Three ways museums are making classic literature more attractive to young readers


Engaging young people is a challenge for museums.
Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Heather Green, Nottingham Trent University

For many lovers of classic literature, opportunities to devour the works of undiscovered authors can be enough to make people’s eyes light up. For those who aren’t as keen on the genre, the appeal of these titles is a little less obvious. In fact, it’s one of the reasons museum professionals are running into issues when it comes to inspiring new generations to read such works.

Engaging young people is a challenge for museums and the traditional approaches that literary heritage museums take when dealing with classic authors is becoming a problem. This is because literary heritage museums usually focus on presenting the biographical story, personal effects or archival collection of an author. Relevant and interesting perhaps to those already familiar with an author’s works, but perhaps less successful at engaging would-be readers. The language of some of these authors can also be a barrier to new readers, as can the difficulty of reading “a classic” – which might be seen as irrelevant or out of touch with the modern world.

As the community, learning and engagement officer at Wirksworth Heritage Centre in Derbyshire, my role is to engage audiences of all ages with the local history of Wirksworth. A key element to Wirksworth’s heritage is its literary connections to writers (including George Eliot, DH Lawrence and Daniel Defoe) and the inspiration they took from the people and the landscape of Wirksworth. My PhD research considers how literary heritage is presented in museums throughout the country. I have a particular interest in Nottingham, which was awarded the Unesco City of Literature bid in 2015 due to its rich literary heritage, but also has some of the lowest literacy levels in the country.

Since COVID-19, finding new ways to share our literary heritage both inside and outside of museum walls has become incredibly important. So how should museums show that these authors remain relevant in the 21st century? Literary heritage museums are doing this in a whole host of ways, but here are the three examples of approaches I believe are particularly successful.

1. Retelling stories

From the Austen Project to the many graphic novel retellings and classic novels reimagined as text messages, retelling stories with a contemporary twist is a well-trodden (if not always well-reviewed) path. It’s also a method of interpretation that literary heritage museums are beginning to embrace.

Using new and creative formats can remove some of the barriers to young people wanting to experience these stories and can inspire them to try the “real thing”. As part of my own curatorial work with Dorking Museum, I wrote a book entitled Forster in 50 which accompanies the exhibition Forster at 50. The book provides visitors with an overview of five of Forster’s novels in only 50 words with illustrations, providing more of an accessible introduction to EM Forster’s work.

2. Using technology to draw audiences in

Technology and literature may have seemed like a mismatch once upon a time, but more and more museums are using different technologies to engage audiences with their collections. Before its closure in 2016, the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre presented the 1915 censorship trial of Lawrence’s The Rainbow through a series of Twitter posts in their exhibition No Right to Exist: The Rainbow and Other Books Which Shocked. This condensed the complexities of the trial into a series of 140 character posts, allowing younger audiences to explore the debate in a familiar format and go on to consider what we consider scandalous in literature today.

My own work has included the co-production of Walking with Lawrence, a digital walking tour written from Lawrence’s perspective which allows the listener to connect the author with the city they see today. The use of a creative narrative which is listened to rather than read provides a format that’s easier to understand, removing some of the barriers created by large amounts of text.

3. Collaborating with creative partners

Working with creative partners such as artists and writers can help museums to reach new audiences, providing more approachable information for younger generations in particular. Graphic novels and comic books are incredibly helpful in this respect. I’m working with Wirksworth Heritage Centre’s writer in residence Helen Greetham, who’s currently producing a graphic novel about the literary heritage of George Eliot in Wirksworth.

A similar project is underway in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, working with young people to produce their own Lawrence-inspired graphic stories. The Eastwood Comics project aims to engage “700 further young people (who) will learn about the author and his birthplace by taking part in activities inspired by the young writers’ research”. Here, participation in creative projects and reading new stories help new generations to connect with Lawrence’s heritage in more meaningful ways than regurgitating information about the author.

