Why I Love YA

I do not fit the dictionary’s (or society’s) definition of “young adult,” not by a long shot. But nevertheless I read and love YA literature for the nostalgia and camaraderie.

I was fortunate to attend the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Atlanta a few weeks ago. During one session, I overheard a line that has stuck with me ever since: Laurie Halse Anderson said, “Young adult literature is popular with adults because no one talked about those things when we were growing up.” And she’s right!

I’ve blogged before about my reading life (see “A Life in Books” and “Reading: A Life and Goals”), and the more I think about the kinds of books I read as a kid, the more I realize that they would be considered “middle-level” today and not truly “young adult.” (Forever by Judy Blume is an obvious exception to this, but I digress.) There were very few, actual young adult novels to help me navigate the treacherous waters of high school and everything they encompass: friendships, dating, drinking, sex, parents. The books my teachers assigned certainly afforded no guidance–all I learned from George in Of Mice and Men was that {spoiler} murder is the simplest way to lighten your load. That wasn’t really advice I needed when I didn’t make the varsity softball team. A book like Challenger Deep would have showed me how to bounce back from that rejection.

While it’s nice to be reminded of what my high school experience was like, I honestly can’t imagine growing up in the world we have today. It seems like kids face so much more pressure and so many more obstacles than I ever remember dealing with as a teen. Ultimately, I read YA lit so I can better understand what my students might be going through and then share those findings with them so they know how to handle life.

The other aspect of YA lit that appeals to me is the sense of community among the authors. At any given time on Twitter, authors are chatting with one another about new projects, defending one another from misguided attacks, or just sharing a mutual love for coffee. I admit I geek out a little when I see Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli talking about movies or Sarah Dessen tweeting about her obsession with Lauren Graham. And the best part is when they interact with their readers! Many authors on Twitter are so appreciative of feedback about their work, and I don’t know if they really understand the other side of that: how thrilling it is for a reader to have a tweet replied to or liked. That kind of accessibility is something that makes YA lit and authors so special.

My actual age might not fall in the range of the target audience for YA lit, but I’m definitely still a young adult at heart!

No big deal. Just hanging out with Laurie Halse Anderson at NCTE!

Reset for Success

When we began the new 9 weeks, my students and I had a little “reset” discussion. We started by talking about things that we can reset, like a video game when we’re about to be eaten by a dragon or a phone when it freezes up. A reset is a fresh start when things aren’t going the way we’d like. arton6134-cb53a

The conversation continued to things we can reset in class, like our reading goals and our blogs. We also thought about how to reset our writer’s notebooks. Students really like sharing their beliefs about quotes and responding to various articles of the week (while they might not readily admit it). However, many students said they struggled with the required outside-of-class entries–entries that are open-ended and don’t have a set topic. They thought it would be easier if they had a prompt to write from, so I offered to dig up some resources.

The first link I found is a list of 100 open-ended questions about love, life, and loss. There are opportunities for narrative (Continue the following: “Today started out like any other day, but then…”), expository (What are your fears?), and persuasion (What do you think are the three main problems in the world right now?  Do you see the solution to them?  If it was up to you, how would you change the world?).

Brainy Quote is another excellent resource, so I shared a link to quotes about time. The sidebar provides other topics, and students can also use the search bar to look for quotes that interest them.

Sometimes ideas spring from visual stimulation, so I found some really great image sites: The Literacy Shed and National Geographic. Illustrations and visuals on the Literacy Shed site are accompanied by writing prompts that students can choose to consider. The photographs on the National Geographic site offer other perspectives of the world that students aren’t often exposed to. I plan to incorporate more images in my classes!

Hopefully these links will spark some creativity in my students and encourage them to seek out their own sources of inspiration!

Come Together

Alternate title: “Break Those Chains That Bind You”

I’m now reading my tenth book since school started, a book that was published in 2008. It’s a book by my favorite author, but I haven’t read it until now because 1. it’s historical fiction (not a genre I am usually drawn to) and 2. the target audience is middle-grade kids. Let’s go ahead and bust those myths: I do like historical fiction, and this book does not read like any middle school book I’ve ever encountered! The book? Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Chains cover

Chains is set in New York during the American Revolution. The book follows Isabel, a 13-year-old slave, through trials of betrayal, loss, and punishment. There may be some redemption in the end, but I can only predict that because I just started Part II.

