2019 Longlist for the USA National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

The links below are to articles reporting on the longlist for the 2019 USA National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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2019 Inky Award Winners

The links below are to articles reporting on the winners of the 2019 Inky Awards.

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The 2018 *Book Shimmy* Awards

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the 2018 *Book Shimmy* Awards, for young adult novels published in the USA in 2018.

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Friday essay: why YA gothic fiction is booming – and girl monsters are on the rise

File 20180716 44094 11ep7nw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Zoey Deutch in the film Vampire Academy (2014).
Angry Films, Kintop Pictures, Preger Entertainment

Michelle Smith, Monash University

An 18-year-old girl prepares to die to enable the birth of her half-vampire baby. Her spine is broken in the process, and the fanged baby begins to gnaw its way through her stomach before the girl’s husband performs a vampiric Cesarean section. This is a crucial moment in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novel series, published from 2005 to 2008.

Meyer’s books heralded a new, and continuing, wave of Gothic fiction for Young Adult readers, which revisits familiar literary Gothic conventions: ancient, ruined buildings and monstrous supernatural figures like the vampire, werewolf, ghost and witch.

The Gothic romances of the 18th century, such as the novels of Ann Radcliffe, and the enduringly popular Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), sought to recreate feelings of terror and horror for an audience of adult readers. Today, however, most Gothic fiction is being published for, and read by, young people. Surprisingly, it has proved to be the ideal genre for exploring the grotesque and frightening aspects of coming of age, and metaphorically representing pressing social issues such as racism and gender inequality.

Read more:
Friday essay: what might heaven be like?

The phenomenally popular YA genre, targeted at readers between 12 and 18 years old, evolved from realist novels of the 1960s. These books were preoccupied with the struggles of adolescence set against a backdrop of social issues. Now, though, the genre often looks to the supernatural. Beyond Twilight, some of the most popular YA Gothic series also focus on the “lives” of vampires who are protagonists rather than foes.

Richelle Mead’s six-book Vampire Academy (2007-2010), now adapted into a TV series, is about a teenage girl who is a Dhampir (half-human, half-vampire). She becomes entangled in a forbidden romance with her instructor as St Vladimir’s Academy, while learning how to defeat evil vampires named Strigoi.

Ashley Lyn Blair in Vampire Academy: The Officially Unofficial Fan Series (2016).

The YA Gothic revival has also embraced a wide range of supernatural entities. Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter Chronicles, a cross-media franchise that includes the Infernal Devices and Mortal Instruments novel series, charges angel-blooded humans with the task of protecting regular humans from a range of supernatural beings.

The Nephilim, or Shadowhunters, are busy controlling demons, warlocks, werewolves, faeries and vampires, but critically, it is their part-supernatural status that enables them to serve as protectors.

Clare has said that she did not write her series for young adults (and indeed almost half of the readership of YA fiction might be adults). Nevertheless, her teenage protagonists have resonated with readers of the same age.

The Gothic, and its newer sub-genres like paranormal romance, have a unique resonance with teenagers. They are poised in a transitional space between childhood and adulthood, neither quite embodying the stage they are leaving behind nor fully the thing that they are in the process of becoming. It is unsurprising, then, that they have eagerly embraced the Gothic’s themes of the liminal and the monstrous, as well as its fixation on romance and sex.

Another significant element of the current YA Gothic revival is the emergence of the girl monster. In earlier manifestions of the “female Gothic”, first published in the 18th century by women writers, female protagonists were often courageous, but simultaneously passive and victimised. The plots of the female Gothic reflected the comparative powerlessness of women at the time and their fears about their vulnerability and entrapment within domestic roles and patriarchal society.

In contemporary YA Gothic, girl monsters, who can constitute a threat to others and themselves, disrupt the plotline of male monster and female victim.

Why now?

The most obvious catalyst for the embrace of Gothic conventions in literature for young people is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Its popularity signalled a warm embrace of fantasy fiction that confronted the eternal dilemma of the battle between good and evil, charging a child – and later teenage protagonist – with the ability to save the world. While Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was not necessarily Gothic, the Potter phenomenon opened the way for the publication of numerous titles that embraced the possibilities of young protagonists with supernatural abilities.

