When Charlie Reed decided to make the theme of the 1996 ALAN Workshop "Exploding the Canon," she surely knew that she would elicit not only exciting presentations but also much discussion of canons - what's in them, what should be in them, what is but shouldn't be, how long it should take after it's written for a work to be in the canon, should the entire body of work of an author be included or only the few works thought to be immortal? And surely lots more. In this issue of The ALAN Review, author Theodore Taylor, whose novel The Cay is a cornerstone of the YA canon, considers the effects of censorship efforts on maintaining a body of works of literature that has the vibrancy and depth to comprise the canon, if a canon is desirable at all. Later, Michael Sullivan brings into question the legitimacy of A Day No Pigs Would Die as a part of the canon, comparing closely the characters in the novel (that we surely all have read and many of us have discussed with our students) with the Shakers that Peck claims they are. He raises the very real question, To be in the canon must a novel be true to what it claims to be?
If we were creating a canon (Heaven Forbid!) we'd probably include more than one of the works of Betsy Byars. Should we? Judith Callaway- Schaefer takes a critical - and not entirely positive - look at Byars' works and raises for us the question: What part should "literary merit" play for inclusion in the canon. Which is not the question that Carol Littlejohn raises about science-fiction writer Sylvia Louise Engdahl. Rather the question seems to be: Does a sub-genre like science fiction, thoughtful as the writing may be, belong anywhere in the canon? Our answer is clearly YES. But, despite the popularity of Star Wars, science fiction represents for many a suspect type of literature. And Michael Cart, author of perhaps the best look at changes in YA literature over the decades and a fine novel, My Father's Scar, looks at literature about the lives of gay and lesbian young adults. Wonderfully sensitive and profound works he finds: But will they ever be in the canon? And where are mothers portrayed in the canon? Aileen Miyuki Tsujimoto asks that question as she searches the YA [do we dare say the word?] "canon" for portrayals of mothers.
Early in this issue, Donna Jo Napoli starts with what Aidan Chambers told us about books, canons, and readers and looks to the "canon" of, in her words, "fairy tales, myths, and religious stories" as a canon because they "deal with the very heart and soul of humanity." Now what could be more "canonesque" than that! And to support the idea that Chambers belongs in the "canon," David Gill takes a critical look at his novels and concludes, "He may be one of the few writers to use language and ideas with equal complexity." Would that be on your list of criteria for inclusion in the canon? Count us in.
But what is all this about "THE CANON"? The research study reported by Sissi Carroll and Kathy Corder seems to us to answer that question: Who cares as long as young readers - and the rest of us - find in the literature we read challenging ideas, a touch of our own lives, a bringing alive of our emotions. As Louise Rosenblatt once replied, when questioned about why a certain male (Bob Small, in fact) couldn't relate to a "girls' romance," with another question: Isn't the problem in you because you can't respond and not in the book, certainly not in the young female reader who does respond? You bet!