Hello YALSA members and friends ,
ALA sent a letter to WSJ on 6/10 in response to the Meghan Cox Gurdon article. The letter was a joint response from ALA, OIF and YALSA. However, it now appears that the Wall St. Journal isn’t going to publish ALA’s response to the YA lit article so I wanted to make sure and share it with all of you just so you could be aware that it was sent and so that it was available to use as a jumping off point if anyone needs it as they conduct interviews or answer questions that may continue to arise.
In “Darkness Too Visible” (Bookshelf, June 4), Meghan Cox Gurdon shares her thoughts on the state of young adult (YA) fiction today, raising an alarm over what she feels is the negative influence of “dark” themes in YA literature. The author believes that contemporary works project “hideously distorted portrayals of what life is” and calls for a rejection of such undesirable material.
Unfortunately, Ms. Cox Gurdon’s piece suggest that the majority of today’s young adult literature is “dark.” In fact, there are nearly 2,000 titles published each year for teens that represent an unprecedented depth and breadth of subjects and themes.
The American Library Association is dismayed at the narrow and negative focus of this article, and the suggestion that adults should protect teenagers from what Ms. Gurdon believes are the dangerous effects of YA fiction. We also need to clarify our position in opposition to censorship, which Ms. Cox Gurdon both dismisses and misrepresents.
The article cites ALA’s annual lists of “frequently challenged books”, but fails to explain the meaning or purpose behind them. ALA documents challenges, which are formal requests to remove or restrict materials in libraries and schools. A challenge is not simply a complaint. It represents an effort to deny access to information and materials to others in the community – not just the individual and his or her own family.
ALA strongly affirms the right and responsibility of parents to guide their own children’s reading. Library collections allow families to select from a broad range of works, from across the generations – not just the latest trends. Parents can find the books that touched them in adolescence to share with their children, and can work with librarians to discover other or newer material that fits their interests and needs. In an effort to help librarians, educators and parents identify books that are a good fit for them and the young people they care about, ALA, through its division known as the Young Adult Library Services Association, compiles seven annual lists of recommended reading for teens and sponsors six young adult literature awards , selected by experts in the field, including librarians, educators and parents.
Librarians – working together with booksellers, publishers, and authors – take very seriously our role of providing access to books that can educate, enlighten, and entertain. We believe, as Ms. Cox Gurdon does, that what young people read is vitally important. We also recognize that all readers are unique, that young people vary greatly in the reading material that may positively impact them, and that we have a responsibility to provide access to a wide range of ideas.
Ms. Cox Gurdon’s distaste for certain themes in YA fiction misses the reality that such messages can be vitally important, life-changing, and even life-saving for some young readers. Her article suggests that the popularity and even the very existence of such literature crowds out more worthy or valuable books, and is an affront to particular moral values. The danger in Ms. Cox Gurdon’s argument is the implication that young readers, and even other parents and families, cannot be trusted to think for themselves. It encourages a culture of fear around YA literature – when we should instead be honoring the rich and unprecedented diversity of books and other reading materials available for young adults today.
With so many options to choose from, no parent should feel despair over the availability of reading material suitable for their children. Across the country, librarians, who are experts in matching the right book to the right young person, are eager to work with parents and young readers to select the best books and materials for them. Visit your local library and join us in celebrating the freedom to read!