“People give you a hard time about being a kid at twelve. They didn’t want to give you Halloween candy anymore. They said things like, ‘If this were the Middle Ages, you’d be married and you’d own a farm with about a million chickens on it.’ They were trying to kick you out of childhood. Once you were gone, there was no going back, so you had to hold on as long as you could.”—― Heather O’Neill, Lullabies for Little Criminals
“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.
– Dorothy Parker”—(via thetinhouse)
“If I’d had children and had a girl, the first words I would have taught her would have been “fuck off” because we weren’t brought up ever to say that to anyone, were we? And it’s quite valuable to have the courage and the confidence to say, “No, fuck off, leave me alone, thank you very much.”—
If there were a Mount Rushmore of 20th-century authors, Doris Lessing would most certainly be carved upon it. Like Adrienne Rich, she was pivotal, situated at the moment when the gates of the gender disparity castle were giving way, and women were faced with increased freedoms and choices, as well as increased challenges.
She was political in the most basic sense, recognizing the manifestations of power in its many forms. She was spiritual as well, exploring the limits and pitfalls that came with being human, especially after she became an adherent of Sufism. As a writer she was inventive and brave…
As we age, we face a choice of caricatures; for women writers vis à vis younger ones, it’s Cruella De Vil versus Glinda the Good. I encountered my share of Cruellas along the way, but Doris Lessing was one of the Glindas. In that respect, she was an estimable model. And she was a model also for every writer coming from the back of beyond, demonstrating – as she so signally did – that you can be a nobody from nowhere, but, with talent, courage, perseverance through hard times, and a dollop of luck, you can scale the topmost storyheights.
We make a lot of young adult book lists at STACKED, and I know how useful they are for collection development and reader’s advisory purposes. They’re useful enough for me when I write them or read the ones Kimberly’s written. So I thought I’d make a list of some of our book lists, for those who are interested in digging deep into the various genres and themes within YA fiction.
I’ll add to this periodically as we update our book lists so that finding them all in one place is easy, useful, and convenient.
Get Genrefied Series
All of these lists focus on specific genres or subgenres within YA fiction. They each talk about the defining characteristics of the genre (or format!), followed by a big book list, and other websites and blogs to explore that delve even further into the specified genre.
“You have to surrender to your mediocrity, and just write. Because it’s hard, really hard, to write even a crappy book. But it’s better to write a book that kind of sucks rather than no book at all, as you wait around to magically become Faulkner. No one is going to write your book for you and you can’t write anybody’s book but your own.”—
There’s going to be a panel at AASL (School Librarian conference) this weekend called “Boys Reading: A focus on fantasy.” There are six well-respected, very cool middle grade fantasy authors on this panel. And they are all men.
And I have to ask: Why? Why can’t female authors discuss their readers as well? And what kind of image does an all-male panel talking about boys and reading present? What are we saying to readers, boys and girls?
It certainly doesn’t have to be this way—in his Guys Read anthologies, Jon Scieszka always includes female authors. I got to be one of them once, and my strategy for trying to write for an anthology marketed to boys was simply, “Write the best story you can.” I’m guessing most of the writers feel the same way and that more than anything else is the principle that guides Scieszka’s anthologies. Rule # 1 in writing for children: Respect your reader.
You write for this age group because you love your readers—the actual ones and the potential ones. You love the twelve- year-old-boy who hasn’t yet found the book that will hook him on reading, and you love the nine-year-old boy that reads secretly under his covers every night. You care about them, and you think about them, and you want to talk about them with teachers and librarians and other smart people who care about them and love them too. And you are qualified to, even if you don’t share their gender.
It seems like there’s a panel about boys reading at every conference. And, yes, we absolutely should talk about the literary and emotional health of our readers in all their permutations, we should talk about it endlessly. We should talk about boys, the boys reluctant to read, and the boys who love to read.
But we should talk about girls, too.
A couple things happen when we focus all of our collective attention on boys and whether or not they are reading. First, we tell boys that they are not reading, and that reading is not an inherently “boyish” thing to do. We expect them, in fact, not to read, and boys who love reading are outside the norm. Next, we start gendering books and telling boys that they like certain kinds of books, that they are interested in humor and adventure and fun. And they specifically do not like the sort of books that help kids at this age figure out how to be in the world, and they specifically do not like literary books or hard books or emotional books. And they absolutely positively do not want to read a book starring a girl.
When we give panels on boys and reading with only (or even predominantly) male authors, we tell boys they are only supposed to like books by men. (This will be surprising to JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins.) We tell them that only men have something to say to them. When we say boys won’t read books with girl heroes, we are constructing that reality for them. (It gets troubling in all kinds of ways—the act of reading as a child is about empathy for and connection with the protagonist, and it’s quite problematic to tell boys we don’t expect they can empathize with girls.)
And in all of this, we’re telling boys that we don’t expect a lot from them.
And in this conversation, the girls are rendered invisible.
Once, a lovely librarian from a school in Minnesota emailed me about a possible school-wide read of my book Breadcrumbs and wanted to gauge my interest in coming. I told her I’d love to do it and wrote it on my calendar. A couple weeks later she wrote me a very embarrassed email explaining that the committee had changed their minds and wanted a book that would appeal to boys.
