Joan Kindig's book on YA literature, CHOOSING TO READ, defines canon as a set of sacred texts. It is that definition that helps me as I construct my own set of classics, of a canon. I think that each semester, as I compile the required reading list for my YA class, that I am creating a canon of sorts. Here, I am saying to my students, are the sacred texts we will consider this semester. That canon has some mainstays: THE CHOCOLATE WAR, THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, ANNIE ON MY MIND, to make a few. But some titles change; new ones come onto the list, and others leave (sometimes just for a while). Ditto the choices I offer in terms of authors and lists from which my grad students can select books.
And this is the difference between my canon and the list of classics I often see offered in various venues. Many of those lists seem to be never-changing. Titles were added to the list, but they never seem to change. Some titles are hundreds of years old. While a few have relevance to contemporary readers, many do not. And my biggest, beef: many were never written with a teen or child audience in mind (and then there is the piece about the fact that I do not think Shakespeare ever envisioned folks reading his plays in lieu of seeing them performed).
So why are so many loathe to create more sets of canons, sacred texts? I have heard many EXCUSES. But I have not heard very many REASONS. Why can we not have some classics, contemporary classics that kids might read instead of what I term classics, those books someone things we should read because they are good for us (sort of like cod liver oil?). What can readers glean from SCARLET LETTER that they might not see in more contemporary texts? Is the theme that unusual, the characters that original, the language that distinctive? I think not.
I am not advocating that we dispose of all classics or even classics (because my classic might be someone's most beloved classic). But I wonder if we can forestall the study of adult texts until kids are in college? In the meantime, perhaps we can continue to help them grow and develop as readers in and out of school. Maybe "college ready" means, in part, still liking to read?