Read more:
Rethinking Harry Potter twenty years on

Most significantly, Meyer’s Twilight series about human Bella Swan and “sparkling” vampire Edward Cullen, combined this staple figure of Gothic fiction with the teen romance novel. The Twilight novels were bestsellers internationally and the saga was voted into the number one position in Australian book chain Angus & Robertson’s Top 100 Books poll of 2010. The Twilight universe expanded from books into a highly successful film series.

Robert Pattinson and Cam Gigandet in Twilight (2008)
Summit Entertainment, Temple Hill Entertainment, Maverick Films.

The Gothic has had several major periods of popularity since its first appearance in 18th-century England, with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764). In each subsequent revival of Gothic fiction, the genre has been reworked and reinvented to address current cultural concerns.

In particular, the monsters that haunt the pages of Gothic novels are transformed with shifting fears and anxieties. In her influential book Our Vampires, Ourselves Nina Auerbach explains that “every age embraces the vampire it needs”, and this comment can be extend to Gothic monsters more generally.

Contemporary YA fiction blurs the line between good and evil. In Gothic novels of the 19th century, monsters were usually wholly “Othered”. A Victorian-era vampire such as Stoker’s Dracula, for instance was depicted as evil, foreign, and frighteningly different to the British human.

Gary Oldman as Count Dracula in the 1992 film version of the Bram Stoker novel. Contemporary monsters are no longer set in opposition to the human.
American Zoetrope, Columbia Pictures Corporation, Osiris Films

But contemporary monsters are no longer necessarily imagined as racially different or set in opposition to the human. Moreover, they are often represented sympathetically, especially in stories told from their perspective.

These include the iZombie comic series, in which the protagonist must eat brains on a monthly basis to survive, and Claudia Gray’s Evernight series, in which the reader is not even aware that the girl protagonist is a vampire for half of the first book. Indeed, as Anna Jackson explains in New Directions in Children’s Gothic, “the monsters have become the heroes” in contemporary children’s Gothic.

The passive heroine

Most Gothic novels for young people contain a romance plot. This is often because the protagonists’ age places them in the transitional zone for entering adulthood, which is demarcated by sexual experience.

Read more:
How long have we believed in vampires?

In a typical YA Gothic novel, such as Twilight, a plot in which a human or monstrous girl protagonist falls for a boy who is not her “type” can dissolve the boundaries between monster and human. These monstrous love interests range from traditional Gothic ones – vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts and witches – to newer figures such as fallen angels and faeries. The key challenge to be overcome in these novels is the barriers posed to love by supernatural monstrosity, including the physical dangers to humans, as well as social discrimination about “cross-species” love.

In one of few major studies of teen romance fiction, published almost 30 years ago, Linda Christian-Smith described these novels as a “site of ideological struggles for young women’s hearts and minds”. In particular, she refers to teen romance fiction’s emphasis on heteronormative coupling and motherhood. Little has changed with respect to depictions of sexuality since, despite the YA Gothic’s embrace of diverse human-monster relationships.

Most romances in the genre are heterosexual. They do often emphasise the heroine’s agency through her supernatural abilities and ability to choose between men or move between relationships. However, the human heroines of the Twilight series and Lauren Kate’s Fallen series, in which the heroine becomes drawn to a boy who is a fallen angel, are comparatively indecisive and continue to need rescuing.

Tellingly, Joss Whedon, the creator of the TV series Buffy, The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), has described Twilight’s Bella as lacking empowerment, overly fixated on her romantic options, and “completely passive”.

Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson (Edward) in Twilight (2008). Bella has been described as a completely passive heroine.
Summit Entertainment, Temple Hill Entertainment, Maverick Films.

Novels with passive human heroines allow the reader to use the fantasy of romance as a temporary escape from real-world gender inequality. Yet they also reinforce its reality for female readers.

The girl monster

Supernatural heroines, however, are often able to breach the confines of traditional femininity and become extraordinary in ways that Twilight’s Bella and other human characters cannot. In a number of YA Gothic novels, such as Mead’s Vampire Academy, the protagonists disrupt expectations of feminine behaviour because of their unique, and often poorly understood, supernatural abilities. These special powers become the focus of anxieties about the girls’ coming of age, as they pursue romances that place their broader communities under threat.

