"What do I mean when I say I love young people's literature? What do I need to do to replicate the way I come to books and understand books and retain narrative for my readers in the room? What can I do to get into the ear of the powers that be to make sure more quality titles from this demographic are included on "official" reading lists? What might ONE YEAR of independent reading look like for a student?"
So, here are the questions for the blog this week. I think they are worth answering. I believe each and every one of us needs to answer these questions for ourselves and then for our classrooms. Think of it as a "this i believe" SEGMENT FOR NPR.
What do I mean when I say I love young people's literature?
Just last week, the New York Times discussed young people's literature as a genre when announcing the appointment of Kate DiCamillo as our new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. While I am thrilled to see the announcement in the NYT, I am dismayed to see young people's literature designated as a genre. Even Wikipedia knows better: "Genre should not be confused with age categories, by which literature may be classified as either adult, young-adult, or children's. They also must not be confused with format, such as graphic novel or picture book."
So, the first piece of the answer to the question of the day is that young people's literature has all of the nuances, genres, sub genres, styles, forms, and format as adult literature. Literature for children, tweens, and teens is just that: LITERATURE. It can include fiction and nonfiction. It may take the form of story, novel, poem, comic. When I refer to young people's literature, I am referring to books written for or read by (to) newborns to teens (and even some 20-somethings).
Recently I saw a book referred to as a book for kids because the protagonist was a child. Nope. Wrong. The age of the main character does not designate the age of the reader. Amelia Bedelia is an adult character but no one would categorize Peggy Parrish's books as adult literature. Likewise, the narrator of THE LOVELY BONES is a teen, but this book is not YA literature. It was published for adults and centers on themes more of interest to adults than teens. This is not to say there were no teen readers; there were. Teens DO read adult books, and adults with increasing frequency are reading YA books as well (Hunger Games, Happry Potter, Twilight, etc.).
What do I mean, then, when I use the terms children's literature and YA literature? In part I am talking about books written for that age group. However, I think we also include books that are developmentally appropriate for the age groups, too. It is the absence of this consideration, I think, that results in some of the most egregious errors made in designating books for certain age groups, too. Lexiles and levels do not ale development into account. Thus, we see books being used in grades where the readers are unlikely to be able to grasp the import of what they are reading. This results in books like NIGHT being in the same range as JUDY MOODY. Metametrics attempts to address this issue thusly: " There are many factors that affect the relationship between a reader and text, including content, age-appropriateness, reader interests, suitability of the text, and text difficulty. The Lexile measure of a book—a measure of text difficulty—is a good starting point in the book-selection process, with other factors then being considered. " I love the double-speak here. Lexiles are a good place to begin even if we should consider other factors. I say consider the other factors first and then go get the measure if you must. But I digress.
I read almost exclusively in the field of literature for children and young adults. Add in professional books and journals and blogs, and you have a pretty complete picture of my reading life. I do indulge in some adult reading from time to time. But I find great satisfaction and depth in reading books for young people. A student of mine once commented that she found the books of Joan Bauer to be more complex and more rewarding than most of the adult books she read. I concur. Grisham, Clancy, and Patterson hold spots on the adult list right now. On the YA list? Chbosky, Rowell, and Green. Which trio is more literary? Do you have to ask?
Thanks, Paul, for giving me some more fodder for the blog. It is time to be intentional about our passion for young people's literature, to let others know of the depth and complexity and sheer beauty of books for younger readers. If we are truly concerned with creating, supporting, and sustaining readers for a lifetime, what better way to go about it than to begin with books that enlighten, entertain, and illuminate. If all of us would take the time to post out these wonderful books to Facebook and Twitter and blogs perhaps we could steer the conversation in the right direction: how do we engage readers?