Doomed to Repeat It

Doomed to Repeat It: Diversity in Historical Fiction, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 7. Presenter: Melissa Rabey, panelists authors Christina Gonzalez and Ruta Sepetys.

I love historical fiction. The book that made me fall for it was A Proud Taste for Scarlett and Miniver by E. L. Konigsburg; the same book that started a lifelong love of English history and a fascination with the Plantagenets. The Tudors are so new money next to them! OK, topic. This bias means that I really don’t get it when people say kids or teens don’t read historical fiction. They do! Individual books may not have huge fandoms, but it is read. My theory is that when historical fiction began to be used to teach history in schools, the perception of some kids changed to view it as “homework” not “fun.”

Anyway, I was so excited about Melissa’s presentation! The Program Description says it best: “Historical fiction reflects the past successes and failures of all countries and cultures. Your library’s collection probably has a lot of historical fiction, yet those novels don’t always reflect the true historical diversity of your teen patrons. How often does it seem that all African-American history is limited to Civil War or Jewish history is mostly about the Holocaust? In this presentation, a variety of novels will be highlighted which give a new perspective on well-known events or shed a light on lesser-known times.” The authors and their work represented this diversity. Gonzalez’s book The Red Umbrella (Random House, 2010), is about Operation Pedro Pan in the 1960s; Sepetys’s novel, Between Shades of Gray (Philomel, an imprint of Penguin, 2011), is about the Lithuanian internment by the Soviets during World War II.

Melissa began with defining historical fiction for the purposes of her presentation (titles set before the 1980s) and addressed the slow improvement in the range of explored cultures in fiction. She then provided a phenomenal slideshow of booklists. I love a good booklist in a presentation; as I’ve said before, I use them as both a measuring stick for my own knowledge as well as a source of new books. Melissa has the list available (see links below) so I won’t repeat it here.

A couple titles I cannot wait to read: Puppet by Eva Wiseman, about the last blood libel trial in Europe in the late nineteenth century; Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli, about Italian immigrants in turn of the century Louisiana; and Blood Ninja by Nick Lake, about ninjas who are vampires.

Gonzalez and Sepetys spoke about their books and answered questions. Both books are based on family stories. Part of the fascinating discussion was about taking the family stories of relatives and turning them into novels.


Interview with presenter at YALSA Ning

Presenter’s Slides, with booklists, etc.

Melissa’s book, Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2010)

Again, thanks to RIF for helping to make it possible attend the YA Lit Symposium!

Images and Issues Beyond the Dominant

Images and Issues Beyond the Dominant: Including Diversity in Your Graphic Novel Collection, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6

Presenters: Robin Brenner, Francisca Goldsmith, Gina Gagliano

I really enjoy working at a library for the blind and handicapped. One drawback? The collection is primarily audiobooks and Braille; so no graphic novel collection. Still, it’s a format I really enjoy reading and learning more about, especially when it comes to diversity.

I love presentations based on booklists, and this had plenty of books. Reasons for my love: gatekeeping. No, really — I go to presentations like this confident that I’ll be hearing from people who have done the work to create a useful booklist so that I don’t have to do that work. I also love to see the different styles of booktalking people do, what is emphasized, what hook is used. I like it when the lists include books I know because I think “yes, I know that, I’m doing a good job keeping up on the literature!” with a side of “oh, because I know that is a good book, I can trust what is said about the other books.”

Titles discussed by included Bayou by Jeremy Love, an alternate history/Song of the South retelling and Incognegro by Mat Johnson, about “passing” as white to investigate lynchings. Other titles included ones featuring a Hispanic Teen as a superhero (Blue Beetle: Shocked by Keith Giffen) and Hereville by Barry Deutsch, “yet another troll fighting twelve year old Orthodox girl.”

The handout with the books from the presentation is at the Yalsa NING and Yalsa wiki. Also try this link (to a PDF), at Brenner’s No Flying No Tights website. I’m not going to repeat that list here, even though it would be very, very tempting. I began with those four titles and wanted to go on and on! Click through to the whole list, which includes titles that address ethnicity, gender, weight, class, mental health, disabilities, a whole range of areas.

Thanks to RIF for making it possible to attend this!

Heroes in International Literature

And another report from the YA Lit Symposium!

Today’s YALSA YA Lit Symposium program being highlighted is Heroes In International Literature, November 6, presented by Rosemary Chance and Teri Lesesne.

