Quick Take: Giving Access to YA Literature with Dark or Challenging Themes is Essential for Young Person Readers

Amanda Melilli is not afraid of the “dark side” of literature. The head of UNLV’s Instructor Development and Resources Library says there are many reasons to motivate young person readers to explore literature on difficult-to-discuss subjects.

Melilli works closely with the UNLV College of Education to develop curriculum products for students and regional instructors to use in their classrooms. She also supports tasks like the Gayle A. Zeiter Kid’s & & Young person Literature Conference and the Top on the Research Study and Mentor of Young Adult Literature, which check out the impact and themes of young-adult literature. In honor of Prohibited Books Week (Sept. 23-29), we chatted with Melilli about a few of the typically challenged themes in kids’s and young person literature and why banning books is an injustice to readers of any ages.

Why do you believe it is essential for young people to read stories about people who offer various world views from their own?

Our neighborhoods are becoming increasingly diverse, and it is essential that we understand the best ways to positively engage and team up with people who are different from ourselves. At a conference this summertime, I was honored to hear Angie Thomas discuss her book The Hate U Offer (the eighth-most challenged book of 2017 and Printz Honor Book), and something she said has actually stuck with me since. To summarize, she stated that we require more decency in our neighborhoods– something which I feel we can all settle on. But decency requires empathy, and empathy requires imagination. That’s exactly what diverse stories do. They feed our complex creativities and enable us to develop empathy for people who are different from us, and this ultimately leads to neighborhoods constructed on structures of decency.

Have you seen a change in young adult literature with darker styles being explored today that in the past?

I believe what a lot of individuals are reacting to is that there are simply more books being released for the young adult market than before, however for as long as we have actually had the concept of young adult literature, we have seen stories of young adults battling with tight spots. S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders was released in 1967 and handle really traumatic concerns, so from the start, books written for teenagers have actually handled “huge issues.”

Now that there is a larger market for teen readers, there is more area for the variety of stories being composed. So, yes, we see a larger range of hard issues being dealt with in young adult literature, however no, we are not seeing “darker themes” being explored now versus before.

Bear in mind, that this bigger market also allows for a range of other stories to be informed too– comedies, dreams, memoirs, historical fiction, etc.– it is necessary to comprehend that hard subjects are not monopolizing the young person market.

Issues like bigotry, mental illness, sexual assault, rape, familial violence, religious beliefs, hardship, sexuality, suicide and substance abuse are some common styles in challenged books. What value do you see in talking about these topics with young adults?

There’s worth in these books due to the fact that, unfortunately, this is the world that young adults are living in. If you talk to any author of a book written for teens that deals with these hard concerns, they will tell you story after story of teens thanking them for the favorable effect their books have made in their lives.

These stories aren’t being written out of a grim fascination on the part of the authors; they’re being written because books have the power to make us feel less alone, to help us understand a complicated world, and to assist us understand the lived experiences of others. Not every book will attract every reader, but that doesn’t imply those stories should not exist or shouldn’t be made available. We would all enjoy to live in a society where distressing issues don’t exist, however neglecting the stories does not make the issues go away; it just makes people feel more isolated.

What often challenged book would you advise for readers and why?

I would advise a challenged book in the exact same way I would recommend other book: by aiming to match the requirements and interests of the reader to a book that relates to them at that point in time. An often challenged book isn’t naturally various from an unchallenged book; it just suggests that it was popular enough that a great deal of people saw it and objected to its contents enough times to make a list.

We have actually seen this with most of the very popular children’s/ YA books such as the Harry Potter series, the Twilight series, and the Hunger Games series. Young people were devouring those books across the country, and adults could not help but take notice. In the very same way, Thirteen Reasons Why was published in 2007, but it took a Netflix series to make it the primary most banned/challenged book of 2018.

When we think about banned/challenged books, I think it is very important we understand that individuals are objecting to the topics/issues, not always that particular book. The exposure of individual titles is an essential sign of whether it gets labeled as a banned/challenged book. How does prohibiting books affect young person readers?

For young people who see themselves reflected in these books, it negates their existence and frequently, their humankind. It’s stating to them that if you are experiencing these types of concerns, then there is something wrong with you and it mustn’t be gone over; it develops embarassment.

This is particularly real when books are banned because they show particular identities– most often LGBTQ+ identities. In those cases, it sends the message that there is no place for those children/teens in their neighborhoods.

It likewise belittles youths in general by informing them that they are not capable of managing tough subjects although they are exposed to these issues everywhere: the news, social media, buddies, household, etc. I understand that we wish to secure the children/teens in our communities from the world’s ugliness, however that cannot be done by eliminating the resources that help them check out and comprehend these issues in developmentally proper ways.

Prohibiting books is just a phony fix that makes “us” grownups feel much better. It’s a hassle-free way to make us feel less helpless in a world where we have no real control over exactly what’s taking place to our kids. Eliminating a book does not get rid of the issue in our neighborhoods; it simply eliminates a resource that can assist our young people better understand it.

What suggestions do you have for teachers who are considering using a book in their curriculum that moms and dads may object to?

First, speak with the leadership group about the book– what it’s about and the justification for using it. It is necessary that teachers are sharing info and putting themselves in a position where they can be supported in curriculum choices. Talk about any concerns and get buy-in prior to bringing a possibly controversial book into the class.

Teachers need to also make sure to check the policies at their schools. Often, teachers are required to offer students an alternate text when teaching on particular subjects, or they have to supply households with a summary of the book and how it will be utilized in the curriculum ahead of time. Comprehending the policies on how obstacles are dealt with is necessary too so that instructors and administrators are much better prepared in case there is a challenge.

Finally, I think it is necessary to develop trust with trainees and their families and to be open to honest conversations about why specific books are being taught and the benefits that they provide to students. Challenges generally take place since individuals are concerned about the students, and we must be having open conversations about those issues. We might not have the ability to sway everyone’s viewpoint about a book, but we can respect where they are coming from.

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