The Vampire Academy series was sufficiently popular in 2010 for three of its six titles to sell between 300,000 and half a million copies in hardcover in the US alone, according to Publishers Weekly. However, unlike the Twilight series, on which it likely attempted to capitalise, its protagonist, Rose, is half-vampire, half-human and a monster in her own right. Rose shares a close bond with vampire Lissa, and is driven to break the Academy’s rules in order to save her friend when she is kidnapped, highlighting that girls are also capable of protecting and rescuing people they love.

Ashley Lyn Blair (Lissa) and Jennifer Studnicki (Rose) in Vampire Academy: The Officially Unofficial Fan Series (2016).

Vampire Academy positions Rose as a sexual object, particularly in the eyes of a privileged type of vampire (Moroi), who find Dhampir women especially attractive because of racial differences. Rose enjoys her sexuality and dresses to take advantage of it, but this sexuality operates within her definition as a strong young woman:

First they saw my body and the dress. Testosterone took over as pure male lust shone out of their faces. Then they seemed to realize it was me and promptly turned terrified. Cool.

Rose is able to reject unwelcome advances and possesses the physical strength and skills to stand up for herself, suggesting a fantasy of empowerment and equality.

Lissa, meanwhile, thwarts what amounts to an attempted gang rape of a drugged girl. A group of male Moroi students attempt to take advantage of a female feeder (person who permits their blood to be sucked) at a party, “doing a sort of group feeding, taking turns biting her and making gross suggestions. High and oblivious, she let them”.

The supernatural female protagonists in YA gothic novels are responsible for their own safety and protection, yet they also have a responsibility to keep others safe.
These heroines have some romantic and sexual agency in a way that can be considered progressive. However, their desire is also framed as disruptive and dangerous and there is an obsessive fixation on the pursuit of romance above the girl’s own development, education and safety.

In other words, the superficially radical potential of girl heroines with superhuman physical strength, mind-reading abilities, and the potential to kill can merely be a decorative smokescreen for the reinforcement of traditional feminine values.

The good and monstrous within

The recent proliferation of Gothic YA novels is skewed toward a female readership with a focus on girl protagonists, and significant emphasis on their quest for romance. Nevertheless, there are a number of series with boy heroes. For example, Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (the first book of which was recently filmed by director Tim Burton), focuses on a 16-year-old human boy, Jacob.

Eva Green, Asa Butterfield (Jacob) and Georgia Pemberton in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Twentieth Century Fox, Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment.

Jacob has inherited an ability that makes him uniquely able to help the supernatural peculiar children of the title, who are threatened by creatures named hollowgasts who are driven to murder peculiar children in order to feed upon their souls. For Jacob, his transition to adulthood is less about romance and more about self-discovery, connections with his ancestors, and finding a way to negotiate his new-found abilities and responsibilities.

In The Gothic Child, Maria Georgieva suggests that the traditional Gothic novel is preoccupied with “the growth and transformation of the child, the crisis of adolescence and the sometimes painful transition into adulthood”. She is referring to the child’s potential to grow into the hero, heroine or villain.

However, the recent surge in YA Gothic fiction takes this fascination with the darker aspects of childhood in a different direction. The girl heroine, in learning to manage the physical and emotional shifts of her development and more complex relationships in romance, can both be a threat and a saviour to others.

The fuzziness of her nature reflects both the liminal status of the teenager and new cultural understandings of the monster, who now more often resembles the typical American teen than an undead Romanian count.

The ConversationInstead of contemplating a child’s potential to head towards either good or evil, recent Gothic YA acknowledges the possibility of both the good and the monstrous residing in one person.

Michelle Smith, Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Junk – the book that launched the young adult novel

Gillian James, University of Salford

At the Hay Festival on June 2, Melvin Burgess received the Andersen Press Young Adult Book Prize Special Achievement Award for his novel Junk, first published 20 years ago. Since then, the young adult novel has come of age.

Burgess and his publisher, Andersen Press, took a risk when Junk was first released in 1996, when books for teenagers were hardly as gritty as the typical dystopian fare of today. A book about drug addiction and prostitution aimed at “young adults” was then a very daring thing, and many thought that this was a book that was simply too depressing for the market and would languish on the library shelves. It was, after all, one in which 14- and 15-year-olds take high risks, living away from home in a squat and fuelling their heroin addiction through theft.

