Monthly Archives: April 2015

Reading Response: This Title Has Been Censored

The ever-common misfortune of censorship in schools–where do I begin to tackle this issue? Perhaps first I should explain some of my biases which undoubtedly affect my position on the matter. I am not a parent, and I have not personally felt the duty or desire to protect my child from the darkness or evil in this world. I have seen my mother cry when she didn’t know how to explain why my sister’s friend got shot, so I get the feeling. I am not deeply “religious” in the common sense of the term. My morality is based instead on a unique spirituality , and I believe deeply in doing to others as they would do to you. I do, however, understand the feeling of having one’s faith silenced, since as an eclectic neo-pagan, I’ve experienced countless attacks on my person and my feelings for my beliefs. I don’t know all the experiences and convictions that motivate those who object to allowing certain books in school, but I can at least empathize with them. And as Literature for Today’s Young Adults stressed, it is important to hear them out and show them respect as human beings, though it is important to reason with them to a mutually agreeable conclusion.

Unfortunately, censors like Meghan Gurton aren’t always prepared to do the same. Her arguments in her Wall Street Journal article were downright blood-boiling. I actually find it rather amusing that she believes that books describing “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings” or other “pathologies” are “hideously distorted portrayals” of the real world. Oh yes, because these things do not happen commonly in the world, do they? Wrong.

I knew a girl in high school who was the survivor of a brutal gang-rape that happened just outside of her former school. While she was trying to keep thoughts of suicide at bay, her attackers were eventually allowed back into the school because of their value as athletes. During a webcam chat with my exboyfriend and a mutual friend, I watched horrified when my ex’s boyfriend’s stepdad ripped him up by the hair and kicked him in the face. He was a couple weeks from being 18, but he begged us not to call the cops anyway because he wanted to stay with his sick mother. And I was a student at a relatively prestigious public high school, who got A’s, hung out with a relatively well-behaved crowd, and lived in a pretty wealthy and safe county. If I, coming from such a background, saw all of this, what might other students encounter?

So censors that want to take books out of the school under the guise of protecting students from the ugliness, let me tell you: you are doing your children an extreme disservice. If it had not been for novels like Just Listen or The Burn Journals or Crank, I may not have gotten through my high school career with my heart intact. These books, the controversial ones, became my “weapons” to help me “fight [my] monsters,” as Sherman Alexie so eloquently put it. It is important for students at the very least to have access to these books, and it is even better if they can be allowed to study them under the guidance of a well-trained, well-read teacher who can teach them the nuances of the novel’s ideas.

That being said, I think there are a few ways as teachers that we can win more parents over to our cause. One idea I had was to have students form literature circles prior to Banned Books Week, choose a banned book, and read it with their parents while writing in a journal. This activity will probably work best with middle schoolers, but I still think it’s a good way to get parents involved in what their children read while also showing them that their children can tackle these “ugly” books and analyze them with finesse. What ideas do you have to prevent the censors from arriving?

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Review: Literature for Today’s Young Adults (8th Edition)

Normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing a textbook like Literature for Young Adults. I purchase or rent textbooks for a class, and it irks me if the class doesn’t use it, but otherwise I simply read from it to follow along with the material I’m learning in lecture. I suppose if the book aims to give “a comprehensive, reader-friendly introduction to young adult literature framed within a literary, historical, and social context,” this volume does it’s job. But throughout my reading I felt like there was something lacking, like I could have just as easily skipped its many chapters on specific subgenres and done just as well.

Its lists of YAL books in each subgenre (from fantasy to nonfiction to mysteries) do offer some good alternative reads in the English classroom. But the lists are the best part of these chapters. So often, the meat of the text merely discusses certain stories or authors that could be used, without addressing any ways of teaching these texts. There are a few exceptions to this (for example, a thought-provoking section within the Contemporary Realistic Fiction chapter on what “realism” is in a novel), but I felt like most of the subgenre sections could have been reduced to definitions of each genre and a list of books.

The chapters that did not explore differnt subgenres were much more useful. The chapter explaining the history of YAL was thorough but accessible, and taught me some surprising facts about the creation of the popular young adult book genre we know today. It’s treatment of the censorship debate leaned more in favor of allowing students to read sometimes objectionable books, but it offered many ways for teachers to combat the issue of censorship in the classroom. The technology chapter was a bit antiquated, but I also read the chapter from the 9th edition, which fixes the problems from the 8th edition. If the entire book had focused more on these types of subjects, I feel like I could have gotten much more out of reading it.

