Defending the Merits of YA Literature

Last year, the teachers of our Freshman Honors English classes gave out a winter break reading assignment. Each student was asked to choose a book and read it over break, just for fun. In my ten years at the school, this was only the second assignment I knew of that gave our high school students the opportunity to choose any book they wanted to read, so I was excited. 

 

Chart describing the literary merit of YA books.

Then we had the first student come back to the library to return the book she had checked out. 

You see, she had chosen a young adult novel, and apparently that was not allowed. She needed an adult book. My heart sank and my blood pressure rose. I was upset, confused, and really sad for our kids. At that point, it was too late in the game to talk to the teachers about their reasoning behind the ban on YA, as winter break was about to start. 

This year, I decided to make it my mission to get our teachers to let students read YA for their winter break assignment.  Being a librarian, this obviously meant I needed to do my research, gather evidence, and have it ready for them. Below, I’ve shared some of the best resources I found. I know that I am not the only one who interacts with people, whether they are parents, teachers, or even other librarians, who feel that YA is somehow unworthy reading for teens. Hopefully these resources can be useful for some of you as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of Young Adult Literature by Michael Cart (2008)

Though once dismissed as a genre consisting of little more than problem novels and romances, young adult literature has, since the mid-1990’s, come of age as literature – literature that welcomes artistic innovation, experimentation, and risk-taking.

…much of [YA literature’s] value cannot be quantified but is to be found in how it addresses the needs of its readers. Often described as “developmental,” these needs recognize that young adults are beings in evolution, in search of self and identity; beings who are constantly growing and changing, morphing from the condition of childhood to that of adulthood.

Disrupting Genre by Julia E Torres

In our ELA classrooms, white supremacy shows up in one important way: the worship of the written word. If something isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. If a book is not in a written format and hailed as “rigorous” or labeled as “classic,” then it’s unimportant and doesn’t make it onto our book lists. If something isn’t written in a western format, then it isn’t worthy of classroom study. 

This literature is written for young people and discussing topics they are concerned with. Often, YA surfaces issues of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexuality, that “classical” texts don’t address. Our own Tricia E. explained, “YA is not a genre; among other things, it’s an indicator of the intended audience. So when you disparage YA, you’re disparaging the audience.”

Quick Take: Dark or Difficult Themes for Young Adult Readers by Sean Kennedy (2019)

But decency requires empathy, and empathy requires imagination. That’s what diverse stories do. They feed our complex imaginations and allow us to develop empathy for people who are different from us, and this ultimately leads to communities built on foundations of decency.

Beyond Relevance to Literary Merit: Young Adult Literature as “Literature” by Dr. Anna Soter and Sean Connors (2009)

Much like literature written for adults, we believe that young adult literature is capable of providing thoughtful social and political commentary that raises questions about complex issues…

We willingly concede that young adult literature reflects the interests and concerns of teenagers, and we suspect that most secondary teachers would agree. However, we also believe that young adult literature has the kind of literary merit that canonical literature demonstrates.

Pedagogic, Not Didactic: Michael Cart on Young Adult Fiction by Jonathan Alexander interviewing Michael Cart (2018)

The mirror lets readers see themselves, which is a godsend because young adults, being inherently solipsistic, often think they are the only one of their kind; this is especially true of those who are treated as outsiders by their peers. 

I would argue that this is a golden age of literary fiction for young adults. I believe this is due, in part, to the empowering influence of the Michael L. Printz Award, which honors the best YA book of the year — “best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit. It is also due to the growing sophistication of the readership, which, it seems, is almost exponentially more worldly than it was in the genre’s early years…

 

Resources for Youth Services

Summer Reading is over! Many schools have already cranked up, and more will be getting going in the next couple of weeks. Fall, to me, means planning. I love doing long-term planning and reading materials that inspire me.  I’ve compiled a list here of a few more non-traditional resources that we could all benefit from. I hope one or all of these sparks your creative ideas for the fall!

Think Outside the Stacks – This is a TinyLetter newsletter written by Beth Saxon, also known as BethReads. Beth uses this newsletter to compile information that is relevant is YS librarians from outside the usual library sources–family blogs, news sources, museums, craft sites, educators. The title is apt. We have a lot to learn from people who aren’t librarians that also have interest in serving children and family, and Beth beautifully curates current, pertinent information.

Fairy Dust Teaching Blog – Fairy Dust Teaching is a resource site for teachers that actually offers online courses. But the blog is free to browse and is chock-full of classroom fun that can easily be adapted to library programming. She also highlights what educators all over the country are doing.

Planet Esmé – You might know Esmé Raji Codell from her book, Educating Esme, and her site is a wonderful resource for books, teaching, and other fun. You could get lost in those archives.

Podcasts are having their moment in the sun and I, for one, love them! Here are some great resources for podcasts that can help you be a better librarian:

Podcasts to Help Build Your Teen Collection: a post by Anna Dalin over at the Hub about great podcasts for collection development!

