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CRITICISM OF YA AND CHILDREN’S LITERATURE: TOO LIGHT OR TOO DARK?

Young adult literature has long been criticised for two main things:

1. Young adult literature is not complex enough, and is often written off as simple and unimportant

2. Young adult literature is too dark for the teenagers they’re meant for.

So, what is it, is young adult too light or too dark? Is it okay for adults to read, is it okay for teenagers to read?

Young adult literature is not ‘complex’

YA-bashing’ has proliferated the literary world for the last decade. Adults are shamed for reading young adult or children’s literature despite 55% of YA readers being adults.

Many critics have belittled fiction for young people as a lesser form of writing, which can never be great literature as it doesn’t ‘confront the full range of genuine human experience’.

The main issue with this argument is that it puts all the great scope and array of children’s and YA fiction into one little box. It considers children’s and YA fiction to be genres rather than categories. Adult fiction is not a genre and neither is children’s nor YA.

Many critics of YA literature have, more often than not, not read a wide array of YA fiction, if any. Their arguments are based off the bestselling blockbusters, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, but these books barely scrape the surface. There is so much more depth to fiction for young people and there are genres within these categories just like in adult literature.

Woman reading Harry Potter. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/34irxlU

Young adult literature has changed the publishing landscape. Harry Potter led this change, changing not only the way we think about children’s and YA literature, but the way we think about books as commodities, as products, and showed how readers have the power to make an impact with their strong fan communities and engagement.

Nobody is suggesting Twilight should have won a Pulitzer prize, the community is just asking to be taken seriously.

And why aren’t they? Danielle Binks in her article for Kill Your Darlings claims sexism and elitism play their part, while S. E. Smith in their blog post cites ageism as a cause.

In both arguments YA and children’s literature are thought of as ‘less-than’ because either their writers (predominantly women), their protagonists (young people) or their readers (either young people or adults who should be ‘embarrassed‘ are also thought of as ‘less-than’. As Binks puts it, this argument ‘sounds a lot like “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.”’

All this belittling, overlooking and blanket judgment of children’s and YA literature is not the only criticism the category faces. And it is ironic that while this argument stems from a belief in a lack of complexity, the literature being too ‘light’ if you will, that the other dominant argument regards YA novels as too dark.

Adult censorship of Young Adult literature

When young adult literature delves into serious topics (sex, mental health, drugs, etc.) it is often critiqued as being too dark for young readers.

There are two schools of thought on the impact these novels have on young readers; those who believe they may spark copycat behaviour and those who believe information and emotional insight will help readers develop coping skills.

In recent years there has been controversy surrounding how depictions of death in YA are becoming increasingly graphic, with the uproar against the Netflix adaptation Thirteen Reasons Why a prime example.

The graphic depiction of teen suicide on screen is quite a far cry from the off-page deaths of early 20th century books for young readers, such as The Secret Garden or  Anne of Green Gables.

But since the mid 20th century, with the publication of The Outsiders in 1967, which is commonly thought of as the ‘first’ YA novel, protagonists began to not only deal with the aftermath of death, but also to witness death and deal with the trauma that came with it.

While there is a risk of copycats when YA literature depicts teen suicide, reading about death through the safe space of a novel can help teach young readers about grief and loss, which they may not have yet experienced in real life.

Writing about sex in YA literature has also been known to spark controversy and often it is not the inclusion of sexually explicit content that is up for debate but the ways in which it is written.

Sex is something that should be written about in a safe and suitable way so young readers can be exposed and educated about sex, like death, through the safe space of a novel.

Michael Cart in Young Adult Literature: From Romance to Realism remarks:

Not to include sex in books for contemporary young adults […] is to agree to a de facto conspiracy of silence, to imply to young readers that sex is so awful, so traumatic, so dirty that we can’t even write about it.

By writing sex realistically and factually young readers can be educated by the novels they read. And by reading about sex in a novel rather than a textbook, they may be more willing to take in the information.

So, who is it for and what should it be about?

