The Publisher Connection

M. Jerry Weiss, Editor
Jersey City State College, Jersey City, New Jersey

Is Anybody There?


M. Jerry Weiss

ALAN is an important and influential organization. Among its purposes is to inform, and I would like to know the answers to a few very important questions. In order to make this as simple as possible, please copy the page that contains all the questions, and then fill in your answers.

Your Position: Are you a high school teacher?
Middle school teacher?
College professor?

If you're a teacher, what grades do you teach?

What subjects?

Do you use young adult literature as part of your curriculum?

Please list the titles and/or authors you are currently using.

(please attach additional pages if necessary)

Are you using paperback editions?

Are you using hardcover editions?

Are there titles or authors you would like to use, but you aren't at this time? If so, please list them.

For what reasons aren't you using them?

How often do you change your curriculum and select other materials?

What criteria do you use in selecting materials?

Are there any professional journals to which you refer for recommendations?   If so, please list the titles of the journals.

Please send responses to M. Jerry Weiss, 125 Montclair Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042 .

Why am I requesting this information? In the past several months, some publishers have decided to "downsize" their staffs. As a result, key people in editing and marketing children's and young adult books have lost their jobs. One reason cited is that the market for such books in schools and libraries is flat. Publishers feel they can't afford to maintain a staff to serve schools and libraries. There are not enough sales being generated.

Is this true? Having talked to a few book jobbers, the people who handle school sales, I am told that quite a number of schools order the same books over and over. In fact, if a popular author has written a new book, that title might not catch on for quite some time. Yet, within the past year, some of the most popular authors of young adult literature have produced some interesting new works: Paul Zindel's Loch (HarperCollins); Gary Paulsen's TheCar (Harcourt Brace) and Father Water, Mother Woods (Delacorte);Joan Lowery Nixon's Shadowmaker (Delacorte); Richard Peck's The Last Safe Place on Earth (Delacorte); Sonia Levitin's Escape From Egypt (Little, Brown); Avi's The Barn (Orchard); M. E. Kerr's Deliver Us From Evie (HarperCollins); Robert Lipsyte's Michael Jordan (HarperCollins); Madeleine L'Engle's Troubling a Star (Farrar StrausGiroux); Ann Rinaldi's In My Father's House (Scholastic); ColbyRodowsky's Hannah in Between (Farrar Straus Giroux); Chris Crutcher's Ironman (Greenwillow); Sue Ellen Bridger's Keeping Christina (HarperCollins); Carolyn Cooney's Driver's Ed (Delacorte); CynthiaVoigt's When She Hollers (Scholastic); Walter Dean Myers' The GloryField (Scholastic); and Julian Thompson's The Fling (Henry Holt).

Again I want to emphasize these are just a few examples. I admit that in some cases reviews might have been mixed. But, in the long run, I wonder how many of these books will be a part of the school's library or part of the teacher's library or adopted for small-group or large-group reading.

Why is this important? Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with an award-winning author and was told that, because of the changes in sales, the publisher was hesitant to offer a guaranteed multi-title contract as was offered in the past. Of course, this piece of news would disturb a well-known, popular author who counted on the advance payment as a part of living expenses. So sometimes good writers have to leave their editors and publishers and go elsewhere. Such a decision is not easily made.

At the same time that I'm making these observations, I have been reading a variety of books that I really feel are quite good and deserve more exposure to students. Someone has to bring them into the classroom and let students know they are there to try them out. Here are a few: Bjarne Reuter's The Boys From St. Petri (Dutton); Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons (HarperCollins); Joan Bauer's Thwonk (Delacorte); Chris Lynch's GypsyDavey (HarperCollins); Adam Rapp's Missing the Piano (Viking); NancyFarmer's The Ear, The Eye and the Arm (Orchard); Theresa Nelson's Earthshine (Orchard); Diet Eman and James Schaap's Things We Couldn't Say (Wm. B. Eerdmans); Milton Meltzer's edited edition, Frederick Douglass: In His Own Words (Harcourt Brace); Allen Say's The Ink-Keeper's Apprentice (Houghton Mifflin); Robin McKinley's A Knot in the Grain and Other Stories (Greenwillow); Lori M. Carlson's edited edition, American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults (Henry Holt); John Marsden's Letters from the Inside (Houghton Mifflin); Mary Stolz's Cezanne Pinto: A Memoir (Knopf); Susan Power's The Grass Dancer (Putnam); Neal Shusterman's Dissidents (Tor); Samuel R. Delany's They Fly at Ciron (Tor); Janet Bode's Trustand Betrayal: Real Life Stories of Friends and Enemies (Delacorte);Stephanie S. Tolan's Who's There? (Morrow); Kim Chapin's The Road to Wembly (Farrar Straus Giroux); and Sid Hite's It's Nothing to a Mountain (Henry Holt).

