I woke up about 3am and couldn’t go back to sleep. This tends to happen to me every once in a while so, I decided to make good use of my time by considering a blog post. I couldn’t help but ponder events that occurred in Durham NC, Charlottesville VA and Seattle WA where overt displays of white supremacy led to civil disruption. These acts of violence easily became intertwined with thoughts of the recent articles and conversations critiquing a YA literature.
“The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter” Vulture by Kat Rosenfield
“None of this comes as a surprise to the folks concerned by the current state of the discourse, who describe being harassed for dissenting from or even questioning the community’s dynamics. One prominent children’s-book agent told me, “None of us are willing to comment publicly for fear of being targeted and labeled racist or bigoted. But if children’s-book publishing is no longer allowed to feature an unlikable character, who grows as a person over the course of the story, then we’re going to have a pretty boring business.”
“YA Books Are Targeted in Intense Social Media Callouts, Rosenfield Says” NPR Weekend Edition Scott Simon, host
“ROSENFIELD: You know, publishing itself is a very white industry. And that’s at the root of a lot of the discontent surrounding books like this. The question of who is editing, who’s letting these books through the door and what kinds of authors are being let through the door – that’s a big deal. And it is a problem.”
“Revolution Devours Its Young Adult Fiction” The Weekly Standard author identified as “The Scrapbook”
“Here’s hoping some useful political consensus emerges about how to discourage these jayvee Jacobins from their cyberbullying. If it doesn’t, well, American society is going look eerily similar to the sort of dystopian fantasy worlds found in so many YA novels.”
“Not Just Kids’ Stuff: Kat Rosenfield, The Black Witch, and The Controversy That Gripped YA Twitter” The Globe and Mail Shannon Ozirny
“What I do have to offer is the observation that this kind of intense, emotional debate on books for young people springs, in part, from an age-old, core question for anyone working in this field: What is the role of the adult in creating, disseminating and recommending books for teens? Because it’s trickier for teens than for any other audience.”
I cannot be part of discussions on particular books this year and to a degree, that’s fine with me: I’d rather use my energy promoting BIPOC authors. I’d rather not see threats to one’s life or livelihood over a book. I’d rather these energies go to dismantling instances of racism, of White people not relying upon WOC to reveal the injustice and then giving a reaction of shock, awe and oh, shut up. We’re all supposed to be the ones educated in both school and in life and this is the best we can do?
But, I digress from where I’d hoped to take this post. Remember, I’ve been up since 3am!
In the aftermath (aftermath? is it over?) of a weekend of violence that brought the KKK, neo Nazis and white supremacy to the forefront, surely parents, educators and librarians will look for books to foster communications with young people. I could think of They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Act of Grace by Karen Simpson. Though somewhat problematic, I’d also recommend Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera. I’ve used this book with students and it the discussions were amazing.
Some parents may look for ways to discuss these current events with their teens. This would be a perfect time to incorporate the critical literacy skills and yes, this is the same strategy myself and others use when reviewing books.
Watch the news and see if the text and images are telling the same story.
What is the bias?
Who is telling the story and what’s their background?
Who is left out of the story?
What techniques are being used to influence me?
What does this story mean to me?
Do I need to look for more information?
I think that as political and economic power becomes more concentrated in this country, it becomes more imperative that we read text (all text) in ways that help us realize who is being empowered and who is being left out. What stereotypes and microaggressions are present and how are they being countered?
But, as I continued to think about ways to teach young people about this past weekend, I couldn’t help but think how terribly frightened and anxious young black and brown, LGBT+ and disabled children must continue to be. Think of the Native Americans who were hosed with water and teargas in sub freezing temperatures at Standing Rock. Think about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice and too many more; so many to make us need to say Black lives matter. The Pulse Night Club. Think about the recent election and the subsequent appointments and various state elections since then. The executive orders that repealed decades of protections and special services.
In classrooms where people learn their worth or even in private moments of reading pleasure, it’s books that should provide a moment of peace, a physical and intellectual safe space for the child lucky enough to find text that says they matter.
This is why the world of children’s publishing is in a state of upheaval.
But our children, our bright creative children, they are sponges! Regardless of our ability to connect with them, they all want to learn and if we’re not helping them make sense of this world, they’ll create sense. Our kids are deeply into conspiracy theories. I remember growing up with rumors that President Kennedy was still alive and roaming around mountains somewhere. Being told that while we watched television, the television was watching us. Hearing that Coca Cola could be used as a contraceptive.
There are theories that the US economic and political systems are about to implode. That FEMA is gathering up and disappearing people across the country. The leading theory surrounding the eclipse is that a secret planet is going to collide into earth. People believe that Sandy Hook and even this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville never really occurred, that they’re essentially enactments. Sure, some young people repeat this stuff for the amusement of it, but others base their reality in these theories and they too, are frightened.
Maybe we adults all need to wake up to the needs of our children. I think many people in YA are pushing and prodding us to open our eyes. I honestly hope the disruptions seen in YA continue to spread.