The pandemic has provided an unprecedented challenge to the heritage sector, but the closure of our sites doesn’t mean we can’t continue to connect people to our history. These new and innovative ways that museums have engaged and inspired younger generations can continue regardless of whether physical buildings are open. In the months ahead, I hope more buildings take similar approaches.The Conversation

Heather Green, PhD Candidate, Literary Heritage, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘I couldn’t escape. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to’: confusing messages about consent in young adult fantasy fiction


Unsplash/Travis Grossen, CC BY

Elizabeth Little, Deakin University and Kristine Moruzi, Deakin University

Sexual consent and young people have been in the news lately, from an online petition detailing thousands of high schoolers’ recollections of sexual assault and rape to calls for better school-based education.

What young people read is another important form of sexual education. Young adult (YA) fiction has a unique role to play in representing sexual relationships, but a number of popular YA fantasy novels send confusing and potentially harmful messages about sex and consent. Often, these are not addressed, such as when Shalia in the Reign the Earth series (2018-2020) is forced to consummate her marriage.

‘I didn’t feel love, or lust, or heat. I felt frightened … panicked beneath him.’

Rather than echo the “bodice ripper” content of some adult fantasy novels (where sex usually begins with domination), books for young readers can be an opportunity to unpack what consent is and isn’t.

Some books in the young adult fantasy genre echo the ‘bodice rippers’ of yesteryear.
Unsplash/Hanna Postova, CC BY



Read more:
Teen summer reads: how to escape to another world after a year stuck in this one


Characters young people relate to

Research shows young people use YA fiction as a source of sex education. Teens turn to novels to learn through the actions of characters they relate to. They identify with what is happening on the page and learn without having to seek advice or information from adults or peers.

Studies have also shown representations of sexual intimacy provide a behavioural script for young readers. These scripts are then put to use during their own sexual encounters. In one study, researchers heard from girls who used episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to learn new “date moves”.

Book cover: Twilight

Goodreads

Because sex is a natural area of interest for readers, realist YA fiction engages with questions of sexual consent in clear ways. YA fantasy — the genre that includes the Twilight series and The Hunger Games — can omit some important aspects of this.

Psychologists have characterised schoolgirl Bella’s relationship with vampire Edward in Twilight as a template for violence and abuse, concerned fans may model real-life relationships on the narrative. Jealous Edward isolates Bella from her friends, family and potential love rivals, even sabotaging her car to prevent her escape from him.

Fantasy fiction is often set in a different time or place, but it still reflects contemporary concerns.

In many of these novels, the female character’s ability to say “yes” is denied to her. In Shelby Mahurin’s Serpent and Dove (2019), the female protagonist is forced into marriage. Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely (2019) gains inspiration from Beauty and the Beast, with the female protagonist captured and unable to consent to her relationship. Neither novel discusses how consent is compromised.




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


‘Too shy to say the words’

In Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince series (2018-2019), Prince Cardan physically and emotionally abuses orphan girl Jude during their relationship. Her consent to intimacy is mired in domestic violence.

book cover: The Cruel Prince

Goodreads

When they do have sex, she does not verbally consent. Jude is “too shy to say the words” and just “kisses him instead”. This example of sexual consent contradicts models of positive consent as an “enthusiastic yes” or the viral video many young people are shown depicting consent as similar to offering someone a cup of tea.

Sarah J. Maas’ popular series, A Court Of Thorns and Roses (2015-2021) begins with a romantic relationship between Feyre and Tamlin in a magical kingdom. The series has sold over six million copies.

Yet, in the first book, a serious violation of consent occurs. When Tamlin attempts to kiss Feyre, she tells him to “let go”, but instead he embeds his claws in a wall behind her head. When she pushes him away, he “grabs [her] hands and bites [her] neck”.


Goodreads

Feyre’s reaction to Tamlin is confusing as well. While she tells him to stop, she also describes her feelings of sexual arousal. She “couldn’t escape” from Tamlin but “wasn’t entirely sure [she] wanted to”. To Feyre’s fury, the next morning Tamlin says he “can’t be held accountable” for her bruises. But by the next paragraph all is forgiven.