Yes, I know that, in every issue of this journal, pages are devoted to reviews of books. I also can appreciate the fact that a reviewer of a particular book and I may not agree on the quality of that book. But more times than not, I have been intrigued enough by a review that I go in search of that book. I am thankful that the review caught my attention.

It's because I enjoy reading so many books that I can play a game within my own head called "thematic units." When I read a book, I immediately think of a unit in which I can place this book for students to explore. It's mental gymnastics for me. But for many years I never adopted a single textbook for the whole class to read unless an author is so unusual and has intellectually snared me in such a way that I think the world is waiting for this book. Leonard S. Marcus has edited such a book, Lifelines: A Poetry Anthology Patterned on the Stages of Life (Dutton). This book of poems, which features such poets as Mark Strand, Ogden Nash, Edgar Lee Masters, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, William Butler Yeats, William Wordsworth, Stevie Smith, Mel Glenn, and Gwendolyn Brooks, among others, provided a literary see-saw ride, hitting me emotionally with highs and lows.

ALAN has offered me the opportunity to hear and meet authors at the NCTE annual convention. I look forward to hearing authors; however, I also enjoy listening to teachers and professors sharing their insights and reactions to books. I must admit that at times I wonder if I've read the same books as some of those people talked about. Yes, I have returned to books to read once again from another perspective. And on many occasions I've altered my initial impressions. These experiences have had a tremendous effect on me as reader, student, and teacher.

But I'm sort of tired of hearing what are "the best" or "the prize-winners," or this month's literary selection. There are too many adults trying to pick literary tastes for too many young people. I love to read about the various students' choices of the books they really like best. I sincerely hope that those are honestly chosen by the students and not from a pre-selected list that eliminates books that might offend some person or group.

Yes, I know that censorship exists. I've been told by many that they would not use any book that has any hint of AIDS, homosexuality, sex, or profanity. Of course, there are debates in some places as to whether students should read books by culturally diverse authors at the expense of eliminating certain major"white" authors. How will students ever know about such writers if they are not exposed to them in the classrooms and libraries?

As we approach the twenty-first century and people are still worrying about standards and goals, I'm still saying that I continue to learn every day of my life, and I can't see how my formal education, as it was in the "dark ages,"prepared me for the leap I made, post-doctorate, into this wonderful field of young adult literature. Don Gallo, with his numerous and invaluable anthologies, is doing more to acquaint so many with some of the important writers who could affect students for the rest of their lives. Do publishers really know how important Don Gallo is to education? I honestly believe that Ken Donelson and Alleen Nilsen, Arthea "Charlie" Reed, Leila Christenbury, Ruth Cline, Dick Abrahamson, Betty Carter, and Beverly Kobrin have provided rich resources in the form of professional books.

What is the future for young adult books? I hope it is a flourishing and healthy future. I hope that we teachers are doing a better job in raising the levels of reading ability, and I'm not just referring to test scores. I'm talking about developing a love of reading within young men and women that they will carry with them for their whole lives. I am encouraged that there are many reading discussion groups developing among people of various ages both in and out of school. Let me recommend Albert French's Billy (Penguin); Yvonne S. Thornton's The Ditchdigger's Daughters (Birch Lane Press); Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (Puffin); Sid Hite's Answer My Prayer (Henry Holt); Virginia Lynn Fry's Part of Me Died, Too: Stories of Creative Survival Among Bereaved Children and Teenagers (Dutton); David Lipsky's and Alexander Abrams' Late Bloomers: Coming of Age in Today's America: The Right Place at the Wrong Time (Times Books); Mary Leonhardt's Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't: How It Happens and What You Can Do About It (Crown); and T. M. McNally's Until Your Heart Stops (A Novel) (Villard).

I am not saying my lists are better than yours. I am not setting myself up as"super-reader." This is to remind all of us that promoting the sales of books and the use of school and public libraries is a very good idea. The publishing mergers that have taken place this year should be of concern to each of us. ALAN members need to play a more active role in finding ways to make sure that good books and their readers will make for a happy match.