Actually, it didn’t languish on the library shelves at all. It became a bestseller and was translated into 28 languages. Unsurprisingly, it received some negative commentary, but as Burgess himself has pointed out (in the latest edition of Junk), most of that came from people who had not read the book. There was also plenty of positive commentary: “An honest, authentic look at the drug culture,” said Time Out. “May just be the best YA book ever,” thought Robert Muchamore. “It is the real thing – a teenage novel for teenage readers,” argued The Scotsman. Burgess was awarded the Carnegie medal for Junk in 1997.

Melvin Burgess.
Gill James, Author provided

As its title hints, it’s a grim story, and now slightly dated. The young people involved have to make phone calls from phone boxes and have little access to computers. Yet the main characters, Gemma and Tar, are believable and rounded. The addiction is real. Homelessness is still an issue. It was Burgess’s aim to tell an authentic story but by his own admission, “authentic is informative”.

Teen or young adult?

Arguably, the young adult and the young adult novel have existed for some time. Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and even Goethe featured them and wrote them, of a kind. The Bildungsroman, or coming of age story, was aimed at all ages (think David Copperfield).

More recently, in the 1970s, Judy Blume and Christine Nöstlinger wrote for the older teen. These books featured some of the challenges facing young people: growing sexual awareness, peer pressure and the need to take responsibility for the world. But the young people in these novels do not take such high risks as Burgess’s characters nor is the description of their activity as explicit. Not quite (young) adult.

The term “young adult” did not come into common parlance until sometime after the appearance of Junk (though some educationalists have used the word since 1957 when the Young Adult Library Division, now known as the Young Adult Services Association (YALSA), was formed).

The bookshop chain Ottakar’s relabelled their teen fiction “young adult” in 1999. Waterstone’s changed the description back to “teen fiction” in 2006. At this point, the book-producing industry could not quite define what was meant by “young adult”. But Junk is often considered to have launched the Young Adult novel. Burgess may not have seen this as permission to write for this newly defined reader. He just wanted to write that particular story. Now he admits, however, that “the time was ripe for YA to grow up, and I was the right person in the right place at the right time”.

Other writers began to write for this newly defined reader. Kate Cann and Louise Rennison started writing what might be termed “Chicklet-Lit” – chick lit for a slightly younger readership. Jacqueline Wilson and Judy Waite gradually started writing for older teenagers. Several vampire and other paranormal romance books began to appear.

Pushing boundaries

Other novels by Burgess push boundaries, too: Lady, My Life as a Bitch (2001) tells the story of a girl who becomes a dog and enjoys being promiscuous. Doing It (2003) is a frank examination of young male sexuality at the same time as showing the vulnerability of his three main characters. Nicholas Dane (2009) raises the issue of abuse but Burgess keeps the protagonist human. The Hit (2013) includes drugs again and violence on the streets of Manchester (yet is really about something else).

The young adult novel, after all, is a story told by one invented young adult (Burgess and many other writers of young adult literature are certainly not young adults) to another. In Junk, Burgess uses a series of close first person narratives, most of them from the point of view of two main characters. He offers us a character closeness, high stakes and risk-taking in our young people that was innovative at the time. After Junk, these were identified as traits of the young adult novel. He also offers us the young adult’s voice:

Maybe if I get off, I’ll get back with Gemma again. I know, I know. She didn’t chuck me because I was using … I was as clean as a whistle at the time, more or less. But you have to have hope.

Junk is 20 years old – and it still speaks to us. As Malorie Blackman, former Children’s Laureate, says in her introduction: “It may not be real but as with every great fictional story – every word is true.”

The Conversation

Gillian James, Senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing, University of Salford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Authors, get thee to social media: explaining the rise and rise of YA books

Marcella Purnama, University of Melbourne and Mark Davis, University of Melbourne

Before JK Rowling, critics and experts predicted that young adult (YA) literature would finally die, as sales continued to decline. In 1997, a mere 3,000 YA books were published. A decade later that number was 30,000.

The success of Harry Potter changed everything. YA is now embraced by teenagers and adults alike – a 2012 Bowker Market Research study in the US found that 55 per cent of people buying YA books are over 18.

We’re currently living in the second golden age of YA literature. But why is there a sudden demand for these coming-of-age books?

Apart from the undeniable quality of the books themselves, 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.

