The business of young adult fiction has become very lucrative to those individuals and companies who have adeptly tapped into it. Series books fill the shelves at Barnes and Nobel from Beast Quest to The Hunger Games to Magic Tree House. All vying for the fickle attention of an ever growing population of children. My own children bring home the scholastic catalogue each month and circle their choices with reckless abandon. While normally I would not condone such wanton and obvious consumerism marketed towards my children, in this case it is more complicated. Do the positive outcomes of enthusiasm for reading out weigh the buying culture? While young adult fiction and tweenager fiction is often predictable and mass produced, there is a quality and charm that is unique to the genre. It also fills a void that was so lacking until writers and publishers started acknowledging the importance and validity of young readers. Being engaged in a book is the first step towards become a reader, and young adult serialized fiction does this so well.
As a teacher, engaging children in a book was always one of my biggest challenges. How do I get children and teenagers to love reading as much as I do? I found that the literature I choose to teach could make or break their interest. Some of my favorites to read out loud with my class where The Giver, Walk Two Moons, Flowers for Algernon, the Invention of Hugo Cabret and a lot more of course. Opening up the door for children to discover the power of a good book was the most rewarding part of being a teacher. I loved igniting a passion in the kids and watching them on the edge of their seats anticipating the next chapter. Teaching them that a good book is more then just words on a page. There are layers of meaning with far reaching relevance to themselves and the world.
The range of young adult and teen fiction has exploded over the last ten to twenty years. When I was young, there were two series that I consumed ravenously; the Baby sitters club (famously ghost written) and Nancy Drew. I remember in elementary school the teachers regarded me as a mediocre reader at best. Yet at home, I spent the majority of my time reading. I lived for my two favorite series, and to this day, I can recall in vivid detail the characters and plots that had once been my companions. Their adventures became my own as I escaped my mundane existence to another, more exciting, life. While many condemn such light fare as page turning nonsense that does not encourage thinking, I disagree. Such series were pivotal in my development as a reader and a person. I was able to learn about myself and my own values through the struggles of others. They informed my growing identity, encouraged my unique voice, and gave me an outlet in which to think more critically about problems larger than my own immediate experiences allowed for.
Beyond developing young minds, young adult fiction works wonders in the classroom. Predictable plots, age appropriate vocabulary and familiar characters all help a child who is brand new to reading develop a sense of what a book is while allowing them to build comprehension strategies because they are not overwhelmed by an overload of newness each time they pick up a book. Since as we all know, adolescents are inherently self centered, the familiarity of series fiction helps them relate to characters and thereby gives them an ability to think more deeply about themselves.
We can never underestimate the value of the love of reading. A love of reading is something that will take children through their entire lives and has been shown to significantly increase vocabulary and the ability to assimilate new information. Young adult fiction plays to all of the needs of a young reader and often reaches the adult readers as well. I feel there is a level of reckless abandon in young adult fiction that is not always present in adult fiction. The suspension of disbelief is more readily accepted. The audience jumps in for the ride with out doubt or question. I am lucky enough to have children, so I can enjoy young adult literature on an almost daily basis. If you are not so lucky you should consider checking some out of the library.