For years, young adult literature existed as a body of books. Today, however, it can be considered a discipline, a subject with criticism, history, and substance. Nowhere is this status more pronounced than in the current crop of professional readings that examines the roots of young adult literature as a discipline. These roots lead back to such leaders in the field as G. Robert Carlsen and Margaret Edwards, and go back to such genre studies as Michael Cart's discourse on humor and David Hartwell's and Kathryn Cramer's examination of hard science fiction. The blend of historical attitudes and present issues covered in Sam Sebesta's and Ken Donelson'sInspiring Literacy, the state of writing and adolescent concerns addressed by Richard Peck, and the responsibility of literacy education presented by Daniel Pennac further define this discipline as one deserving critical discussion. Yet, current titles must not be ignored, as Sally Estes and Pam Spencer remind us with two powerful reading aids. Take time to examine the following professional readings and enjoy the rebirth that fine authors provide those of us working in the field.
The Library Connection
Betty Carter, Editor
Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas
* Cart, Michael. What's So Funny? Wit and Humor in American Children's Literature. New York: HarperCollins, 1995. ISBN:0-06-024453-4. $25.00.
Cart confines his examination of wit and humor to American children's literature since world War I -- American because humor doesn't travel well, and since World War I because Cart views the 1920s as the dawn of children's literature in America. In his insightful opening chapters, which are pleasantly informal and chatty, he defines humor semantically, physiologically, and intellectually, and discusses the theories behind it: (1) superiority and degradation, (2) incongruity, and (3) release of tension.
Dividing humor into three basic types, Cart begins with talking-animal humor in Lofting's Dr. Dolittle books and the Freddy the Pig stories of Walter Brooks to whose memory the book is dedicated. Cart traces the evolution of the second type, exaggerated tall tales, the "rock bed of American humor," from early folklore based on real and fictional larger-than-life characters to Esther Shephard's Paul Bunyan, Glen Rounds' Old Paul, Robert McCloskey'sLentil and Homer Price, and Sid Fleischman's witty fiction. Domestic and family comedy include discussions of Estes' Moffats, Cleary's Henry Huggins, and Lois Lowery's Anastasia, as well as the debt these writers owe to the authors of Tom Sawyer, Little Women, and The Five Little Peppers.
Cart quotes extensively from critiques of humor and humorous writing, showing various kinds of humor, ranging from bathroom humor (He quotes Byars as saying that to a second grader, "underwear" is the funniest word in the English language) to word play to satire and irony. He also cites works by other authors to illustrate his points.
In the foreword Cart tells us that this study is not a definitive one and that the selections are personal. He admits he has left out the favorites of many of his friends, and readers are sure to feel he has omitted some they wish he had included. The book, however, is as he claims, very much a celebration of the humor in American children's literature, one that should inspire readers to read or reread some of his choices and some of their own.
In his final "confabulation," Cart reminds us life is not easy for kids, laughter is a "powerful agent for redemption," and that, therefore, humor should be taken seriously. He has done so, and for that, we are indebted to him. And if indeed, a good laugh-out-loud is good for the body and the soul, readers of What's so Funny? should find themselves healthier and happier.
-- Reviewed by Lee Kobayashi,
University of Houston.
* Edwards, Margaret A. The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult. Chicago: American Library Association, 1994. Reprint edition. ISBN: 08389-0635-4. $20.00.
Simply speaking the name Margaret Edwards can cause librarians who work with young adults to grab a book and begin reading or to have an overwhelming desire to recommend a book to a teenager. Growing up in West Texas and later searching for a job during the 1930s, Edwards became a champion of young adults when there were few advocates for them. In The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts, readers learn who Margaret Edwards was, why she chose librarianship as a career, why she worked with young adults, and how she viewed young adult literature.
This 1994 reprint edition includes a foreword by Patty Campbell, who provides readers with a brief biography of Edwards and background for the chapters to follow. These consist of essays written by Edwards and published primarily in library literature from 1944 to 1971, including two new chapters added to the 1974 edition. The title of the work comes from The Old Librarian's Almanac, published in 1773, in which Jared Bean advises fellow librarians that the library "is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the unreasoning Mob [the general public, especially young people], than is a Fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts." For thirty years as a librarian at Enoch Pratt in Baltimore, Edwards threw open her garden to the beasts.