On the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Isabel witnesses the celebration in the streets. When the crowd surrounds and lassos the statue of King George III on the Bowling Green, “Common folk stood froze at the sight of a king being pulled down by the strength of the men working together” (125). This quote neatly sums up the entire revolution. It took people working for a common goal to overthrow their opposition.

This lesson is still relevant today, especially when our country feels so divided. We’re so quick to sort out the red and the blue, the white and the not white, the haves and the have nots that we forget that we all are striving for the same ideals that Thomas Jefferson and others sought 240 years ago: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Even the Pledge of Allegiance calls for us to be “indivisible” as a nation, “with liberty and justice for all,” not just some. The sooner we realize that this common bond can unify us, the sooner we can divert ourselves from the path of discord that we appear to be on.


Why You Gotta Be So Rude?

That song isn’t even in my top 100, but it made for a good title.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be kind in such a rude world.

The day started off just fine. My mom and I dropped the dogs off at doggy daycare so we could spend the day at the State Fair of Texas. I knew it would be really busy since it was the last day, so we tried to get an early start.

We parked at the Trinity Mills DART station to take the train. When we got to one of the stops downtown, a door malfunctioned, and the officers made us all get off the train and catch the next one. The cars were so full: I was pretty sure we would have to stand for the rest of the trip, but we were lucky to find seats. I watched one man offer his seat to an older man who was standing in the doorway, and I noted that small act of kindness.

We arrived at Fair Park, bought some coupons, and proceeded to stand in line after line, waiting for Fletcher’s corny dogs, cowboy corn crunch, fried jello, more coupons, and the deep fried Texas bluebonnet (my favorite of the day). We zigged and zagged our way through Creative Arts and the Embarcadero. We dodged perfume samples and pushy salesmen. When we had had enough, we began making our way back to the train, the ever-growing crowds slowing our progress as they knelt and angled for the best photo with Big Tex or stopped mid-path to check messages on their phones.

Once the train arrived, we boarded an already-full car, and I noticed at least four people who had positioned themselves in seats so that no one could occupy the empty one next to them, three of whom were young men. Not one person offered to move so that my 70-year-old mom could have a seat. We stood in the crowded doorway. At one stop, a few seats opened up, and a young boy took one of them. At another stop, more seats became available, and mom and I were finally able to sit down. Behind us was one of the young men taking up two seats. After a while, he began rapping along to the music in his headphones.

And then we finally got off the train only to be greeted by this:

That’s my car on the right. Obviously, I was parked there first…

I wanted to throw my keys at this truck, kick the bumpers, bend the license plate, flatten the tires… I didn’t do any of those things. I didn’t even leave a note for the jerk because if someone doesn’t care enough to park between clearly painted white lines, a harshly-worded note isn’t going to have much of an impact. I did call Carrollton PD and give them the license plate number. Then I spent the next 5 minutes maneuvering my car out of this predicament.

The last straw of the day came when we decided to go get frozen yogurt before picking up the dogs. (Because we didn’t get enough of the fair food, I guess?) In the small shop, two or three families had gathered with their children, and the noise level was almost deafening. We fixed up our dishes and decided to eat outside, but we weren’t alone for long.

Who are these people who believe social norms (and rules, in the case of the owner of the truck) do not apply to them? Have we become so self-absorbed and oblivious to our surroundings that other human beings cease to exist? Or maybe I’m the crazy one to think that social norms are normal–maybe they’re a thing of the past.

This world needs more kindness. We need people to notice and recognize and own their rudeness and adjust accordingly. Be more aware that you’re blocking a path. Pay attention to your surroundings and offer your seat to that person who looks older than you. Even if he or she refuses, your effort will be acknowledged. And for crying out loud, park your car in between the lines!

Wifi-less Musings

This will be a short post. My wifi is out, and I’m using my phone as a hotspot. Thankfully, I have rollover data, but I doubt I have enough to type my usual 300+ words.

When I was a kid, we had dogs, but they stayed outdoors, so I never got to use the “my dog ate my homework” excuse. In today’s world, I guess that excuse is about on par with “my wifi was out.” I didn’t need that excuse when I was a kid, though, because I always did my homework (teacher pleaser, remember?).

