I unashamedly love Young Adult fiction. I read it for pleasure. Old favourites are the closest thing I have to a baby blanket or toy from when I was young. I read it to recommend it. Books were my safe haven as a child. They were pure escapism and comfort. They made me feel less lonely and weird. Some even made me aware of what I consider the backbones of loving friendships and relationships.
For this reason, I keep novels in my classroom now. Only a very few have a direct connection to History at all. I have been in the habit of telling kids, “There are books on the shelves there – if you want them, take them! They’re there for you!” Because I know that kids don’t really like having adults recommend books to them most of the time. We’re just not cool or in touch enough.
Somehow, something has clicked with some of my students over the past month.
One day, two girls were loitering so I marched them into my classroom and handed them each a book. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Carry On came back to me 3 days later completed and with a request for another. She has quickly made her way through the collection on my shelf. The other read more slowly, but completed The Rest of Us… and came in ready to chat with me about why she did and did not enjoy reading it, leading me to take up the challenge of figuring out what her next read should be.
Today she went home with Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. The other girl has Fangirl. In a quiet moment the other day one of my boys took home The Rest of Us… .
Today, at the end of the day, another girl came up to ask if she could have one of the books I ordered recently once I was finished with it, because she recognized the author. Another examined the back cover of one – interested because others were.
So now, magically, I’ve got a small book club of YA literature going in my classroom.
Aside from getting kids to read books I’ve personally loved, there’s another reason this has made my heart swell:
“Ms. G – Carry On and The Rest of US… both have gay characters in them. I’m not saying anything bad about that, but what’s up with that? I mean, I read an article today about Gay people are discriminated against, and it’s really hard for them and everything. But in these books, the fact that they’re gay is just…. normal?”
So we got to chat a bit about how authors write the worlds they want to see. How they write the books they wish they could have read when they were young. How a gay author (Ness) would write a book where being gay is not a big deal for anyone. How a not-gay author (Rowell) would write a book full of characters she likes and is interested in and wants to be happy.
And in the midst of a pretty crap, stressful teaching month, these conversations are what is keeping me going and making me feel like the world is okay. (I have to try so hard to play it cool during these conversations. SO HARD.)