Ten novels to help young people understand the world and its complexities



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Nataliia Budianska via Shutterstock

Fiona Shaw, Northumbria University, Newcastle

In this confusing and often conflicted world, children’s author Gillian Cross has summed up what it is about reading fiction that is so important: “Good stories help us make sense of the world. They invite us to discover what it’s like being someone completely different.”

As the author of a children’s novel myself, I’m going to double down on this and say that if this is important for adults, it’s 100 times more important for children.

Children passionately want to understand what’s going on – and fiction is a potent way for them to do this. A study by education professor Maria Nikolajeva found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.

In the wealth of recent fiction for children and young adults, here are ten powerful stories for young people, addressing some of the most important, and troubling, questions we face today.

1. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Orion)

Imagine being imprisoned for your whole life. Imagine growing up like Subhi.

Life in a refugee camp. Source=Orion.

The nine-year-old’s world ends at the diamond-shaped fence – the outer edge of the detention centre he is detained in with his Rohingya family in Australia.

Fraillon draws a vivid picture of life inside the fence – vulnerable people fleeing persecution, only to find – instead of the peace and sanctuary they so desperately need – indifference and hostility.

But Subhi finds hope in his friendship with an Australian girl from outside the fence. (Age: 11+)

2. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew (Red Ink)

What if Germany had won World War II and the UK was now part of a Third German Reich? This is a coming-of-age story with a difference – 16-year-old Jessika is a talented ice-skater in a high-ranking REICH?family.

But her friendship with subversive, courageous and desirable Clem threatens everything: her family, her future, and her very life. This is a story that paints the dangers of totalitarianism in vivid language. (Age: 12+)

3. Boy 87 by Ele Fountain (Pushkin Press)

Fourteen-year-old Shif lives in a country that conscripts its children into the army. The country isn’t named, but may be in Africa. He wants to play chess with his best friend Bini and race him home from school. But the army comes calling and the two must flee.

Shif experiences at first hand the brutality of a totalitarian government, then the trauma of migration and trafficking. Despite this, the story manages to be hopeful. (Age: 12 +)

4. The Jungle by Pooja Puri (Ink Road)

Sixteen-year-old Mico is surviving his life in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais. Without anyone to look out for him, he must look out for himself, living on his wits and his luck. Using careful research, Puri shows us what life is like as a refugee, owning nothing, not even the clothes on your back or the blanket you sleep beneath.

She shows us the desperation and terrible lengths refugees will go to, to try to find a home. But when Mico meets Leila, we see, too, the hope – and the risk – that friendship brings. (Age: 12+)

5. After the Fire by Will Hill (Usborne)

Moonbeam has lost her mother and she only knows life inside The Fence – it’s a life controlled by cult leader Father John.

Life in a cult.
Usborne

But one night a devastating fire burns that life to the ground – the buildings, the people, the leader are all gone and only Moonbeam and a handful of children survive. Moonbeam and the others must now discover the world beyond the fence.

Can she do this when Father John has told her to trust no one outside? Using the WACO siege as his source material, Hill explores the power of brainwashing and cult identity.

Moonbeam’s search is for a truth she can stand by now, and for the mother she thinks must be dead. (Age: 12+)

6. I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan (Macmillan)

Written in the voice of its smart and self-deprecating heroine, British Muslim Pakistani teenager Muzna, this is both a coming-of-age novel and a thriller. Muzna navigates her life at home and at school, working out how to have her own identity and her own ambitions, not those imposed by her parents, religion, school or friends.

And, as her relationship with Arif develops, the story becomes a thriller, and the stakes become very high. (Age: 13+)

7. The Territory trilogy by Sarah Govett (Firefly Press)

What happens when the sea levels rise? Govett imagines a flooded world with dwindling resources and not enough dry land for everyone. Choices have to be made, about who stays on the dry territory, and who is banished beyond the fence, to the dreaded Wetlands. But when 15-year-old Noa finds herself beyond the fence, she discovers that not everything the adults have been telling her is true. (Age: 13+)

8. Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias (Scholastic)

Following Britain’s withdrawal from Europe, a far-right Nationalist party has come to power.

Living in a far-right Britain.
Scholastic

Only those born in Britain (or BB as they are known) are allowed to live legally – everyone born outside the country is subject to immediate arrest and deportation and failing to report illegals is a crime.

Mathias has set her thriller in a British dystopia that is more scarily plausible than ever.

The young protagonist Zara is an illegal living in this scary new Britain – and falling in love with Ash might be the most dangerous thing she could do. (Age: 13+)

9. Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)

It’s ten years since Joe saw his brother Ed – and now Ed is on death row, facing execution for the murder of a police officer. What do they know of each other now? Ed says he’s innocent of the murder, but everyone else believes he’s guilty.