The prose was a least easy to read, and most often it was engaging. However, there were a few moments where the authors’ treatment of some subjects made my blood boil. Two of the moments I remember are found in the 6th chapter on “Adventure, Sports, Mysteries, and the Supernatural.” In describing Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, the textbook reads “[Keir is] also apparently deaf. When he starts to rape Gigi, she says no, but he refuses to admit that he hears anyting that will stop him. Nobody says no to a football icon. So he rapes her….” The first line here is so sarcastic it makes me sick; while the authors do mention twice that this is indeed rape, they don’t treat the rape with any sort of respect to the trauma of the victim. Though their humor and sarcasm was welcome in other sections of the textbook, it should have been absent when discussing this sensitive of a subject.

The second moment in this chapter that was highly irritating is found in its section of “supernatural” fiction. After the authors give a brief synopsis of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalyze, they proceed to say that the Publisher’s Weekly described this book as “‘campy,’ more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer than like [Stephenie] Meyer’s dignified romance [the Twilight series].” Umm… excuse me? Dignified romance? I beg to differ–I’ve read a vast array of successful essays that argue that Edward Cullen borders on pathological and that the portrayal of Edward’s and Bella’s relationship normalizes psychological abuse to an audience of vulnerable young women. On the other hand, Buffy already has a large body of scholarly literature (known as Buffy Studies) that investigates the show’s deeper points. TVTropes.org has also said that, had it not been for Buffy, their large wiki on tropes and archetypes would not exist. Sure, the show might be describe as “campy,” but it is also self-aware and plays with its use of stereotypes and tropes in a way that exercises and pleases the intellectual mind. These two supernatural works was an awful comparison, and the authors need to do their Buffy Studies homework.

Overall, this textbook was just “okay.” I might keep it just for the lists of young adult novels it has, but I will probably have better luck just consulting Goodreads lists that are continously updated. There are some good points in this book, but the authors do not play them up and waste precious paper to write about the obvious. I would not recommend this book for use, instead opting for a collection of articles or a more sophisticated book on the subject that treats delicate topics with dignity and respect.

Reading Response: Nonfiction for Young Adults

In reading a chapter for Literature for Young Adults on nonfiction, I realized that I didn’t often seek out nonfiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t read nonfiction. Actually, I read it all the time. I’d guess that anyone under the age of 30 reads tons of it online every day. We read tutorials on e-how, consult forums to troubleshoot our computers when something goes awry, and explore mini-essays on art and politics that masquerade as blog posts. While this chapter seemed to focus on how students and teachers need to read more nonfiction, I think it missed the fact that it already happens. The only difference is that we don’t go to books for our nonfiction needs as often anymore.

I don’t really know if this is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, materials that are published physically often go through a more strenuous process of editing. This ensures that the information is correct and offers a kind of quality control. But on the other hand, online nonfiction works offer a lot that their printed counter parts do not. As the chapter mentions, nonfiction books can quickly become outdated–information posted online is frequently added to and updated. Furthermore, using the internet to “publish” nonfiction is a way that empowers everyone. It sends a message that anyone who accesses information and has the discipline to write about it (either giving facts, narrative, or opinion) can do so, and reach an audience.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consult books for our nonfiction needs, but I do believe that we need to recognize other sources as legitimate and important. That being said, I want to turn this over to you: do you think that teachers should encourage nonfiction books over online nonfiction sources in the classroom? How would you get your students to think about what they read online and out in the world as nonfiction? I’m interested to see what you think, so leave a reply in the comments!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a couple ideas creep up on me.

  1. When I start my career as a teacher, I need to set time aside in class for recreational reading at least once a week.
  2. I need to build a library to give students recreational reading choices. Just a small one, for my class with a bunch of books on different topics for different reading levels, fiction and non-fiction that will likely appeal to adolescent readers.
  3. I want to try out reading logs with my classes, requiring students to try out different genres during their in class (and outside of class) reading. (This page seems to have a good model, but it would have to be changed a lot for middle and high school readers.)
  4. At the end of the semester or year, students should pick one book from their reading log to write a short blurb about to recommend it to another reader. Then, students will choose a book that someone else recommends for their last required recreational reading for the year. I think this is important to add to any genre study, since it helps students realize that they can connect to other readers by reading the same  books (and therefore open the possibilities of joining book clubs when they become adults).

Just some thoughts. Consider it a note-to-self that I’m sharing in the event it could help any of you. New blog post on the way