THE MEMBERSHIP CONNECTIONKay Parks Bushman, Editor
Ottawa High School, Ottawa, Kansas
News from ALAN
The 1996 ALAN Workshop will be held in Chicago, Illinois, November 25-26, following the annual NCTE Conference November 21-24. The ALAN Breakfast will be Saturday, November 23. After breakfast the ALAN award for outstanding contributions to the field of young adult literature will be presented, and new officers will be announced. Ticket information for the breakfast will be sent to all ALAN members as well as included in the convention program that is distributed in August.
Application deadline for research grants sponsored by the ALAN Foundation for Research for Young Adult Literature will be September 15, 1996. These grants for amounts up to $1,000 are funded by royalties from the short story books edited by Don Gallo, by publishers of YA books, and by a portion of ALAN dues. Application materials are available from Ted Hipple, 301 Claxton Hall, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-3400.
A Report from the 1995 ALAN Workshop
The following summaries represent some of the author and small group sessions at the 1995 ALAN Workshop in San Diego, California:
Writing -- Ways and Reasons
Jacqueline Woodson, author of Last Summer with Maizon, Maizon at Blue Hill, Between Madison and Palmetto, The Dear One, and I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, explored her writing role as a "subversive truth seeker and speaker." Initially, Woodson's writing career was inspired by an English teacher who thought that her creative writing was plagiarized and accused her of cheating. Currently, one of Woodson's own characters, Maizon Singh, a gifted black adolescent who nearly loses her sense of self when she is placed in an accelerated academic program at a private school, is the prototype of the young person who motivates her writing.
According to Woodson, a former drama therapist for runaways and homeless children in New York City, her role is not to write about "nice things." Her strong female characters confront such difficult problems as racism, sexual abuse, and teenage pregnancy. Woodson records what it is like to grow up black in a white society and to be labeled at or below average. She writes "where her own pain wraps around the pain of others." Her books are "a shield against the pain so that children will walk through life a little less alone."
Woodson concluded her presentation by reading an excerpt from her Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This.
- Katherine D. Ramsey
- West Ridge Middle School
- Austin, Texas
An Underutilized Resource: Values Education and the Older Young Adult Novel
Julian Thompson, author of The Grounding of Group 6, Discontinued, and The Trials of Molly Sheldon, addressed his remarks primarily to English teachers, who he feels are the best source of values education in any high school. He urged teachers to teach values by using books for older young adults. According to Thompson, YA books for older teens work well in the English classroom because people enjoy reading books about people like themselves, and when young adults read books about other young adults, they become the experts in the room. Values education takes place when classroom talk moves from a discussion of the actions of the characters in these books to conversation about the behavior of the readers.
Thompson cautioned that he was not advocating eliminating the traditional canon, but he would like to see the canon supplemented. He expressed a concern that books for older young adults are an endangered species for two reasons: younger students are now reading older YA books, making the books less desirable for older teens; and budget cuts in libraries are reducing the size of YA collections. (Thompson's talk appears in this issue of TAR.)
- Ann Wilder
- Southern High School
- Durham, North Carolina
Jon Scieszka, author of such zany books as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man: And Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The Time Warp Trio, and The Math Curse, told hilarious stories about his experiences with elementary age kids and their "no holds barred" questions such as "Where do you get your haircuts?" "Where do you buy your shoes?" and "Do you bowl?"
Growing up with five brothers, he learned to protect himself with the phrase "I didn't do it." This protective phrase gave him the idea to tell The True Story of the Three Little Pigs from the wolf's point of view, his first published book that helped him find his audience -- kids. "They were shorter but smarter," quipped Scieszka.
He attributed much of his early success to his ten-year stint as a private-school teacher. He thinks kids are "right brainers": they love visual, flashy images; and they see many details that adults tend to overlook. His newest book, The Math Curse, tells the story of a girl who is obsessed by math. He read the book aloud and explained that, while attempting to teach algebra to an early morning class of young female gymnasts, he realized that they did not have a clue about "this X thing." Finally, one of the girls suggested, "Why don't we figure out what X equals and write it down?"
Scieszka was influenced by his mother, Lewis Carroll, Kafka's "Metamorphosis," and Mad Magazine. A bit of wisdom from Scieszka: You learn rules by breaking them, and boys have poorly insulated extension cords -- they're constantly shorting out.
His next project is to tell "The Princess and the Pea" from the pea's point of view: "It's dark in here...."
- Sarah K. Herz
- Coleytown Middle School
- Westport, Connecticut
The Writer as Reader: Uncensored Thoughts
Kathryn Lasky, author of Memoirs of a Bookbat, The Burning Time, and The Librarian Who Measured the Earth, delighted the audience with stories about reading and family. Identifying her own childhood fears (the expanding universe, quicksand, and leprosy), she discussed how her son's childhood fear of monsters was addressed through reading. She can divide her own life into stages by the books that captured her at various ages; and as an adult she reads widely, with favorite authors ranging from Judith Kranz to George Eliot. Lasky also described several conversations about books she had had with her parents, connecting these phone conversations about books to her view that censorship is a way of avoiding talk with children about their reading. Censorship, or control of thinking, is an issue she addresses in both Memoirs of a Bookbat and The Burning Time, and an issue which, she believes, should be of great concern to all. Giving the audience much to consider in their roles as parents, readers, teachers, and librarians, she noted, "No one book has changed me completely, but the freedom to read and write is essential."
