Saturday, November 24, 2012

Multi-cultural books

Sorry about not posting for a week. I attended the Indiana Library Federation (ILF) meeting in Indianapolis where I spoke on Multicultural Collections, then came home to prepare for Thanksgiving. Let me just give thanks that Thanksgiving is over.

In this post I will share with you some information from that ILF presentations. Of course, I shared information on my books, Pull and Die Trying. But the main focus of the presentatiomn was a general discussion on diversity in YA fiction. How can readers find it, and why should librarians care.

Happy librarians who all left with copies of Die Trying
Multicultural literature is defined as "Materials that share 'stories, facts, and customs from around the globe' (and around the nation) that allow 'children to become familiar with diversity and to become comfortable with adjusting to the unfamiliar'" according to Venture into Cultures: A Resource Book of Multicultural Materials and Programs. I heard much the same from the 800 plus librarians at the conference.

This was the second time I have presented on this subject. My first was a month earlier, in Sanduscky Ohio, at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA).   And this was an ultra-hot topic at the YALSA Literature Symposium, discussed at two different workshops. Librarians care. Their patrons care. And I have survey results from librarians, authors and bloggers to show just how much.

The concern is how few books in this area are being published, and how difficult it is to discover those that are.  Many librarians said they selected books for their collections based on covers and reviews. But as far
Cover Collage

 as diversity is concerned, you can't always tell the book by the cover. As you can see from the cover collage, the books do exist.Every year there are more books about an ever-widening cast of diverse characters. These include books about people of different colors, people with of different ethnicities and abilities, and  books about GLBT youth. True, many of the GLBT books have covers that keep the protagonists hidden. You can't tell by looking at it that I Am J is about a transgender teen. The covers of Five Flavors of Dumb and Crazy Beautiful don't reveal they are about people with disabilities. And the books in the Numbers trilogy show no people on the covers, nothing to reveal they center around interracial romances. 

(And please don't get me started on the American cover for The Demon's Surrender, [the cover I included in the collage is the UK cover] or the original cover that the American publisher wanted for Liar before public hue-and-cry made them change)   But there are now many books about diverse characters, from Shine Coconut Moon, about a Sikh Indian girl living in an ordinary American city, to This Thing Called The Future, that takes readers to Africa to see how similar the struggles and problems facing young people there are to their own lives.  And that fulfills part of the promise librarians have for diversity. That  "readers gain an opportunity to view concepts, events, and issues from more than just the perspective of the mainstream group. When the world is viewed from more than one perspective, readers gain insight into their own behavior."  There are a variety of ways of living and being, but that at our core, we are all so very similar.

As one librarian said, "It’s comforting and empowering for anyone to see his or her cultural experience reflected in literature. And for general population readers, it’s an essential tool to appreciating/celebrating the differences among us, as well as understanding the similarities."

Librarians want to increase their selection, and during our discussion we centered on ways to do so.  Many readers of all ages want the same thing. If you have any books you think deserve to be in any of these collections to be presented to future librarian organizations, please leave a comment. Let me know and I will check them out and present to librarians in the future.    And if you have any comments on the on-going multi-cultural representation in YA literature issue, please share. I think we would all love to hear more.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

YALSA Conf report - Big things on the horizon

 HOT, hot topic at the conference
Speculation from the librarians attending the conference on what will be/remain big. This area was a huge discussion topic, filling several sessions and off-session discussions. These results relate to reader answers to surveys, the kinds of books young adults ask librarians for, and personal observation.


Paranormal will remain big. The genre continually reinvents itself, from ghosts to witches and wizards. Then vampires and shape-shifters arrived and became (and remain) huge. Zombies are a big and growing thing now, along with fallen angels. Speculation about future incarnations of the genre included mermaids and leprechauns and supernatural beings from other cultures. (There was a big cheer at the idea of a leprechaun paranormal). Many also speculated/hoped for paranormal stories based on myths and legends from other countries and societies, not just ancient Greek and Roman. Examples librarians hoped to see int he future were the chupacabra fromMexico and orishas from Africa. 