The arguments for and against YA, for and against adults reading YA, and for and against the inclusion of explicit topics in YA are numerous and contradictory. Reviewers seem quick to critique children’s and YA literature, often without even reading the books themselves

Books shouldn’t be classified by age, people mature at different rates and develop interests at different rates, as argued by Patrick Ness:

‘…there is no clear distinction between a children’s book and a teenager’s book; a teenager’s book and an adult’s book. It is a spectrum, along which we move from the colourful innocence of children’s literature to darker themes for older audiences. It is up to the individual to find their place on the spectrum, read the books that are right for them and understand what is right and wrong by engaging with “the darkness”’

We can only hope that soon any well written book will be taken seriously despite the age of its protagonist or target audience. That readers will find books that engage, entertain and educate, and not be judged by the books they read.

Featured image: Bookshop. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/2N9Fahm

HOW THE SUCCESS OF YOUNG ADULT FICTION IS INTERTWINED WITH SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE COMMUNITIES

The rise in popularity of Young Adult fiction over the last few decades has in a large part been attributed to the inane and unexpected success of Harry Potter which undoubtedly changed the YA publishing landscape.

However, the continuing popularity of young adult fiction post 2011 (the year the last Harry Potter movie was released), as seen with the success of the Hunger Games series (the first movie was made in 2012), can, in some part, be attributed to social media.

As written in ‘Authors, get thee to social media’ published on The Conversation, ‘a generation of online readers are creating new ways to discuss, dissect and celebrate their favourite stories. And it’s driving sales in a big way.

Readers, through the power of social media, can now be heard, they can give immediate feedback to their favourite authors and, in some cases, make or break the success of a book.

Author’s use of social media

One textbook example of an author’s expert manipulation and utilisation of social media to attract readers and create a community can be seen with the success of John Green.

John Green has a successful and prolific online presence, with an active YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr. On these sites he curated a dedicated fanbase of ‘Nerdfighters – youngsters who want to read, debate and heal the world.’.

John Green has 5 million followers on Twitter, and the YouTube channel he shares with his brother Hank has over 3 million subscribers. John Green’s 2012 novel The Fault in Our Starsreached #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists six months before the book was published’ thanks to this large social media following.

John Green’s dominance of the market is still true. His first novel since The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down, was published in 2017 to positive reviews, and in just the latter half of this year Green has had two new adaptations created: Looking for Alaska has been made into a TV series airing on Stan (Hulu in America), and his Christmas collaborative novel Let It Snow will be released as a movie on Netflix this Christmas.

This ongoing success is a clear example of the benefits of a strong, positive social media following. And not just a following, what John Green has done is create a community, a gathering of likeminded young people who have bonded over his words and his stories and in return bolstered them to the top of the bestselling lists, off the page and onto the screen.

Following an author’s social media can also give a potential reader an insight into them as a person, beyond just what they write. Though some authors may not like the idea, this can build a following based on the author as a brand.

The publishing industry has always had to face the challenge of marketing books, are they a product or an artform? Culture or capitalism? Or both? With the growth of social media an extra issue is added, in that authors now have the opportunity to engage with their fans and sell themselves.

Social media is an unavoidable part of 21st century marketing and yet authors must still be wary of overselling it. Readers want to engage with the author as a person and curate an intimate connection with them, too much self-promotion can damage this. With the right balance, personal posts can act as self-promotion by attracting readers to the author not the product.

Social media is where young people, and young readers, are so it makes sense for authors to capitalise on the concentration of potential readers and use social media to their advantage. But online communities of young adult readers have also spread beyond the following of an author’s social media pages.

Online communities: the Goodreads effect

The book review site Goodreads has become a platform where young readers can come to discuss the books they’re reading, recommend their favourites to others and form communities around similar tastes and interests.

Vice has called Goodreads a ‘wholesome’ form of social media. They claim that its rise in popularity (from 60 million in 2017 to 90 million now) is due to its lack of negatives that many of the mainstream social media sites have.

The growing popularity of Goodreads, while providing young readers with a safe, ‘wholesome’ social media site, has also triggered the need for publishers and authors to rethink their strategies:

‘Readers are finding their individual voices heard through the posted recommendations and reviews. Publishers and authors are shifting resources to social media as they see the power of individual recommendations from thousands, even millions of readers.

