Warning: Moral Outrage Ahead
The Latest Moral Panic
Something tells me the Wall Street Journal had no idea of the hornet's nest they were stirring up when they published an article about the supposed "dark side" of YA literature. This kerfluffle (or is it a brouhaha?) will probably have a beneficial effect on YA literature as a whole: if the response on twitter and the internet is any indication, people are fired up. In the end, more people of all ages will see what a wide and devoted following YA literature has. Here is the best thing I've seen on the topic so far today: Laurie Halse Anderson's post, "Stuck Between Rage and Compassion."
I was spending time with my young adult daughter this weekend, so I missed much of the conversation on twitter (#YASaves). I have a few thoughts on the topic, having raised two daughters to adulthood, having been a voracious reader from childhood, and being a high school English teacher. First of all, if you are a parent choosing books to share with your child (ages 8-13) there is still plenty of literature that is not dark. I'm thinking of some wonderful books my children and I loved, including Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family, and books like Caddie Woodlawn and the Little House on the Prairie books. There is C.S. Lewis--or maybe you prefer Philip Pullman. What about Chris Crutcher, and Jerry Spinelli? I don't have younger children, and I teach older teens, so I'm out of touch with the younger readers, but I know there is a wide choice of books available for readers in their "tweens."
When it comes to older readers, in my experience, readers find the books they need. My parents wisely never tried to censor or control my reading choices when I was growing up, and I treated my own children the same way. The most important advice I could give to concerned parents would be to know your children as people and as readers; if you have concerns or questions, an open, non-judgmental conversation is the best place to start. Maybe parents could go to the bookstore with their teens, and have conversations about what it is the teens like or love about the books they read.
My high school sophomores gave Book Talks last week, and I loved hearing their honest opinions about the books they choose to read. The classroom suddenly came to life with bubbly conversations as the students enthusiastically talked about the books they love.
When I was nine or ten years old I started reading adult literature; I read everything from Gone with the Wind to Victoria Holt. I also read what literature there was in the YA category back then: Go Ask Alice and The Outsiders. I can safely report that I remain uncorrupted. I do understand parental concern about what younger readers encounter, and to those parents I would simply say: talk to your children. Look for books together that reflect your family's values. But this manufactured outrage and concern about YA Literature as some kind of dreadful moral plague is misplaced, in my opinion. I don't think I have anything to say that someone else hasn't said better, but if you watch the video at the beginning of this post, you'll see that in the 1950's comic books sparked a similar "moral panic." (There's a book about this: The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu CS Monitor review here).
I really didn't mean to go on for so long, but the spirit moved me. In other news, I went to the beach, spent time with my lovely and brilliant daughter, and continued to be enthralled by The Idiot (for specifics on my enthrallment, see my posts on Part One and Part Two). I have lots and lots of books just waiting for the end of the school year (more on that tomorrow). I can't wait to throw myself into a book (guiltlessly).
What's your take on the #YASaves conversation? Did a book save you?