- Bonnie Ericson
- California State University,
Stories, Stories, Stories--Getting Them Together
Don Gallo, one of the leading editors of collections of stories for young adults, joined authors/editors Jane Yolen and Laurence Yep on a panel to discuss YA short stories. Yolen talked about the difference between writing a novel and writing a short story and of the particular effort -- and pleasure -- that goes into a collection of short stories. She also discussed a recent collection of hers, The Haunted House, where each writer selected a particular room in a house as the setting for his/her story. Yep discussed his collection of Asian-American short stories, American Dragons, and his work to find suitable stories that reflect both adolescent and Asian-American experiences. Gallo described his most recent short story collection, Ultimate Sports, and the unifying yet varied sports theme among the stories.
The panelists agreed that, while short fiction for young adults differs in some respects from adult short fiction, it still shares the basic elements of a short story. Common characteristics of good YA short stories include relevant issues, engaging and fast-paced plots, lively language, and themes that appeal to adolescents. The panel was optimistic that short story collections for young adults will continue to be published and do well commercially.
- Chris Crowe
- Brigham Young University
Romancing the Stones...Using Pop Media as Incredible Reading/Writing Hooks for the 90s
Renn Edenfield, Jan Graham, and Susan White from Cobb Middle School in Tallahassee presented a lively session by offering current videotapes and audiotapes as well as posters and art work to motivate the audience to write songs, poems, and raps of their own. In turn, the audience shared their written wit and humor with the group.
These teachers shared how they "romanced" and involved their students through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic stimuli, reminding all teachers that we cannot leave one "stone" unturned when it comes to making efforts at reaching students and motivating them to learn.
- Lanny vanAllen
- Texas Education Agency
Young Adult Literature Research Round Table: Take Two
Sissi Carroll, Research Editor of The ALAN Review, introduced speakers, the first three of whom were 1994 winners of the ALAN Award for Research in YA Literature, who presented brief talks about the research they have conducted during 1994-1995. Caroline McKinney discussed her study of the female voice in novels published between 1967 and 1993. She used coding analysis of sample passages from YA fiction, and Belenky's et al. (1986) description of five ways in which girls construct knowledge, to find evidence that for female character, "knowing" often transcends words. John Moore discussed his research on the possibilities of approaching YA literature from multi-faceted theoretical stances. Moore read seven YA novels and analyzed each from a different theoretical perspective, including formalist, semiotic, deconstruction, psychoanalytic, reader response, feminist, Black aesthetic, and cultural. Janet Rahamut discussed her research on specific types of family relationships (mother-child, sibling, father-child, husband-wife, and extended family) as presented in the novels of Cynthia Voigt and Sue Ellen Bridgers and compared them with Delores Curran's "Traits of a Healthy Family." Gail Gregg and Sissi Carroll discussed a survey they had conducted in Florida that provides insights about teachers' practices and attitudes concerning the teaching of multicultural literature. The survey has raised a new set of questions about the preparation of teachers for teaching multicultural literature and the purposes for including it in secondary classrooms. They hope to explore these and related questions in future research.
- Sissi Carroll
- Florida State University
Catch Them Where Their Interests Lie: Nonfiction in the English Class
Robert C. Small, Jr., Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Radford University and this year's recipient of the ALAN Award, shared his enthusiasm for nonfiction, a sometimes misunderstood and generally under-used genre in English classrooms. Part of the reason for its lack of respect may derive from its name, Small suggested. What is nonfiction? The term tells us what it isn't, but not what it is, and he wondered what the effect on Shakespeare's reputation would be if we referred to his works as "non-novels."
Over the years, "faction" and "informational texts" have been suggested as possible alternative terms, but Small's thesis for the session was that neither option captures the art and craft that distinguishes good nonfiction from the mediocre, as they do great fiction from the rest. Drawing from "Aesthetic Ways of Knowing" by Elliot Eisner, Small cited the nature of the best of nonfiction: it is speculative; it makes judgments; its prose is well crafted and uses devices such as rhythm, repetition, and imagery to heighten the reader's response; and it uses narrative to make its point.
Small outlined several strategies for teachers and librarians: First, we can learn about the criteria for good nonfiction and we can share this information with students. We can use a pairing strategy, finding several titles, including nonfiction ones, on the same topic, and use them simultaneously so that students are able to explore how point of view and the author's purpose affects both what is said and how it is said. Also, we can lobby publishers to provide more nonfiction titles in paperbacks that are attractive to students. Finally, we can strive to arrive at a term for this genre that will attract student attention and help nonfiction begin to receive the appreciation it deserves.