Crossan’s verse novel explores a single summer, perhaps Ed’s last, as 17-year-old Joe struggles to understand what has been done to his brother – and to himself. (Age: 13+)

10. The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre (David Fickling Books)

What will the neighbours think?
Fickling Books

The only picture book in the list, McIntyre’s delightfully illustrated story explores how intolerance and scaremongering can run like a mad fever through a community. When new neighbours move in to the tower block, hysteria builds quickly, until finally the other animals discover the truth about their newest neighbours. (Age: 2+)The Conversation

Fiona Shaw, Senior Lecturer, Northumbria University, Newcastle

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

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Sex and other reasons why we ban books for young people


Michelle Smith, Deakin University

A prize-winning New Zealand novel for teenagers has been effectively banned because of complaints from Christian lobby group Family First. After the decision by the country’s Film and Literature Board of Review, Bruce Dawe’s Into the River is now subject to an interim ban that prohibits its supply, display, and distribution.

Into the River is the first book to be banned since the current law was enacted in 1993. The novel confronts important subjects like bullying and racism through its narrative about a Maori boy. As the winner of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, it is in some respects a surprising target for censors.

Into the River has been classified in several different ways. It was initially judged suitable for audiences over 16, then received an R14 classification at the beginning of 2014 (making it an offence to supply the book to a child younger than 14), which was overturned last month.

On making the R14 determination, the Board of Review acknowledged the book’s “useful social purpose”. The Board concluded it was “likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying”.

Nevertheless, the Board felt that younger readers without a sufficient “level of maturity” were at real risk of being shocked by “powerful and disturbing scenes”.

In 2013, Family First sought an R18 classification and shrink-wrap covering because of the book’s sexual content, representation of paedophilia and drug taking, and use of swear words. Leader Bob McCroskie must have been busy with the search function on an ebook, as he noted that “it’s a book that’s got the c-word nine times, the f-word 17 times and s-h-i-t 16 times”.

When most people think of book censorship, they imagine political regimes and potentially book burning in Nazi Germany. What is little considered is that most books that have been challenged or banned are books for young people.

Book burning in Nazi Germany

The American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009 includes dozens of books for young people. Eight of the books or series named in the top 10 are children’s or young adult titles.

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series occupies the number-one position because of its depiction of magic. Christian schools across the United States, United Kingdom, and even some in Australia, have refused to allow the phenomenally popular novels about the boy wizard to circulate in their libraries.

What Harry Potter shares with four other titles in the top 10 is that it is a series. Series books for young people are typically understood as having little educational value or literary merit.

L Frank Baum’s Oz books, for example, were removed from numerous public library shelves in the United States throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As Laurie Langbauer explains, librarians believed that series fiction like Oz was:

mass-produced, commercial, interminable, formulaic, and repetitive […] had no redeeming value and would harm any children exposed to it.

Books for young readers are often challenged or banned because they conflict with adult perceptions of childhood innocence. Depictions of sex pose the most obvious threat to adults’ understanding of the sacred space of childhood.

Judy Blume’s teen novels were highly sought after in my primary school because of their discussion of puberty and developing sexuality. Four of her novels appear on the challenged books list from 2000-2009, even though the most recent of these was published more than three decades ago.

Blume began publishing in the 1970s and has pointed out that this period was more open to discussions of teen sexuality. Her controversial novel Forever, she explains, was:

used in several school programs then, helping to spur discussions of sexual responsibility.

Blume laments that her novels would never be used in this way today. In 2013, she used her fame to assist after The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (number 10 on the ALA banned list) was removed from one Chicago school district after a complaint by a parent about sexual content.

Into the River has received literary awards and praise that distinguish it from popular series fiction. The New Zealand Review Board even highlights its potential to educate young readers. It has been reclassified and now banned because sex troubles adult ideas about what young people should be exposed to in fictional stories.

While age recommendations for disturbing content in books for young people are potentially useful, legal restrictions and bans are mystifying and fruitless for several reasons.

For one, young people can readily access adult fiction in public libraries and via ebooks. An obsessive focus on the books specifically marketed to young people ignores the mature themes, such as sex, drugs, violence, and horror, that they are free to explore elsewhere.

Second, young people access mature content in a range of formats, including largely unregulated internet sites and videos, and in video games, which aren’t usually expected to have an educative function.

Finally, through gritty realism and challenging content, books such as Into the River attempt to appeal to a demographic of teen boys who are reluctant readers. If the harshness of life for Indigenous, working-class, or sexually abused teens is too disturbing for adults to accept, then we would be better placed to improve these lived realities than condemn their representation in stories for young people.

The Conversation

Michelle Smith, Research fellow in English Literature, Deakin University

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

Article: Young Still Reading Traditional Books


The link below is to an article that investigates the reading habits of young people in the US. Its conclusion is that for the time being young people are continuing to read traditional books.

For more visit:
http://mashable.com/2013/06/28/youth-read-print-books/