by Debra Touchette
I’m a straight, white woman. Plenty of books cater to me, reflect me, although, if I’m being honest with myself, most were written around 1900. Old fashioned is one of the nice things people have called me. I’m single and over 30, a former teacher, an assistant librarian (with the black framed glasses) and graduate student. (Spinster is the other name I get, but what evs.) Like I said, there are plenty of books geared towards me.
But here’s the thing. Not everyone is like me. It’s shocking, I know, but true, and it’s my job to find the best books for the kids who come to me for readers’ advisory and to guide students to literature in which they can have an authentic connection. It’s not only my job, it’s my pleasure.
Generally, I don’t know what sort of book will pique a kid’s interest when I first meet her or him, what book will best reflect his or her experiences, what book will open new and wonderful horizons, so it is my job (and again, my pleasure) to read whatever I can get my hands on, to read broadly and diversely and to ask questions. I have my blocks. Every one does. I’m sorry, but I will not read another zombie book. I can’t take the dreams. But I will know where the zombie books are, and I will give them to you with my compliments.
I started to realize when I taught 9th graders that teens are diverse and have wonderfully varied life experiences, that they are smart and capable of handling complex texts, that even if they read brain candy novels, they crave good, meaty stories as much as, if not more than, we serious adults. And now that I’m in grad school, studying literature and adolescent literacy, I have the research to back me up. I have SCIENCE on my side (social science, sure, but the research articles are dense and formatted in APA, and that, my friends, is science). I recently read an article by Elizabeth Moje and Mudhillun MuQaribu, from the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (Nov 2003) called “Literacy and Sexual Identity” which cited heavy hitting theorists and educators like Peter Elbow and Nancie Atwood and Michel Foucault in evidence for including texts that address broader student experiences if we “expect students to write freely and openly about their experiences in the world…examine and critique the texts of their experiences …[and] focus on how individual experiences are embedded in larger contexts and experiences and on how experiences are either supported or subordinated by various power structures or discourses” (204).
If any teachers are reading this, I hope you cheered a little when you read that last paragraph. If you are a teen reading this, it means that we need to give you better stuff to read in order to really help you become critical thinkers, or generally awesome and responsible and curious and engaged adults. Sorry, I nerded out there for a minute. I really do get excited when something I feel in my gut to be right (i.e. give kids better books and for heaven’s sake, let them READ and TALK) is backed up by RESEARCH. It makes me feel powerful.
So. If you’re not getting the books you need, you have a few options.
1. Look to blogs like this and other awesome YA Lit blogs (check the blogroll).
2. Go talk to your librarians. We might get a little misty-eyed at how awesome it is kids want books and want our help, but we won’t make too big a deal out of it in public. Well, we won’t, like, hug you or anything. Probably.
3. Write your own stories. Not with the end goal of publishing in mind, but to create and to share. Write blogs and tell the world what you want and what you need from your stories.
4. Make yourself known and make yourself heard.
Debra is an assistant librarian, grad student, fledgling blogger and wanna-be teacher. She blogs about her reading at Library Lass: Adventures in Reading, and is @threelefthands on Twitter (but mostly just to see what shenanigans @maureenjohnson and @realjohngreen are up to).