Have you ever loved something so unabashedly that you didn’t realize there was any other way to feel? I have. About books. YA, specifically.
Last night I had the good fortune to present to graduate students in the University at Albany’s Literacy program. My audience was a group of book lovers, just like me. Some are already teaching, some or serving in other education capacities, and some are working on the degree, primarily. It was my job to talk to them about my path to being an author and then about the importance of YA Lit in the classroom.
My story to publication is well-worn terrain for me, so I had no trepidation about regaling them with my narrative of hitting wall after wall, but finally breaking through. And they were a fantastic audience. My criteria are simple. 1. Are they awake? 2. Do they laugh at my corny jokes? Yes, to both, so I knew I was solid. But then I had to transition from author to teacher, and to be honest, that is a much lesser worn path for me to speak publicly about. I gave the class a break, pulled up my presentation and swallowed my nerves.
The opening line of this second presentation reads as follows: If, capital L, Literature is the only access point we provide for students to grow in their reading comprehension abilities, then we’re failing the majority of them.
Yup, a nice bold and assertive beginning, just as you should expect coming from anything I write 🙂
And with that, I launched into the reasons I believe this. As I spoke, I felt myself defending that aforementioned love. I very much wanted to throw down with all the naysayers who state that YA Lit isn’t deep enough, nuanced enough, important enough to teach. I threw out the statement that teens are not small adults, but rather, on the spectrum of life, are far closer to birth than death, and we should respect that fact and give them art that reflects their world.
Yeah, I was preaching.
But preaching to a choir, I believe. Really, I was just getting all fired up over the very issue that so many educators currently face, and as new educators enter the field, will face. There is such hostility and elitism over the Literature vs. YA Lit. debate. When educators look down their noses at the very books their students will actually read (and not find shortcuts regarding, like Sparknotes) it does so much more damage than good.
Because you know what happens to kids whose reading habits aren’t bolstered? They stop reading. Yup, they become the giant swath of adults who rarely, if ever, read. So what good does all that jamming Literature down kids’ throats do?
That said, I am not an advocate of dismissing all Literature and having students only read YA. I am an advocate of difficult texts, and building reading stamina. But all in good measure. Reading is a tonic; it is a strong medicine. Too much at too potent of a level and our body can be overwhelmed. But at just the right dosage, well, then it’s an elixir. A love potion, if you will. One that’s still working on me, and one I hope the class I spoke to will concoct for their own students.
Thanks again, Dr. Stuetzel and all of her students! Go forth and share the love.