The descriptions of physical pleasure also suggest verbal consent in not the only thing in play. Is she saying no, when she really means yes?




Read more:
Relationships and sex education is now mandatory in English schools – Australia should do the same


Explicit consent

Of course, some YA fantasy texts address consent explicitly. Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn (2020) features clear conversations of consent. When Nick asks if he can kiss Bree, she responds “Oh”. He then clarifies “Oh, ‘no’, or oh, ‘yes’?”.


Goodreads

Some books have questionable consent but call it out on the page. In Jodi McAlister’s Valentine series, male faerie Finn uses his powers to enter Pearl’s dreams and lead her into sexual fantasies. When she realises what he’s done, she orders him “out of [her] head”, and they discuss his inappropriate behaviour.

Ambiguous scenes in YA fantasy can provide an opportunity for parents, teachers and young people to discuss consent and sexual intimacy. How are the characters consenting to intimacy? Is there an aspect of consent missing? What would be a better way for these characters to gain consent from each other? Care should be taken not to glorify taking advantage of these ambiguities in an intimate setting.

Classrooms can also be a place to confront the taboos of sexuality by analysing sexual interactions and unpacking how consent is given. Equipping teachers to facilitate conversations around trust, sex and consent could further the conversation.




Read more:
Let’s make it mandatory to teach respectful relationships in every Australian school


The Conversation


Elizabeth Little, PhD Candidate, Deakin University and Kristine Moruzi, Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication & Creative Arts, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Teen summer reads: 5 books to help young people understand racism


Jessica Gannaway, University of Melbourne and Melitta Hogarth, University of Melbourne

This article is part of three-part series on summer reads for young people after a very unique year.


US teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead in 2012 by a neighbourhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman who was later acquitted of the murder. This saw the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The racist social and political issues in the US saw the deaths and violence on Black bodies brought front and centre through acts of protest.

The arguments against the alleged police brutality in the US were easily translatable to the Australian context.

The Black Lives Matters movement was renewed following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May this year. And together with US counterparts, tens of thousands of Australians marched across our cities to draw attention to racial profiling, police brutality and the more than 400 Indigenous people who have died in police custody since a royal commission into the problem was held in 1991.

The global movement brought unprecedented sales of books about race and anti-racism. This turn toward texts is indicative of the role they play in helping us make sense of major social issues.

Angie Thomas, author of the 2017 bestseller “The Hate U Give”, has spoken about the role of literature in igniting awareness, resistance and change.

I think books […] play a huge role in opening people’s eyes and they’re a form of activism in their own right, in the fact that they do empower people and show others the lives of people who may not be like themselves.

Research has long shown a link between the books we read and our development of empathy. But more recent research has highlighted it is important we don’t see books as immediate fixes to complex social issues, especially when we import these books from other locations and times.

Our reading must be accompanied by close attention to the ways racism and prejudice unfold in our own location.




Read more:
5 Australian books that can help young people understand their place in the world


Coming to understand the impact and complexity of racism in this way is referred to as “racial literacy”. Here are five books that can help young people build racial literacy around the varied forms of racism and discrimination.

Dear Martin is build around the question: what would Martin Luther King do?
Penguin

1. Dear Martin

by Nic Stone

Dear Martin explores issues of race through the eyes of conscientious 17 year old, Justyce McAllister.

Built around the central question, “What would Martin (Luther King) do?”, this novel brings to light the litany of decisions and ethical conundrums thrust into Justyce’s lap daily, as he navigates a world affected by racism and prejudice.

2. Punching the Air

by Ibi Zobai and Yusuf Salaam

Written by one of five young men imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit.
Harper Collins

In 1989, five young men were falsely accused of the assault and murder of a jogger in New York’s Central Park. Now documented in Ava Duvernay’s Neflix miniseries When They See Us, the Five were exonerated 12 years later.

But the story stands as a haunting reminder of the inequalities experienced by Black men and the life-altering consequences this can wreak on innocent lives.