Take John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012). It reached #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists six months before the book was published. It received thousands of five-star reviews, ranked by readers who hadn’t even held their copies.

The reason? Green told his fans – the Nerdfighters – on Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube, that he would personally sign the first print of the pre-ordered books. He ended up signing 150,000 of them, but a pain in the wrist was a small price to pay.

John Green isn’t the only author embracing social media to engage readers.

Amulet Books, in conjunction with Puffin UK, created the campaign “Uncover the Color” to promote the eighth book of the famous Diary of Wimpy Kid series in 2013. The campaign included interactive mini-games and trivia challenges, and was advertised in other children’s websites such as FunBrain.com and CartoonNetwork.com. It resulted in 1.3 million copies sold worldwide in the first week of the book’s launch.

In 2015, Harlequin Teen created a “digital oracle” on Twitter to promote the first book in Eleanor Herman’s new Greek-inspired series, Legacy of Kings. They invited readers to ask @HarlequinTeen on Twitter using hashtag #asklegacyofkings. The program responds with one of 100 statements from various gods, including Poseidon and Athena.

If content is king, to repeat that somewhat hackneyed and sexist Silicon Valley mantra, social media has undoubtedly become queen.

Should publishing be “more about culture than book sales”, as a recent article published in The Conversation has it? The point is moot. Publishing has always been about both culture and commerce.

Art and commerce has come together in a related trend: the resurgence of the middlebrow reader. Academic Beth Driscoll describes these readers as middle-class and aspirational, seeking emotional connections with book characters, other readers and authors.

In other words, reading has become more than ever an emotional, cultural and social act. YA readers are at the forefront of this: discussing books, connecting with other fans and tweeting to their favourite authors to ask about plot holes.

They create drawings, songs, poems and fan fictions to declare their love towards a certain book character (in late 2000s, the debate of the Twilight decade seemed to be: Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob? They dress in Gryffindor robes and bring their wands to bookshops to queue for J.K. Rowling’s final Potter book.

Fans pose with their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Hannibal Hanschke.

This level of engagement has not been seen in readers of other genres, and increasingly it has an impact on the success of a book. A 2014 study of over 10,000 Facebook and Twitter posts proved that social media activity helps drive book sales.

Yet it’s not just the quantity of social media mentions that creates success, but their quality.

Recently, Marcella Purnama studied readers’ emotional engagement and its impact on the success of YA author John Green’s books, drawing on the Goodreads reviews of Green’s four books. The results showed that high levels of emotional engagement from readers correlated with better Goodreads ratings.

The more emotion readers show online, the more they interact with others about the books. And the more interaction, the greater the success of the books.

This creates a snowball effect, driven by high levels of social media engagement among YA readers, that has helped drive the growth of the category as a whole.

Sadly, some publishers and authors are still reluctant to use social media to market their books. Often publishers depend on booksellers and authors to connect directly with the readers, while authors hope that the publishers’ expertise and connections will increase book sales.

Readers are eager to share their reading experience. They share their latest reads on Facebook, write reviews on their blogs and actively find fan communities to talk about their favourite characters.

The books that rise to the top will be the books with the most engaged readers. And it’s up to publishers and authors to keep the fire going.

The Conversation

Marcella Purnama, Masters Candidate in Publishing and Communications, University of Melbourne and Mark Davis, Lecturer in Publishing and Communications, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What young adult fiction looked like in 2015

Rebecca Ciezarek, Victoria University

Discussion on diversity in young adult (YA) fiction is not difficult to come by. Over the last couple of years, awareness of the need for greater representations of characters and lives in the literature produced for young people has increased.

In Battling Dragons: Issues and Controversy in Children’s Literature (1995), Judith Morley and Sandra Russell sum up this argument for diversity by saying:

The cultures explored in certain books may be foreign to [some] children, but the common bonds of humanity are very evident. The human emotion of empathy and an awareness of diversity are fostered through careful reading and discussion of literature.

“Diversity” in YA fiction is a broad concept, and can include (but is not limited to) the experiences of the LGBTQI community, gender diversity, people of colour, indigenous cultures, disability (physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, addiction, and mental illnesses) and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Academia is also responding to issues of diversity. Last year, the Children’s Literature Association focused its conference on race, immigrants and refugees, (dis)ability, sexuality, religion, marginalisation, agency, and social justice.