This is good news for writers, as well as readers. as it makes it much easier to grow on their own without having to make it past the gatekeepers of publishers or agents.

Writers on Goodreads can utilise the site, in the way John Green utilised his social media platforms. On Goodreads authors have direct access to potential new readers, they can see what books they like to read and as such which readers on Goodreads may be interested in their books.

In today’s online world, it is by utilising all the positives of social media – community, connection and intimacy – that can give emerging young adult authors the edge to rise to the top of the bestsellers list.

Curating a community in which readers are not only reading your book, but engaging with you as a human, and engaging with other readers, can only bolster your work and increase your reach.

Featured image: Girl reading book. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/2C9yauQ

HOW CHANGES IN TECHNOLOGY HAVE AFFECTED THE PRIMARY SCHOOL CLASSROOM: IN CONVERSATION WITH KATE NEVILL

Image: Teacher with SmartBoard. Used with permission. steveriot1

Transcript:

Kids playing audio (Kids playing. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/36m0IPD)

Bell ringing audio (Medium bell ringing far. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/2NLZ9Cb)

Intro music (Cute Avalanche. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/335RODI)

BL: Hi and welcome to the Bethany Lee Writes podcast. This podcast aims to delve into children’s and young adult education and writing, how things have changed and how things have improved with the introduction and proliferation of new technologies and digital media. On today’s show we are talking to Kate Nevill, an experienced primary school teacher, about how the changes and advances of technology have changed the classroom.

Hi Mrs. Nevill! How long have you been a primary school teacher?

KN: Well, I’ve been a teacher for over 35 years, but I’ve taught all grades from prep to year six.

BL: This experience has given Mrs. Nevill a wealth of knowledge about primary school education, and she has witnessed first-hand the changing childhood education climate.

BL: Do you think technology has played a part in the changes at all?

KN: Yes, technology has played probably a fairly big role in the changes in the classroom

BL: Technology in primary school classrooms has come a long way since my days of projectors and designated computer rooms and I wanted to know if an increased interest in screens was affecting children’s interest in other pursuits, such as reading.

BL: Have you noticed any increase or decrease in reading interest since the introduction of screens?

KN:  I wouldn’t say that there has been any reduction in their interest in learning to read because at the age that I teach, like they’re really keen to learn to read because it’s something new and it opens up a lot of doors for them and they can use it on their screens as well. So, no they’re still pretty excited to, to learn to read

BL: What about reading for pleasure?

KN: yes, yes, no, they like looking at books and they still like reading for pleasure and they get fads, like I’ve got a prep child in my class who’s into Pokémon. So, there’s little Pokémon books you can get so they’re keen to get to that level of reading so that they can read those, so no, they’re still into books

 BL: how do your student’s screen literacy compare to their reading literacy?

KN: when they start school they have some background in reading literacy because they’ve been read books they the right way up  and they know, you know, to turn the pages and things  like that even if they’re not actually reading words themselves, they do know a lot about literacy. And the same with screen literacy, they’ve probably all got iPads so they’re very proficient in using those, but computers not so much. So they need to be instructed in how to log on and log off computers This year in preps I gave them a copy of a keyboard and we highlighted the letters in their names and the password that they need to log on and we used to practice that so they knew where the letters were on the keyboard.

BL: Are there any ways you utilise technology in your lesson plan?

KN: so, technology in the classroom has come a long way in the last 35 years, I use it a lot more now than I used to, now you can just put something up on the screen and show the class a little clip to demonstrate something. You use them a lot to engage the kids and to help them, you know, to remember rules. Even just reading stories sometimes I just put a story on the board for them to watch instead of me reading it, so they’re still being exposed to the story and the literacy but it’s just in a different format that’s very engaging for them.

BL: So, do you think it’s made your job easier?

KN: oh absolutely, yes, it has made it a lot easier because the kids these days they need to be motivated in lots of different ways, like they’re not used to just sitting still and listening to a voice all the time so you need to think of different ways to get them interested and engaged and technology does that

BL: overall, to do you think technology in the classroom is positive?

KN: Yeah, I think technology in the classroom is a positive thing because it’s the way of the future and it’s preparing the students for when they leave school, if they’re not literate in computers and technology then they’re going to get left behind.

