October 20, 2014

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The YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium Hones in on Social Reading and Classics vs. Contemporary

YALitSymposium The YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium Hones in on Social Reading and Classics vs. ContemporarySome 500 librarians gathered in St. Louis from November 4–6 for YALSA’s Young Adult Literature Symposium to enjoy a choice of 18 sessions, with four special events, including lunch with authors Patricia McCormick (Never Fall Down, Balzer + Bray, 2012) and David Levithan (Every Day, Knopf, 2012), along with networking breaks and free time to spend with friends old and new.

What did people discuss during all this socializing? One topic: How reading, by nature a solitary occupation, can also be a social one. Educational technology consultant Linda W. Braun’s Saturday morning session, “Social Reading: Inside the Ebook Book Discussions,” examined the ways that talking about books creates connection among readers. And while sharing one’s enthusiasm on social reading site Goodreads is terrific, those exchanges happen outside the book.

Enter social reading within Ereaders. Typically, reading an Ebook allows for highlights, note-taking, and sharing on Twitter and Facebook from within the book. Braun showed her audience iPad apps that take social reading a few steps further. First, she introduced two book apps—Wonders of the Universe by Brian Cox (a 3-D tour of the universe, which Braun sees as the future of nonfiction) and Cupcakes! (an app for creating virtual cupcakes; the future of cookbooks).

Braun then introduced two free reading apps—Inkling (allows for purchasing a chapter of a book at a time, the creation of reading groups, and private or public notes) and Kno (a textbook app that provides detailed sharing options perfect for study groups).

Levresized The YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium Hones in on Social Reading and Classics vs. Contemporary

David Levithan speaks at the YALSA Lit Symposium in St. Louis. Photo by Emily Goodknight.

But the bulk of the discussion focused on the Subtext app. Subtext allows for the creation of groups, the easy purchase of one title for a group of readers, the side-loading of EPUB titles onto the app (including original student work, for example) and extensive sharing features. It is not only possible to highlight and add notes to the original text, the reader can also tag those notes, mark notes as spoilers, keep notes private, or turn off the notes feature altogether. Every attendee of the session left with a code granting access to a free copy of Steve Hamilton’s (Alex Award-winning) novel The Lock Artist (Minotaur Books, 2010) and the ability to join a reading group to begin November 10th.

This opens up myriad possibilities for both classroom and literature circles. Using Subtext, teachers and librarians can be right in the story with teen readers. Teachers are able to insert questions within the text and implement a setting that cloaks other student replies until the reader has posted themselves. An in-the-book discussion could level the playing field for students who are slow processors. They could read at their own pace at home, taking their time answering questions within the text, yet still feel part of the discussion.

There’s great potential for book club discussions as well. Book club members unable to attend their meetings could still participate in the discussion within the book. Other uses? Prepping for author visits, sharing creative writing projects, peer editing, sharing alternative endings–the list goes on. In sum, Subtext allows librarians to be part of the reading experience. It’s all about building relationships with teen patrons.

On Saturday afternoon, Rollie Welch, collections manager at the Cleveland Public Library, led the session “Classic Literature vs.21st Century Novels: Survival of the Fittest.” The purpose was to share ideas for persuading adults who work with teens to move beyond assigning or recommending classics that rarely appeal to teen readers.

Earlier this year, at the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, Welch led a pre-conference session in which the attendees chose the one book that every teen should be assigned to read in 2057. In other words, what contemporary YA books will survive as a classic? (At that session, it came down to a tie between Laurie Anderson’s Speak (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999) and Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief (Picador, 2005)).

The YA Lit Symposium session really got rolling when Welch shared 15 theme areas. For each area, he began with a classic novel typically assigned in school, then offered a contemporary novel and a nonfiction title on the same theme. Audience members had a wonderful time recommending alternatives and applauding their favorites. For example, for the theme of “Young Soldiers at War,” rather than assigning The Red Badge of Courage, why not try Craig Crist-Evans’s Amaryllis (Candlewick, 2003) or Evan Wright’s Generation Kill (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004)? In the Mystery category, rather than The Hound of the Baskervilles, consider Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist (S&S, 2010), or Richard Jones’s Jack the Ripper: The Casebook (Andre Deutsch, 2009). Rather than Robert Lipsyte’s The Contender (Harper & Row, 1967), try Paul Volponi’s Black and White (Viking, 2005) or Brian Shields’s The WWE Encyclopedia: The Definitive Guide to World Wrestling Entertainment (DK, 2009).

Welch believes that at least three on his list of classics will still be read and enjoyed by today’s teens–The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Even so, he offered Printz Award winner, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown 2010) by Paolo Bacigalupi as an alternative to the latter in the category of “Hero’s Journey of Self Discovery.”

The YA Lit Symposium is held every other year. The 2014 conference will be held in Austin, TX, over the Halloween weekend.


angela The YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium Hones in on Social Reading and Classics vs. ContemporaryAngela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. She also blogs at Adult Books 4 Teens. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.

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