Focus for today: getting the ears of the powers that be
First, we need to decide which "powers" might actually listen to some of our ideas about young people's literature? I think we need to begin with the person who is the closest in proximity: our immediate supervisor. Educators need to decide for themselves which person that might be. For me, many years ago, the beginning was getting the other members of my academic team on board. We agreed to take some time daily for silent reading in all of our classes right after recess. That simple move eventually led to a school wide DEAR time (we called it Silent Reading Activity for some reason I cannot recall). The time set aside went from our team to all 7th grade teams to all teams gradually and with the support of my principal. When I was named as department chair, then, it was time to make some more inroads. Abandoning spelling books (yes, we had books with list after list after list complete with worksheets and sentences), grammar packets, and a focus only on the literature textbooks took time. But educators bought into those changes. Classroom libraries, sets of novels for Literature Circles, and most importantly, FUNDING followed.
I was fortunate. The ELAR leaders within my district were leading advocates of workshop, of choice, of autonomy for teachers. It is the reason I hated to leave Alief ISD when I headed to SHSU.
Now, for part two: getting books on the "official" lists
I continue to have the same argument with some folks who insist that the Exemplar Texts are not THE list. I know that. However, I also know that in so many instances, this list (or another one that has been leveled and exiled to death) is the one handed to teachers. How many educators have the time to pursue adding books, writing the rationales, looking up all the other "sides of the triangle"? And it is not just CCSS that is the culprit here. Two studies, 20 years apart, determined that the content of high school literature books has not shifted much. It is dominated by western texts, by the works of men, and by mostly white authors to boot. One of the reasons I began to search for contemporary works for my classroom was driven in part by the fact that my students were largely a diverse group and their literature was NOT.
I will say it again: lists are idiosyncratic. My list of "best" books of 2013 has almost more than 200 books on it. Some of them will, no doubt, be announced when ALA awards its medals later this onto. Most will not. But I know the potential reads for each and every one of them. I do not want to put limits on the books that might be officially read (and does this not sound vaguely dystopic?). Instead, I want to push the limits out of the way.
I begin each semester in children's literature with Byrd Baylor's EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK because the analogy of finding a rock and keeping it works so well when I talk about books being the foundation "rock" of literacy. The final rule for finding a rock tells readers that they have to make up their own minds; they will know. My list from 2013 will certainly contain titles that others will have on their own lists. But there will be differences as well. And that is how it should be. Some folks will rail against the award winners if their personal dog in the hunt does not win. I won't. Instead, I will continue to tell folks about the wonderful books I read. Judith Viorst's poetry collection IF I WERE IN CHARGE OF THE WORLD is one I love. Because I know that if I were in charge of the world, only my books would matter. But in the REAL world, all of our books matter.
So, as we hear in Julius Caesar: lend me your ears. Find an ear that is open, that is willing to listen. Each one, reach one. Perhaps this way, other ears will be open and other books will find their way onto some more lists.