Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How Can I Get Involved?

There are five ways to get involved:

  1. Share your comments with me and others using the "comments" link at the bottom of every post on this blog.
  2. Participate in the surveys sometimes located on the right sidebar.
  3. Visit RU LIFT, a blog that I have created for teachers to acquire up-to-date information and commentary about young adult literature.
  4. Consider enrolling in my online course on young adult literature, at Roosevelt University. If you are interested in learning more about this online course, offered every fall semester, contact me at
  5. Go to Nashville in November of 2008 and hear me talk about this blog at the first ever Young Adult Literature Symposium, sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who Is The Audience For This Project?

The general audience for this project is anyone who loves or is interested in young adult literature. This project also is intended for people interested in thinking and talking about the contemporary world, and re-examining the nature of human behavior and decision-making within it.

The reviews and digital videos and booktalks are especially designed for viewing by teens and others looking for good books to read independently or for school. The goal of the digital video or booktalk is to provide a satisfying, hopefully compelling "hook" for future reading. They also are meant to supply a creative link between the text being discussed and the world at large.

The written commentary around each booktalk is aimed more toward teachers, critics, and parents, though teens may be interested in the assessments of the literature that I provide. I hope that parents and teachers will use the digital booktalks and especially the written commentary to make book recommendations or purchases for teenagers; ideally, the commentaries will enable and enhance appreciation of the wide range of high quality texts available of consumption by a teenage audience.

Readers who wish to read and respond to my draft thoughts related to the relationship between young adult literature and the contemporary world may consult the various links listed under the heading COMMENTARY ON THE RELATIONSHIP TO THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD, on the right hand side of this screen. This commentary is meant to serve as a basis for future writing and discussion.

How Did You Get Started?

The inspiration for this blog comes from a lesson that I observed a student teacher lead in a course on British literature at a suburban Chicago public high school in October, 2006. At the start of the lesson, the student teacher placed a writing prompt up on the blackboard: “If you had to choose a word to complete the phrase ‘the Age of _________’ to describe the time in which we live, what word would you choose, and why?” After about twenty minutes of writing and discussion, in which students shared all sorts of responses to this prompt--fear, sexuality, technology, and struggle, among others--the student teacher transitioned to a lecture on the Age of Reason, and an in-depth examination of two literary artifacts from this era. The entire lesson lasted about ninety minutes.

Even though, on the surface, nothing remarkable happened in this lesson, I found myself repeatedly thinking about it in the months that followed. At the core of my reflection was my awareness that the lesson embodied an enduring and well-documented tension that English teachers face, especially in middle school and high school settings. This tension might be described as a pull between the past and the present, or the desire to engage teenagers in “great books” and significant literary movements, on the one hand, and critical thinking about the contemporary world, on the other. Like many tensions inherent in the act of teaching, this one is not irreconcilable; good teachers know how to explore both past and present, and satisfy paradoxical needs and interests. However, empirical evidence suggests that most secondary English teachers give short shrift to critical thinking about the contemporary world in comparison to engaging teens in great books and the traditional skills of literacy education (see Yagelski, 2005, p. 265).

In early March 2007, I decided to start this blog as a way to explore and model how English teachers might use young adult literature to encourage deeper and richer critical thinking about the contemporary world in middle school and high school English and history classrooms. For about one year, I read about 40 recently published books that the Young Adult Library Services Association had recognized in 2007 as exemplary books for teenage readers. My commentaries about these books are accessible via the links on the right hand side of your screen. In general, I wrote traditional book reviews, with claims about connections to the contemporary world, and links to digital videos and other resources on the web.

Since the end of this research project, I have changed this blog to focus in a more open-ended way on political and social affairs in the United States and the world, and how young adult literature can help all of us to think critically about these affairs. My interpretations of young adult literature and my claims about connections to world affairs are solely my own; they reflect my own inclinations and thinking. My goal is not to control or limit the diversity of messages that might be derived from young adult literature; rather, I mean to show how all readers have the capacity to use their reading of literature to create useful insights and commentary on the contemporary world. Hopefully, some enjoyable conversation and maybe even argument will evolve from my efforts.

What Is This Blog All About?

This blog is all about the connections that exist among contemporary politics, young adult literature, and the world.

I contend that young adult literature provides a unique and powerful lens through which to think about contemporary politics and international affairs. The ability of young adult literature to speak powerfully to political matters and the world is a function of its primary audience, teenagers, a group of readers that yes, like most readers, seek escape and entertainment, but also critical perspective with regard to existing social norms and structures.

If you haven't noticed already, check out your local bookstore or library, and the significant space alloted to young adult literature. It's not just for teens anymore.

And socio-political analysis isn't just for pundits, business people, and social scientists (think Thomas Friedman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Stephen Levitt). It's also for teens, teachers, librarians, and other advocates of young adult literature.

So, get involved. Read some books. Make a comment on this blog. Vote. Take a stand. Talk to others about young adult literature, politics, and the world.

Mark Twain--a key figure in the history of young adult literature--once said that his goal as a writer was "to take in the whole world" (see his preface to The Gilded Age). Most young adult literature aims to do the same. Don't be misled by the covers.

Click on The Age of _____? at the top of this page to return to the home page for this blog.

How Do I Navigate This Blog?

Welcome to The Age of ________? To navigate your way through this site, please use the links on the right hand side of your screen.

Clicking on the links under BOOKS READ TO-DATE FOR THIS PROJECT will direct you to other websites containing short reviews and digital videos or booktalks about recently published texts in young adult literature. In addition to a review and digital video or booktalk, each website contains commentary for teachers and parents about whether or not the book is useful for classroom teaching and independent reading. Readers are encouraged to post their own comments and evaluations. My three most recent booktalks and commentary are published on the home page of this blog.

To get back to the home page from any other website or page, just click on the header The Age of ______? at the top of your screen.

This blog explores the relationship between young adult literature and the contemporary world. Click on the links under COMMENTARY ON THE RELATIONSHIP TO THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD, on the right hand side of this screen, to read more extended commentary about this topic.

Readers who prefer to explore websites in chronological order of publication may use the links within the Blog Archive to achieve this end.

Thanks for visiting The Age of ________?