Celebrating the Freedom to Read: September 24 - September 30, 2017

Taking the Risk To Teach Diverse YA Books

Fri, 09/23/2016 - 11:53 -- Maggie Jacoby

This post originally appeared on Literacy & NCTE, the official blog of the National Council Teachers on English. Another post, What's Wrong With Diversity, also discusses the need for more diverse books.  

On Monday (September 12th), YA literature expert Jennifer Buehler was interviewed on Education Talk Radio. The interview, representing the theme of this year’s Banned Books Week, focused on teaching students with diverse young adult literature.

After defining young adult literature,

[It’s]“not useful to say YA is any book with a teenager in it. A YA book is told from this limited adolescent perspective, the work of the story is to watch the character figuring out his/her place in the world, usually through some kind of epiphany—coming to consciousness of who they are in the world and what they’re going to do about it (from YA lit. expert Patty Campbell).  Publishers also play a big part in books labeled as YA.”

Jennifer pointed out why kids need to read diverse young adult literature–diversity broadly defined as by #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

“We live in a diverse world…It’s much safer to teach what we’ve always taught and to stick with the old canon…[But] Not only do kids of color need to see themselves represented in story so do kids of the dominant culture need to see a broader swath of the world we live in—it’s good for everyone.”

Teachers and librarians are key:

“Teachers being readers themselves is a critical element. Teachers need to bring books to their classrooms that they believe in, to introduce books and conversations to their students that they believe in…[and] librarians are so important; they’re people who can remind us of why reading is so important in the first place, a more generous view of why kids want to read certain books.”

And, curricular mandates needn’t stand in the way of teaching YA lit instead of / or along with a canonical classic.

“It’s never about the books themselves when it comes to state standards it’s what we do with the books. You can take a complex, rich, and nuanced approach on any book. “

NCTE member Jennifer Buehler, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at St. Louis University in Missouri, is author of the forthcoming NCTE book Teaching Reading with YA Literature, host of dozens of ReadWriteThink Text Messages podcasts about YA books. Find her on Twitter @ProfBuehler.