#LoveOzYA Spotlight: NSW Premier's Reading Challenge
#LoveOzYA Spotlight is a new monthly series of blog posts highlighting bookish initiatives that promote Australian youth literature.
In April, the #LoveOzYA team interviewed Yvette Poshoglian about the 2017 NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge.
Q: Congratulations on the recent launch of the 2017 NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge, Yvette! For those in the #LoveOzYA community who may be unfamiliar with it, can you please explain what it is and what its aims are?
A: Thank you! The Premier’s Reading Challenge (PRC) in NSW is fifteen years young this year and it’s a program that encourages kids to read, to read more, and to read more widely. It’s about fostering in kids a love of books so that they develop into becoming lifelong readers. It runs between March and August each year and each year group has a target of books to read – a selection of recommended reads from our Booklists and also some of their own personal choices. There are many Challenges and similar programs around the country, each with this goal in mind. In NSW last year, nearly 300,000 students completed the program across Years K-9. The long-time goals though of the program are very important – we want reading to become an enjoyable pursuit and form a pattern of behaviour that kids hang on to. Sometimes, all it takes is the right book to get you hooked!
Q: There are a large number of books in the PRC, with more added every year. We can imagine this is quite a task! What decisions go into picking the new books? How and why are they selected?
A: The PRC has a core team of reviewers comprising teachers, librarians, teacher–librarians, public librarians and critical readers. Each year, the four Booklists grow. However, this year, we are releasing new Booklists each term to reflect the current reading trends and patterns among young readers – and so that they can add their brand-new reads to their Student Reading Records. It’s an exciting development for us, making us more relevant than ever.
Q: The PRC aims to foster a love of reading in kids and young adults, the same way #LoveOzYA aims to focus the attention of Australian teens on Australian YA (#ReadLocal). We’re thrilled to see a number of #LoveOzYA books in the PRC. Are there any plans to add more in the future?
A: YA has always had a place in the PRC and the advent of campaigns such as #LoveOzYA are a brilliant addition to the reading community. The PRC is a wide-ranging program encompassing readers from Kindergarten right through to Year 9 and we have a Mature Reads category for Year 10 too. Each new YA book is reviewed with this consideration in mind. We are cognisant of the fact that YA has changed in the fifteen years since the inception of the program and we want to put great books in the hands of voracious teen readers (which anyone involved in the #LoveOzYA movement understands completely). YA is an important mode in its handling and unpacking of issues and ideas. Books are often the first port of call for young people. Sometimes, their only port. I myself am a writer of books for younger people but professionally, I am a secondary English teacher, and often when I’m reading YA I can visualise exactly the conversations I would have with my students about the story. In a way, I do miss that as I’m out of the classroom at the moment managing the PRC, but it definitely informs my own personal response to the incredible wave of Australian YA that’s coming through at the moment. I think that YA authors are incredibly open and often wonderful at communicating their ideas to young audiences; publishers are giving these writers exciting platforms now from which to speak; and all of this means that young adults can only benefit from this purple patch right now. Stories are more important than ever. The PRC only benefits from this wave of storytelling.
Q: The PRC has been running now for fifteen years. Wow! Do you have any bookish celebrations planned? Any upcoming events with #LoveOzYA authors?
A: We have a TOP SECRET event planned that’s coming up in June … more details to be revealed soon! It’s a book festival that’s not quite your traditional book festival … stay tuned for more! We are also doing lots of events for students and teachers this year and we kicked off the year with the wonderful Randa Abdel-Fattah, who spoke so eloquently about her writing process and motivations, and also about her brilliant new novel When Michael Met Mina (which is on the PRC!). You can check out this resource and more online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe24YhvvmXc). We have been filming loads of authors too for some upcoming material and also teacher education modules. It’s never been a more exciting time to work on the PRC! :)
Q: The NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge is a fantastic initiative. Are there any particular ways the #LoveOzYA community can support it?
A: We know that many involved in the PRC community are teachers and teacher–librarians in high schools and I would like to thank them personally for their dedication to the program, because without them we just simply wouldn’t function. The wonderful support and expertise they provide for our teenagers out there is unparalleled. I find the #LoveOzYA community on social media to be extremely supportive and innovative; I get loads of ideas from the conversations online. Also, I’m lucky to know so many wonderful authors personally – it’s a real privilege to know them, read their work and discuss it with them. Prior to teaching, I worked in book publishing, so I’m incredibly fortuitous to sit at the intersection of all these realms – reading, writing, education, publishing. I’m excited about the future of YA in this country.
Thank you for your time, Yvette, and good luck with this year’s PRC!