The Rise of YA

Say what you will about the decline of pleasure reading among kids, but YA is alive and kicking. How do I know this? How about the fact that “Hundreds of teens camped overnight outside the San Diego Convention Center for a chance to see early footage of the film and get a glimpse at the cast of heartthrobs set to bring the teen-vampire tale to life.”.

What are they talking about? Apparently, Twilight has taken over Comic-Con this year. That’s right, teens who have read and loved a series are such huge fans that they are taking over one of the biggest conventions of the year. Insane! And I absolutely love it. :)

Even better? The article about Twilight fans at Comic-Con is on the front page of Yahoo. Hopefully, this will introduce more adults (and teens) to current YA books. Even if Meyers is not the world’s greatest writer, even if the Twilight saga is not exactly “literary”, even if the books are silly romances- they are getting teens to read! And they are getting adults into the YA section of the library or bookstore. Now we just need to keep both the teens and adults in there and reading!

Unbelievable!

Thanks to A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy for this link.

For those of who who did not click on the link (or only skimmed the article), Newsweek is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables.  I am a self-professed Anne aficionado.  I grew up reading everything from L.M. Montgomery that I could get my hands on.  Anne was one of my favorite heroines of classic literature, along with L.M. Montgomery’s Emily.  I read the books in each series over and over and over again.  One of my most prized possessions is a first-run copy of the Emily books that belonged to my grandmother.   I still read Anne and Emily’s stories when I want to relax and escape into a comfortable world away from my own.

No one recommended L.M. Montgomery’s books to me.  I found the Anne series on a bookshelf in one of my teacher’s classroom libraries in elementary school.  As I finished the first novel I searched for the second.  Then the third.  And the fourth.  I did the same with the Emily books.  I connected with both girls and their love of life, books, writing, imagination, family, and nature.  They were never extraordinarily popular with my generation, but occasionally I would find a kindred spirit among my peers.  In my own classroom, I recommend L.M. Montgomery’s books to a few of my students who I know will also connect with Anne and Emily.

The article does bring up a few good points.  Why isn’t Anne treated like other classic literature, i.e. the stories of Twain?  It’s most certainly an easier read than much of canon literature, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it on a suggested summer reading list.  Anne is fun, adventurous, and silly!  L.M. Montgomery succeeded in writing a timeless tale of growing up and growing older. The article also points out Anne’s similarities to women and well-known characters today- Carrie Bradshaw and Hilary Clinton, for example.  Another reason teens and adults today would enjoy reading her stories.  But she isn’t hugely popular.

However, one paragraph in the article made me absolutely furious.

That “Anne” has survived so long—and, with 50 million copies sold, so strong—is a small miracle considering the state of young-adult literature. It’s rare to find a best seller with a strong heroine anymore, in large part because, although girls will read books about boys, boys won’t go near a girl’s book, no matter how cool she is. Even in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, the strong, grounded Bella is willing to chuck it all for the love of her vampire boyfriend. “The literary smart girl is still showing up in literature, but she’s often the sidekick,” says Trinna Frever, an “Anne of Green Gables” scholar. “It is a reflection of a culture that’s placing less value on intelligence, and also treating intelligence as a stigmatized quality.” As smart as Anne is, you aren’t likely to find her in a classroom, either. She has survived largely through mothers who pass the book on to their daughters.

WHAT?!?

First of all, what is with the recent YA bashing going on in the media?  I was unaware that there are no strong girl heroines in literature these days.  And by these days, I mean since 1908, when Anne was first published.  Really?  REALLY?!  There have been no strong female heroines since then?  I had no idea!  Honestly, someone better run out and tell Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Ally Carter, Cornelia Funke, Marcus Zusak, Avi, Karen Cushman, Lois Lowry, Cynthia Voight, Jeanne Birdsall, Kate DiCamillo, Meg Cabot, Trenton Lee Stewart, Ann Brashares, Lauren Myracle, E.Lockhart, Libba Bray, Esther Friesner, Jerry Spinelli, Ann Rinaldi, et. al. that they are writing weak female characters!

