ewein2412: (osprey hair)
Letter from a teen reader, received 25 August 2016, posted here unedited (with the writer's permission).

Dear Elizabeth,

I'm writing simply because I just want to say how much your book has affected me. This is the first book written by you that I've read and, since receiving it as a Christmas present last year, I've read it nine times! No matter how many times I read it, though, a new element hits me and surprises me. I don't think I can remember the last time I could connect to a character as well as I have with Rosie or have read such a hard-hitting book telling about life in a concentration camp in such detail. Your book inspired me to conduct more research into these "rabbits" and ravensbrück to the point where I plan to give a presentation in the coming school term for my English speaking exam. The poems and use of them are incredible, I have learnt all of them off by heart! I particularly loved "like taut wings fly" and "kite flying". I used to be an avid reader but was forced to stop due to having such a full timetable but Rose under fire has rekindled my love of books and reading. Really, I just want to thank you for writing such an incredible book and imprinting the memories of the 150,000 women into my, and so many others' minds. This is not a book I will be letting go of any time soon. So again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Yours.


ewein2412: (osprey hair)
Sometime last year, Sheila Averbuch and Louise Kelly, in their role as organizers for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) SE Scotland Network of the SCBWI British Isles Region, asked me to represent the SCBWI at an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF). I was flattered and pleased and of course I blithely accepted, with absolutely no idea of what I was getting myself into.

The event, chaired by Daniel Hahn, was premised on Anthony McGowan (author of The Knife that Killed Me, Hellbent, and Henry Tumour among others) saying controversial things about young adult literature and me responding in my role of ruling “middle-aged white woman who writes YA” – while waving a sheaf of oft-misquoted and under-interpreted statistics.

The floor was then opened to the opinions of a truly glittering array of YA and Middle Grade writers including Jenny Downham, Christopher Edge, Patrice Laurence, Annabel Pitcher, and Philip Womack (who gate-crashed the event but was a very welcome addition). This phenomenal crew was seated, rather unfortunately, in the front row with their backs to the audience rather than on the stage – however, the arrangement was set up to allow anyone who was participating in the Festival’s children’s programming to attend and participate (the five authors lined up there featured in other events as well).

So Anthony McGowan got up and ranted for ten minutes and I responded with a counter-rant, after which we had mini-rants from the other authors, and then the audience was allowed to throw in a few rants of their own. I don’t believe anything new and exciting was revealed, but everyone enjoyed ranting. Many teens were given a voice, which was wonderfully welcome, as they’re clearly the readers on the front lines here.

Here are some interpretations of the event:

Ann Giles (Bookwitch)

Sophie Cameron

Anthony McGowan’s own take

Barrington Stoke blog

Barrington Stoke’s blog entry… Well, gosh, I think it was me who said the “YA Debate” was getting old, which seems to be their sum total of my counter-rant! Of all the quotables to be picked up on. Their response “well we're still interested” feels like yet another misinterpretation. I didn’t mean YA isn’t worth talking about. Yes, yes, of COURSE we want to talk about it. But do we really need to continue to perpetuate these myths about it?

Let's BUST SOME OF THEM.

Myth 1): Most readers of YA are not teens.

I’ve written about this before.

That post is a bit outdated now, but people are still quoting numbers from the articles I’ve referenced in it, and other numbers such as the Publishers Weekly article referenced below. I cannot believe how often I hear people chirp “80 percent of people reading YA are not teens” when the statistic they are actually quoting is “80 percent of people buying YA are not teens.” You can draw your own conclusions by going to the source. (It doesn’t convince the MMR vaccine naysayers to go to the source, so if you’re convinced that more adults than teens read YA, no amount of arguing from me is going to change your mind.)

Publishers Weekly report on last year's Nielsen Summit

Bear in mind that most teens DON’T SPEND THEIR MONEY ON BOOKS. Ask a teen if you don’t believe me! They get books from the library, from educators, from parents, as gifts, and they do a LOT of borrowing from friends. I don’t hear anyone complaining that “100 percent of people buying board books are not babies.”

Basing your assumption of who reads YA on con attendance is simply and obviously erroneous. Most teens do not have the wherewithal to travel to London or wherever and stay in a hotel for three nights.

Also, WHO CARES if adults are reading YA? Really… who the heck CARES? I’ll read what I feel like reading.

Myth 2) YA is tripe, lacks depth and beauty, and always has a happy ending.

It’s lame, I guess, to counter every argument with your own books, but I do feel I have some modicum of legitimacy in responding with three words:

Code Name Verity.

“A part of me is broken off forever. A part of me lies buried in lace and roses on a river bank in France. A part of me will always be unflyable, stuck in the climb.”

Just… whatever.

Myth 3) (MYTH DU JOUR!) YA is stopping readers from moving on to adult [ie, worthwhile] fiction.

Yeah… whatever. Keep kicking the anthill, peeps.

Myth 4) YA has only been around for 20 years.

I actually spent quite of a bit of time researching this before the event, with the help of Jenny Kristine Thurman (@jennygadget on twitter), and can link you to some interesting articles tracing the history of YA from its origins 200 years ago to its acknowledged existence and value in the early 20th century:

“200 Years of Young Adult Library Services History” complied by VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

A useful chronology of Young Adult Literature by Ernie Bond of Salisbury University.

“The Value of Young Adult Literature” by Michael Cart, a white paper issued by YALSA (the Young Adult division of the American Library Association), January 2008. Also contains useful historical context.

“What Does Young Adult Mean?” by Jen Doll in The Wire

“The Surprising, Short History of Young Adult Fiction” by N. Jamiyla Chisholm in Real Simple

“A Brief History of the Young Adult Services Division” by Carol Starr on the YALSA website

Yada yada yada.

