Tag archives: YA fiction

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Children’s and young people’s reading – a round-up of recent news and articles

dream jarsI loved the BFG dream jars that sprung up over London during the holidays, and it was great watching children and families swarming round them. A lovely celebration of Roald Dahl and of books and reading.

It’s not only a new school year, but also Read a Book Day, so definitely a good time to catch up on reading news and articles from the last couple of months.

Anyone with an interest in reading knows it has all sorts of advantages. Perhaps the most intriguing recent finding is that people who read books live longer lives.

The right way to bribe your kids to read – a deliberately provocative title – looks at the best ways for parents to support children’s reading. As the author says, extrinsic motivation doesn’t necessarily lead to an intrinsic desire to read. Lovely that taking children to the library, being a reading role model, talking to children about books and having lots of books at home are more effective than cash.

The merits of reading real books to your children explores the value of sharing books with children, particularly the benefits of paper books over digital ones.

Tough times out there? Here’s why reading with your kids is more important now than ever is useful and illuminating. Reading to children supports empathy and understanding as well as their overall development.

I liked this article on the importance of rare words for children’s learning and literacy, and why reading books helps.

The NUT reading for pleasure site has been revamped and has lots of practical tips and ideas.

Very good to see a focus on whole school literacy and on importance of school library in How to create a positive reading culture in your school from the TES.

Seven top tips for getting students reading by school librarian Joel Crowley is valuable too. Sharing your enthusiasm is quite rightly number one.

It’s worth reading the Learning Spy, aka David Didau’s new blog post 5 things every new (secondary) teacher should know about reading.

The problem with female protagonists is a very interesting article on the need for, and the insufficient numbers of, fictional female role-models for everyone.

New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation includes disturbing data about young adults’ literacy. England is the only country in the OECD where the average literacy score for the youngest age group (16-18 years old) is lower than that of the oldest age group (55 to 65 years old).

A TES article by Joe Nutt about YA fiction caused a huge furore over the summer. Juno Dawson wrote a powerful rebuttal. There was a Today programme discussion between Joe Nutt and Francesca Simon (2 hours 18 minutes in). YA author Julie Mayhew has also written a valuable response to original article. And this is a powerful riposte from a 16 year-old student.

Finally, a warming story about Doorstep Library, which takes books and reading to disadvantaged children.


