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…

 

Advocacy in Action: Speak Up for School Librarians with ESSA

What’s happening in your state with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)? This federal plan replaces No Child Left Behind, and includes language regarding “effective school library programs,”  thanks to your advocacy!

In Illinois, the State Board of Education (ISBE) is charged with creating the plan for implementing the ESSA. The Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA), with the help of John Chrastka from the nonprofit group EveryLibrary,  worked hard over the summer to develop a plan to ensure that the ISBE includes school librarians as they implement ESSA. Now, as the ISBE holds listening tours all over the state, ISLMA asked for volunteers to speak up.

So I did.

Why?

Because my daughter needs a certified school librarian in her school with dedicated funding for library materials and services, not a paraprofessional trying her or his best with funding only from book fairs.

Because I want my community college students to come to me from high schools with certified school librarians–too many of them don’t. And I can tell by the research questions they ask me at the reference desk and during library instruction sessions that they are seriously lacking in information literacy skills.

Because I want to live in a community that values libraries of all kinds because of their ability to improve lives.

Each speaker at the event could talk for 3-5 minutes, so I made my story personal.  I’m a member of ISLMA, and, once registered to appear at a listening session, received talking points from the current ISLMA President, Patti Fleser.  I was able to coordinate with other speakers before the session I attended at Effingham High School so that we didn’t duplicate each other.  Because of my experience as a high school curriculum specialist, I discussed how school librarians are valuable to school improvement, serving as the natural curriculum and professional development experts in their schools, especially the small schools downstate. School librarians and a retired high school principal spoke concerning school libraries and how they support the concept of the whole child and promote the Illinois Learning Standards.

Guests at the ISBE Listening Session also received updates about what’s happened lately.  At its September meeting, ISBE adopted a college and career framework that consists of a benchmark for declaring a student “ready” for college and career:  a 2.8/4.0 GPA, a readiness college entrance score on the SAT, two or more academic benchmarks or an industry credential, and two or more behavioral and experiential benchmarks.  This led to several school administrators voicing their disagreement with this proposal, with one giving the example of a student who is an expert welder as a teenager. That student won’t be considered college and career ready according to this new proposal (especially if he’s a poor test taker), yet he’s already secured a career with a salary that will eventually pay more than most teachers.  In reply, the ISBE officials reiterated that they welcome feedback, and provided an email address for citizens to send comments and concerns. If you’re concerned about the teens in your communities, these are the meetings that librarians need to attend!  Superintendents, principals, teachers, librarians, the press, and local business leaders were in attendance, and the conversation before and after the event was uplifting and important.

As members of YALSA, we #act4teens. We know that effective school library programs make a school more successful in preparing students for college, career, and life. In the new YALSA organizational plan, one of the three priorities is advocacy to policy makers at all levels to increase support for teen library services. By attending this meeting, speaking up, and emailing comments to ISBE, I was able to advocate for libraries to employees of our state board of education. It didn’t hurt that I was able to build connections with community members concerned with the education of children and teens either.

What’s happening in your state? Check out this blogpost from EveryLibrary to find an ESSA calendar for school library stakeholders and to find more information about ESSA in your state.  What can you do to advocate the teens in your community?

Looking forward: School libraries in the new year

The inclusion of school libraries in the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) of 1965 authorization as ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) in late 2015 was a victory, especially for districts reliant on federal funding, but it is technology that is altering what is going on in so many schools.

1:1 technology push
States switching to the computer-based standardized testing required by Common Core State Standards — independent of the CCSS backlash, major assessments are still and will likely remain CCSS aligned — will require supplying hardware accommodating increasingly resource-intensive testing with interactive charts and graphs and locked-down browsers. In many schools, the librarian will be the point-person for maintaining that technology.

