Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reaching Readers: Through the Literacy Center (and what Chris found there)

As a different way to explore how we can reach young readers, I decided to visit a literacy clinic and ask a professor what she does there to help kids read more and better. I met with Dr. Caroline Hopenwasser at SUNY New Paltz and learned all about their amazing Literacy Center. 

Hi, Caroline! Please tell us about your Literacy Center.
The SUNY New Paltz Literacy Center services students from around the Hudson Valley who are striving (we prefer this term to struggling!) readers and writers. Students in grades K-10 work one-on-one with a tutor who determines their particular needs in literacy and implements an individualized tutoring plan. Tutors and students also work in small groups comprised of students with similar literacy needs.

Dr. Hopenwasser guiding students and tutors.

Are there some easy literacy tips that would help kids outside the mid-Hudson Valley to read better? 
Finding books or other texts that match student interest is key. It is essential that kids are engaging in reading and writing activities that are of personal interest to them.

Which top 3 books would you recommend for a reluctant Middle Grade reader? 
The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

What do you wish Middle Grade authors paid more attention to? 
I wish that there were more informational books being written for middle grade students. I think many of them lose interest in history because they don’t have interesting stories that make the past come alive for them. [The primary purpose of informational text is to convey information about the natural or social world to the reader in an engaging way.]

What types of books appeal most to your YA readers?
I find that YA readers love books that present tough topics in a way that respects them as people. It doesn’t matter as much about the genre as the authenticity of the story. YA readers do not like to be patronized.

Are there subjects outside the usual ones that YA authors should be writing about for teen readers? 
I think there’s a need for more informational texts for YA readers as well. Good examples of YA informational texts by two authors who do it right are An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy and Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal.

How can parents and kids create their own literacy centers, if there’s no university nearby to offer services like yours?
Parents and kids can use their local libraries as hubs for their own literacy centers. Creating book clubs around high interest books that kids read with their parents would be a great place to start. In conjunction with librarians or local teachers, parents can help their kids lead discussions and find ways to authentically write about their reading.
Dr. Caroline Hopenwasser

What was your favorite book as a child, and what did you love about it?
One of my favorite books from the time I was about 10 was A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle. I reread this book every summer until I was 16 or 17. I loved the main character, Vicki Austin. She was experiencing her first romance, her first experiences with death, and she also got to swim with wild dolphins.

Which books are on your nightstand right now?
Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the last book in the Divergent Series (YA dystopia)
Monsters of Men (on my Kindle) by Patrick Ness, the last in the Chaos Walking Series (YA sci-fi)
Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal (middle school/YA informational)

Thanks for your terrific suggestions, Caroline! I can’t wait to check out some of those titles. For more information about the Literacy Center at SUNY New Paltz, please take a look at their Website:

--Chris W.


  1. Wow! I feel so special. I've never been blogged before. Thanks, Chris!

    1. It was a pleasure, Dr. Hop, and welcome to the blogosphere! It's been so much fun discussing books with you, I had to write a piece about what you do.

  2. This is fantastic - I love all the title dropping! :)

    1. Thanks, Jennifer! And there are so many great titles out there, too. Feel free to drop a few yourself!


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