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

YALC – the UK’s first YA Lit Con

YALC 1 - logoI was so lucky to get to both days of YALC – an amazing celebration of young adult literature, set up by the wonderful Malorie Blackman.
YALC 3 - dystopian fictionThis was the first event I attended after struggling through the unbelievable – and spectacularly dressed – queues. It was very much standing room only to hear Blackman, Patrick Ness, Sarah Crossan and James Smythe discuss dystopian fiction. Its appeal to teenagers, they felt, is that it reflects the darkness and fears many teenagers experience. Not having books that explore dark themes, said Ness, abandons young people going through terrible things. (Utopian fiction, in contrast, would be intensely boring. Blackman had read Dante’s trilogy. Hell was by far the best, she told us.) Touching on the controversy created by the awarding of the Carnegie medal to Bunker Diary, all were adamant that books for young people should not all end hopefully. Realism is more important. Blackman declared that if she’s not offending someone, somewhere she is not doing her job properly. Interestingly, most of the authors never set out to write dystopian fiction, instead writing the stories that grab them, preferring not to be defined by genre. The panel firmly rejected the notion that YA is in itself a genre – a rejection shared by many subsequent speakers.
YALC 4 - graphic panelNext up was a fascinating discussion about graphics and adaptation with Emma Vieceli, Marcus Sedgwick and Ian Edgington, chaired by an impressively clad Sarah McIntyre. Between them, they have produced a huge array of original graphics and adaptations ranging from Shakespeare to Horowitz. All are delighted by the diversity now in graphics. Sedgwick started writing graphics to get rid of writers’ block. Until then he had no idea of the rules governing their publication. Exceeding word counts in standard fiction is not a problem but increasing the page count in a graphic massively impacts on costs. Edgington held up his 200 page draft adaptation of Noughts and Crosses, telling us his publishers will have a heart attack when they see its length. Blackman has been an excellent author to collaborate with, he said. All view good communication between writer and artist as essential. Sedgwick does not mind if elements of his books get lost in adaptation, so long as their heart is retained. Vieceli works with lots of authors and also writes herself, with the intriguing result that the artist and the writer parts of her are often in conflict.
YALC 5 - Regenerating the DoctorIt was great fun hearing Blackman, Sedgwick and Ness again, along with Charlie Higson, Andy Lane and Steve Cole, on the subject of writing Dr Who stories, something all of them had clearly loved doing. The opportunity to create fictional universes was a particular appeal. Blackman also relished ‘chucking in lots of technical stuff’, and turning Dalek norms on their head by having one telling a story to a child. She longs to write a television Dr Who episode. In response to a question about the lack of diversity in Dr Who, the panel were clear it would not work to write a Dr Who story specifically to be inclusive – it would have to come from the story. Blackman talked too about the need for diversity in terms of writers, cast members and production staff.
YALC 6 - fantasyThis was the panel for ‘Bring me my dragons’. Frances Hardinge, Amy McCullough, Jonathan Stroud, Ruth Warburton and Marc Alpin were highly entertaining on YA fantasy. Like several of the panels, they explored the concept of YA literature, and rejected any notion that it is a genre, or that it is only for teenagers. In the words of McCullough’s publisher, ‘YA is a state of mind, not an age range’. Readers of YA, they felt, are united not by age, but by a willingness to ‘unpick their world’. There is a gratifyingly large range of YA heroes, most with the capacity for change. None of the authors write with an ideological manifesto, however fantasy YA often raises questions, for instance about loyalty and trust. For Hardinge the story always comes first, not moral issues, but inevitably these crop up, and fantasy is a great place to explore them. The authors all write what they would have liked to read as teenagers.YALC 8 - Too sexy‘I’m too sexy for this book’ was definitely a highlight. James Dawson donned his new Queen of Teen crown to introduce panellists Cat Clarke, Non Pratt and Beth Beekles. He loves the positive, non-judgmental way they all write about sex. All write realistically about it because that’s what they wanted to read as teenagers. Only Dawson has ever has been asked by publishers to remove any part of their sex scenes. Beccles, many of whose readers are 11 or 12, does make sure that her writing is not too graphic. Like authors on several of the panels they are totally against age-banding on books. They discussed the taboo around sex in YA books, and the paradox that it is often deemed less acceptable than violence, which, unlike sex, is damaging and destructive. They pointed out that books about sex are a much safer source of information than internet pornography. Dawson tries to engage parents rather than seeing them as enemies – in two books he includes guidance for parents on how to use them with their children. Librarians were identified as potential gatekeepers, under pressure from parents and sometimes from senior managers to limit the availability of books with a sexual element. There were tales of school librarians booking these authors for visits but having to restrict what they could talk about. Pratt made a clarion call for every school to have a librarian, to help teenagers make reading choices that are right for them.YALC 9 - CrossoverThe discussion about crossover fiction with Matt Haig, Anthony McGowan, Meg Rossoff, Nick Lake and David Maybury was lots of fun. Like other panels, they debated the defining characteristics of YA. The key one, according to this panel, is not the protagonist’s age, but their perspective. In YA the perspective is that of someone going through the tunnel of adolescence rather than looking back on it. Rossoff cited Hamlet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice and lots of Dickens as coming of age literature. YA is about questioning – it’s a place to explore big themes. There wasn’t unanimity over whether there are any restrictions in writing for teenagers. Some of the authors had come under pressure to change certain scenes and to remove swear words, while Haig feels freer writing YA than writing adult fiction. Like many other speakers at YALC, he made clear that YA is not a genre, that teenagers are very open to reading across different genres, and that ‘good things happen’ when writers blur boundaries. Rossoff pointed to the interesting fact that over half of YA sales are to adults, which led to an impassioned debate about ‘good’ reading versus ‘escapist’ reading. McGowan came under light-hearted fire for suggesting that reading The Brothers Karamazov before you die would be of more value than reading Twilight for the nineteenth time.YALC 10 - sistersThis was the final discussion I went to, ‘Sisters doing it for themselves’. Sarra Manning introduced speakers Tanya Byrne, Holly Smale, Julie Mayhew and Isobel Harrop as not only the best line-up of the entire convention, but also the one with the most X chromosomes, most oestrogen and most boobs. I loved their mix of literary heroes: Petrova Fossil in Ballet Shoes, Anne of Green Gables, Matilda, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Stephen King’s heroines and Dick King-Smith’s Sophie. In their own writing all draw on their experiences and feelings as teenagers, though that does not always mean their protagonists are like them. Emily in Byrne’s novel Heart-Shaped Bruise in no way resembles her author. All the panel like to create characters who have vulnerabilities and who make mistakes. Perfect characters are not only unrealistic, they potentially add to the pressures girls are under to be perfect. Smale wants to celebrate all aspects of being female through her characters. She and others try to downplay looks as important. Byrne limits the physical descriptions of her characters, and avoids judgmental and subjective adjectives like ‘attractive’. I was fascinated that both Byrne and Mayhew create Spotify lists for their different characters to help get into their heads.

YALC 11 - book wallI wish I could have attended more events, but this was all my brain could cope with, though I did have just enough energy to take in the lovely book wall. A terrific weekend. It was great to meet lots of friends and colleagues, and inspiring to hear wonderful YA creators and to see such hoards of YA lovers.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Young Adult Fiction: Coming out of the Closet

I have at last got time to reflect on a great panel discussion Booktrust hosted ten days ago on the representation of LGBT characters in YA fiction. The panel consisted of authors James Dawson and Hayley Long, Emily Thomas of Hot Key Books, and Catherine Hennigan, a graduate of the Stonewall Young Talent Programme. Alex Strick chaired. They were unanimous that LGBT characters are essential in teenage fiction, for gay and straight teenagers and those who are exploring their sexuality. Hennigan movingly described her problems in her teens in finding books in the school and public library that helped her. The few books with LGBT characters she came across were mostly very stereotyped. They focused on negative issues like homophobia, bullying and suicide. The characters were defined only in relation to their sexuality. As a gay teenager, Dawson would have loved to have read about gay teenagers just being normal. Thomas said even now too many books with LGBT characters that come to publishers are issue-led and stereotyped. All agreed sexuality in YA fiction should be an aspect of the story, not the main focus.

Both authors described their books as having universal themes, rather than being issue-led: how as a teenager you decide who and how to be. When Dawson was writing Hollow Pike it did not occur to him not to have LGBT characters, but he was concerned his publisher would object. They did not. Then he worried that school librarians would not buy it. (Other panel members too expressed this concern. I wish I’d had the chance to say most school librarians would love to stock more good LGBT-related fiction.) As it turned out, schools that objected did so because of the witchcraft theme, not the sexuality issues. Teenagers have been very positive in their response. Long has also received lots of praise for What’s Up With Jody Barton? She had not specifically planned to write about a gay character, but had been determined to challenge her readers. Hence the pink cover, to appeal to her usual readership, even though this means teenage boys who would potentially benefit from it are unlikely to read it.

Hennigan raised an interesting point: novels with LGBT characters are crucial, but the internet and social media mean they are no longer the prime sources of information for teenagers about LGBT issues.

Booktrust has produced a useful list of teenage fiction titles with LGBT characters.