One of these young men, Yusuf Salaam, collaborates with award-winning author and prison reform activist Ibi Zobai, to craft a story that examines these themes through a narrative of a wrongfully incarcerated young man navigating his teenage years in prison.

3. Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

edited by Anita Heiss

An anthology of essays written by those with lived experience of racial issues.
Black Inc books

This anthology of 50 chapters provides an opportunity to deeply listen and understand the lived experiences of Indigenous Australians and the ways racism takes all manner of overt, subtle and systemic forms.

Particularly noteworthy are the chapters by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Celeste Liddle, in which the authors describe both the nature of racism experienced by them from the schoolyard, and the broader historical context on which this racism is based.

4. Slay

by Brittney Morris

Explores racial themes through an online game.
Simon & Schuster

This novel centres on 17-year-old Kiera, a talented young developer who creates a multiplayer role-playing game. The game is a “mecca of black excellence” and an escape from the racism often experienced by those “game-playing while black”.

When an offline murder is traced back to the game, Kiera grapples with the complexity of both the implications of her creation and the conversations it triggers.

Slay weaves social commentary into the dialogue between characters from all walks of life, covering everything from cultural appropriation, to whether racism can ever be “reversed”.

5. Living on Stolen Land

by Ambelin Kwaymullina

This is made up of prose verses like ‘Bias’ and ‘Listening’.
Magabala Books

Many books here centre around the kind of racial stereotyping and violence that put the Black Lives Matter movement on the map. But understanding racism in the Australian context also involves examining colonialism and the racist underpinnings of our history.

Living on Stolen Land centres Indigenous sovereignty in the conversation about race. Using prose verses such as those titled “Bias” and “Listening”, it leads readers through examining unconscious beliefs and moving toward being a genuine ally of Indigenous people.

Author and educator Layla F Saad has suggested when we read texts about social issues like racism, we read for transformation, not merely information.

A range of texts have been developed to support families in having these transformative discussions together. Maxine Beneba Clarkes’ “When We Say Black Lives Matter”, for instance, is a beautifully illustrated picture book that focuses on the strength and resilience of black children and communities. While texts like Our Home our Heartbeat by Adam Briggs centres on key Indigenous figures to be celebrated.




Read more:
Teen summer reads: 5 novels to help cope with adversity and alienation


The Conversation


Jessica Gannaway, Lecturer, University of Melbourne and Melitta Hogarth, Assistant Dean Indigenous/ Senior lecturer, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Winners


The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/08/13/155169/nz-book-awards-for-children-and-young-adults-2020-winners-announced/

2020 Readings Young Adult Book Prize Shortlist


The link below is to an article reporting on the 2020 Readings Young Adult Book Prize shortlist.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/06/03/151534/readings-ya-book-prize-2020-shortlist-announced/

The kids are alright: young adult post-disaster novels can teach us about trauma and survival



Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010).
AAP/Paramount Pictures

Troy Potter, University of Melbourne

COVID-19 is changing the way we live. Panic buying, goods shortages, lockdown – these are new experiences for most of us. But it’s standard fare for the protagonists of young adult (YA) post-disaster novels.


Text Publishing

In Davina Bell’s latest book, The End of the World Is Bigger than Love (2020), a global pandemic, cyberterrorism and climate change are interrelated disasters that have destroyed the world as we know it.

Like most post-disaster novels, the book is more concerned with how we survive rather than understanding the causes of disaster. As such, we can read it to explore our fears, human responses to disaster and our capacity to adapt.

The day after

Kelly Devos’s Day Zero (2019), and the soon to be released Day One (2020), use cyberterrorism as the disaster. Like Bell’s novel, Day Zero focuses more on how the protagonist, Jinx, maintains her humanity when she must harm or kill others in order to keep herself and her siblings alive.

