Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fear and Fiction, Part III

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the part we've all been waiting for, the Young Adult Session. Alas, by this point, it was 3:50 already; and some people had left, because of things like train schedules and the like.

Jacqueline Woodson spoke about If You Come Softly. She spoke bluntly and beautifully about reading books, but not not being in the books she read; about asking whether she would be the only black writer on the panel, and how she wasn't sure whether to accept the invitation. Woodson spoke about the fear of other; and how that is always present. She spoke of addressing fear thru books, but also thru action, as she and her partner searched for a school where their child would not be the "other", but would see herself in her classmates, her teachers, and the books on the shelves. (She also mentioned how cold she is when she visits England and Aga stoves.)

Chris Crutcher spoke about Whale Talk; about being censored; and then told real life stories to illustrate why books like Whale Talk are needed. Basically, the books, while fiction, are true; there are children and teens who lead these lives; can we censor them out of existence? Why deny them their voice, their seeing themselves in books? One teen commented how stories can show you who to trust; when you're talking to someone, you can check out whether you can trust them with your story by how they react to certain stories.

David Almond was unable to make it; Midgley read his remarks about Kit's Wilderness, including the observation that storytelling is an act of hope against the darkness.

The analysts who spoke were Karen Gilmore, M.D. and Arietta Slade, Ph. D. Gilmore spoke about the idea of a character just appearing to an author brings both excitement and terror; she spoke about the core concerns of a young adult reader: bodily transformation; mental & psychological changes; start of abstract thought; and separation from parents. The books in this genre show the same intensity of the lives of the teens; offers a way to practice these transitions; and show teens that they aren't alone.

Slade said reading these books was eye opening; she had no idea that books like these were being written for teens. She also related an anecdote of speaking to her child's middle school teacher and being told that teacher's don't have the time/ avenues to find out about these books. Slade said that kids rely on parents, or other kids, for the information about these books. What was exciting about Slade's comments is that you could see that she "got it"; that she was excited about these books and saw value in these books; and was looking for ways to get these books into the hand of the teens who both want and need them.

And now the question and answer period, that was fast and furious.

Someone spoke about teens today not reading and spending all their time on media like computer games; both Woodson and Crutcher eloquently defended games, computers, TV, saying not to label; that they are no more addictive than other things; to look at what the child/teen gets from the experience rather than judging; and also noted that these things have story components, and can be about an inner journey as much as a book can.

A woman stood up to address the earlier question, where do you find these books? At the library. She mentioned the New York Public Library specifically and it's Books For The Teen Age.

At some point during the conversation, classics had been mentioned, in the context of what books are being taught in schools, kids not seeing themselves in these books, and so kids not being encouraged to read because the books they have to read don't speak to them or reflect their reality. Now, you bloggers know this argument backwards and forwards, so I don't have to repeat all this; Woodson spoke from the context of not seeing herself in classics, Crutcher in that the books don't reflect teens lives and it would be better to partner classics with current books. (One of the things I really liked is that Crutcher did NOT speak against classics; he said the problem is rather how classics are used.) This tied back into finding the books (see above, libraries.)

Anyhow, so this is when one of the audience members gave a rather impassioned defense of classics; including that the speak to the inner workings of people; and no book can teach us more or show us more than the classic story of Oedipus.

Now, that can be true of some people. Crutcher said he'd be hard pressed to think of a way to sell Oedipus to teens; and made the point that in terms of required reading, you don't want to use a book that turns that kid off reading and now means that they will miss out on the books that could touch them and teach them and help them. (I wondered at this point what interpretation and translation the audience member would use; and whether there's been a good, still in print YA version or interpretation; and man, talk about a book getting banned! Because I think a modern telling of Eddie, given up for adoption who then accidentally kills a stranger in a driving accident and marries the man's hot widow, and how that hot widow turns out to be his mom, would sell. All I can think of is Norma Johnston's Days of the Dragon's Seed)

And thus the day ended. I have a lot of pennies to save if I'm going to be able to go the UK part in 2007!

7 comments:

Susan said...

Brava, Liz. Great write-ups!

Anonymous said...

Liz, this is absolutely great! I'm going to link you up in the morning when blogger is finally acting normally.

Lady S. said...

Great write-ups, Liz! Lovely for those of us who are on the other side of the pond. And thanks for the heads-up about October 2007!

Adrienne said...

Thanks for reporting on this. It sounds like it was great. It's always so good to spend time with large groups of people who love youth lit and spend a great deal of time/energy thinking about it.... :)

E. Lockhart said...

Great write up - and I was there. Sorry I didn't see you.

Brian said...

It's too bad about David Almond. I discovered him this year with CLAY and now I'm in love with him.

Lucky you!

What Maternal Instinct? said...

I finally got the kids outta my hair long enough to read all your posts on the conference. Thanks so much for doing this! It gives me a lot to think about, both as a blogger and wannabe children's writer.

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