Similarly, the Australasian Children’s Literature Association for Research 2016 conference will include discussion on changing representations of gender, race, class, age, nation, ability, and censorship.

While the International Board on Books on Young People is looking at diversity for its 2016 conference, with a focus on global, local, and indigenous literature, as well as diversity of literary forms.

The following list of novels, all published this year, provides some insight into the variety of narratives being created for readers of YA fiction. It was a challenging list to create, not because the number of titles was lacking, but because 2015 saw so many notable books, looking at a diverse range of experiences.

Magabala Books

Jane Harrison’s Becoming Kirrali Lewis (2015) has a dual narrative, telling the story of Kirrali, an Aboriginal girl entering Melbourne University in the 1980s, and Kirrali’s mum, a white woman who, after an affair with an Aboriginal man, made the decision to put their baby (Kirrali) up for adoption in the 1960s.

Adopted by a white family, Kirrali does not explore or question her cultural heritage until compelled to by a series of violent and political events.

Vân Uoc Phan, the protagonist in Cloudwish (2015) by Fiona Wood, is the Australian-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees. Living with her family in government housing in Melbourne, Vân Uoc struggles to fit in at her private school, caught between her Australian identity and Vietnamese heritage. And there is potential romance to contend with as well.

In The Flywheel (2015) (Erin Gough), 17-year-old Delilah has dropped out of high school after her relationship with another girl ends, and dealing with the subsequent homophobia from her fellow students becomes too much. Del instead takes over running her dad’s café, and from that experience, readers learn about love, failure, family, bulling, and overcoming life’s hurdles.

Walker Books Australia and New Zealand

The Foretelling of Georgie Spider (2015) by Ambelin Kwaymullina is book three in The Tribe series, and it is an incredible journey to undertake.

It follows the story of three girls (one per book), who hold the unique ability to see into the past, present, and future.

Woven throughout is the history of the Aboriginal Dreaming, passing on important knowledge, cultural values, and belief systems to later generations.

The above titles are by Australian authors, but many publications this year came out of the US, where, in spite of a culture of challenging books, a range of topics were explored which defied mainstream literary conventions:

Some of these books use humour to tackle their difficult content, while others rely on the emotional vulnerability of their protagonists. Whatever the narrative strategy employed, what makes these books (and others not listed) so meaningful to readers is that they’re telling stories that have a long history of being overlooked in conventional literature.

David Fickling Books

The publication of these stories, however, does not necessarily mean there is a straight path to readers. Censorship and the banning of young adult books was a hot issue this year.

Laura Reiman and Ellen Greenblatt, writing in Serving LGBTIQ Library and Archives Users (2011), highlight that challenging children’s literature is one of the most enduring forms of censorship. Its enactment is based on the desire to “protect” young people.

Peter Hunt identifies this in Understanding Children’s Literature (1998) to mean characterising children as impressionable, simpleminded, and unable to take a balanced view.

The greater issue, I would suggest, is not the extent to which young people may or may not be influenced by what they read in a text, but rather the potential texts have to offer advice, encouragement, courage, recognition, and comfort.

As YA researcher and editor Michael Cart argues:

Teenagers urgently need books that speak with relevance and immediacy to their real lives and to their unique emotional, intellectual, and developmental needs and that provide a place of commonality of experience and mutual understanding […]. But books can’t do that unless their authors trust young readers with the truth.

Authors, yes, but this can be expanded to include editors, publishers, booksellers, libraries, reviewers, parents, and guardians.

It only makes sense that we continue with the progress made this year with regard to diversity in YA fiction, to make widely available texts that speak to the greatest number of readers, and trust that young readers know what they want.

The Conversation

Rebecca Ciezarek, PhD candidate in Children’s Literature, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Telling the real story: diversity in young adult literature

Ambelin Kwaymullina, University of Western Australia

There’s a conversation gaining momentum in Australia about the lack of diversity in Young Adult (YA) and children’s literature. It’s been inspired in part by debate in the US, which many critics date back to a seminal essay by Nancy Larrick titled The All-White World of Children’s Books that was published in the Saturday Review in 1965.

The question of diversity has been raised periodically by critics, readers and writers alike – here and overseas – ever since. In the US, it was reinvigorated in May last year when a group of authors launched the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Its mission? To change the publishing industry so that it produced literature “that reflects and honours the lives of all young people”.

