The Learning 2.0 School

Shifting Perceptions of Teaching and Learning in and out of the School Library

Annual ALA Conference – YALSA’s Genre Galaxy – Engaging Young Adults

Posted by Michelle Torrise on July 10, 2009

alaToday I attended Genre Galaxy presented by YALSA in which I was very fortunate to have listed to many accomplished authors who talked about various genres in young adult literature including fantasy, science fiction, romance novels, mysteries, historical fiction, and a new hybrid genre known as the mashup.    To find out more about the session visit the YALSA Conference Wiki, Genre Galaxy: Explore the Universe of Teen Reading.

Some of the presenters included James Kennedy, Dom Testa, Simone Elkeles, David Lubar, Holly Black, and Libba Bray–each very engaging and informative.

Even though I’ve only attended one day of ALA 2009, I find myself excited and overwhelmed.   There were so many good ideas being suggested, must-read novels recommended, and new technologies promoted–all with the express intent of engaging a new generation of teens in reading.  This generation, a digital generation, is saavier, techier, bolder, and edgier–attributes that are reflected in the books they read, the activities they enjoy, and the way they communicate with one another.  Like my generation that was emboldened and empowered by loud music and a sense of social and political resistance–today’s teens are finding ways to stretch limits–not without boundaries, but within boundaries that are set on their terms.

Authors listen carefully to teens working to understand their issues, perspectives and needs.     Because of social networking, today’s authors are in constant contact with fans via email, blogs, etc.

What I learned (in part) about the current young adult generation–what connects them to YA literature–from the author’s presenting today was:

  • Good fantasy and science fiction authors are able to weave reality into their stories,  making it easier for adults to connect with teens and talk about  serious issues such as negative stereotyping, racism, environmental degradation, peer pressure, drug abuse, and violence.

  • YA novels of the 80’s were unfortunately referred to during that era as “problem novels” because they–like today’s YA novels–were about the issues that young adults were going through. What we know now is that the term “problem novels,” which paints a negative picture of these works, are less about problems and more about the realities teens are facing and the serious issues that they are desperate to understand and act upon.  We now call this type of literature “realistic fiction.”  Realistic fiction of today and the past helps teens see the issues that impact them within realistic contexts so they can see how they play out and make decisions about how they would react in a similar situation. This is an important step in critical thinking and lifelong learning.

  • Characters need to be honest about issues, real and authentic.  If a certain teen would use vulgar language in real life, that teen should not be censored in a novel.  Teens need to see themselves  and each other authentically in characters.

  • Teens demand reality that reflect their perception of society–even though they see society differently from their parents and teachers–as they live different lives, and because they spend less time with adults they seek information from alternative sources.

  • The problem is not about protecting teens from inappropriate literature–the problem has always been about growing up and how to deal with that.

I’ll close with an anonomous quote this afternoon, “Every day teens are living the lives we would’t let them read.”


One Response to “Annual ALA Conference – YALSA’s Genre Galaxy – Engaging Young Adults”

  1. Hi Michelle!
    Thanks for this great post. I too was overwhelmed with wonderful ideas. When the teens and I were going home; I was amused by their lengthy lists of what they want to read. I too have one of those, as do my coworkers who came…

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