Tag Archives: young adult literature

Remembering Sarah Herz

Sarah Herz — a gifted, demanding yet beloved English teacher at Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools, and Staples High, who made a national mark as a pioneering advocate for young adult literature — died Thursday at home, after a long battle with cancer. She was 83.

Sarah was an avid supporter of the arts; a swimmer, traveler, longtime feminist and active League of Women Voters member.

Her friend and colleague, former Staples English instructor Dr. Gerry Kuroghlian, offers this tribute: 

Mythological goddesses are eternal. But those born of man pass away.

Sarah Herz

Sarah Herz

Perhaps bringing up her own teens, Kate and Mark, gave Sarah Herz the willpower and determination to become a national advocate for the inclusion of young adult literature in middle and high school classrooms.

Perhaps simply understanding her students and their problems propelled her to include books dealing with the ups and downs of being a teen in today’s world.

Whatever her motivation, Sarah’s role as a teacher in Westport spurred her on a nationwide odyssey for the National Council of Teachers of English to bring teachers and authors together, to discuss books that young people would devour.

Her goal was to form bridges between the everyday problems of teen life, and great works of literature. With University of Connecticut professor Don Gallo, Sarah wrote From Hinton to Hamlet: Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics. The book helped change the scope of teen reading forever.

As a reviewer for major publishing houses, Sarah read hundreds of books a year. She annotated and recommended titles for almost every situation in adolescent life. Her reviews helped library media specialists and teachers select relevant material.

Sarah Herz bookPerhaps more importantly, she then sent the books to school libraries in Bridgeport, where they inspired students to read. Kolbe Cathedral credits Mrs. Herz with doubling the number of books checked out from the library.

As a vice president of the Westport Education Association, Sarah was forthright in her ideas for classroom change.

I was fortunate to be Sarah’s colleague and friend, and witness the impact she had on students, teachers and curricula. In my life’s teaching odyssey Sarah served as my own Athena, wearing the helmet of knowledge, holding the owl of wisdom and wielding the spear of change. She will be missed by many, but her legacy of increasing literacy lives on.

Sarah is survived by her husband of 61 years, Stephen of Westport; her son Mark Herz of New Haven, and daughter Kate Herz, son-in-law Paul Ballew and grandsons Jacob and Elijah, all of Brooklyn. 

A memorial service will be held in Westport. Charitable contributions may be sent to The Mercy Learning Center (637 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604). 

Jaina Lewis Expertly Reads Teens

Stop the presses: Some Westport students waited until the last minute to do their summer reading assignments.

But the smart ones didn’t panic.

A few days before Zero Hour, they headed to the Westport Library.

And made a beeline for Jaina Lewis.

Jaina Lewis, always smiling.

The popular teen services librarian calmly recommended 2 books — the summer reading requirement — for dozens of procrastinating middle and high school students.

Each recommendation was personal. Jaina probed likes and dislikes, and found out what they’d enjoyed reading in the past. (If they enjoyed something. Or ever read a book.)

“Lots of kids haven’t been in the library since they were little kids,” she notes. “The ones who say they don’t like to read — they’re the fun ones for me.”

For them, Jaina recommends books with plenty of action, controversy and/or interest. “Slow books,” with lots of character development, are “not always fun for non-readers,” she says diplomatically.

The hottest young adult titles this summer are The Hunger Games, Divergent (about a dystopian Chicago), Dead to You (a kidnap victim returns to his family years later, and has difficulty acclimating), and the Matched trilogy.

Her encyclopedic knowledge of books wows teenagers. “I have to know a little bit about everything,” Jaina says. One girl asked, “Have you read every book in the library?”

To increase visibility, Jaina spends her afternoons at a desk in the teen section, across from the Maker Space.

“I catch a lot more people who wouldn’t go to the reference desk or ask for advice,” she explains.

After 6 years at the Westport Library, Jaina knows what makes teens tick.

She created a Zombie Club, for very enthusiastic middle schoolers. They meet once a month to play board games, watch zombie movies and socialize.

Teenagers feel welcome at the Westport Public Library.

Soon, Jaina will lead a “headband workshop” in the Maker Space. She’ll show kids how to create special headbands that glow with LED lights.

On November 2, Jaina and several high school volunteers will host a “Haunted Library” event. There’ll be a haunted labyrinth, a paranormal society, a band (and of course food).

She’s also organizing an Odyssey of the Mind team.

“I did it as a kid,” Jaina says of the international problem-solving competition. “It’s technical, but very creative.”

Almost as creative as finding the perfect 2 books for dozens of non-reading teenagers, an hour or two before they’re supposed to be finished.