What attracted me to attending this panel was the focus — not books published in the US about other countries, but rather books from other countries published in the US.

Chance and Lesesne (whose presentation and book list appear at the bottom of this post) began with resources for finding these books: the IBBY (The International Board on Books for Young People) (whose website has a ton of resources about international publishing, including awards and booklists) and ALSC’s Batchelder Award, which is awarded to a publisher for the best children’s book published in another language in another country and translated into English and published in the United States. From the Batchelder website: Mildred L. Batchelder’s “life’s work was “to eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations, and languages.”

I really appreciated the explanation of how the Batchelder works and why. It values that translated stories are important for children to read. Why is the American publisher is honored? Because this honors and rewards publishers who acquire these titles. Chance and Lesesne pointed out the additional steps (so additional costs and time) a publisher has to take: yes, the book is acquired, but then there is the process for getting a translator and then also editing the translated work.

A question was asked: should YALSA expand the Batchelder to include teen books? (As an ALSC Award, it’s for books up to age 14.)

Another resource mentioned was USBBY, the United States Board on Books for Young People, which is the US section of IBBY. (Yes, by the end of the presentation I wanted to join and go to all their conferences and meetings!) USBBY supports international literacy (and as a note from me, wow, it’s got some great resources!)

The presentation then highlighted some translated books. I love when presentations highlights books — I like the affirmation of books I like being included, I like learning about new books, I like hearing how others present the books I’ve enjoyed. A series of booktalks in person is terrific, especially when (as in this presentation) it’s balanced with information and resources.

The books mentioned are in the link below. Titles ranged from Cornelia Funke’s Reckless to Nothing by Janne Teller (which is in my to be read pile).

Finally, editors of some of the books mentioned spoke and answered questions (Kaylan Adair, editor of Winter’s End (Candlewick), Francoise Bui , editor of A Faraway Island (Delacorte), Diane Landolf, editor of The Century:  Ring of Fire (Random House);  and Susan Van Metre, editor of Fell and Tiger Moon (Abrams)).

It was a fascinating discussion, about the translation and acquisition process. One person noted that one of their authors said they felt that American editing is more thorough and hands on than their European counterparts. They also spoke about the reluctance of chains to buy translated works. Since the author usually isn’t available to tour, because of expense and language barriers, it impacts the types of promotion that a publisher can do. Because of this, recognition of the book is review driven and the Batchelder is very important.

Translators aren’t included on the cover of the book, because it’s believed to be a turn off for readers.

Someone said that the marketing dollars aren’t put behind these books, but also, marketing money isn’t put behind literary books.

In response to some questions, the editors also pointed out that the US publisher are buying English language rights for the United States, so they aren’t also selling the book in the original language.

Final comments: included pointing out the USBBY/IBBY publication, Bookbird. And save the date — the 9th IBBY Regional Conference will be October 21 – 23, 2011 in Chicago! CORRECTION: From Jenny Schwartzberg, in the comments:  “One correction. This past year’s regional USBBY conference was outside Chicago, in St. Charles. The 2011 USBBY conference is in Fresno, CA on the campus of California State University.”


Presentation at SlideShare

Booktalk List

Interview with presenters at YALSA Ning

Thanks again to RIF!

Bill Morris Luncheon: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

The Bill Morris Author Luncheon, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6.

The Bill Morris Author Luncheon is named for William C. Morris, yes, the same Morris of the Book Award for a YA Debut Award. It’s all part of the Morris Endowment.

The featured speaker was Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, author of Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, U.S. Marshal (Lerner, 2009). Bad News for Outlaws is the 2010 Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award Winner.

The luncheon began outside; it was chilly, but in a tent, and (as readers know) I am the Queen of Cardigans and Scarves, so I was quite prepared. After the luncheon part, we moved inside where I could remove one of the cardigans. 

Nelson spoke about her books; both about picture books for older readers as well as making decisions on whether to write a story as non-fiction or fiction.

On picture books for older readers: “you are never too old for a picture book.” Picture books can be an effective way to introduce topics to teens, such as history, language, social activism, civics and writing. She described teens as “one big organic heart filled with emotion.”

Who Will I Be, Lord (Random House, 2009) is another one of Nelson’s books, a work she described as “faction,” with created material plus real people. Nelson explained how it began as a straight biography but realized that biography didn’t give her her the freedom in writing. Plus, using a “documentary fiction” allowed her to address gaps in stories as well as flat-out contradictions.

