Margo Rabb’s Aricle “I’m Y.A., and I’m O.K.” in Sunday’s New York Times is the perfect starting place for what I was planning to discuss today. (At some point I’m going to go off in a tangent and it won’t make much sense but it does to me in my semi-warped head).
I can certainly understand the frustration that novelists feel when they think their book isn’t taken as seriously as it should be because the publishers have decided to label it young adult. After all, most teenagers don’t feel as though adults treat them as maturely as they should, so why should their reading material be treated any differently? And as for adults who read young adult books – well they just need to grow up (or at least some in the blogosphere would argue).
I’m a middle school librarian so I get special dispensation for reading young adult materials – it’s for my job. But I must say that even my mom (who was also a librarian) says that she wishes I would read some “serious literary books.” Quite frankly, many of the “adult” books I’ve read recently I’ve only felt so-so about. Last year I tried to read Atonement and simply couldn’t do it. I was miserable so it became the first book I’ve given up in a long time. I will confess to have read a number of adult thrillers and murder mysteries over the past year, and whereas I would argue their worth to many people, others would certainly disagree. I also read a couple of classics each summer. I just finished Persuasion by Austen (wonderful, by the way, one of my favorites) and will read The Taming of the Shrew before summer is over.
Last year, because of my blog reading, I began to read a number of young adult books that weren’t middle school appropriate but that were important books to read if one were to consider herself well versed in young adult literature. Looking for Alaska (John Green) was one of the best written books I’ve read in years. I also enjoyed The Bermudez Triangle (Maureen Johnson), Deadline (Chris Crutcher), Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), and Boy Toy (Barry Lyga), among others. Since these books were better suited for the high school library I purchased them on my own, and then placed them in my office and let the teachers in my book club know they were there. These teachers are also not afraid of the young adult label and they have devoured both the books in my office and in the regular media center. In fact, they are some of my most demanding readers, wanting ever more book recommendations than I can keep up with. To them the phrase “YA book” has lost its stigma and they can now look at what their students are reading and be able to talk intelligently about it. I look at these teachers with a sense of accomplishment (and actually few are language arts teachers – I have math teachers, science teachers, social studies teachers, the chorus teacher, a guidance counselor, the school secretary, and even the occasional physical education teacher who have participated in my book club). With them, I feel some sort of success in my mission to share young adult literature with all.
But where do I feel unsuccessful (and here I am – off on that tangent I warned you about)? I have too many teachers who don’t read, some who don’t read young adult literature, some who don’t read anything at all. I can accept that, albeit grudgingly, if the teacher teaches math or maybe even one of the electives (although I’m telling you that nothing is more effective than a beloved physical education teacher reading a sports biography and then recommending it to his students). But what really kills me is to have teachers who teach middle grades language arts but who don’t ever choose to read middle school literature. How can they be decent language arts teachers without exploring current literature? It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a teacher bring in a class to check out books and then to sit down and grade papers while their students wander about aimlessly instead of helping them find books and recommending books that they have read and enjoyed. Now I grant you that it’s my job to help students find books and actually it’s one of my favorite aspects of my job; however, it’s hard when it’s one person helping 28 – 30 – it goes so much better when there are two people helping a class. For one thing we can bounce ideas off each other as we are trying to help students find the “perfect books.” I think it sends an unconscious message to students when teachers don’t read young adult literature – a message that says “your books aren’t good enough for me.” And that, while not illegal, is a crime.