Considered a library maverick, Edwards developed a clear vision of library service to young adults. When training librarians to work with young adults, the librarians "usually agreed that our ultimate objective was to interest our readers in books that would help them become citizens of the world." Her philosophy is an inspiration to teachers and librarians who value teenagers and the literature they enjoy reading. Through Edwards' writing, educators learn methods for helping to develop readers and why developing literacy is vital to teenagers' growth and to that of a nation.
In addition to being inspirational reading, The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts includes black-and-white photos, detailed notes and references, an index, and appendices to help with book talking, book discussions, displays, book lists, and a myriad of other library services. Everything in Edwards' garden invited young adults to choose from the delicacies growing there, and in this book she shows teachers and librarians how to be effective gardeners in their own backyards.
-- Reviewed by Rosemary Chance,
Sam Houston State University.
* Estes, Sally, editor. Growing Up Is Hard To Do: A Collection of Booklist Columns. Chicago: Booklist Publications/American Library Association, 1994. ISBN: 0-8389-7726-X. $7.95.
The growth process necessarily involves establishing a balance between conflict and compromise, coping and confusion. As illustrated by the selections inGrowing Up Is Hard To Do, young people today must negotiate an increasingly rocky path to maturity. Editor Sally Estes has compiled twelve retrospective, annotated bibliographies that provide the reader with the spectrum of topical issues and traditional concerns of growing up.
Intended for readers from preadolescence through high school, the lists of books explore universal themes: questions of emerging sexual identity and awareness, issues involving diverse religious and moral dilemmas, and expectations inherent to complex parental and peer relationships. Historical and geographical selections add a unique perspective adaptable to content-are a reading activities. The inclusion of a column featuring audiobooks provides a valuable resource in targeting the needs of the reluctant reader.
Author and title indexes are included along with information about distributors of audio material. This guide complements the ethnic perspectives in Rochman's Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World (reviewed in the Winter 1994 issue of The ALAN Review). Both publications portray the contemporary and classic concerns of youth striving for identity, independence, and involvement in an increasingly complex and diverse environment.
-- Reviewed by Mary Snyder,
Texas Woman's University.
* Hartwell, David, and Kathryn Cramer, editors. The Ascent o fWonder: The Evolution of Hard SF. New York: TOR Books, 1994. ISBN:0-312-85062-X. $35.00.
Whether action is set in the future ("The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov), in the past ("Rappaccini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne), in imaginary worlds("Wern Search" by Anne McCaffrey), or at the local library ("Mammy Morgan Played the Organ; Her Daddy Beat the Drum" by Michael Flynn), The Ascent of Wonder shows how much diversity exists for fans of science fiction. This impressive book, weighing over three pounds and running approximately 1000pages can be used for browsing or reference.
Browsing exposes readers of all ages to the depth and breadth of hard science fiction. Browsers can choose what they want to read from among almost seventy stories by over fifty authors. If adult as well as young adult readers useThe Ascent of Wonder as a reference, there is much to learn in the introductory essays by Gregory Benford, David Hartwell, and Kathryn Cramer: they define the genre, trace its historical development, and discuss major writers and their works. Science fiction aficionados will appreciate the amount of information included in the separate introductions to each selection and referrals to other full length works. Connections made between important authors and titles give readers what feels like an "insider" view of the field.
For teens who believe science fiction begins with Star Trek and ends with the popular works of Orson Scott Card, The Ascent of Wonder may contribute to their gaining perspective, and, perhaps, will lead to a desire to immerse themselves in reading the stories selected for this anthology. Adults who want an historical overview to one of the most popular genres in young adult literature will appreciate the scholarly background and exhaustive research.
-- Reviewed by Karen Morgan,
Texas Woman's University.
* Peck, Richard. Love and Death at the Mall: Teaching and Writing for the Literate Young. New York: Delacorte, 1994. ISBN: 0-385-31173-7.$16.95.