Thanks, again, to RIF.

Connecting Religious Teens With Literature

Connecting Religious Teens with Literature, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6

Presenters: Sarah Holtkamp, Jennifer Lowe

Holtkamp and Lowe, librarians from Tinley Park Public Library, Illinois, explained their library, and their community, and how that led them to this topic. The books that were discussed were varied. In the links below is Holtkamp’s and Lowe’s blog for this presentation, including all books mentioned (plus some other titles!). So, instead of noting all the books they mentioned, I’ll give a brief overview of just how varied the books are that can meet the community need.

Religion is something personal and can mean different things to different people. So, too, can “clean books.” Religion (and the request for books that include religion) can make people anxious and nervous, especially because it can mean so many things.

Holtkamp and Lowe concentrated Evangelical Christianity and Muslims, because those are the two groups in their library.  

What is Christian Fiction? Here, the focus was Evangelical Christians and Holtkamp and Lowe defined that for the audience (conversionism, activism, Biblicism, etc.) and then noted that the books in this area expound and illustrate that particular worldview.

Some of the books are by secular publishers, for example, EVOLUTION, ME & OTHER FREAKS OF NATURE by Robin Brande: “this isn’t negative towards religion; it is a beautiful portrayal of and exploration of faith.” Others were familiar Christian fiction authors, such as Melody Carlson “the superstar of Christian fiction. Fantasy books were included, such as HEALER’S APPRENTICE by Dickerson, which is “magical” but it is all done in the name of Jesus Christ, with the characters praying to God.

Next, Holtkamp and Lowe discussed the difficulty in finding titles for their Muslim booklists. They addressed common misconceptions (that Muslims and Arabs are interchangeable, for example) and that it was difficult finding books featuring American Muslim teens. One terrific nonfiction book they highlighted was THE AMERICAN MUSLIM TEENAGERS HANDBOOK, written by two teens and their parents, which was full of both information and humor. Most of the fiction titles ended up being about Muslim teens in countries other than the United States.

Finally, Holtkamp and Lowe presented a “clean reads” booklist. They noted that “clean” means something different to everyone and emphasized the need for a good readers advisory interview to know what the patron means by “clean.” As with the other titles, Holtkamp and Lowe went beyond the “obvious” clean titles. For example, they included YOU by Charles Benoit. Yes, there are serious questions and themes, but it illustrates the consequences of choice and does so without using four letter words. Some people who want “clean” want books like YOU, they just don’t want the language.


YALSA Interview with Sarah Holtkamp & Jennifer Lowe

Handouts from the presentation at the YALSA Lit Symposium NING

Connecting Religious Teens With Literature website with resources related to this presentation, including Holtkamp’s and Lowe’s booklists and links to other applicable booklists

Thanks to RIF for making it possible to attend the Symposium.

Celebramos Libros

And another report from the YA Lit Symposium!

Celebramos Libros: Celebrating Latino Literature, YALSA YA Lit Symposium, November 6

Presenters: Janie Flores, Rosemary Chance, Margarita Engle, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Teri Lesesne

Janie Flores, a librarian from the Rio Grande Valley, began by speaking about how, growing up, she didn’t have books to read that featured Latina characters. Yes, she read and could relate to Judy Blume, Ramona Quimby, Nancy Drew, but she was also aware that they didn’t have things like Quinceaneras.  Flores spoke for the need for books to be relatable – that celebrates customs and traditions and so celebrates Hispanic readers, and the need to do so while avoiding labels.

Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance spoke about their own passion for books and then introduced the authors, Benjamin Alire Saenz and Margarita Engle.

Benjamin Alire Saenz spoke, and my notebook is full of wonderful quotes from him. “It is an accident that I’m a young adult writer. I wanted to be a poet.” “I come from a working class Mexican family. Writing is work.” On the initial suggestion that he write for young adults: “I hated High School. You want me to revisit it?”

Saenz observed that young people turn to each other to make themselves visible, because adults make them invisible. He writes books to make teens visible: “I see you. I know you. I am you. When was the last time someone told you you were beautiful.”

In introducing Margarita Engle, Rosemary Chance asked: “Is it time for YALSA to offer a Latino award for Young Adult literature?”

