Dawan Coombs is a former high school English teacher who works as an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University. Her teaching and research focus on adolescent readers and young adult literature. In 2023 she and Jon Ostenson published Using Young Adult Literature to Work Through Wobble Moments in Teacher Education, which explores the use of YAL teacher stories to help new teachers navigate challenges they encounter. She has also written about YAL in The ALAN Review, SIGNAL Journal, English Journal and in various edited volumes.
Sarah Petersen is an English teaching major and YAL enthusiast in her junior year at Brigham Young University. She currently works as a research assistant for Dawan Coombs in the 7th grade reading course mentioned in this article and helped develop and teach the texts and activities described. She is the current president of the BYU student chapter of the National Council of Teachers of English. This is her first published piece, but as she continues to research and write about adolescent readers, she hopes there will be many more to come.
- the earliest hamburgers trace their origins back to the military exploits of Genghis Khan?
- the Aztecs used cacao beans as money?
- Alexander the Great enjoyed slushie treats that resembled modern day snow cones?
In her 2021 trade book There is No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts & Folklore About Our Favorite Foods, author Kim Zachman shares these facts and others as she details the history, science, religion, and culture behind some of the most popular items teens consume today.
Whether the featured foods include ice cream or cookies, peanut butter or breakfast cereal, Zachman introduces each of her ten mouthwatering chapters by sharing surprising details or little-known facts about the fare of focus. These introductions hook readers and then lead them into the folklore associated with the food itself. Subsequent sections are denoted by questions and attention-grabbing titles that explore the various people competing for credit as the modern-day creators of these foods. Other sections share interesting facts about the who, what, when, and whys that catapulted each food into fame.
Savory Selections for the Seventh Grade Readers & Writers
Anyone who has spent time in a junior high cafeteria could guess that the topic of food appeals to the tastebuds of most 7th grade readers. But even we were surprised at how many students at a nearby junior high found There is No Ham in Hamburgers hard to resist. But perhaps we shouldn’t have been; studies show that nonfiction itself motivates students to engage in literacy practices. Research suggests that some readers–including those who struggle most–often prefer nonfiction (Moss, 1998; Young & Brozo, 2001). For these students, incorporating nonfiction into the classroom increases both interest and engagement as they read for authentic purposes and engage with texts they enjoy.
In January of 2023, NCTE published their Position Statement on the Role of Nonfiction Literature (K-12), emphasizing the value of nonfiction in reading and writing instruction. We initially chose this tantalizing piece of nonfiction for this particular group of readers because of many of the reasons delineated in the NCTE position statement. In terms of reading, it provides students with an engaging and interesting grade level text to practice reading strategies and skills. Each chapter follows a similar format and incorporates text features that highlight the different elements of the text, helping them learn how to navigate this text and nonfiction more generally as they apply reading strategies.
As we worked with these 7th graders and their teachers, we found a number of engaging opportunities to apply reading strategies. Students practiced identifying key information and writing summaries as they participated in a “Read, Talk Write” strategy where they worked with a partner and took turns reading portions of the text, then summarizing what they read, and writing down key details. Some sections of the text presented various perspectives that required readers to make inferences about the people and events involved in the creation of certain foods. Students also identified key vocabulary that played an important role in understanding the chapter.
The text also provided multiple opportunities to facilitate students’ development as writers by inspiring students to do their own writing. For example, some students conducted research and represented their findings in the form of infographics that showcased the food facts and content they learn from the chapters. This semester other students are using the book as a mentor text to study voice, style and craft. Students will then research the history, folklore, and appeal of a food important to their families and cultures and write their own chapters.
In addition, pairing nonfiction with fiction allows readers to engage students in inquiry into concepts and ideas that reinforce their learning and comprehension in each genre (Duke & Bennett-Armistead, 2003; Vasquez, 2003). For this reason, whether it’s as literature circles or independent reading, we recommend serving up There Is No Ham in Hamburgers alongside one of the many fantastic pieces of high-interest YA fiction that invite readers to savor the intersection of food, culture, and history around the world. We recommend considering pairing it with any of the following texts:
The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim (2020). Life isn’t easy for the Chiu family and oldest daughter Anna feels like the glue keeping them together, taking care of her younger siblings as their mother struggles with mental illness and while their father runs the family restaurant. Throughout this story Anna faces traditional challenges of teenage life as well as the struggles that come with keeping a family together.
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp (2021). When their lives intersect at Nacho’s Tacos, the tension builds between Xander, the new hire hungry for a future, and Penelope, the owner’s daughter who wants to take over the family business. This book tells the experiences of these two teens as they try to navigate challenges with family, mental health, undocumented immigration, and the uncertainties of their futures.
Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love by Jared Reck (2021). Ever since he was four-years old, it’s been Oscar and his grandfather who raised him. The two work together, running the family Swedish food truck that Oscar dreams of taking over one day. But when an unlikely romance develops between Oscar and Lou–who seems like Oscar’s overachieving academic opposite–Oscar finds himself contemplating a future he didn’t anticipate.
The Confectioner’s Guild by Claire Luana (2018). This murder mystery fantasy begins with Wren’s acceptance into the Confectioner’s Guild. But when she becomes the prime murder suspect as well, she must clear her name and work through political rivalries while also navigating the challenges of falling in love.
Duke, N., & Bennett-Armistead, V. (2003). Reading and writing informational text in the primary grades: Research-based practices. Scholastic.
Moss, G. (1998). The fact and fiction research project. Interim findings. University of Southampton.
Vasquez, V. (2003). Getting beyond “I like the book”: Creating space for critical literacy in K–6 classrooms. International Reading Association.
Young, J. P., & Brozo, W. (2001). Boys will be boys, or will they? Literacy and masculinities. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 316–325.