---------------------

I think the reason I feel this so-called “debate” is getting old is because people just seem to be so. damn. eager. to ignore the facts, to skip the research that would back or disprove their arguments, or to read ANYTHING in the oeuvre other than the current bestselling titles.* So we have John Green held up or reviled as the single example of a literary luminary in the field. Sally Gardner’s name did not come up in our debate; nor did those of Francesca Lia Block, Cornelia Funke, Virginia Hamilton, W.E. Johns, Katherine Paterson, Gene Stratton Porter, Jason Reynolds, Marcus Sedgwick, Steve Sheinkin, Rosemary Sutcliff, Robert Westall, or Jacqueline Woodson, to name a few at random off the top of my head – over a century’s worth of male and female, black and white prolific authors of fabulously readable fiction and non-fiction and poetry, accessibly told with intelligence and elegance.

It’s an exciting time to be writing for young adults, that’s for sure. I guess that my ennui regarding the “debate” and my lack of ennui in the field is based on the incredible feedback I continue to get from teen readers. During the signing after the EIBF event, I was told twice by readers that “Code Name Verity is my favorite book of all time.” I’ve lost track of how many teens have told me this. Honestly, an author can get no higher praise or greater incentive to keep going – whatever the media says.

Incidentally, all my major breaks in children’s publishing came about through connections made because of the volunteer work I’ve done for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). If you’ve any intention of writing for children, I urge you to join.

SCBWI website

SCBWI British Isles website

*(This is where I feel the YA Debate resembles the MMR vaccine debate. Why are we still debating it? THERE IS NO DEBATE. YA is worth reading, is read and loved by teens, has been around for 200 years, and is not going anywhere. Get your kids vaccinated and give them a book and stop listening to the anthill-kickers.)
ewein2412: (osprey hair)
I get challenged again and again: “Why is Code Name Verity considered young adult fiction? The characters are too old. The writing is too literary. The situation is too harsh.” And that is all true. Sometimes these challenges are polite, and made directly; sometimes I encounter them, more hurtfully, online. “Nothing happens in the first 200 pages, it’s so boring.” “There are too many technical details.” “I can’t imagine a teen reader engaging with this book.” “My whole freshman class has to read this and we all hate it.” Oh, man. Author nightmare, your book turned into a school assignment that everybody hates!

I have very little idea how many teens actually read and enjoy Code Name Verity. When I speak to school groups, they usually haven’t read it yet. When I speak at bookstores, the audience is almost always overwhelmingly composed of grown-ups. But every now and then I get a hint that there are target audience fans out there too. In Politics & Prose in Washington, DC, I met a 12-year-old girl who had read Code Name Verity five times (when she was eleven). She said it was her favorite book. She had forced it on her best friend, who had read it twice. I remind myself about these kids whenever I feel down. And also of the occasional amazing school visit like Heart of England, which read CNV for the Carnegie Shadowing scheme. And also of the occasional evangelistic readers my daughter (now 16) meets online. These are the opposite of the nightmare scenario.

I knew that Code Name Verity was one of the 28 titles in the running for the YALSA Teens Top Ten list for 2013, but I totally, totally did not expect it to make the final cut. Last night I was flabbergasted to learn that it came in as Number One.

Here's a congratulatory tweet I received from Jenn Calder which really encompasses what this means to me:




Okay? Okay! People! It doesn’t prove anything about CNV so much as it proves that teens are intelligent, discerning readers. The whole fabulous list does. I’d have been proud to be anywhere on it. Heck, I was proud to be one of the 28 nominees.

Here it is in full.

1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Disney/Hyperion)
2. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic/Scholastic Press)
3. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books)
4. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry (Harlequin Teen)
5. Poison Princess by Kresley Cole (Simon & Schuster)
6. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic/Scholastic Press)
7. Crewel by Gennifer Albin (Macmillan/Farrar Straus Giroux)
8. Every Day by David Levithan (Random House/Alfred A. Knopf)
9. Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross (Egmont)
10. Butter by Erin Jade Lange (Bloomsbury)

Thank you, YALSA teens. I am going to stop doubting myself now.

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/teens-top-ten
ewein2412: (osprey hair)
The question isn’t, “Is there any young adult fiction out there that doesn’t have romance in it?”

The question is, “Where the heck did the all that romance come from?”

Here is my suggested reading list – a taking off point - if you’re looking for something different. OH, WAIT. THIS IS ALL CLASSIC YA. What? Why? How? WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO MY YA???

This Star Shall Abide – Sylvia Engdahl http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/715920.This_Star_Shall_Abide
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K LeGuin http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13642.A_Wizard_of_Earthsea
The House in Norham Gardens – Penelope Lively http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/688099.The_House_In_Norham_Gardens
Memory – Margaret Mahy http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47893.Memory
Jacob Have I Loved - Katherine Paterson http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/337058.Jacob_Have_I_Loved
Prove Yourself a Hero – K.M. Peyton http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4973399-prove-yourself-a-hero
Eagle of the Ninth – Rosemary Sutcliff http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/149405.The_Eagle_Of_The_Ninth

Oh, and if I do say so myself, The Winter Prince. Which, incidentally, is on sale in the foyer in e-book form as part of Open Road Media's "Back to School" promotion: http://www.openroadmedia.com/backtoschool?tab=featured-sale

(Sorry about them all being white female authors. I don't know how that happened - I was just scanning the shelves. I'm afraid it's still pretty common in the field (guilty as charged).)

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