1:1 technologies require new metrics
At the AASL conference in November, Michelle Luhtala shared a picture of charging blocks and cables. That’s what she “circulates” at 1:1 New Canaan High School, and it’s a brilliant idea for quantifying student use. Door count had potential as well to show the vibrant, active aspects of our school library spaces independent of checking out books.
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A Message to Share with your Library Supporters

Over the next several weeks, Congress is working on a new federal education bill. Now is the time to activate your library friends and supporters and get them to speak up for school libraries! The last education bill, No Child Left Behind, did not specifically include school libraries, and as a result students suffered because schools closed libraries, cut library budgets, or eliminated staff positions. Right now we have a window of opportunity to right that wrong and help America’s youth. Congress needs to hear from as many people as possible about the importance of school libraries in supporting youth success. Provided below are two ready-to-use messages you can share out with your library supporters. Please do so today!

SAMPLE EMAIL, NEWSLETTER ITEM OR FACEBOOK POST

Studies show that strong school libraries drive student achievement. They help young people succeed in school and prepare for college, careers and life. Congress is currently working on a new education bill that would provide federal funding for the nation’s schools. They need to hear from you that it’s vital to include school libraries in this new bill.  Your calls, emails and Tweets will be the evidence Congress needs to take action for America’s youth and ensure school libraries adequately funded in the ESEA reauthorization.

Here’s how you can ensure that happens:

  1. Go here: http://cqrcengage.com/ala/home
  2. In the blue bar in the upper half of the page, choose how you want to contact your member of Congress: letter, Tweet, or phone call
  3. Click on the option(s) you want, provide the required contact info, & submit.  The letter and Tweet are pre-written for you, so it’s super easy! (but you do have the option to customize them if you want)
  4. Forward this message to library advocates in your community & encourage them to do take action, too
  5. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

For more information, read this blog post from ALA. Thank you for speaking up for youth and libraries!

SAMPLE TWEET

kids need #SchoolLibraries! ow.ly/Sf4lT -contact Congress 2 ask 4 support 4 school libs via this easy site ow.ly/S0kdw

Thank you,

Beth Yoke

Haven’t Contacted Your Senator Yet? Act now for School Libraries!

Last week we called on library staff and advocates to contact Congress to support school libraries, and many of you responded (yay!)!  So far, there have been 2,971 emails, 446 Tweets and 39 phone calls.  That’s great, but with over 98,000 school libraries and 17,000 public libraries in the U.S. we can do better!  ALA staff are meeting with key Congressional staff later this week to ask for support for school libraries.  Right now we need one final push from library staff and advocates so that when ALA meets with Congressional staff your grassroots support will be the evidence Congress needs to take action for school libraries and ensure they’re adequately funded in the ESEA reauthorization.

Here’s how you can make sure that happens:

  1. Go here: http://cqrcengage.com/ala/home
  2. In the blue bar in the upper half of the page, choose how you want to contact your members of Congress: letter, Tweet, or phone call
  3. Click on the option(s) you want, provide the required contact info, & submit.  The letter and Tweet are pre-written for you, so it’s super easy! (but you do have the option to customize them if you want)
  4. Forward this message to library advocates in your community & encourage them to do take action, too
  5. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

For more information, read this blog post from ALA.

Thank you,

Beth Yoke

Take 60 Seconds to Support School Libraries!

The Senate is working on a new education bill (aka ESEA reauthorization) right now, and it’s vital that they include school libraries!  You can help ensure that happens:

  1. Go to this web page
  2. In the blue bar in the upper half of the page, choose how you want to contact your members of Congress: letter, Tweet, or phone call
  3. Click on the option(s) you want, provide the required contact info, & submit.  The letter and Tweet are pre-written for you, so it’s super easy! (but you do have the option to customize them if you want)
  4. Forward this message to library advocates in your community & encourage them to do take action, too
  5. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!

For more information, read this blog post from ALA.  Thank you for supporting libraries!

-Beth Yoke

Back-to-School Week: What’s the Value of School Summer Reading Lists?

Every library worker has gotten that request for a strange, old book which is still somehow required at some school somewhere. Betsy Bird did a terrific take-down of those outdated list earlier this summer, and an attempt to “update” the choices for teen appeal backfired in South Carolina and Florida.

Yes, assigned whole-class summer reading can be problematic. The number of titles (and the page lengths) required seems to have dwindled over decades, and other supposed innovations including “read any one book from the New York Times bestseller list” has led to a scramble for the shortest books.