Engle – who writes about historical events in verse format – spoke about finding the poetry in history. Writing a novel in verse form, Engle explained, “forces me to decide what is important.” Engle spoke about her research process —  gathering books, first person accounts, immersing herself into the history and then deciding “what fits.” Another reason for writing in verse – it allows her to write about the emotional lives of people. Verse novels also provide reluctant readers with a full length book with mature topics.

Engle also spoke about her personal connection with Cuba, with her mother’s family.  She spoke not just about the traditional and familial connections and summers spent in Cuba, but also the impact of losing that connection after the Cuban Missile Crisis.


Rosemary Chance Website

Teri Lesesne Website

Margarita Engle Website. Young Adult books by Engle include: Summer Birds, The Surrender Tree, The Firefly Letters, Tropical Secrets, The Poet Slave of Cuba 

Benjamin Alire Saenz Website. Young Adult books by Saenz include: Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, Last Night I Sang to the Monster, He Forgot to Say Goodbye.

YALSA Blog Recap of Celebramos Libros

YALSA Interview with Teri Lesesne 

Booklist from Teri Lesesne and Rosemary Chance   

Thank you to RIF, who made attending this Symposium possible.

Meet Them Where They Are

So, the posts you have been waiting for — my reports from the YALSA Lit Symposium, November 5 – 7, 2010. Let’s start with the preconference!

Meet Them Where They Are & Open The Door: Urban Teens, Street Lit, and Readers Advisory

Preconference, YALSA Lit Symposium, November 5: Megan Honig, Beth Saxton, Sofia Quintero

“Street Lit” can be scary for those who are not familiar with it – and for those who are familiar with it, inspiring a “my kid is reading WHAT” reaction.

Before recapping the preconference, I’ll just point out the various designations people use: Street Lit, Urban Lit, Hip Hop Lit. From “Street Fiction is dedicated to reviewing street fiction, also known as urban fiction, street lit, or gangsta fiction. One of the fastest growing genres, these books expose the reader to drugs, violence, sex and and the gritty realities of street life in urban America.”

Saxton began with a discussion about what, exactly, does “urban teens” mean? Is “urban” a place (a densely populated city center) or is it cultural, with “urban” being a style? With the expansion of the term to be something that reflects pop culture, not a geographical region, the definition now opens up to include such things as music and fashion. Saxton also noted that some use the term “urban” to avoid saying “black,” adding a whole new level of assumptions about who listens to and reads urban culture.

The myth may be “these kids don’t read,” but Street Lit’s popularity shows that teens are reading. Can they find the books they want to read at your library? And does your library have the title awareness to buy the books they want?

Honig (who has a book out about this topic, see links at the end of this post) explained why Street Lit matters even if the books are not “young adult books,” that is, books designated as “young adult” by publishers. Honig noted that when teen librarians are asked for Street Lit, they tend to give the reader something else instead.  Our mission, she reminded us, is to meet the needs of all our patrons. Street Lit meets those needs.

Honig acknowledged the concerns that adults may have, such as the scary things that, frankly, we wish teens didn’t know about. She asked the audience to remember to balance those concerns with what is good and valuable about Street Lit.

When talking about the needs and wants that Street Lit meets, Honig gave several examples based on her own surveys of teen readers of Street Lit. As I listened to Honig, I thought about how the reasons are varied, honest, and reflect not just why these teens read these books – they could easily apply to other books, other entertainment, other genres.

  •  It’s not just kids from the backgrounds depicted in the books reading these books.
  • “Better them than me.”
  • “Sometimes, they want to be reading something bad about people”.
  • Contemporary references to music, fashion, books, celebrities
  • “Different readers come to book differently.”
  • Affirmation of identity
  • Reflection of lived experiences
  • Engagement at a safe distance
  • Entertainment
  • Wish fulfillment
  • Voyeurism
  • Risk free thrill
  • Just because they are reading it doesn’t mean they are doing it.

Honig then turned our attention to what librarians (and others!) do with the teen Street Lit reader: offering them substitutes instead of what they are asking for, which may as well be telling them “no.” Just because a book is set in a city – just because it’s about people who are black – just because it is about people who are at a lower socioeconomic status – doesn’t mean that book is “Street Lit.” The primary differences between Street Lit and the substitutes are the ending (YA books tend to have either a happy or hopeful ending); pacing (YA substitutes have slower pacing, less action, and more character introspection); and how “naughty” they are in terms of subject matter.

