It was only a year and a half ago that I eagerly asked a friend for all the details of her YA lit class, down to the syllabus requirements and required reading. I was jealous that as an aspiring youth services librarian she got to take a class entirely devoted to YA literature. At the time, I was convinced that I would be working with adults -- or at least that my primary responsibilities wouldn’t include working with children, despite loving all forms of children’s literature.
Hindsight, as they say, is indeed 20/20. This past fall I realized that I did want to work with children, and this past spring saw me taking the same class I had been so envious of my friend for taking the year before.
Upon starting the class, I found myself in a rather unique position. Because I’d actively been part of the book blogosphere for the past few years and read almost exclusively YA literature, I think it’s fair to say that I was familiar with a lot of the current trends and more popular books being written for teens. Anything that I had learned about YA literature had essentially been self-taught, however, through observation and research and reading. I was curious to see what the class could teach me -- and I’ll admit that I enjoy learning and was looking forward to gaining some academic knowledge on this topic.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this class was how it contextualized YA literature both in terms of the general history and trends in literature, and also within the history of literature for children. For my undergraduate degrees in English and Spanish, I had mostly studied the classics and the history of literature in America and Britain, as well as a bit about Spain and Central/South America, and for my thesis I delved into the history of children’s literature; prior to this class, however, I had never looked into the specifics of literature for teens.
My class also discussed book reviews, and how to write the most valuable, professional reviews possible. We read from Kathleen Horning’s From Cover to Cover, which I highly recommend. Horning is the current director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), which is kind of a big deal in the field of children’s lit. Her book is broken down into chapters on how to interact with different types of books for different age levels, as well as suggestions on the review-writing process and is definitely something I plan on referring back to for both blogging and professional development.
Each week of the class was broken up into a genre or theme, which was helpful for someone like me who has a few preferred genres. Because the book selections did skew a bit on the older side (in terms of publication date), I had the opportunity to read classics such as Judy Blume’s Forever… and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. Weekly themes ranged from hi-lo lit (which I hadn’t known much about prior to this class), to nonfiction, to illustrated books (which are different from graphic novels), and more. Over the course of the class we also read a bit about adolescent development.
Of course, what I really enjoyed was the opportunity to become familiar with new authors and stories. Some of my favorites included M.T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Kingdom: The Pox Party, Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger, Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints duology, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, and Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost.
I definitely enjoyed having the opportunity to take this class, and to be able to take a more academic approach to a subject I already love so much. Many of the novels we read will stay with me, as will Horning’s book. Despite all that, there is something to be said about experiential learning and first-hand knowledge, and I have to say that I’ve probably learned just as much from reading and blogging about YA literature. It was nice to put everything into a bit more context, though, and I’m looking forward to taking a children’s literature class this fall.