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Ways Public Librarians Can Support Media Specialists to Celebrate National School Library Month

April is School Library Month! Here are some easy strategies for public librarians seeking to build productive partnerships with their school colleagues.

Get in touch with your local school librarians! Sometimes, this can be the most difficult aspect of cross-agency collaboration. I’ve noticed that, especially with regard to youth services librarians in larger, more bureaucratic public library systems, outreach specialists may try to follow a chain of command, asking for the building principal or even the superintendent for access to the school librarians. In many cases, those administrators may either not realize that the public library wants to help, rather than place demands, on school staff, and they often have a lot on their plate anyway. Reaching out to school librarians directly can be more effective, or better yet, ask a school librarian you have worked with in the past to connect you.

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Give local school librarians and teachers some extra privileges. One easy way to support the educators in your community: create a special patron class in your automation system, with an increased checkout limit. Nashville Public Libraries are on the cutting edge of this, with their Limitless Libraries program. They even have the high school and middle school libraries as routing stops! If your library doesn’t allow holds against on-shelf materials, you might consider a different policy for teachers. No teacher or school librarian wants to swing by the public library at the end of the day to find the audio version of Fahrenheit 451 has been nabbed since they looked it up in the OPAC that morning. Continue reading

The Hub Challenge Goes to School

read like a librarian scoreboard

Are you aware of the Hub Reading Challenge? Are you participating this year?
It’s quite the undertaking. Read as many of YALSA’s award-winning, honored, or selected titles from the past year as possible (or at least 25). You know, while reading everything else you want to read and doing your job and living your life outside of work. It’s both exciting and daunting. I signed up for it this year, though with other reading to do for booktalks, articles, and fun, I wasn’t sure if I could complete it (though I had already read many of the books on the list, you can only count the books if you read them during the challenge period). However, I was excited enough to think about inviting my library patrons to participate.

I’m lucky enough to work at a school where encouraging students to read for pleasure isn’t all that difficult. Castilleja is a school for girls in grades 6-12 in Palo Alto, California, and even with their incredibly demanding academic and extracurricular schedules, most of the girls find the time to read for fun, though this is more common with middle schoolers than upper schoolers. We also provide many of the adults on campus, both faculty and staff, with reading material for work and for fun. So when I set out to develop a reading challenge based on the Hub Reading Challenge, I wasn’t sure if it would be overkill or icing on the cake. Continue reading

Being a Connected Educator

As I work with students and teachers, I keep close tabs on my email and RSS feeds throughout the day. It’s not killing time, it’s keeping up, and it’s essential to my work as a school librarian. And I’m just as quick to respond to a request from a colleague thousands of miles away as to help those in my building. And when I have a question, I throw it out to my PLN, educators and librarians across the country and around the world using a vast variety of networks, automation systems, and applications in a diverse range of settings. And the response is always useful, and often thought-provoking.

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It’s what’s called being a Connected Educator, and this is how it’s described ‘ by the’ eponymous organization:’ “Online communities and learning networks are helping hundreds of thousands of educators learn, reducing isolation and providing “just in time” access to knowledge and opportunities for collaboration. However, many educators are not yet participating and others aren’t realizing the full benefits. In many cases, schools, districts, and states also are not recognizing and rewarding this essential professional learning.”

I’d venture to say that many school librarians were connected educators before connected educators were a thing.If you’ve worked in this field for more than a decade, I’m sure you can remember earlier incarnations of burning up the bush telegraph, via listservs, gopher-esque discussion boards, or text-based email between buildings or across the state. Then blogs and RSS started cropping up, making it even easier to pull the information you want, rather than just the information you need, or to push your own information to others.

So many youth services librarians work alone — as either the only information professional, or the only teen specialist, in a larger institution. And I hope that our professional preparation armed us for combating this this isolation. I remember signing up for two listservs as a requirement in an introductory class in library school in the late 1990s. I chose one for art librarians (I had majored in art as an undergraduate) and one for newspaper librarians. And I now know ridiculous amounts about working in those type of special libraries, just because of that passive exposure years ago.

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