Sure, I was bummed to lose the event. But it was the assumptions underneath that really got to me. Because:
a) Breadcrumbs appeals to boys. As do many other books with girls on the cover.
b) And, what about the girls?
We hear studies, again and again, that around fourth grade girls begin to lose their confidence, they stop talking in class, stop participating, and by adolescence their self-esteem is completely shot. Once boisterous girls become quiet, invisible. And as we are talking about the very real crises in boyhood, the girls are disappearing before our eyes.
And maybe we need to pay more attention. Maybe we need to make active efforts to take care of them, too—both to help them, and to show them that we see them, and they are worth taking care of. Yes, there have been studies that show that boys, as a whole, tend to lag behind girls in reading—and we must talk about that. But when we see a marked drop in self-esteem and spike in depression in a category that encompasses 50% of our children, that’s a crisis too.
Those years—from fourth grade to adolescence—those are the middle grade years. And we all—writers, teachers, librarians, publishing professionals—are dedicated to helping kids get through these years with books. Fundamentally, that’s what all this is about: we want kids to read not just for the act of reading, but because we believe books can play a profound role in a kid’s life and self-conception and relationship with the world. We talk about getting boys to read because we believe books can make their lives better in so many ways. So let’s open up the conversation.
And we could do fabulous panels on this crisis in girlhood and how we can help through books. We could do a great panel on how fantasy can empower them, and there would be male authors too because why wouldn’t we include them? We can talk about issues specific to female readers and specific to male readers, and we can include all kinds of voices in that conversation, because we want the kids to see that they matter to all of us.
Let’s look at the make-up of conference panels and for every panel on issues pertaining to boy readers, we ensure there’s one for their female counterparts. And lets ensure that these panels show that the issues pertaining to boys and girls are the province of all writers. Let’s keep having these conversations, and include everyone in them.
“The exciting thing about Lorde is not merely that ‘Pure Heroine’ is perfect (it is close), or that ‘Royals’ is perfect (it is), but that a teen-ager from Auckland, with an unnatural gift, has entered the suit-infested ruins of the music business with the confidence of a veteran and the skills of a prodigy.”—Sasha Frere-Jones listens to Lorde’s début album, “Pure Heroine”: http://nyr.kr/17pka7H (via newyorker)
“I think the most frustrating is when people won’t acknowledge there is a problem. There is a difference between being unaware of the issue, and heatedly denying there is an issue at all. Or to think our effort is simply an attempt at political correctedness. No. I think it is so important for young readers to read broadly about many kinds of people, cultures and experiences. It’s also so important to see themselves reflected back once in a while in the pages.”—Cindy Pon on the frustration of promoting diversity in young adult books, in an interview with Malinda Lo over at Hello Giggles. (via diversityinya)
“One of the most popular ways people like to hate teenage girls is to complain about their “insane” crushes on boy band members. Now, let me fucking tell you something: those big dumb crushes are what helps a teenage girl develop her sexuality in a safe environment that she can control. In her world, she can listen to One Direction and hear all these songs about how great she is, and how much these cute non-threatening boys want to make her feel special. Why is this so important? Because no one is pushing them. There’s no fourteen year old boy shoving his clammy hands down your shirt without your consent. These fantasy boys are not convincing a girl to send naked pictures, only to show all their friends and call her a slut. In the fantasy land of boy bands, the girl has all the power. And we need to stop judging them for wanting to escape into that.”—A passage from ‘Why I Fucking Love Teenage Girls (A Personal Essay From An Almost Adult)’ (via kissngluke)
Writing this novel reminds me of being driven through the Lincoln Tunnel when I was a kid in my parents’ van, when they’d commute to work in the city. All that traffic just to get to it, but once we were in the tunnel it got worse. Would we ever reach the end? Why aren’t we moving? Why all this traffic? What if the tunnel collapses on us? Isn’t the tunnel underwater? Someone said we’re underwater. What if it floods? What if the river crashes in? What if we never get out? Will we die down here? Ugh, the exhaust smell is leaking in. What is that bus ahead of us doing, why isn’t it moving? Is the end of the tunnel around that next bend? No. The next bend? No. The next? The next? The next?
Only when I gave up hoping for it did I see the light at the end of the tunnel and we’d drive out. Then of course we hit more traffic in Midtown, but at least we were out of that goddamn tunnel and I could breathe.
“She could not explain or quite understand that it wasn’t altogether jealousy she felt, it was rage. And not because she couldn’t shop like that or dress like that. It was because that was what girls were supposed to be like. That was what men - people, everybody - thought they should be like. Beautiful, treasured, spoiled, selfish, pea-brained. That was what a girl should be, to be fallen in love with. Then she would become a mother and she’d be all mushily devoted to her babies. Not selfish anymore, but just as pea-brained. Forever.”—Alice Munro, Runaway (via isserleylovesbooks)
“Don’t people always say that, though? To somebody who is younger? They say, oh, you won’t think like this someday. You wait and see. As if you didn’t have a right to any serious feelings. As if you weren’t capable.”—Alice Munro, “Chance” (via carriescott)
“This is what happens. You put it away for a little while, and now and again you look in the closet for something else and you remember, and you think, soon. Then it becomes something that is just there, in the closet, and other things get crowded in front of it and on top of it and finally you…