I spent the weekend at a retreat for teens that focused on The Hunger Games and the role of YA (young adult) dystopian texts in our current world. And while it was a bit exhausting to prepare for it, it was exhilarating to be at it. As anyone who likes working with teens will tell you, teens are filled with the kind of energy that when around a collective body of them, you can’t help but absorb some of it. If they were modern pop-culture vampires, we’d all get contact sparkles from them.
My resume reads like I am precisely the sort of person who likes working with teens. All but one job I’ve had since turning 19 has involved working with teens. And like most of my peers, I do not work with teens because of some need to revisit my own teen experiences and years. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.
I work with teens because they give me hope.
If you are in the young adult writing community, you know that the Wall Street Journal published an article on Saturday about young adult literature. The author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, writes her opinion of young adult literature. There were elements of her argument that I agree with and elements that made me shake my head. But mostly it made me remember a time in my life when I was the gatekeeper and was the dreaded object of the C-word: censorship. And so, between the flurry of tweets using the hashtag #YASaves and the article, I suddenly was caught up in the emotional maelstrom of a time I thought could no longer hurt quite as much as it still does.
For ten years I was a teacher. I may have included the modifiers of “high school” or “English” but the foundation always rested firmly on being a teacher. And while I haven’t been a “paid” teacher of that sort since 2004, I will always be a teacher in my heart and will always be involved in the teaching of others whether they are my children or the children and teens I work with in my current job. And while I was a good teacher for most of my students, I was a great teacher for some as well as a terrible teacher for others. My teaching ability didn’t change depending upon the class period or age of students. Instead the variables at work were relational — how well did my students and I connect and how well did my student connect with the subject material. The one variable that remained constant was my care and commitment to my students. I note this “non-fact” because some parents and students thought I was doing the absolute best by their student. And yet there were the folks who really, truly believed I was trying to harm students.
Why? How? Simply by asking students to read books that challenged them.
I can’t think of a time in my life that reading hasn’t been a wonderful pleasure of mine. One year, my sister-in-law gave me the perfect Christmas present: a new novel and a plate of cookies. I brewed up a pot of coffee and polished off the book and the cookies and was a happy, happy girl. I have a short list of accomplishments – but being a good reader tops my list. (And it is a good thing I am since as a double major in English Literature and History with my minor in Political Science, I did a fair bit of assigned reading.)
Now I know you might be pondering over the relevance of that first paragraph and the title, but I’ll get there, I promise. Remember, I may be “The Random Ah” but my circle will eventually round. (BTW, many thanks to Donna Davis for bestowing that moniker upon me. Very astute that woman.)
In the 41 years I’ve been gracing this planet, books have always played a significant role in my life. My parents are readers (not as much now as they have vision issues); my siblings are readers. I entered Kindergarten reading and haven’t stopped. I can’t pick a favorite book because I have read thousands and thousands of books and so just how does one pick a favorite? I can’t even pick a favorite genre since they all pique my interest in some way.
But since taking Adolescent Literature at the University of Minnesota with Dr. Lee Galda, I must say this: if you’ve always considered yourself too “old” to read books for kids, think again. All grown-ups should be reading “kid lit” and here is why.
Books for younger readers are good and are good for you.
They engage your mind, they challenge your ideals, they make you feel, they make you see the world.
And every grown-up I know could use a little bit of that in his/her day.
Currently, I am ravishing the Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I started book one on Tuesday and now am chomping at my proverbial bit to finish the last book (that’s book five if you don’t know). Yes, I’m hooked. I like me some mythology and great characters and action.
And if you’re like me and can polish off a book like a starving man let loose at a buffet bar, well then belly-up to the library’s bar o’ books and find yourself some Percy Jackson, or Harry Potter, or Alexa Daily, or Lyra Belacqua, or anybody breathed life by Katherine Patterson or, well, pretty much anybody. Take home as many books as you can carry in your big ole grown-up arms and find a way back to your SELF who was perhaps more naive, but way less fettered by this thing we call grown-up-ness.