There are crossover titles, so what the librarian needs to know is why the reader wants Street Lit to match the reader with a book.  Does the reader want something that is fast paced? Matter of fact about sex and violence? External action? An immediate hook? A conversational tone?

When the reading needs of teens are met, they will read. The more they read, the more their reading skills improve, which leads to better reading and more reading as well as a sense of accomplishment and the start of identifying oneself as “a reader.”

Honig then discussed Readers Advisory, the art of recommending books and matching books and readers. It’s about respecting the readers’ tastes and also being able to identify the appeal of books: pacing, characterization, story line, frame. By looking at those areas, better recommendations can be made to readers, both inside and outside of their usual genre.

As an example for such Readers Advisory with Street Lit: someone who reads Street Lit because “bad things happen,” would like “Living Dead Girl” by Elizabeth Scott. Those who like adventures? Recommend spy thrillers and crime stories. With a laugh, Honig reminded the audience that “Gossip Girl and Street Lit have a lot in common.”

Saxton shared fun ways to connect books with teens. Book discussions don’t have to be what you find in adult book discussion groups; it can be a “Snack and Yack,” with teens talking about the books they like. A “Book Speed Dating” program was described, with teens getting the chance to find out about lots of books quickly with no pressure to select any one book – and also having the opportunity to select all. One of my favorites was offering readers a “Personalized Summer Reading List”: the reader answers five questions, Saxton provides ten suggestions. Saxton then went into her “30 Books in 30 Minutes,” quickly and enthusiastically providing a variety of titles using quick “hooks” to attract readers.

Sofia Quintero spoke next. She is the author of the young adult book, Efrain’s Secret, but also writes Feminist Hip Hop Noir. She’s an educator, an activist, a novelist, an “Ivy League homegirl”. Quintero spoke frankly about how some people really hate Street Lit, and her own journey to embracing the genre by using it to write books that are feminist and raise social and political issues. She can meet people where they are and take them somewhere different. She wanted to write the books she wanted to read – “a girl in the hood but not of the hood.”

Quintero read aloud from her young adult book, “Efrain’s Secret,” noting that “reading aloud is a profound act of joy some teens and kids don’t get.”

Quintero noted the misogynism found in some Street Lit and the gratuitous violence. She notes that some people defend it as “keeping it real,” but asks, “what if what is real has to change? What if we want to change what’s real?” That is what Quintero does with her books, and notes that as a Hip Hop Feminist/Activist she goes to the location of her activism, pushing the conversation into the Hip Hop community.  Street Lit can also be a bridge to expanding reading choices.

Several interesting observations were made about censorship. Quintero takes offense that saying “we need books with positive images” means “white middle class suburbs”, thus erasing the positive people in her community like her mother, a hard working immigrant with a third grade education. “How can you say, don’t tell a story because I don’t want to hear about it”?

Since teens identify with what they like, when an adult says “I don’t like what you read/ listen to/ watch,” the teen hears “you don’t like me.” Have the conversations, be honest, and be aware.

Quintero offered some Readers Advisory programs, including “Judge a Book by Its Cover.” Just look at the jacket cover. Do you want to read it? Now, read the jacket copy. Have you changed your mind? Take two minutes to start reading the book. Have you changed your mind?

Links & Resources:

Megan Honig’s website, including this month’s 30 Days of Street Lit 

Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit by Megan Honig, Libraries Unlimited 2010 

Sofia Quintero’s website, my review of her book Efrain’s Secret, and my interview with Quintero

YALSA Blog Interview with Saxton and Honig 

YALSA Blog Recap of the Preconference

Resources provided by Honig via Comment at YALSA Blog Recap:

   “Corrections librarian Daniel Marcou posts book synopses for street fiction titles, and readers comment with reviews. The site is searchable by author, publisher, and subject.”

            Library Journal’s “Word on Street Lit” monthly column

            Reader’s Advisory Guide To Street Lit by Vanessa Morris

A big thanks to RIF who made my attendance at the Symposium possible.

YA Lit Symposium

Today, I leave for the YALSA 2010 Young Adult Literature Symposium.

While I haven’t made up my mind about the programs I will be attending, I signed up for three extras.

First, the Friday preconference Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door: Urban Teens, Street Lit, and Reader’s Advisory.

Second, the Bill Morris Memorial Author Luncheon featuring Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

Third, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center which includes a tour. 

Are you going to be there? It’s always fun to meet up in person! I’ll be online at Twitter at LizB. The hashtag is #yalsalit10