Richard Peck is widely appreciated for his outstanding contributions to the field of young adult literature. His latest work, aimed at adults, is, in his words, "about reading and writing and young people, and about writing for young people who read." As both an experienced teacher and a writer, Peck's perspective on the topics he has chosen is broad, incisive, and experiential. Writing in a witty, self-effacing style, Peck organizes his thoughts around two central themes: why he decided to write for young adults, and how he develops ideas for his fiction.
Peck explains that he changed careers in the late 1960s, after a decade of teaching adolescents in both suburban and urban settings, because he found himself searching for literature that his students deemed relevant to their lives. Young adult literature was in its infancy, and Peck became part of its earliest history and purpose, which evolved in part from dramatic changes and issues arising in the 60s. Writing about the changes, Peck observes that the"whole process of growing up, going to school, coming of age had changed beyond all recognition." The changes Peck writes about, societal in scope and influence, include the role of school, the divorce rate, and diminished adult authority. He addresses issues such as the effects of television on thinking and the unrealistic expectations for suburban life. Adults dealing with young adults in the 1990s will benefit from an understanding of how these issues and changes have prompted a new reality for adolescence.
Here the reader has the opportunity to share Peck's perspective and purpose, examining both his works and those of many other young adult authors. Together, we view the role of the protagonist, learn what readers look for in fiction, see how readers (mis)interpret writing, and connect to the underlying theme in all Peck's novels. Thanks to Love and Death at the Mall, we have a clear understanding of the history, purpose, method, and audience for the young adult novel, with the added bonus of a personal visit with Richard Peck.
-- Reviewed by Sally Regenbogen,
St. Mark's School of Texas.
* Pennac, Daniel. Better Than Life. Toronto: Coach HousePress, 1994. ISBN: 0-88910-484-0. $16.95.
In Better Than Life, French schoolteacher and author Daniel Pennac explores the issues that inhibit and encourage adolescents to read. Literature can be magical, but, as teachers and parents, we often turn a pleasurable experience into drudgery. We adamantly insist that young people read, but frequently our most visible concern appears to be the mastery of reading skills and the correct interpretation of literary works. All too often, adults discourage spontaneous reading for pleasure.
Stylistically, this extended essay resembles the popular books of Robert Fulghum, but don't be fooled by appearances. Pennac's loose story line is best comprehended by reading the chapters in consecutive order. While he focuses on the adolescent reader, Pennac uses flashbacks to illuminate childhood reading experiences. His imagery is vivid. A thick, dense book becomes a "blunt instrument." Adults "hammer away" at students to read. Pennac even mentions the "smeary film" that appears between the reader's eyes and the page when confronted with tedious material. Pennac's love of literature and respect for the adolescent reader pervade the text.
Pennac transports the mature, adult reader back to the time of assigned texts and book reports. He elicits the same sinking sense of desperation that is felt by a student who has read only 48 pages of a 450-page book with a report due tomorrow. Pennac also conveys the wonder of a child who suddenly connects the written, oral, and mental images of "Mom-my," that click of comprehension that turns arbitrary letters into a living breathing person. As Pennac notes, this child has turned "lead into gold." With a few deft strokes, Pennac creates a portrait of a reading-improvement class filled with reluctant and/or hostile teenage readers who are benumbed by the twin fears of not comprehending and text length.
In the final section of this provocative essay, Pennac creates a Reader's Bill of Rights. He summons teachers and parents to examine the rights that adult readers grant easily to themselves but deny to adolescents. The first of these rights is the "right to not read." For reading to qualify as a right, we must also provide the option to not exercise what is being offered. Pennac argues that the duty of education is to teach children to read, to introduce them to literature, and to equip them with the ability to judge for themselves whether or not to be readers. Readers may argue with Pennac's conclusions or fault his reasoning, but he conveys clearly that angst of the adolescent reader and fervently urges teachers and parents to scrutinize the messages they send about reading.
-- Reviewed by Ann Bullion-Mears,
Texas Woman's University.