Reissue, but with a twist

Everything old is new again. A lot of old classics are being reissued by publishers with bright new covers to attract teens. But what the kids are are asking for is the new-style twist on those old favorites, like:
  • Android Karenina
  • Cinder (Cinderella)
  • Jane Slayer
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

 “The WEIRD”

Oddball things are always big good with teens, and librarians see that as something that will continue to grow.  Especially the scary stuff - horror never really died off
  • Where things come back – John Corey Whaley
  • Why we broke up – Daniel Handler
  • Dead End in Norwelt – John Gantos
  • Rotters – Daniel Kraus (a personal favorite that changed my funeral plans and includes the worst revenge of the bullied teen scenes since Carrie. Do NOT read this book on a full stomach)

Other areas

 Quest novels, both in science fiction and fantasy, seem primed for a comeback.


The thing to remember is that successful YA authors tend to put out strong books that even adults will enjoy because they know how to create something that fights to be read. Teens will "put down a book in a heartbeat" if it's not compelling. 
Librarians see growth in books with strong “World Building.” Young adults are asking for protagonists facing strong external conflicts while dealing with complex inner challenges. Librarians speculated that this was part of the allure of Dystopian, based on the kinds of issues and characters kids ask for books about. But they often add they want the story to be in a world they would want to live in, unlike most dystopian societies.
Which brings us to realistic fiction. There was a lot of speculation that the next really big thing could be a wave of realistic fiction with strong world building and protagonists who have heavy-hitting inner conflicts. Kids want to get away from their regular world, but not too far. Many want to believe that what they read about COULD be true.

More on realistic fiction in a future post.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

YALSA Conference report - student understanding

One of the more promising things I heard at the conference was how English classes are working to give students the tools they need to pick books, along with tools to critically analyze the many messages they are bombarded with. This includes:
  • Understanding and dissecting the messages in covers. Learning to understand how covers hook and why they sometimes have little to do with the story. This includes a school reading group that do not look at covers when choosing their next book to read. The selection is based on book front matter and reading the first few pages. Some of the books they have chosen by not letting the cover speak to them has been eye-opening.
  • Reading between the lines of information found in the front and back matter
  • Understanding the Creative Commons license, copyright issues, and plagiarism in music, art, and writing.
  • Understanding reviews. This includes everything from a critique, to a professional review, to the amateur review. They learn to differentiate between the professional and the amateur reviewers and how to evaluate reviews and use the information when selecting a book. This includes understanding the “code words” used by professional reviews in their quest to meet their editors' word limits.
  • Understanding and reading between the lines of reader comments in places like Amazon and Goodreads, or in blogs. What both the positive, and negative, may mean; and that the volume of reader comments represent popularity, but not necessarily literary quality. And that some of these reviews and blog posts, places without the hard word limits, might provide insight into the meaning behind the Codes of the pros.

Basically, kids are learning things I wish I had known when I was younger. A lot more insight, and maybe a little less plagiarism as kids understand better the work involved in creation and that reviewers should be listened to, but they still need to apply their own evaluation and brainpower to others' opinions.

Monday, November 5, 2012

YALSA Conf report - FANDOM

I first heard of the world of fandom two years ago, but did not think much about it until this session. The world has existed for a long time. Many teens have grown up in a remix culture. A world where they have been able to build an AU or alternate universe where they change the words, outcomes, characters, etc. at will, for as long as they have been reading. AU - alternate universe, is part of the fandom vocabulary.  Yes, this world has its own language, a big part of it's community aspect that draws followers in. Including crossover, where two different worlds/books are are intermingled in one story.

Tumblr has become the de facto one-stop home for fandom. In addition to the ever popular transformations of Twilight and Harry Potter, there are fandoms for books as well as TV shows, movies, and musical groups. This includes classics such as Sherlock Holmes, Twelfth Night, Othello, Don Quixote, Jane Eyre, and Turn of the Screw. Fan created work includes art, prose and poetry. It is a community with people writing, editing and reading.

All of which makes fandom a low-pressure platform for teen writers and readers.

The original source work is considered the "cannon" - unchangeable. Fans take the cannon and apply their individual interpretations. As long as fandom is "non economic" the courts tend to keep distant fro what is considered transformative work, protected under copyright "fair use" clauses. Aside from a few early legal incidents, fandom and the publishing world exist in a state of detente.  The law has not been fully tested yet; almost no on wants to find out what the courts would say if a case went the distance. In some cases publishers are embracing fandom and even hosting fan contests.  They have gone from trying to do "cease and desist" and getting fan sites shut down, to "how can we participate and grow the fan base?"

