Saturday, June 1, 2013

Armchair BEA: Children's/Young Adult Literature

Design by Emily @ Emily's Reading Room

So, anybody else totally freaked out about posting after reading all the responses to the ethics prompt yesterday?

Actually, I really enjoyed reading bloggers' various thoughts about blogging ethically and tips for doing so.  In fact, I found answers to all my questions about image copyrights that I asked in my post.

Today for Armchair BEA we are discussing a topic near and dear to my heart: Children's and YA Literature.  Anyone who is a regular follower of this blog knows that I am huge supporter of YA Literature and that I even teach it in my banned books themed ENG 111 course.  Before explaining why, I do think it's important to attempt to define the parameters that dictate literature as "Children's," "Young Adult," and even that very new genre of "New Adult."

Children's Literature: These are the books you learned to read with.  The ones you grew up on, sometimes featuring your favorite cartoon characters, but always teaching you a lesson about how to share or make friends or respect mom and dad.  The best children's literature is an interactive, sensory tool for learning with great images and short words and sentences that children can use as building blocks in their own vocabulary.  The protagonists in typical children's literature are often children themselves, usually ranging from ages 3 or 4 to 10.  These characters illustrate typical childhood quandaries like welcoming a new sibling, attending school for the first time, and taking on responsibilities around the house.  Some of my favorite children's books are as follows:

Digby and Kate by Barbara Baker
Chick Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. (Author), John Archambault (Author), Lois Ehlert (Illustrator)
Donald Says Thumbs Down by Nancy Evans Cooney (Author), Maxie Chambliss (Author)
Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch and Helene Desputeaux
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone (Author), Michael Smollin (Illustrator) (really any Little Golden Book ever)

Young Adult Literature: Young adult literature addresses the time of transition most readers find themselves in from ages 11-18 or 19.  This is often a time of dramatic flux and change for readers, and YA literature shows readers they are not alone or strange for the way they are feeling as their bodies change or when they begin high school, lose friends, get new ones, fight with their parents, and experience their first relationship.  It's intense, and I am such a champion of YA literature because it refuses to sugar-coat this very difficult but life-changing time in a person's life.  The protagonists are often pre-teens and teenagers themselves although some books told from the perspective of an adult as he/she reminisces on his/her teen years have also been adopted by the YA community.  If we're getting really technical, we could probably breakdown generic YA literature into pre-teen and late teen.  Pre-teen YA deals with puberty, think Judy Blume, and junior high.  Late teen YA deals more so with issues of agency, authority, and independence as a teen begins to establish his/her self as a person separate from his/her parents and is introduced to sexual, social, and ethical quandaries. Some of my favorite YA books can be found all over this blog, but if pressed, I highly recommend anything by:

Judy Blume
Laurie Halse Anderson
Sarah Dessen
Ellen Hopkins

New Adult: This is a relatively new genre of literature that has actually been around a while but has typically been shelved with adult literature.  This genre focuses on characters in their early twenties.  They are typically college-aged and therefore experiencing another world of flux as they attempt to transition from a world of few responsibilities to one of many in terms of careers, bills, and serious relationships.  I freely admit I have not read much of what I would consider NA literature, preferring to spend my time with the young adults.  However, a series I believe falls into this category retrospectively is Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts.  After I read the first book in the series, I went to the bookstore to purchase the next one.  I scoured the YA section with no luck.  I finally found Second Helpings in the adult section.  Like many of us in our twenties, Jessica Darling was straddling the gap between not-quite-teen and not-quite-adult.  At the very least, I am glad these books have a home.

So why do I read mostly YA literature when I am a person firmly in the New Adult category?  I'm married with two degrees, a steady job, and all of the responsibilities those attributes entail.  I've written several times before on this blog that YA literature is valuable to me for two reasons.
  1. It can teach readers important lessons about life and their role in it.
  2. YA literature is characterized by a hope born of personal agency.
As I wrote before, YA literature refuses to shy away from uncomfortable, but very realistic, issues most teens experience today such as abuse in all its forms, depression, suicide, peer pressure, and loss.  Readers need to be introduced to characters that they can relate to, whose feelings match the intensity of their feelings.  YA literature becomes a safe haven for expression of your deepest fears and secrets when you feel as if you can't share them with anyone else.  The characters become your outlet and touch stone - a safe middle ground for articulating the often confusing mass of emotions that rain down on you in your teen years. Although these stories often deal with heavy issues, they always offer a beacon of hope.  Unlike most adult literature where the characters seem stuck in the same tired cycle with little to no hope of ever moving forward, most YA literature teaches readers that they can overcome any obstacle placed in front of them by showing them characters that do just that.  It inspires self-confidence.   

I hope to flesh out my understanding of YA literature along with its significance and more recommendations in the YA LibGuide I plan to construct this summer.  It will look very similar to the one I created on banned books last summer.  I will keep you all apprised of my progress.


  1. Yet another fabulous post, Kristin! I completely omitted picture books from my post and your inclusion of them has reminded me of all the favourites I've read with my daughter.

    I like that there are so many options for YA books these days. When I was a young adult the genre was nowhere near as big as it is now so I jumped right into reading regular fiction at about age 13/14. I have tons of YA books on my shelves, and while most of them don't deal with the heavy topics you've listed in your post, they do tend to involve a young person coming into their own and discovering who they really are.

    1. Thanks, Melissa! YA is a genre that has definitely grown in recent years. I belived by providing young adults with a group of books they can relate to and call their own it certainly gives them an incentive to read more.

      Yes! I can't believe I forgot to add that in my post! The bildungsroman is a huge trope in young adult fiction.

  2. I love Judy Blume and today's kids can still find relevant topics to their everyday challenges! Great books!! Loved your post!

    1. She is the queen of teen fiction. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I get to see Sarah Dessen this week in D.C. I'm so excited!!!

    1. I don't know if you've ever seen her speak before, but she is so friendly and engaging. You'll have a blast!

  4. The Monster at the End of this Book! LOVE!

    Also, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is the best book. Great post!

    1. I still have these on my bookshelf for my niece. I can't wait to have a grown-up excuse to re-read all my childhood faves when she comes over.