Sparking the habits of young readers

Today, YA Mag sat down with best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (THE NOTEBOOK, DEAR JOHN) to talk about the second year of his project, The Novel Learning Series!


Nicholas Sparks imageYA Mag: Nicholas, thank you so much for taking a moment to chat with us about this project.  It’s always exciting to see authors taking an interest in the intellectual health of today’s teen readers! Tell us more about the Novel Learning Series.  Why is this important for young adult readers?

Nicholas Sparks: As the father of five children, I know it is a huge challenge to get teenagers to prepare for standardized testing, particularly college entrance exams. Your typical test prep book is only beneficial if you use it-and many teens don’t. I think beginning to rethink how kids prepare for these exams-by giving them stories that they enjoy reading, and integrating the study guides and practices tests into these stories-we are increasing the chance that test prep books will actually be used. NLS strives to do exactly this.

YA:  With today’s fast-paced world, what do you think most keeps young readers away from more classic, enduring works?

NS: As I mentioned, I have five kids myself so I know from experience that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Obviously there is increased competition with new forms of media and entertainment, especially social media, texting, mobile games-all of these forms of entertainment are now competing for the same 24 hours of the day. That said, classic stories have endured for a reason, and I believe they will continue to do so. It is reassuring to see that readers continue to come back to works of literature that I, too, read when I was growing up.

YA:  When readers finish devouring their NLS books, what can be done year-round to foster life-long reading?

NS: The possibility for teenagers when it comes to picking out their next book are greater now than ever. The young adult book market has taken off over the last couple of decades, and so there are more teenage protagonists flooding bookshelves than at any time in the past. If you want a great book recommendation, you only have to go online or to a book store or, of course, the library. Your local or school librarian is still eager to pass on a fantastic book. All you have to do is ask.

Frankenstein coverYA:  Initially, the Novel Learning Series solely featured several of your novels.  Now, you’re starting to expand!  How did Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein get mixed in with the bunch? Any plans to open it up to other titles?

NS: Frankenstein is, of course, a great example of an enduring novel. I loved that book when I was younger, and I appreciate that it is both accessible and, in many ways, very different than my own novels in genre and tone. The purpose of the Novel Learning Series is to offer texts that we think all teens will like and that are very readable, and I think Frankenstein does this particularly well because it occupies such a prominent place in the popular imagination.

YA: In school, students are often pushed through the curriculum titles, flatly dissecting text in an effort to pass tests and move on to the next chapter.  How might classrooms change or expand the standard approach, to keep an analytical mind while sparking a passion for story and character?

NS: One technique I’ve seen work well is finding the ways in which stories speak to our own personal experiences. How can teenagers relate to the experiences of the characters in the novels they read? This, I think, is a huge leap towards empathetic reading-and once you feel for a character, the passion quickly follows.

YA:  Your books grew to unprecedented fame before the ebook revolution.  What are your thoughts on the different ways young people read these days?  Do you feel it enhances or detracts from their comprehension skills?

NS: I am happy to see readers embrace stories-my own and others’-in all formats. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about readers who listen to novels partially on audiotape, then jump to the text version, then go back to the audio, and so on. My only reaction to that was, “How cool is this?”

YA: As an author, when you embark on a new project, do you write with a specific audience or demographic in mind?

NS: Actually, my audience is remarkably diverse in both background and age, so it would be hard to sit down and think-this has to be just right for x demographic.

The Notebook coverYA: Beyond the NLS, what are you currently working on?

NS: A whole lot. My latest novel, The Longest Ride, will publish on September 17th. Two of my novels-The Best of Me and The Longest Ride-are being developed as feature films, and my TV company is producing Deliverance Creek, a two hour pilot for Lifetime. I also work with The Epiphany School, a private high school my wife and I founded in North Carolina, and I have a charity foundation.  My life is busy, but I love and am grateful for every minute of it.

YA:  Nicholas, it has been a pleasure chatting with you and picking your brain.  Before we go, we have one last question.  Nowadays, what new YA titles would you recommend from your fellow authors?

NS: The book I am telling everyone to read was published, actually, as a novel for middle grade readers, but it is in fact the perfect story for all ages: Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. It’s a remarkable story, one that seems to enrich both the mind and the soul.

YA: Thank you very much, Nicholas!  And again, from YA Mag, congratulations on the continued success of the Novel Learning Series!  We look forward to seeing it in the book bags of teenagers for years to come!