People read fan created work for different reasons than they read commercial fiction. Many people love a good AU - alternative universe where their favorite characters strive. Fandom is easily read on the phone and in short spurts. Most who write fandom are in it "for the love of the game." In the process, they learn that anyone can create, and that can be good and empowering for teens. One fan was quoted as saying, "when the spirit moves you, you create, even if its a 500 word dribble about werewolves in space."  Another mentioned that while maybe 90% of the works are awful (bad grammar, tons of exposition, no plot), 10% is "worth dying for." I couldn't help thinking of the potential this media has for enticing reluctant readers, enticing them to get interested enough that they go seek out the cannon and possibly become writers themselves.

I said I had not heard of fandom before, but the more I learned, the more I realized I have participated in the practices since my own teen years. Just not in a community. My head is filled with my own favorite characters in an AU I created. It's a crossover since I just keep putting new characters into the same universe and watching them live their new lives. I understand the joy of a good ship, putting together coupes from different eras, books, genres, and letting them find true love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

YALSA Conf report - Bring Your "A" Game

This is the second in a series of blogs I will be making about what went on at the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium.  The first discussed Teens and eReaders. I said I was going to discuss the YALSA conference discussion on FANDOM next. But I heard something today that made me thing. Librarians, public and school, discussed the Common Core State Standards, and what it takes to get popular YA books into the classroom. The Core Standards have been adopted in 45 of the 50 states. Many YA authors would love to see heir books used in classrooms and/or perform author visits to school classes and libraries. Many teachers and schools would love to be able to offer YA books as part of their lessons, especially because they are books o many students actually want to read. Clamor to read. Contemporary fiction that speaks to issues that kids face, in their classrooms and students hands. When young men and women pick their own books, they are more likely both to read and enjoy them. Especially reluctant readers.

The standards do not mandate specific books. But they do include exemplars, and an emphasis on classical books and lexile levels. Teachers have to fit the school time they spend and the books they select for class study into the requirements of the Common Core Standards. We can help teachers who want to include popular YA books in their curriculum by having solid plots, with three-dimensional characters that students will challenge kids and also suck them into the book and keep them reading. Books that are well written and well-edited. And we as authors can help by adding in teacher guides and other information that can show how the books relate to the standards.

Many teachers and librarians would love to supply kids with today's YA to replace the Common Core exemplars. as classroom reads. Books that challenge kids and also suck them in and keep them reading. Authors and publishers can help by "bringing our 'A' game." Making sure our YA books, fiction and non-fiction, are well-edited, the plots, exposition, and characterization are solid and present situations that students, both proficient and reluctant readers, will find page-turners. Bring reasons why a modern/popular book could replace one of the Common Core exemplars. Help teachers who want to get our books into their schools and authors to visit by providing ammunition on how your book might help them.

If you are a teen reader, an author, a teacher, or a librarian, comment and tell me what you think.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

YALSA Conf report - Teens and eReaders

I'm at the 2012 YALSA Literature Symposium and learning a lot of interesting information anout kids and libraries, books and teen appeal. Some of it is not what I would have expected, but once I heard it things seemed pretty obvious.  For example, teens/tweens using eReaders:

Yes, more kids are using them. At least for a little while. But many school and public librarians are finding that after an initial transition, the novelty of using an eReader fades with many teens. They come to view those  devices and their attempts to make eReading similar to reading a physical book as things for "old people."

Instead, teens are more comfortable reading from a computer screen or from their phones. My eyes hurt at the very thought of using a phone screen to read a book, but it makes sense that kids would prefer that. Their phones are always with them, and well on the way to becoming the "everything device."  They don't expect eReading to be the same as book reading.

On the other hand, the tactile nature of a physica book still appeals to young readers. Teens and tweens still like to curl up with a good book in their hands. But if it's electronic, they want to use their phone.  Especially since that phone or computer get them to some of the most fun-filled stuff on the web - FANDOM.

More on FANDOM in the next conference report.