- Exploring the Myths: The Truth about Teenagers and Reading, and: Using Young Adult Literature: Thematic Activities Based on Gardner's Multiple Intelligences
Those wonderful young adult novels that have charmed many reluctant teens into becoming readers are still very much outside the mainstream of what is taught in today's high schools. Canonical texts, those texts we read when we were in high school, still dominate most state's required courses of study and are still the most anthologized works in middle and high school English textbooks. In fact, ten years ago the most frequently anthologized works of long fiction were Steinbeck's The Pearl, Dickens' Great Expectations, and London's The Call of the Wild. Excerpts from long fiction aren't much different: Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Shelley's Frankenstein, Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year top the list. (Applebee, "A Study of High School Literature Anthologies," Center for the Learning and Teaching of Literature, Report Series 1.5, 1991). Even though our professional conversations about children's literature are as complex and probing as any critical discussion of literature today, the news about the aesthetic integrity and imaginative energy of children's literature has been lost in the politics of textbook production, the fear of censorship, and the silences of college professors in matters of appropriate readings for today's teens. Two recent books offer arguments for the value and importance of young adult fiction and nonfiction, particularly for those who are new to the debates surrounding young adult novels and to those teachers who want to find works that will engage their teenaged students.
Marc Aronson's Exploring the Myths: The Truth about Teenagers and Reading gives an important orientation to the issues and questions that have concerned those who have been interested in young adult books over the last decade. Aronson, an editor of YA books, a writer, and a critic, has consistently advocated forcefully for treating young readers as intelligent people capable of exploring many kinds of issues through challenging and inspiring novels, poems, and works of nonfiction. Exploring the Myths brings together selected speeches, reviews, and essays written from 1994 to 1999, and by doing so captures his delight in young people and his confidence in the quality of novels that enrich their lives.
The collection begins with the historical reminder that young adult fiction has come into its own through the struggles of many readers and teachers who understood the value of literacy in the lives of young people. Aronson takes on the nay-sayers who have claimed (and still claim) that teenagers just don't read books anymore. He argues for the special place that literature has in the lives of teens, lives full of intense feelings and questions about identity. He champions young people as intelligent and curious, interested in exploring all possible selves and in delving into other's experiences for their shared humanness and depth of understanding. And he faces head-on the complexity of determining which coming of age stories are really adult fare and which are important for young people.
His essay "When Coming of Age Meets the Age that's Coming" (Chapter 7) is a very helpful historical account of the rise of YA novels. In this piece he traces how the genre emerged from being virtually nothing but adult books suitable for younger readers to the shift in the publishing of paperbacks and the expanding shelf space offered to young readers based on the struggle between the small specialized local bookstore and the large corporate chains.
The last portion of the collection focuses on the aesthetic dimension of young adult fiction. Aronson discusses how good novels both connect with teens' need that this story is about them and take teens beyond themselves so that they explore feelings and ideas they did not already know. He never sees teens as an entity but rather...