Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Back to your regularly scheduled blogging

Except I don't have a regular schedule. But I do feel as if it's been all election, all the time here and at my other blog for a while, and while I'm not sorry about it, it's time to get back to the business at hand, which is kids' books.

I'm in a quandary right now. Colleen Mondor over at Chasing Ray pointed out a recent piece that raised, yet again, the question of YA literature. She vowed not to get involved in that particular question again, but I do have to ask it. That is, what is it? I am currently teaching Introduction to Children's Literature, and I teach some YA literature in the course. But how is it different from children's lit? Or is it? I struggle with these questions.

This week I've asked my students to struggle with them as well. But what about you readers? Do you distinguish between YA and children's lit? Between YA and "adult" lit? (That always sounds vaguely obscene to me...) Note that I'm not asking if the category should exist, or if teens need different books, or if YA is somehow "lesser" literature. The category does exist, teens read all kinds of books and I think YA should be part of the mix, and, um, no. It's not lesser. But the definition in the piece cited above--"YA literature is distinguished by change, evolution, development, identity, and/or the search for self"--doesn't help me much, as there's all kinds of literature distinguished by those characteristics. I'm leaning towards a mix of thematic and structural elements for my own definition, but I'd love to hear yours as well.

And, if you comment, you can become part of Mother Reader's Comment Challenge, too! Check it out--and participate!


  1. I think for me it's about the protagonist, Libby. YA books are books where the central character is a teen, and we see (whether first person or third person) things from that teen's perspective. I'm sure you can find exceptions, but usually that's how it falls for me.

    Thinking about the protagonist's age - when I read Inkdeath recently I found it disappointing, because I thought that the parents had become the main characters, and that the child protagonist had a marginal, passive role. Perhaps this is just me putting my expectations on the book, but ... you're asking for opinions.

  2. Like Jen, I see a difference in YA books both in the age of the protagonist and the subject matter.

    What I'm finding most interesting about YA as a category - and believe me this has been talked to death too - is how wide the range for these teen books is now. They used to be more middle-school, coming-of-age, or Issues books. Now they are pushing into the older teens - even with some titles featuring teens heading to college. I'm not saying I'm for or against it, but I will say that it makes it a lot harder to find the right book for the right teen in the YA section of the library.

  3. I see the YA age group as being transitional into adult, but that doesn't make adult books YA. If the target audience for a book is adult, shouldn't it stay adult even if it is read by teens? The classics can be examples of that. Adults encourage kids to read them, because they are recognized as good literature, not necessarily that they would appeal to most teens. As a homeschooler I have been trying to think of classics that my kids could read and often find they wouldn't want to. Also, Harry Potter, because if it had been adult, there would have been more killing in the last book. Some of it is about the protagonist and subject, too. If the book is primarily about what a teen would be dealing with and feeling, it should be YA. If it is about other things with a young protagonist, maybe not.