- Lois Stover
- Towson State University
Mediator as the New Hero in YA Literature and in Schools
Many schools have effective mediation programs in place that train students to help their peers settle disagreement. Ann Ellsworth of Northeast Missouri State University-Kirksville suggests that English/language arts teachers shift focus a bit to help reduce violence in our schools. In discussing literature, we tend to value conflict more than its resolution. After all, sin is more fun than virtue and conflict excites. Also, conflict is usually public while its resolution is usually private.
Our students can rise above self-interest to help others by learning mediation skills without sacrificing "traditional" reading, writing, speaking, listening, or thinking. When students role play literary characters in conflict, they practice story-telling, giving "I" messages, listening skills, and good manners. They must understand their characters and speak from a specific point of view. Writing contracts require precise language.
Many recent YA books feature heroes who help to solve problems peacefully. Students should look for hero-mediators in Spinelli's Maniac Magee, Hamilton's Plain City, Bridgers' Permanent Connections, and Gilson's Sticks and Stones and Skeleton Bones.
- Bonnie Just
- Torrance, California
Celebrating Young Adult Literature at the Youngstown State University English Festival
Ginger Monseau and Gary Salvner from Youngstown State University tell an amazing story about young adult readers and YA literature, the focus of an exciting annual three-day event in Youngstown, Ohio. Over 3,000 students, along with teachers and librarians from 160 schools in five counties, prepare for the event by reading selected YA books. At the festival, they hear a guest author-speaker, attend a variety of sessions, and compete for prizes totaling $15,000. Hundreds of essays, evaluated by judges from participating schools, lead to a daily awards ceremony. Festival activities include impromptu essay competition, group writing games, book discussions, language games, non-competitive writing labs, dramatic presentations, video productions, and even a journalism workshop resulting in a story about the featured YA author, such as Robert Cormier, Kathryn Lasky, or Will Hobbs.
Participants in the ALAN sessions not only viewed informative video segments including a student production, they also left with ideas about how to organize such an event and took home booklists printed on bookmarks, programs, and information booklets from recent festivals.
- Connie S. Zitlow
- Ohio Wesleyan University
Young Adult Science Fiction, Science Fiction for Young Adults
The importance of teaching science fiction was discussed by Ted Fabiano, high school English teacher at Blue Valley Northwest in Kansas, and Todd Goodson of East Carolina University. Through science fiction, students ponder the real dilemmas that threaten our contemporary world such as nuclear war and genetic engineering. Reading science fiction enables students to understand and assess their culture, and as a result they bring value to their own lives. Science fiction promotes curiosity, problem-solving and critical thinking. Such thinking may instill hope.
When we "turn on" a person to science fiction, we have a life-long reader. Many youth adults who are involved in science fiction do not have academic records that reflect their abilities, and teaching this genre may be our opportunity to connect school with their lives.
An important resource is The ALAN Review, Spring, 1992, a science fiction issue. The Internet also contains many science fiction sources and discussions groups, such as the site maintained by cable television's SciFi Channel.
- Dotti Shonkwiler
- Eastern High School
- Lansing, Michigan
News from NCTE
The National Council of Teachers of English announces the publication of Your Reading: An Annotated Booklist for Middle School and Junior High, 1995-96 Edition, edited by Barbara G. Samuels and G. Kylene Beers. The work includes over 1,100 annotations of books either published or reissued in 1993 and 1994. The price is $15.95 for NCTE members and is available from NCTE, 1111 W. Kenyon Rd., Urbana, IL 61801-1096. Stock No. 59435-0015.
News of Awards
The American Library Association announces that the 1996 Newbery Medal has been awarded to Karen Cushman for The Midwife's Apprentice. Newbery Honor Books are What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Yolonda's Genius by Carol Fenner, and The Great Fire by Jim Murphy. The Coretta Scott King Author Award was presented to Virginia Hamilton for Her Stories (illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon). Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books are The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, Like Sisters on the Homefront by Rita Williams-Garcia, and From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson. ALA also announces that Judy Blume is the 1996 recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Outstanding Literature for Young Adults.
The Mystery Writers of America announces the following young adult authors as recipients of the 1996 Edgar Allan Poe Awards: Eve Bunting for Spying on Miss Muller, Robert Cormier for In the Middle of the Night, Gary Crew for Angel's Gate, Rob MacGregor for Prophecy Rock, and Joan Lowery Nixon for Spirit Seeker.
The ninth BYU Symposium on Books for Young Readers will be held July 19 and 20, 1996, in Provo,Utah. Featured speakers include T. A. Barron, Mark Graham, Richard Hull, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Seymour Simon, and Diane Stanley. For registration and further information, write Brigham Young University, Symposium on Books for Young Readers 1996, 348 HCEB, Provo, UT 84602. Or call (801) 378-2568/(801) 378-6759.