* Sebesta, Sam, and Ken Donelson, editors. Inspiring Literacy:Literature for Children and Young Adults. New Brunswick, New Jersey:Transaction Publishers, 1994. ISBN: 1-56000-688-4. $19.95.
Sebesta and Donelson have assembled an excellent array of articles concerning literacy as well as children's and young adults' reading preferences and the research that has been conducted to address these issues. These essays are written by a broad range of authorities in children's and young adult literature, ranging from Bernice E. Cullinan, professor of early childhood and elementary education and author of Literature and Children, to Robert E. Probst, author of Response and Analysis: Teaching Literature in Junior and Senior High School. This well-rounded compilation will be of interest to professionals working with young adults, as well as to teachers of children'sand young adult literature who may choose to use it as a text for their courses.
The first section, "Children's Books: The State of the Art," includes ten articles on subjects such as children's book publishing, multiethnic literature, the use of trade books in the social studies curriculum, and the potential of picture books.
The second section, "Young Adult Literature," reads like a litany of authorities in the field, starting with Ken Donelson and his article on criticism and the role young adult literature plays in the classroom. He reminds the reader that "when students read adolescent books, they are the experts, and they may need to translate to the teachers."
Ted Hipple, executive secretary of ALAN, redefines "generation" in relation to young adult novels. The age range for adolescence encompasses approximately five years; therefore, this time span should also be considered a generation when determining if a YA novel deserves to be called a classic.
Dorothy M. Broderick, editor of Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), speaks out on the joys and frustrations of working with over two hundred reviewers. She strongly asserts that the reviewer should not use phrases to discourage subscribers from purchasing a book because of potential controversy. She succinctly describes her view of the role of a reviewer for VOYA: "The reviewer's job is to adequately describe the content of the book in such detail as necessary for a reader of the review to be able to make a decision as to whether the book will fit into the collection that reader is building."
Abrahamson and Carter, professors of children's and young adult literature, describe nonfiction for children and young adults in the 1990s as an elegant swan in the "once exclusive flock of stories, poems, and plays" and highlight the importance of nonfiction in readers' lives.
Also included in the young adult literature section are articles by Tuccillo, head of the Young Adult Services Department of the Mesa, Arizona Public Library, on the librarian's role in assisting young adults in their quest to become life-long readers; award-winning poet Janeczko sharing his encounters with young adults and poetry and his process of searching for poems to include in his anthologies; and Probst discussing reader response theory.
Sebesta, in the first essay in this volume, discusses Rosenblat's response theory. He reminds us that "reading literature is a `performing art,' not necessarily in the sense of the oral interpretation or staged drama but in the sense that readers of any age must bring it to life." The contributors to thi soutstanding collection of essays on literacy and reading have brought literature for children and young adults to life through their exuberance, expertise, and caring, for both young people and their literature. The strength of Inspiring Literacy lies in its broad range of authoritative voices from the fields of reading and children's and young adult literature.
-- Reviewed by Ruth Dishnow,
Texas Woman's University.
* Sherrill, Anne, and Terry C. Ley, editors. Literature Is... Collected Essays by G. Robert Carlsen, 1994. Copies from Terry C. Ley, Department of Curriculum and Teaching, 5040 Haley Center, Auburn University, AL36849-5212. Make $10.00 check payable to Auburn University.
"For everything there is a season, surely, there is a season, and a time for everything under heaven," concludes Bob Carlsen in his classic articlec omparing young adult reading with the stages of his own adolescent daughter's life. The time has, indeed, come to celebrate his legacy -- fifty years of scholarly contributions in the fields of English education and adolescentl iterature. Carlsen's legacy includes his influence on a generation of teachers through his benchmark work, Books and the Teenage Reader; his insight into the development of readers from his collaboration with Sherrill inVoices of Readers; over seventy scholarly articles and essays; his mentorship of numerous distinguished teachers and scholars at the University of Colorado, the University of Texas, and the University of Iowa; his many contributions to NCTE, including the presidency; but, most important, his untimely wisdom on topics that seem as current today as they did when he first addressed them.