Sarah Ayoub.
Courtesy of Sarah Ayoub

The campaign has quickly grown from a grassroots movement into a global phenomenon that’s also generated widespread debate in Australian literary circles.

Aussie authors who have written on diversity in youth literature include myself, Erin Gough, Gabrielle Wang, Danielle Binks, Sarah Ayoub, and Rebecca Lim.

There is, of course, no single diverse experience. I am an Aboriginal author (Palyku people), but there are differences between my experiences and those of other Indigenous writers, and indeed those of diverse writers more broadly. We Need Diverse Books defines diversity as:

all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of colour, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

But while there are many differences between diverse peoples and identities, there are also points of intersection, and one of them is the degree to which our young people are being failed by literature.

Why is diversity important? Author Malindo Lo, one of the founders of We Need Diverse Books, gave this answer:

Diversity is not important. Diversity is reality … Let’s stop erasing that.

Many minority writers cite the experience of being erased from reality as the reason they began writing in the first place. As Lebanese Australian Sarah Ayoub recently said of her YA novel Hate is Such a Strong Word (2013):

I wrote this book to reconcile everything I felt as a teenager. When I go out and speak to schools with students from different cultures, I always say that you don’t have to change who you are to fit into the world and that your story is just as relevant as any white story.

A lack of diversity not only influences how diverse peoples see themselves, but how they are seen (or not seen) by those of the dominant culture. The situation is not helped by the fact there is often a long history of distortion of diverse identities in narratives written about the (so-called) “other”. In relation to Australian Indigenous peoples, Aboriginal writer Melissa Lucashenko has described this as “the great poisoned well of historic writing of Aboriginal people”.

The representation of diverse peoples, and especially of colonised or oppressed peoples by those who have inherited the benefits of colonisation or oppression, remains a fraught area. As Latino author Daniel Jose Older has commented:

Authors of colour struggle to get our voices heard, and publishing houses that espouse diversity publish more white authors writing characters of colour than anything else. Cultural appropriation matters in this context because it is about who has access and who gets paid, even beyond the problems of a poorly crafted, disrespectful representation.

Melissa Lucashenko.
Mark Crocker/AAP, CC BY

As a diverse YA author I am often asked, usually by teens searching in vain for their own reflection in the novels they read, whether I think things will ever change. I do, mostly because I believe there is a limit to how long literature can peddle the fantasy of a non-diverse world to readers who are living in a diverse reality.

And in relation to cultural diversity, increasing minority populations will change readership and hence (eventually) world markets. In the US, the Census Bureau has forecast that by 2043 minorities will comprise a majority of the US population, while the 2015 UK Writing the Future report noted that predicted increases in minority groups meant the book trade would have to change to remain relevant:

[P]ublishers’ present concentration on People Like Us – White, aged 35 to 55 and female – will not reflect the society of the future, no matter how much that elides with their own current workforce […] the book industry risks becoming a 20th century throwback increasingly out of touch with a 21st century world.”

A country with as many voices as Australia has much to offer the children and teens of the globalised and pluralist 21st century. Except that, even within the Australian market, it can be difficult for Aussie voices to be heard (and correspondingly more difficult for diverse Australian voices to be heard).

This is where weneeddiversebooksau intersects with another campaign – that of LoveOzYA.

LoveOzYA was started this year, partly in response to concerns that Australian titles were struggling to be noticed among the onslaught of US blockbusters, many of which had been the subject of big-screen adaptions. In the words of Australian author Ellie Marney:

When a book is promoted online, on screens, in films, in print ads and bookstores and toy stores and fast-food outlets ad infinitum – it’s kinda hard to ignore.

LoveOzYa is not suggesting teens should stop reading books they enjoy. Simply that there may well be other Australian books they’d enjoy as much (but that were published in the comparatively tiny Aussie market and hence do not have the benefit of the marketing resources behind the US titles dominating the shelves).

In short, the goal is that Australian literature receives the proverbial “fair go”. Perhaps in this sense, the end game of both weneeddiversebooksau and LoveOzYA converges upon a vision of a more equitable future: a world in which all voices have an equal chance to be heard, and all voices are heard equally.

The Conversation

Ambelin Kwaymullina is Assistant Professor (Law School) at University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.