Getting teenagers to pick up a book, especially during the summer, isn’t always easy.
"At the elementary level it’s easy to promote reading with contests and all that, but we don’t really do that at the high school level," said Carole Vandersteeg, assistant principal at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale.
But encouraging reading for pleasure is one way the Scottsdale Unified School District is improving its scores on AIMS and other tests of reading comprehension.
Only 10 percent of sophomores in the district failed the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards reading test while 89 percent met or exceeded the standards.
At both Chaparral and Desert Mountain high schools, more than 20 percent of students exceeded the reading standards. One way to move students into that excelling category is by boosting their reading habits, administrators say.
Not only does practice make for speedier reading, but it allows students to build their vocabulary, Vandersteeg said.
"If you are preparing to do well on the SAT, you don’t learn those vocabulary words overnight. It builds over time," she said.
For Lauryn Neri, 16, a junior at Desert Mountain, summer reading assignments for her honors English classes have exposed her to books she might never have taken off the shelves.
"My honors English teacher, Mrs. King, introduced me to an author who’s now one of my favorites, so you never know," Neri said.
That author was mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark, and Neri has read eight of her books so far.
Overall, mystery books are declining in popularity among teens, said Anna Mathews, a teen librarian at Scottsdale’s Civic Center Library.
Instead, teens are reading action books involving spies and special agents, like the "Spy High" series by AJ Butcher, Mathews said.
Series books are popular, she said, because they make teens feel like they are close friends with the characters.
One popular series is "Students Across the Seven Seas," where each book involves an American teenage girl who studies abroad — and inevitably falls in love.
Teen girls flock to books that are "like chick lit, but for the younger readers," said Krissy Cwengros, a Scottsdale librarian.
Alex Blum, 17, runs a teen book club at Desert Mountain, where members chose a more serious book for the summer — "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, about an Afghan boy who moves to the United States, then returns to his homeland during the Taliban regime.
"We wanted to interest people who didn’t know about the good stuff out there to read," Blum said.
Top teen picks this summer
• "Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson" by Louis Rennison
• "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky
• "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" series by Ann Brashares
• "Harry Potter" series by J.K. Rowling
• "Girls on Film: An A-List Novel" by Zoey Dean, and other books in the series
• "Princess in Training" by Meg Cabot, and other books in the "Princess Diaries" series
• "Bleach" by Tite Kubo, "Peach Girl" by Miwa Ueda, and other graphic novels
Source: Scottsdale Public Library