M. Jerry Weiss,
Jersey City State College
Jersey City, New Jersey
And the Years Go By
Recently a young woman called me and asked, "Are you still teaching adolescent literature?"
I replied, "Yes. In fact the popularity of the course has grown tremendously. We now have many authors and illustrators visiting and giving guest lectures."
She continued by stating, "Yes, I’ve heard about that. Unfortunately, I live too far away from Jersey City to get there by the time your course starts. Is it possible that I could take your course as ‘Independent Study?’"
"I really don’t know. You would have to speak with our Dean of Graduate Studies to see if he would approve such a plan."
She thanked me and told me that she would call back in a few days.
This conversation made me think of the many teachers who are far away from college campuses and who might be interested in updating their information about young adult literature. What would be a feasible plan? How could I help this individual discover the wealth of new authors out there and new books?
I decided I liked the idea and that I would require her to read twenty-five young adult books. I would have her keep a journal of her readings, recording which scenes in each book touched her feelings, made her think, caused her to react in some manner. I didn’t want book reports or book reviews. I wanted her to find the importance of feeling the impact of reading upon the reader. I am still under the magic of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes (Henry Holt, 1995). This is a most worthy reading experience for anyone who cares about developing literacy and has a genuine appreciation of books in today’s society.
Now came the big job. What books might I suggest that she read? How much freedom of choice should I allow her to have? What young adult books were available to her in her school or public library?
I began by listing Robert Cormier’s Tenderness (Delacorte, 1997). This is Cormier at his best. It is the story of a teen murderer and a young woman who has to meet him. She remembers him from the past, and, as far as the young man is concerned, that past has to disappear from this young lady’s mind. Both teens are crying out for tenderness. Both have unusual ways to fulfill that need. It’s a most provocative mystery tale.
I would like to have her read Dangerous Skies by Suzanne Fisher Staples (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1996). This is the story of two young people, one black and one white, who go fishing one day and find a body in the water. Set in Virginia, this story stirs up racial tensions and, in a way, brings back memories of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Warner, 1996). Some people believe only what they want to believe; how can there be justice in a society filled with such people?
I thought about Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Clause (Delacorte, 1997). This is werewolf land. What happens when Vivian, a werewolf, falls in love with Aidan, a human being? The romance is for real but extremely dangerous. There is a pack of werewolves out there that know only too well what humans do when they spot wolves. So the action is quick, and the passionate emotions are sky high.
What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman (Puffin, 1997) is a story that is so well-written that readers cringe from the first page. Coman opens the book by having Van, in a rage, hurl baby Nin across the room. If Patty (the mother) had not been standing there…. Jamie, who is in third grade, is Nin’s brother. He is traumatized by this action. Patty takes her kids, gathers a few belongings, and heads off away from Van. Jamie and the others now have another perspective on life. With that kind of violence out there, who can ever be safe? The family lives in a world of fear. They have one good friend, Earl, who helps them. But they do need help with their emotions. This is a strong book where every character jumps off the page.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 1996) is a fantasy that is fun and exciting. I would want my student to respond to a society of gobblers, gptians, armored bears, daemons, and deceptive people such as Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel. But most of all, I would ask her to look at the heroic traits that Lyra and her friends demonstrate. Go North, reader, and discover not only freezing conditions but also new weapons and the horrible experiments scientists perform on children. What is there about Dust that makes it so important and valuable? Whither next? Yes, there’s a sequel in the works.
Slam! by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 1996). Young adults of all ages have dreams and some talents. In an academic setting, course work might not be where the talent lies. Suppose it’s in playing basketball? High school rules and regulations are important. But the needs, interests, and abilities of students ought to be considered also. And a student, Gregory "Slam" Harris, has a lot to learn, academically and socially. He has to learn that basketball is a team sport. He has to be part of a team. Myers has created a wonderful, prize-winning novel here. My student might comment on Slam as a person worthy of a case study. What pressures does he feel? How best can he be helped?
No, I don’t feel right about prescribing all of the books to be studied. I think my student knows her students pretty well and would be able to pick a few books that she would like to explore. I could mention an array of books that I feel would be worthy of reading; however, I would not require them. Here are a few.
The Lost Years of Merlin by T. A. Barron. (Philomel, 1996.)
Girl Goddess #9: Nine Stories by Francesca Lia Block. (Harper Collins, 1996.)
The Shark Callers by Eric Campbell. (Harcourt Brace, 1994.)
Pulse by Joe Cardillo. (Dutton, 1996.)
The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney. (Delacorte, 1996.)
Ironman by Chris Crutcher. (Dell, 1996.)
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman. (Clarion, 1996.)
A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer. (Orchard, 1996.)
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman with drawings by Amos Bad Heart Bull. (Holiday House, 1996.)
Brian Boru: Emporer of the Irish by Morgan Llwelyn. (Tor, 1995.)
The War of Jenkins’ Ear by Michael Morpurgo. (Philomel, 1995.)
Prejudice: Stories about Hate, Ignorance, Revelation, and Transformation edited by Daphne Muse. (Hyperion, 1995.)
Don’t Scream by Joan Lowery Nixon. (Delacorte, 1996.)
Jip: His Story by Katherine Paterson. (Lodestar, 1996.)
Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phyllis Wheatley by Ann Rinaldi. (Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace, 1996.)
Crash by Jerry Spinelli. (Knopf, 1996.)
The Ditchdigger’s Daughters by Yvonne Thornton, M.D. (Plume/Penguin, 1996).
For poetry I usually depend upon the excellent collections by Paul, Janeczko, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Jack Prelutsky, the very funny British Michael Rosen, Arnold Adoff, Maya Angleou, and collections by Nancy Larrick provide more valuable resources.
Heading my list of nonfiction authors are Milton Meltzer, Seymour Simon, Judith Gorog, Russell Freedman. In addition, there are the wonderful books published by Twenty-First Century Books (Holt), Lerner, Carolrhoda, Enslow, and the wonderful books coming from Dorling Kindersley.
As I thought about my student’s journal, I decided to add one more question: How do you plan to use these books in your classes?
Then the phone rang. It was my student.
"Hi," she said. "The Dean said if you will work closely with me, he would approve three semester hours of Independent Study. When can we get together?"
"As soon as possible. By the way, bring a credit card or your check book. We have to go book shopping so we can find many of these books for you."
She laughed. "OK."
Would you believe it? We had a hell of a time finding many of these books. Some of the books we obtained from a book distributor. Many we had to special order through a bookstore.
Copyright 1998. The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #0882-2840). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale in any form.
Reference Citation: Weiss, M. Jerry. (1998). "And the Years Go By." The ALAN Review , Volume 25, Number 2, 50-51.