Seriously?  Seriously?  SERIOUSLY??  Why is it that journalists are suddenly lamenting the lack of “fill in the blank” in modern YA literature?  It is more than obvious that these reporters and bloggers are not doing their research.  One only has to google strong female characters to get list upon list of recent books.  Hell, just to find books published in the last 50 years!  It seems to me that a terrible blight of “woe are we, nothing is like it used to be, what happened to the good old days of real kids books?” is running rampant through our society.  Please, I beg of you, talk to a bookseller or a librarian or a teacher before you publish these ignorant rants.  Even better, talk to a teen!  They can tell you what is out there now and more importantly what they want to read.

Like I said, Anne is a classic.  it doesn’t need to be taught in elementary, middle, or high school.  Sometimes that just takes all the fun out of it!  :)  And don’t worry, some of us did discover her on our own, without someone recommending her to us.  And while we may recommend her to more kindred spirits, plenty of teens and kids will continue to find her on their own.  Anne should be read by those kindred spirits, not forced on everyone and anyone who is of a certain age.  Everyone needs to find their own kindred spirit in YA- whether it be Anne, Emily, Frankie Landau-Banks, Liesel, the Penderwicks, Dicey, Tibby, Gemma, or someone else.  Let’s let the kids find their own heroines!

My Favorite Books of 2007

This year has been a banner one in terms of books I have read. I have always been a voracious reader- my aunt was a 7th grade teacher who started giving me her favorite books when I was in 2nd/3rd grade. I still remember the day she handed me “Speak” (Laurie Halse Anderson) in 6th grade and the effect it had on me. I never really left MG and YA literature behind. As Little Willow stated so perfectly, I still hear the bell. :) I did read less in college, thanks to my abundance of reading of English canon in my English major. Since beginning this blog and joining the kidlitosphere, I feel like I have been reading amazing books. I have read books that I never would have heard of it not for the recommendations from my fellow bloggers. Thanks to them, the quality of books I am reading (and consequently bringing into my classroom) has risen exponentially. When I sat down to write up my “Best of 2007″ list, I was struck by just how many great books I have read. Choosing only a few to highlight was nearly impossible! However, I somehow managed to do it….

My Favorite Middle Grade Books of 2007

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree: Wow. What a stunning debut novel from Lauren Tarshis. I fell in love with Emma and Colleen, and Tarshis’ accurate portrayal of middle school archetypes. This was one of my read-alouds this year, and both classes really enjoyed it. This is my favorite book of the year.

Cracker: Cynthia Kadohata’s novel about war dogs and young men in the Vietnam War left me in tears. A beautiful book.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: As a huge Harry Potter fan, it was inevitable that this book would be on any list I made for 2007. I fantastic ending to one of the best fantasy series of all time.

The Wednesday Wars: A wonderful historical fiction novel, with a great male protagonist. A definite Newbery contender!

Into the Wild: Sarah Beth Durst’s novel was one of the first blog-recommended books I read this year. A funny, fractured fairy tale of a book that had me laughing out loud in many parts. I am definitely looking forward to the sequel!

Best YA Books of 2007

*note- I read a lot of YA in 2007, but most of it was published pre-2007*

The Book Thief: Life-changing. This novel should be on every high school’s required reading list.

Elsewhere: Gabrielle Zevin’s novel was thought-provoking and fun- what a great combination!

A Great and Terrible Beauty: Libba Bray’s first novel about Gemma Doyle sat on my pile of books for months until I recently read it from cover to cover. Did I mention that I read it in about a day? An amazing book, and I am flying through the second book, “Rebel Angels” as we speak. I love Bray’s writing style, her characterization, and the paranormal historical fiction that she so beautifully combines.

Looking for Alaska: John Green’s Printz Award-winning novel was one of the best books I have ever read. One of the few books I have put down halfway through because I couldn’t bear to find out what happened to the characters. Sadly, I didn’t review this, as I read it before I started TheReadingZone. But WOW.

Well, well well! What an eclectic list! Let me tell you, this was no easy task. And as I type, I am looking over at my very, very large pile of books to be read. Thanks to kidlitosphere recommendations, I know there are a number of potential award-winners in that bunch. I need to get reading!