The cause of catastrophe is sometimes obscured in YA post-disaster fiction.
Natalya Letunova/Unsplash, CC BY

A form of speculative fiction, YA post-disaster writing imaginatively explores causes and responses to apocalyptic disasters. (Some readers categorise YA juggernaut The Hunger Games – and the recently released prequel – as dystopian rather than post-disaster – others think it’s both.)

Many YA novels in this genre explore issues of survival and humanity following a catastrophe. In YA post-disaster novels, teenage protagonists must learn to exist in a fractured world with little support from elders.

When they are explained, the fictional causes of catastrophe can illustrate social concerns of times they were written in. Because of this, YA post-disaster books allow us to reflect on our current beliefs, attitudes and fears.


Goodreads

Davos’s Day Zero can be read as commenting on contemporary concerns about cyberterrorism and political corruption. Bell’s The End of the World Is Bigger than Love expresses similar anxieties, but is also prescient given the current pandemic.

War is the cause of disaster in Glenda Millard’s A Small Free Kiss in the Dark (2009) and John Marsden’s Tomorrow series. While Millard’s novel raises questions about homelessness, Marsden’s series expresses an anxiety about invasion from Asia. The author has expressed regret about this aspect of the books since their publication.

A latent xenophobia is also present in Claire Zorn’s, The Sky So Heavy (2013), in part because the nuclear disasters are attributed to “regions in the north of Asia”. Passive ideologies of racism that pervade some YA post-disaster novels are problematic, as are other underlying ideals that promote any form of discrimination.




Read more:
Young adult fiction’s dark themes give the hope to cope


Us against the world

Literary texts that reinforce fear about Asia, particularly China, are especially problematic in the context of coronavirus, which reportedly saw an increase in racist attacks.

Panic buying and the stockpiling of goods during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak established an “us against them” dichotomy in our “struggle to survive”, reminiscent of YA post-disaster fiction.

Not everyone hoarded food and items for themselves though. Others showed compassion, donating toilet paper and food to those in need. Because of this, we were confronted with questions about how we want to survive.

YA post-disaster novels allow us to explore similar questions of humanity. In these fictional worlds, teenage characters are faced with moral dilemmas about who to help and who to harm. How does someone look out for themselves while still expressing empathy and consideration for others? How can characters maintain their humanity if their survival means another’s suffering or death?

Speculative fiction can help us think about our responses to disaster. Will it bring out our best – or our worst?
Andrew Amistad/Unsplash, CC BY

Who to save

Tied up with the question about how we survive, then, is who survives. The protagonist, Jinx, in Day Zero is continually faced with this dilemma. As she flees the corrupt government, Jinx must decide who to help, and how.

While Jinx readily uses violence to overcome her aggressors, she eventually must shoot to kill to save her stepsister. Doing so, Jinx loses a part of herself and becomes “something else”; she must now reconcile her actions with her sense of self.




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


It’s not so far from the choices medical professionals in Italy, the United States and elsewhere have had to make about who to treat due to limited ventilators and a rapid influx of patients.

No matter the cause of catastrophe, the literary exploration of questions of survival provides opportunities for teenagers, parents and teachers to discuss a range of contemporary issues, including humane responses to disaster.

Given the current crisis we are in, perhaps it is time to critically read more YA post-disaster novels. If they hold up a mirror to our current attitudes and behaviours, they can help us reflect on our humanity, and on what and who we think matters.The Conversation

Troy Potter, Lecturer, The University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults Winner for 2020


The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2020 LA Times Book Prize for Young Adults.

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2020/04/22/149492/when-the-ground-is-hard-wins-la-times-book-prize-for-ya/

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.

For more visit:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/announcing-the-longlist-for-the-2019-national-book-award-for-young-peoples-literature/
https://publishingperspectives.com/2019/09/us-national-book-awards-2019-longlist-in-young-peoples-literature/

2019 Inky Award Winners


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

For more visit:
https://www.booksandpublishing.com.au/articles/2019/09/04/138688/noni-black-win-2019-inky-awards/
https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2019/09/04/the-2019-inky-award-winners-have-been-announced/