So here I sit, using at least three forms of technology that were foggy visions a mere 20 years ago. A computer the size of a spiral notebook that sits in your lap? A phone the size of a deck of cards that you can put in your pocket and use wherever you go? And they can access information anywhere in the world in just seconds? Impossible!

Remember the rotary!

It’s Been a Rough Month

clam-29449_960_720When things aren’t going well (and lately, things seem to be awful), I clam up. I keep it all inside, and the thoughts pound my brain like a hammer and burn in my stomach like acid. I don’t want to talk about it because I know talking about it will only make me more upset. And if I do talk to someone about it, I feel like I’m bringing them down with me. Misery loves company, so they say. Then I feel bad for making them feel bad, and it’s just a vicious cycle. So, being the independent person I am, I suppose I’d rather suffer on my own than to make someone else feel bad, too, and that’s why I’m quiet.

The last time I started a post like this, I ended by counting my blessings. I’m not going to whine and cry that it’s not fair that all of these bad things are happening to me, but don’t count on a happy ending this time. Nothing is fair. I know this for a fact. And while it might sound pessimistic, the reality is that I’ve had to learn to expect less. Lowered expectations mean I wasn’t surprised when my car broke down again after spending quite a bit of money to fix it. I wasn’t surprised to find my cable and wifi out again after making time to meet a technician to repair it.

In Matthew Quick’s The Good Luck of Right Now, the main character’s mother describes luck as an ebb and flow: when something bad happened to her, it meant something good was happening to someone else and vice versa, and that balance is central to her existence. If this theory is correct, then I feel like some really positive karma is on the horizon. (Some friends have suggested that I ought to buy a lottery ticket because I’m due for some good luck!)

I know I’ll get back on my feet soon, and things will return (somewhat) to normal. And I know that I’ll get knocked down again in the future, and things will look bleak. There’s that vicious cycle. I’ll keep my expectations low for now–maybe I’ll be met with a pleasant surprise at some point.

In lieu of the happy ending, I offer these three songs that have been running through my head lately.


The Bug

If You’re Going through Hell

Here’s To You, Parents!

It is early evening in late September. A mother and daughter sit at a table in a fast-casual restaurant. Country music is playing, but not the good (George Strait) kind. 

[A server approaches the table with two plates of food. She places them in front of each woman and returns to the kitchen. The mother immediately eats a french fry.]

MOTHER: Oh! These fries are hot!

DAUGHTER: Oh? [tries a fry from her own plate] Mine aren’t that hot.

MOTHER: Do you want to switch?

[End scene]

I’m not a parent. Well, I have dogs that I consider “children” (seems like they certainly cost as much!), but it’s really not the same because I can put my dogs in their crates when they annoy me, while my friends who are parents would be accused of child abuse if they did that to their two-legged children.

I’m not a parent, and it’s probably good that I’m not because I’m kind of a selfish person. I mean, if I had a plate of hot, tasty french fries in front of me, I probably wouldn’t offer to take the other person’s not-as-hot fries. Even if that other person was a cute, small child with pigtails or something.

This act of selflessness is unique to parents (especially mothers, in my opinion). They will always do whatever it takes to make life better or easier or happier for their child. Parents will give up the best spot on the couch so their child is comfortable. Parents will take on a second job so their child can have the best tutors to improve his chances of getting into college. Parents will go to the ends of the earth to ensure that their child does not go without.

At school today, each of my classes participated in a Socratic seminar. We had just finished reading 12 very different excerpts, stories, and poems, and the kids had the opportunity to discuss and make larger connections. In each of the classes, the conversation switched to parents. I listened to these kids talk about how important their parents are to them. They talked about the advice they’ve received and the lessons they’ve learned. They understood that their parents have more life experience and that experience should be appreciated. They recognized that their parents really do have their best interests at heart. It was so uplifting to hear them speak so positively about their relationships with their parents, and it was a little revelatory. I wonder how many of these kids actually let their parents know that they are listening!

And so I say to you, parents, they are listening! They hear you when you tell them that grades are important. That positive friendships are important. That eating your vegetables is important. They hear you, and your words linger in the corners of their minds, and they recall those words when it’s time to make a choice. And in that moment, they might decide to do the wrong thing, and you might feel as if you have failed. But you haven’t. They do know that you were right, and they will try to do better next time.

So to all of you noble, generous, loving parents out there: Keep up the good work! And thanks for always offering your hot french fries!