Class of 2k8

Check out the new Class of 2k8 Blog! I started hanging out at the Class of 2k7 back around April and what a fun group! Now that those authors have “graduated”, it’s time for the new class to take over. The Class of…. idea is a great way to keep track of new releases in the children’s book world. So head on over!

Hot Books!

As a teacher, I realize I have something different to add to the kidlitosphere. Like a librarian, I am surrounded by kids all day long. That’s right, real live kid readers!  I have decided to start publishing a monthly (or thereabouts) list of books my students are loving.  Hopefully, this will help others choose books for middle grade readers.Right now, here are the books that my “real live readers” are just eating up in the classroom: 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney- Boys and girls alike are reading this. They are booktalking it to each other, too! My single copy has been passed from student to student, along with the multiple copies they bought from Scholastic and the book fair. All my students are eagerly awaiting the next book.  I am asked at least once a week when the sequel will be out and usually another student (who previously asked the same question) will launch into an explanation about the title of the book and when it will be published.  Needless to say, I can’t get my hands on this soon enough!  

Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) (Pretties (Uglies Trilogy, Book 2) and Specials (Uglies) by Scott Westerfeld- I didn’t even have to booktalk this series. Two of my students came into school as huge fans and they spread the word. My classroom library has 3 copies of each book and they are rarely on the shelves for more than a day before being checked out by the next person. We have even had the media center order a few extra copies to make sure there is always one available.  Also, other dystopian books have become very popular once I explained that Westerfeld’s books are considered dystopian by many critics.    

Cirque Du Freak #1: A Living Nightmare: Book 1 in the Saga of Darren Shan (Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan) by Darren Shan- I briefly booktalked this series (seriously, for about 2 minutes before lunch one day). One student chose to take the first book home that night. Before I knew it, I was besieged by requests for the rest of the series! Apparently, the book was passed around and my boys are completely obsessed. Of course, there are 12 books and I can’t afford them all right now! The boys are getting pretty impatient. :) 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick- When I booktalked this book, I knew the appeal to most students was the fact that it has a lot of pictures. However, at least 3 students have read it since and they all enjoyed the story.  They also enjoy the fact that such a ‘nice’ book is allowed to be taken home.  I think they are used to hardcover books, especially ones with gorgeous illustrations, having special rules.  Those rules usually involve keeping the books in school and not allowing them to go home.    

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis- This is our current read-aloud. My students all know that my goal is to read the Newbery before it is chosen and I told them this is one book I think has a shot at the medal. They asked to read it together and they are loving it! They beg to read it everyday and are definitely identifying with Emma-Jean and Colleen.    

These are the books I can think of off the top of my head. I’ll have to update this every so often and keep the blogosphere updated on my students’ choices.  Again, I hope that this post helps someone find more books for their children or students.

Reading and Writing Workshop Controversy

Man, I am all about the controversy today!

Over at Two Writing Teachers, Stacy pointed me in the direction of this article from Education Next. As a proponent of Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop approach, I was slightly offended by the article’s tone. While I do agree, slightly, that TCRWP has become more scripted over the past decade, I think it is something that was bound to happen when 10,000 educators in one city become bound to the program. However, I use a lot of my TCRWP experience in my own classroom. I think because I teach 6th grade, I avoid a lot of the problems some people have with the program (ie. phonics vs. whole language, etc). I see the difference in my room. Most notably? My students are reading. And reading constantly. Voraciously. Passionately. And critically! I mix Calkins’ methods with Nancie Atwell’s in my reading and writing workshops.

After reading the aforementioned article, I googled for some more Lucy Calkins news. The first site returned was this article from National Review Online. It concerns controversy in NYC schools over TCRWP Reading Workshop.

This article angered me. My library does not consist of trash. I have classics, Newbery winners, Printz winners, and new novels on the best seller list. Name me one adult who reads classical, canon literature all the time. I can list on one hand the adults I know who read, period! I want my students to love reading. If that means sometimes they are reading the middle school equivalent of chick-lit, then so be it. Over the course of the school year, my students will read at least 30 books each, from a variety of genres. Some books are destined to be classics, some already are, and some never will be. Does that make them less of a reader?

What do you think?

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