Robert Small and Patricia Kelly
This issue tells us many things about young adult literature, as we hope every issue does. But it also tells us a good deal about who we are, we who write books for young readers, who teach them and who teach about them, who analyze them, who bring to bear on them our own special expertise, who defend them, and, yes, who attack them.
Rich Wallace describes his own teenage years and the words that carried him through and those that didn’t; and he considers how that experience helps him speak words to today’s teenage readers. Rob Lockhart writes about his experiences with the loss of his father in the Vietnam War, his own discovery of his father’s name on The Wall, and the part that played in his reading of Katherine Paterson’s novel about Park and his quest. From that intense interaction of the personal and the literary, Lockhart draws some profound ideas about what reading literature is all about and some mistakes we, as teachers, make in the stance we take toward teenage reading.
Erica Bauermeister also speaks of her own experiences as a reader, as a woman reading but having to struggle to discover women writers and their works pretty much hidden from view in literature classes. From that experience came a commitment to bring those talented, thought-provoking women and their works to the attention of English professors and teachers and young readers — at first seen as young women readers but later as all readers, a lesson she learned from her young son. And Lea Smith and Daniel Herring are clearly committed to middle-school students as active participants in the language arts, and their personal enthusiasm locates dramatic activity at the core of students’ reading and writing with and about literature. Herb Thompson, Connie Blevins, and Allison Fitzgerald share with us their insights into the moral reasoning of Marty in Naylor’s Shiloh. What builds in them as they examine each of Kohlberg’s stages and find Marty operating at each level but ultimately at the highest levels is a kind of wonder and doubt that seems to resolve itself in the end through their own optimism.
Rebecca Platzner also brings us a personal view: she and her fellow students, ages twenty-something and thirty-something, found that they "fell in love" with the Weetzie Bat books of Francesca Lia Block. Platzner pulls them together in a stream of words and images and names that seems to flow directly from that personal response of enthusiasm and excitement. Janis Harmon sees historical fiction as a way into students’ relationships with fiction and, by linking contemporary historical fiction to classics from the same period as the modern work, as a way to draw perhaps reluctant readers of the classics into them. Her enthusiasm for historical fiction and her matching of Paterson’s Lyddie and Dickens’ Oliver Twist is contagious.
Through John Simmons’ meditation on the attacks on Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia and Gary Salvner’s tale of censorship efforts aimed at the Youngstown State University English Festival, we get a personal glimpse into two individuals who care deeply themselves about young adult literature. John seems to step back in amazement that Terabithia could provoke angry efforts to ban it. His conclusion as to why censors attack the novel rings chillingly true and his disgust at his conclusion is clear. Gary takes us step by step through his own weeks of distress, even anger, as first one and then others of the books chosen for the Festival come under attack. From one vividly depicted weekend when his frustration overflowed, come fresh insights that tie censorship incidents to war.
So as we write and write about young adult literature, we seem to give away a good deal about ourselves, as former young adults, as men or women, as enthusiastic readers, and about our own lives. Perhaps that is the power that the best of young adult literature has over us, the power that brings us back to it, not just for our students, but for ourselves.