February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium Considers Fandom, Contemporary Fiction and Transmedia

Scott Westerfeld, Photo by Samantha Jones

What are the next big trends for teenage readers? Fandom, contemporary fiction, Australian lit, and transmedia, according to experts leading panels on these subjects at the third biennial YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium in St. Louis, MO, held November 2-4.


Fandom was the focus of “YA Literature and Fan-Created Work,” a panel organized by Robin Brenner, teen librarian at the Brookline (MA) Public Library, and host of the graphic novel website No Flying, No Tights. Brenner was joined by panelists Aja Romano, fandom journalist at the web newspaper The Daily Dot, and Leslee Friedman of the Organization of Transformative Works, a group devoted to archiving fandom.

What is fandom? The community of fans that grows up around a shared interest such as a book, a TV show or a film, according to the panel. Teens who write fan fiction about a favorite book, create fan art based on a favorite movie, or dress like a favorite TV character are all participating in fandom.

Fandom also figured in “Make it Pop: How to Use Pop Culture in Your Library,” presented by Sarah Wethern, youth librarian at the Douglas County Library in Alexandria, MN, and Scott Rader, assistant youth services librarian at the Hays (KS) Public Library. The duo presented an entertaining survey of current teen pop culture interests, from the phenomenon of Bronies (teenage and adult male fans of the TV show My Little Pony) to Bad Lip Reading videos (spoof video clips of films and TV shows with humorous dubbing).

Scott Westerfeld (author of the “Leviathan” series, Simon Pulse) also celebrated fandom in the context of book illustration during his closing keynote. Reviewing the history of book imagery, Westerfeld honed in on the original Sherlock Holmes illustrations, which forever attached the “deerstalker” hat to the Holmes character, though the hat is never mentioned in the story. Westerfeld supplemented his talk by presenting examples of fan art, created by in response to favorite books.

Contemporary fiction

In their program “Get Real,” public librarians Angie Manfredi, Kelly Jensen, Kathryn Salo, and Andrea Sowers spoke about contemporary fiction, defined as any book set in the present. They discussed books published in the past three years.

In Manfredi’s view, contemporary fiction resonates because “seeing the reality of your life reflected back to you in books is incredibly empowering.” Salo shared the emotional impact that such contemporary titles as Boyfriends with Girlfriends (S&S, 2011) by Alex Sanchez (featuring diverse teens exploring their sexuality) and Tell Us We’re Home (Atheneum, 2011) by Marina Budhos (similar in mood to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Delacorte, 2001), but featuring the daughters of maids and housekeepers) had on teens in her library.

How new does something have to be to be “contemporary?” Certainly not older than five years, according to Manfredi, who created a stir in the room and on Twitter when she told the audience not to refer to the TV character Veronica Mars while booktalking to teens. Why not? Because the Veronica Mars series (2004-2007) is already outdated.

Australian Literature

“Globalize Me! Young Adult Literature from Outside the U.S.” was presented by nonfiction writer Catherine M. Andronik (Stephen Colbert: A Biography, Greenwood, 2012; Copernicus: Founder of Modern Astronomy, Enslow, 2006) and Adele Walsh, program coordinator for the centre for youth literature at the state library of Victoria, Australia.

Walsh highlighted several Australian authors in her talk, including Leanne Hall (This Is Shyness and Queen Of The Night; both Text Publishing, 2010 & 2012) and Fiona Wood (Six Impossible Things, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2010). Attendees left the panel primed to read books by Australian YA author Vikki Wakefield (All I Ever Wanted, Text Publishing, 2011) as well as Saltwater Vampires (Penguin Australia, 2010) by Aussie Kirsty Eagar. More details on Walsh’s presentation are available online.


Jackie Parker, teen librarian at the Lynnwood Library, WA, and Rachel McDonald, teen librarian at the Washington’s Burien Library, talked about new ways of telling stories in “When a Book is More than Paper: Transmedia Trends in Young Adult Literature.”

“Transmedia” means more than an adaptation or book tie-in, the panelists said. It refers to a single unified story, told on multiple media, that avoids redundancy.

They highlighted an array of examples, from older titles given a modern treatment like iPoe (an interactive and illustrated Edgar Allan Poe Collection app) to original stories written to be a transmedia experience, such as The Survivors (Chafie Creative Group LLC, 2011) by Amanda Havard. While Parker and McDonald were enthusiastic about transmedia titles, they were also pragmatic—pointing out issues of accessibility and discussing how enhanced titles can, or cannot, be lent by libraries.

Presenter Kelly Jensen, associate librarian at Beloit, WI, Public Library, spoke for many attendess when explaining why the YALSA conference appeals. “Big conferences like ALA Annual are great but because they cover so many aspects of librarianship,” she said. The YALSA symposium offers something different–specialized “niche sessions” that one wouldn’t find elsewhere.

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.



  1. In February this year, Sarah Bailey (CEO of Australia’s first digital only publisher, Really Blue Books) was courageous enough to publish a multiplatform young adult novel of mine, titled Kiss Kill.
    I will be presenting at the Transmedia Storytelling and Beyond Inter.Disciplinary Conference in Sydney, 2013 and discussing transmedia from an Australian writer’s perspective.


  1. […] 3. YALSA YA Lit Symposium and Future Tends!  […]