As I read the article on the Sapling site, there were several things that just didn’t sit quite right with me, from my experiences as a school librarian, and as a parent of two teens. Several times the voice in my head was saying “OK, but…”
My words here are fuelled by a genuine desire to see more teens reading more and enjoying it more, including more NZ writing. I also love the chance to talk about this stuff with other people, and although blog posts and comments in themselves maybe aren’t that productive, it’s a place to start a conversation. Here we go 🙂
“…peer recommendation is by far the most powerful driver when teenagers are choosing their next book, so it makes sense to provide a platform for reviews by young readers, for young readers.”
OK, but is the right platform for that teen-reader-to-teen-reader review and recommendation, a website where the input from teens is mostly limited to quite formal, 500+ word reviews? Contrast that with something Insta-friendly or Snapchat compatible such as #booksnaps, as Steph points out. Or the type of YA reader hub that’s exemplified by Inside a Dog or #LoveOZYA? A huge part of what we are all trying to do is to get young people reading, sharing, and recommending books with each other. So shouldn’t we be doing more to try and meet them where they are? To respect what they want, and how they do things?
“…how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?”
OK, yes, good point. And Bridget’s comment about text responses that do well in assessments is spot on. Neither teachers nor students want to risk getting fewer credits, or missing out on endorsements, by choosing something new and untested in that way. Especially when every NCEA credit in English (reading or writing) is hard-earned. I also think that there is a lack of local OER material to support teachers who might want to introduce contemporary/local texts but baulk at how much work that means for them. Especially if they’re not reading much (or any!) contemporary YA of any origin and just don’t know what’s available and awesome right now. How can we address that? Some teachers do share resources they’ve created (via the Secondary English list on TKI for instance) but I reckon there’s still a huge gap. Particularly for contemporary and local texts. Definitely something where the YA lit community – library people, publishers, and authors, and the Hooked On Books people and the Sapling etc – might be able to help. I’m talking about this sort of thing for a start.
“…there is little awareness of New Zealand children’s and Young Adult fiction by undergraduates…”
This is a “yes, and…” for me. What about pre-service teachers? How are they introduced to C&YA lit so that they begin their careers with an understanding and a love of stories and reading, and knowledge of what’s out there, and what’s local, and… and… and…? Again, how do we respond to that need? What about ongoing professional development for teachers, and for children’s and youth librarians in public libraries and schools? What about programmes for developing parents as readers — for themselves, and with their children? There are pockets of awesomeness to be found, but it needs to be a bigger movement.
“None of them had read any of Mahy’s extraordinary young adult novels.”
Yes, but surely that’s because the three books mentioned are 30+ old?! I guess they’re the right age for people who might be youngish teachers now, for example, so maybe they might have been expected to have read them as teenagers. For me though, their publication fell into the gap where I was too old to read them as a young adult myself, too young to have kids who might read them at the time, and too busy having a different career to know about it from a professional perspective. Publishers, please do reprint them with great new covers though, if they still stand on their own merits, that’d be awesome (and that is not sarcasm!)
“… teens choose their own books without an adult steering them to old favourites.”
OMG yes. Take it from someone who once tried to introduce her tween daughter to Anne of Green Gables. Big mistake. But isn’t that the way it should be, actually? We want young readers to choose books independently, right? I agree that reviews have a part to play in that. But: see everything above. Readers Advisory is so NOT about steering other people towards your old favourites. It’s about using all sorts of strategies – maybe reviews, but so much more than that too – to find the best match for each reader, right now. Today I read a blog post from YA writer Annie Barrows. Go ahead and read it here. I swear she could have been writing about my own kids. Or any number of their friends. And teenagers you no doubt know as well. What do they actually want to read? Pretty sure it (mostly) isn’t novels written 30 years ago that older people think are classics (but see above about reprints! 🙂
“Everyone staying up to read the new YA books being released a chapter each night.”
Yes! But this is already, literally, what loads of teens actually are doing, only it’s in places like Wattpad’s teen fiction or Archive of our own (AO3) where very few parents and teachers — us older folks 🙂 — venture to tread. We could celebrate it already, and support it if we wanted to. Instead, it’s banned in silent reading classes throughout the country, or blocked by school networks. But just because it goes on ‘under the radar’ as it were, that doesn’t mean it’s any less beneficial or important to kids than the reading we think they should be doing. Perhaps it’s actually a place best left to them, where they can read whatever the hell they want without having to justify or explain it to anyone.
“…special funding for New Zealand books in every classroom…”
Mmm. Well as a school library person my immediate reaction to this is, “how about more funding for NZ books in every school library, where everyone in the school can access them? How about targeted non-ops grant funding for school library staff so that schools can have a C&YA lit reader/enthusiast/specialist to help teachers, students, parents and whānau get to know and love stories from everywhere, including New Zealand stories, written here, about here, with us at the heart of them. Just for the love of it.