Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Positive Raw Places: Where to find them in YA lit

The Giving Tree - source
Today I ran across the 20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education.  12 of the 20 are directly about connecting to kids.  #19  You need to love a student before you can teach a student.

I believe that compassionate teachers are among the best teachers. I also know that teachers can connect with students on many levels, without loving them.  I know that some great teachers can not or do not emotionally connect directly to students, but the students know there is caring anyway.  I am pulling these "I statements"  from my own EBHS experience, 6-12, over 50 years ago (ouch!).  That students need teachers has not changed. 

On the other hand, this article made me reflect on the fiction texts (aka novels) that are read and discussed in ELA classes today.  How many go to the positive raw places that often lead to emotional connection with students?  How many are about love and loving?  How many are about unqualified caring?

I find it easy to list books that are about negative raw places (betrayal, fear, isolation, bullying, inadequacy, fear, loss, selfishness, disaffection, disappearance).  Most of dystopia (especially Hunger Games trilogy).  Most adventure and fantasy.  Most SF (some of Bradbury excluded).  Most horror.  Most chick-clique.  Most sports.  Most realistic.  This is the stuff of YA lit.

Positive raw places (trust, love, selflessness, supportiveness, family, constancy, giving) are hard to find.  Often, today's YA novels have to be mined for the positive; in most, it remains well hidden.  I suspect that pure positive doesn't sell well.

Even when you find a good read, it's tough to talk about love and caring in class.  It can be corny.  It can be superficial.  It is often painful.  But the discussion is rewarding. As I teacher, I found that it always made me weepy to read The Giving Tree aloud, which I did to introduce incremental repetition.  But I did read the book, and I did weep, because students responded to the emotional power of the story - and I wanted them to know that I responded too.  I am talking middle school and high school. 

Here are some titles that will help you get students to those positive raw places.  The lowish lexiles are generally deceptive.  Because of their emotional edge, these titles are more challenging in content, style, or often both - they may more take patience to read than the books your students gravitate too.  They are generally harder.  Luckily, most of them are brief.
  • Jellicoe Road - Marchetta - 820 (the 2nd most challenging on this list)
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes - Crutcher - 920 (HS)
  • Before I Fall - Liver - 860 - (HS)
  • Bridge of San Luis Rey - Wilder - 1080 - (HS) (not kidding - I read it in 9th)
  • If I Stay - Forman - 830
  • Eggs - Spinelli - 610
  • Firegirl - Abbott - 670
  • Freak the Mighty - Philbrick - 1000 (worth every minute of it - challenge up)
  • The Water Seeker - Holt - 730
  • Water for Elephants - Gruen - 730
  • Life as We Knew It  - Pfeffer - 770
  • Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo - 610
  • Marley and Me  - 1050 - or Marley - 760 - Grogan  (nonfiction)
  • Skellig - Almond - 490
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods - Reilly - 650
  • Phoenix Rising - Hesse - 610
  • Make Lemonade - Euwer - 690
  • Nightjohn - Paulsen - 770
  • Night Circus - Morgenstern (no lexile)
  • Something Wicked this Way Comes - Bradbury - 820 (most challenging on this list)
  • Stitches - Small (graphic novel)
  • Whirligig - Fleischman - 760
  • Little Bee - Cleave (no lexile)
Not a very big list, but I did not include chick romance, vampires, or werewolves.  Suggestions are welcome. 

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