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15 February 2024

The Reading Doctor: Exam Time

This Reading Doctor, our amazing friends in the Children and Youth Services team at Wellington City Libraries take up the locum position to tackle a curly question from a parent.

I was pretty disappointed in the quality of the 'unseen' text set for my teenage son's internal English exam recently, and I questioned the school about the poor writing standard. We are in the middle of an interesting conversation about the issue, and they have posed the challenge to me: what are some high quality, short non-fiction texts suitable for ages 13+? My instinct is to say, find excellent YA non-fiction books, and just sent the first couple of paragraphs or pages: the writer will have to give context, grab the reader, etc. right from the start. But are there excellent anthologies of short (under four pages, I guess) non-fiction pieces for this reading age? Thank you!

Short non-fiction, particularly for this age group, is quite difficult to source. But here are some non-fiction picks from the team that might be suitable for exam excerpts - or just the teen reader in your life!

The Book of Hat by Harriet Rowland

A funny and very real account of the author's experience with cancer. Inspired by The Fault in our Stars, Harriet kept a blog throughout her treatment and this book is a collection of those posts. They are funny and heart-breaking and give real insight into what her life was like after the diagnosis, and it shows the real net of family and community that gathered around Harriet.

Since it's a collection of blog posts, schools looking for a selection of shorter texts will be easily able to choose some from The Book of Hat.

A New Dawn by Emeli Sione

A beautiful telling of author Emeli Sione's experience of the Dawn Raids in Aotearoa in the 1970s. A New Dawn tells Sione's very personal story and shares her family history and the impact the Dawn Raids had on her and her family.

Each page of text is paired with a full page image, so teachers looking for analyses of how word and image work together to convey a message can find that in this work. This is a book written for younger readers.

Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed by Dashka Slater

This is the Bling Ring exposé of our time; an award-winning and thought-provoking tale of the very real consequences of online choices. A great introduction to investigative journalism and well-researched writing.

Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: A Guide to the Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This edition is adapted specifically for the YA age group by Monique Gray Smith, but Kimmerer’s original gentle style still shines through. The book reinforces how wider ecological understanding stems from listening to the plants around us: a lovely chance for cross-disciplinary learning.

Protest! Shaping Aotearoa by Mandy Hager

Award-winning and well-known Aotearoa author Mandy Hager dissects the history of protest in Aotearoa New Zealand in a way that’s both broadly accessible and impactful for younger readers. A great learning opportunity to blend with the NZ Histories curriculum.

BreadSong: How Baking Changed Our Lives by Kitty & Al Tait

This hybrid recipe book-memoir could be an interesting format to challenge students with. Some students will resonate with Kitty’s experiences of anxiety and it will be engaging work for them to dissect how a simple recipe book works to communicate this theme.