Editors Sherrill and Ley, former graduate students of Carlsen, provide readers opportunities to celebrate through this collection of Carlsen's best articles and essays. After selecting and dividing thirty-four articles into three topics, Sherrill and Ley sent them to three of Carlsen's former students and asked each to author an original essay to introduce one of the sections. In addition, they asked Carlsen to write the previously unpublished essay that appears at the end of this collection.
In his essay entitled "Carlsen Is... and Reading Is...," Ken Donelson aptly introduces the first section, "Patterns of Reading and Interests Among Teenage Readers," by reflecting on his notes from Carlsen's adolescent literature class. While Donelson effectively summarizes the ideas he thinks Carlsen hoped his students would share or consider, a telling indication of Carlsen's influence is that Donelson still treasures his class notes some thirty years later.
Richard Abrahamson invites readers to explore the section entitled "Literature Programs for Teenage Readers." Responding to Thomas Locker's Where theRiver Begins, Abrahamson acknowledges Carlsen's thoughts on literature and teaching as the source of his river. The strength of Abrahamson's essay lies in his selection of Carlsen's comments on topics such as multiculturalism, integrated curriculum, thematic units, teaching grammar/mechanics as the need arises, and the list goes on -- all topics and information that defy their copyright dates and attest to Carlsen's vision.
Ben Nelms calls on Hurston's Mayor Joe from Their Eyes Were Watching Godto prepare readers for the section entitled the "English Language Arts Curriculum." Nelms cautions that Mayor Joe's comment, "They's just some punny humans playin' round de foes uh Time" isn't too unlike comments made about children and classroom discourse today. Nelms reminisces that it was concern for both these children and what the English curriculum offered them that lured him to Iowa to study English education. Some thirty years later, Nelms captures and relates the spirit of Bob Carlsen in a way that is best described by Carlsen himself, as the "deep down beneath where I live" in his classic essay so named.
The final chapter, "Conclusions from Fifty Years of Teaching English," proves to be surprising. Carlsen employs only four pages to summarize his career, and a good portion of these are devoted not to himself, but to his mentor, Dr. Dora V. Smith, or, as Carlsen would have it: that remarkable woman, Dora V! Carlsen then pleasantly leaves his audience with the sense of humor that sustained him through those fifty years of trying to get English teachers to change.
Literature Is... is more than just a book of essays, important though they are. It is a book of how one man's thoughts have influenced all of us who love both books and teenage readers. It is a book of lineage, of pedagogical roots for many readers of The ALAN Review. It's about the rest of the book, Where the River Begins: "But their grandfather paused for a moment and in the fading light he watched the river, which continued on as it always had, flowing gently into the sea."
-- Reviewed by Be Be Hood,
University of Houston.
* Spencer, Pam. What Do Young Adults Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Fiction for Young Adults. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1994. ISBN: 0-810-38887-1. $39.95.
Pam Spencer's What Do Young Adults Read Next? is a reference guide for librarians, teachers, and students. It seeks to answer questions such as,"I've read all of Christopher Pike's books, now what do I read?" or "Do you know any books set in the Middle Ages?" The introduction includes a literary summary of each year from 1988 to 1992, while the core of the book contains entries for approximately 1500 books published during that period and aimed at young adult readers.
The scope of each entry is comprehensive, giving author, title, publication, age range, subject, up to three themes covered in the story, major character, time period, location, plot summary, review information, other works by the author, and brief descriptions of other works on similar themes. The major entries cover only books published from 1988 to 1992, but the further reading suggestions cover older works.
In any book of this scope the coverage cannot be exhaustive. The selection of what is included must omit some things, and it is easy to say, "Why didn't she included this book?" but the choices included are solid.
The real strengths of the book are the indexes. There are ten, easy-to-use indexes, covering author, title, major awards, time period, geographic area, subject, character name, character description, and age range. Each index includes primary entries and further reading selections; so it is possible to identify and cross reference a book in a variety of ways. This book is a valuable, worthwhile addition to any young adult library or classroom. It is useful for recommending works to read, themes for classes, or just plain fun to browse through, and librarians should encourage both teachers and students to use this book and others like it.
-- Reviewed by JaNae Mundy,
Texas Woman's University.