Young Adult Literature
As a former English teacher, a current teacher educator, and English Education scholar, I posit that middle and high school English teachers should be looking increasingly to middle grades literature and to young adult literature (YAL) to engage their students in reading and to teach the seminal lessons that we so often equate with the English canon. The most important thing any English teacher can do for students is to engage them with quality texts--texts that make readers think in new ways and that entice young readers to keep reading. An English teachers' primary responsibility should be to expose students to the joys of reading!
Current Contexts: When it comes to the books that get taught in our middle and high school classrooms, conservative legislators, educational policymakers, and many parents cite the perennialist claim that students should be reading "the classics." They argue that classic works in the British and American canon are timeless and speak to the human condition. These books' continued worth over time is, they say, proof of their value for today's students. This view has remained dominant in curricular decision-making for generations; the curricula in most 6th-12th grade English classrooms has not changed demonstrably from what prior generations had experienced in their English classes. Unfortunately, a continued faith in the power of classic literature to teach our students important life lessons has led to harm; the canon is both far too exclusionary and it ultimately turns many would-be readers away from engaging with texts altogether.
While there is indeed great worth in canonical literature (few English teachers or literacy scholars would deny their value), the continuing myopic focus on the classics for today's English classrooms ignores important considerations:
In the pages that follow, I refer the visitor to scholars who highlight the value in using middle grades and young adult literature in our classrooms, I provide resources for how teachers might use YAL in today's English classrooms, and I supply resources for finding high quality YAL (including many of my favorite texts).