Secret Stacks – a podcast about comics in libraries by Kristin Lalonde and Thomas Maluck.

I hope this gets you started. Happy planning!

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Our guest blogger from ALSC today is Ally Watkins (@aswatki1). Ally is a Library Consultant at the Mississippi Library Commission.

October Eureka Moments

Thoroughly in the swing of things now? Already bored with what’s going on? Happy but ready to add more programming and interest to your services? Whatever the case, maybe some of these innovations, research publications, and other cool tidbits will inspire you.

  • You know your patrons like games. And you may already know of some of the social justice gaming websites and programs out there, like Games for Change or Spent. Now it might interest you to know that there’s a new game out there designed specifically to target your ethics, not just to make you live in someone else’s shoes or support a cause. Quandary is its name, and it was designed by The Learning Network, a collaboration between MIT and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Take a look at the game here, and then consider if your gaming club might attract new members with an interest in social justice, or if your volunteer group might like to try some gaming. Now that so many teens are so savvy at programming, you might be able to get a group together to create a game that tackles a local issue that they find important.
  • Continue reading

    Research Roundup

    Miss hiding out in your university library? Tired of only reading library publications? Want to know what other scholars are doing? Once a month I’ll do the browsing for you and let you know what’s going on in the world of pop culture, sociology, literature, pedagogy, and more. If it seems relevant to libraries or young adult services, you’ll find it here. When possible, I’ll also offer some insights or suggestions on application for libraries or librarians. Revel in being a student again!

    • Contexts Discoveries, a sociology blog, says that Facebook isn’t just a tool for social interaction, but it’s a tool for sociologists to study how students create their physical social networks. With our world getting more technological every moment, it’s good to know how your patrons view their social roles and responsibilities.
    • David Darts describes how artists and art teachers have combined social justice education with art education and created street art projects that didn’t just bring art to the public but also brought the streets to the public’s eye. Posing as panhandlers, street artists, and shoppers, students “performed” the streets after a series of activities in the classroom and out including field research, interviews, and journal reflections. This “performance art pedagogy” incorporated visual art, acting, and social research and made the students more aware of street life and culture, in both its positive and negative aspects. Take a look at the community surrounding your library, and think about your teen patron base–would this be an activity for them? And would it be an eye opening one, or a validating one? How can you approach the sensitive subject of homelessness, the sex trade, poverty, and social exclusion in a way that’s meaningful for your community?
      Darts, David. “Invisible Culture: Taking Art Education to the Streets.” Art Education, 64:5, 2011. 49-53.
    • There is a lot of talk in libraries about how best to serve the “underserved,” the “low-achieving,” the “at-risk,” and rightfully so. But what about serving and supporting the needs of gifted and creative young people? Two articles in the spring issue of Gifted Child Today address these issues. Continue reading

    ALA Advocacy Resources

    ALA has many resources available online to help you advocate for your library and libraries in general.

    The Advocacy University page includes links to many toolkits, including resources for frontline advocacy, advocating in a tough economy, and an advocacy toolkit geared specifically towards youth development and services.

    The Advocacy Clearinghouse page provides advocacy fact sheets, a printable brochure including library facts, and links to advocacy pages geared towards specific types of libraries.

    Check the Advocacy Events page for information on upcoming events with advocacy opportunities, and information from past advocacy events.

    Not sure what issues need librarian advocates, or how to contact your legislators? Visit the Federal Legislation and Libraries page and the Issues and Advocacy page. These pages provide information on important issues, upcoming legislation that affects libraries, and information on contacting your federal legislators.

    ALA provides one central page, the Advocacy for Libraries page, with all of these links and other links that you may find useful.

    If you need further support or information about becoming a library advocate, contact the ALA Office for Library Advocacy.

    Should You Talk About It?

    My friend pointed out to me that NPR’s Talk of the Nation was having a program today and yesterday in regards to discussing the Virginia Tech tragedy with children. Both audio recordings are archived.

    While the shows were directed more toward teachers and parents, rather than librarians explicitly, it might help to listen since a variety of people contributed to the conversations and a range of age groups were discussed.

    Some highlights in regards to talking with tweens and teens included:

    • create opportunities to talk about how they feel by asking open ended questions and listening
    • talk about examples of the positive heroic stories of people not only helping each other but strategies used to save lives
    • limit screen time, depending on the child’s age
    • focus on the learning experiences such as reminding tweens/teens it’s okay to ask for help from a counselor or teacher (and librarian!) if they notice a friend acting differently or threateningly
    • since teens going away to college the next year might have some concerns about what might happen to them when they do go away, reviewing the resources the school has to keep students safe
    • taking note of and reporting if necessary, behavior changes that might indicate anxiety is showing up such as from skipping class or starting to fight more often

    A recommended resource was the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry with links that range from ‘Talking to Children about Community Violence’ to ‘Facts for Families.’

    Posted by Kelly Czarnecki