Outro music (Cute Avalanche)

BL: Thanks for listening to the Bethany Lee Writes podcast. Please subscribe to our SoundCloud and comment if you have any thoughts on technology in the classrooms these days.

Bell ringing audio.

Kids playing audio.

HOW SCREEN TIME AFFECTS LITERACY AND DEVELOPMENT IN CHILDREN

We’ve all heard the news stories of how screens, social media and new advances in technology are causing children to stay inside rather than play outside and how this is detrimental to their growth and development, some studies even linking excessive screen use to delayed oral skills.

But is the true cause of detriment the lack of outdoor activity or the lack of brain stimulation. Does it all depend on what children are using their screens for?

Is there a difference between the development of children who use screens for mindless, monotonous games and children who use screens to read or play educational brain-trainer games?

Recent studies showed that screen usage among children from ages 2-5 led to a ‘delayed development’.

However, this study did not take into account what the children were using the screens for, which caused some researchers to challenge the study. It also failed to consider other factors such as ‘family income, the child’s sleep and whether they were read to.’

This study also ‘did not show which areas of development in particular were most affected by screen time or give an idea of how much was too much when it came to using devices.’

Other studies, though, have linked screen time with lack of oral skills in Prep-aged children.

In July last year The Guardian reported that ‘more than a quarter of children starting primary school are unable to communicate in full sentences’.

Another article in The Telegraph backs up the claim harmful amount of screen time are the reason for this statistic. The article references a study University College London study which claimed that it’s not the amount of time spent on social media or what children are doing on their devices that is detrimental but the amount of time which it takes away from face to face communication which causes harm.

Child on Phone. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/2PpQlpA

The Telegraph reached out to Dr Cara Booker, a research fellow at the University of Essex, who stated ‘Communications skills in face-to-face-situations have been on the decline since social media has become more widely used.’

Excessive time in virtual spaces can reduce social interactions, ‘more screen time means fewer opportunities for children to listen to and engage in oral language’.

As a result, the development of social and interpersonal skills has suffered. Excessive screen time also reduces time children spend reading or doing homework, which is, ultimately, leading to a fall in children’s literacy levels.

But if children are completely cut off from using screens at what age should they be introduced? What if a child’s digital literacy falls behind?

While there are a plethora of studies citing the benefits of learning from physical books rather than screens, and even reports that children themselves prefer reading a physical book rather than off a screen, the need for digital literacy is hard to deny.

The Desert News, a US-based news site, reported in 2016 that a lack of digital literacy can create disadvantages for children at school, they also go so far as to claim that the whole meaning of the word literacy is evolving:


‘Literacy used to mean the ability to read and write, but in recent years, that term has become an umbrella for reading, writing and digital skills that run the gamut from typing to intuitively understanding how to interact with both computers and other devices, as well as an early grasp that everything online must be vetted.’


– Chandra Johnson, The Desert News

The president of Reading is Fundamental, Alicia Levi, agrees that digital literacy is an important skill to have when starting school. But she also stresses, ‘technology should enable learning for kids, but it shouldn’t replace the fundamental foundation of literacy, which is putting a book in a child’s hand.’

I return now to my earlier question: does what the children are using their screens for also have an effect?

If children are reading or playing a game that challenges them and trains their brain are there more positive effects? Or do the same disadvantages – short attention spans, lack of social and oral skills – still occur?

Allison Henward, a professor at the University of Hawaii, reports that there are some positives to screen time and there are skills and lessons children can learn from screens. She reports that some children are ‘creating complex oral stories through the characters they see on screen’.

There are a number of educational apps and games which foster a child’s educational development rather than hinder it. Henward claims these apps can ‘facilitate better language and literacy outcomes, such as letter recognition, listening, comprehension and vocabulary.’

There is no lack of media slamming screen time for children and reporting on all the different ways it is detrimental to their health. But it is hard to ignore the positives effects as well, the access to education and communication around the globe.

In an increasingly online world, it will do no good to completely shut out children. As with most things, we have to take the bad with the good, harness the connection and education the communities of the internet have created, and take your kids to the park once in a while as well.

Featured image: Kids on phones. Used with permission. https://bit.ly/30MwBgV