapted with consideration of learners' language proficiency. As teachers explore a wider variety of texts for use in language teaching contexts, including those for personal response and analysis, this volume is an accessible resource for teachers and curriculum planners across various regions and contexts.


Council of Europe. (2018). Common European framework of reference for languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Companion Volume with New Descriptors. Council of Europe.

Knickerbocker, J.L. & Rycik, J. A. (2020). Literature for Young Adults: Books (and more) for Contemporary Readers (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Southern Illinois Press.

Tara McIlroy is an associate professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan. She is currently working on a project investigating curriculum development combining literature learning and language learning. She is interested in applying contemporary theories of reading and writing to the second language classroom.