Previous: The Nerdfighter Song (feat. Hank Green)
Next: Hank Green Interview!



View count:20,099
Last sync:2023-11-13 11:00
John has written about books for Booklist magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and Chicago's public radio station, WBEZ. His books, Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns, are enormously popular with teens and critics.

John: When I was a little kid, I liked to read, you know, The Babysitters' Club, whatever, I know it's for girls, but it was actually very helpful insight into what a girl thinks, particularly about boys, which would have been helpful if I had been even remotely interesting to girls, which I wasn't, but--and I read, you know, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, I read a lot of books, but I didn't have any kind of visceral connection to books, like, Eudora Welty talks about childhood reading as a "sweet devouring", it was very much like that for me, I just kept like, I would just devour everything, every book I could, but it wasn't any different than a TV show or watching a movie, it was all part of the same idea of getting access to stories.

It was only when I was in high school, really, that--and this was in a--the class where I started reading interesting books and responding to them in a more thoughtful and critical way, I got a D in. No joke, I got a D, and I only got a D because I wrote--I had to write a paper about The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison over the summer to get the D. I was a terrible student, but I read the books, and because of the way that the book discussions happened, often I read the books after cla--the discussions, you know? Because the discussions would be so good, then I would go back and I would say, oh, I would like to read that, and I think that, in some ways, is the power of an English class, even if you don't, you know, even if teachers sometimes feel like they're not getting to a kid, you're getting to kids in ways that you don't expect. That teacher, Paul McAdam, he had no inkling that I was reading those books. He had no inkling that I had any level of talent or promise as a reader or as a writer, but he never gave up on me, he never--he never treated me like I was anything less than a smart person who was under-performing, and that made such a big and lasting difference in my life.

I think for parents, particularly, there's a sense that when you're watching television with your kids, you know what they're watching, you can talk about what they're watching, if they see something--if you see something happening, you can either pause if you have DVR or you can turn the television off, or you can initiate a conversation immediately, and you may not--parents may not feel like they have that level of control of the environment online, which they don't. More and more, television and the internet are becoming similar, and I don't think that there will be a line between the two in a few years, but for now, there still is a line, and we still think of them as separate entities. I would urge parents to go online and watch what their kids are watching or watch it with them. They may be embarrassed, but it's still worth doing.

I cannot tell you, I've met 8,000 kids in the last two months on tour for my new book, I cannot tell you how many parents have come up to me and said, "I drove my kid an hour to see you. I have no idea what you do on YouTube. I have never seen a video that you made, but--" and I was, and of course, they think that it's gonna be, you know, weird and socially destructive in some way, and but their kids have been bugging them for months to go, and what they find is that it's my brother and me talking about how to fix poverty in Bangladesh and talking about the importance of treating mosquito nets, getting into the right villages in Bangladesh, and talking about imagining other people complexly and fairly and talking about the importance of intellectualism in public discourse, and so, they come up to me afterwards, and they're like, "Oh, this is great." Well, you know, you could have found out that it was great on YouTube. It's just as good on YouTube. You could have saved yourself the worry. So I do think it's important to know that there are a lot of socially constructive online video projects happening right now, and I think it's wonderful that kids are participating in them, but I would be very happy to see more adults participating in them.

Funding for is provided by the Ann B. & Thomas L. Friedman Family Foundation. For more information on adolescent literacy, please visit us online at