professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Back to the Future

As you know if you read this blog, for the past couple of days I have been discussing a piece from EdWeek: The tone of this piece rankled me. Perhaps I am overly sensitive. But I have spent 25 years teaching literature for children and young adults at the undergrad and graduate level. Before then, I was an ELAR teacher who used workshop in her classes. I have read tons of research. I have written more than a few pieces as well. And I have had the benefit of history, a history learned at the feet of some of the greats. My doctoral program offered me so many opportunities to learn from the greats. I credit Dick Abrahamson for making sure we all knew the past as we moved into the future. When I see pieces that dismiss whole language or workshop or even an entire field of literature, I cannot help but hear the echoes of the past.

So, when I read this part of the piece, "One of the hallmarks of the test is its increased emphasis on text complexity. All of the SAT reading passages are from previously published high-quality sources. Just to name drop a few authors who appear on the released practice tests: Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr. No lightweights here! Their diction and syntax alone can prove challenging," I know I have to point out some misconceptions about what it means for a text to be complex. So, here are some questions to ponder:

1. Does a text have to be old or an author dead to be considered canonical?
2. Are we really teaching the canon because it might be on the SAT or AP? Have we not done enough teaching to a test? How will kids be college/career ready if all we have done is prepare them for a text they have already seen (and might never see again)?
3. Where is the diversity in this list of "heavyweight" authors?
4. Did any of these writers have a teen audience in mind?
5. Finally, how much YA do folks who dismiss YA actually know?

I suspect that, for many, they know the YA that has been made into movies or that is wildly popular. If all someone knows of YA are the movie versions of Twilight, Fault in our Stars, Hunger Games, Maze Runner, etc., then I might suggest reading the books. There is a wonderful meme flying around Facebook which reads: NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS MOVIE.

I tend to avoid the movie versions of books because 99.9% of the time, the books are better. So before you dismiss an entire field of literature, read widely in it. I read hundreds of books each year in children's and YA literature. Even with my wide reading, I get to only about 10% of the books annually. But from what I do read, I can assure you that literature is alive and well. Want a starting place? In a self-serving mode, might I suggest beginning with the National Book Award longlist for Young People's Literature?


Nonfiction, historical fiction, fictionalized biography, memoir, magical realism, graphic novels. Debut authors and authors who have a long list of books already to their credit. Female, male, young, old. There are no lightweights here, either. Sample NIMONA, a GN that subverts archetypes and motifs, that has shades of Dickensian characters, that provides a young woman not defined by her looks. Try X: A NOVEL co-authored by Kekla Magoon and the daughter of Malcolm X. This has Shabazz taking the stories she has heard about her father and creating a novel about his young adulthood, leading readers up to his conversion in prison and his life of leadership afterward. See how music can reflect the social milieu in SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD. Learn about the history of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers in MOST DANGEROUS. Travel into a time when anything is possible because magic is always near in Laura Ruby's BONE GAP, a novel that captures the mythologies of a magical time and place. Laugh and cry alternately while reading THIS SIDE OF WILD by Gary Paulsen. Go back in time with Rae Carson's WALK THE EARTH A STRNAGER and witness the California God Rush from the perspective of a young girl who can sense gold. Explore the mind of a schizophrenic in CHALLENGER DEEP. Discover why jellyfish become an obsession in THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, a novel that deftly explores grief. And walk alongside Simon who fears that his greatest secret might just be revealed in SIMON VS. THE HOMO SPAIENS AGENDA.

Start with these 10. Then come back to me and talk about "random" and "lightweight" and try to dismiss the incredible richness, depth, voice, syntax, diction, etc. of YA literature.
Tags: ya literature
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