Dr. Mark Lewis & Author Sharon Flake Headline Day 4
He stressed the need for caution when making generalizations about the teenage experience and how educators handle it through literature.
"We need to be careful not to project stereotypes of adolescence on our students, as well as upon the characters in the books we give them," he said. "We can't assume that all readers are going to relate to all characters universally or even in the same ways."
He explained that this sort of stereotyping is detrimental to the advancement of diversity in YA literature as every kid will not respond to every book. Therefor there's a need for a variety of characters within the realm of literature so each child can be reached.
"We tend to essentialize adolescents in ways we would never do with race, gender or sexuality which can be so damaging," he said.
For more info on Dr. Lewis' work and research, click here.
Follow Dr. Lewis on Twitter at @MarkLewisLUM.
Afternoon keynote speaker Sharon Flake credits growing up in Northern Philadelphia and the diversity of characters in her family and neighborhood with making her a writer.
"I grew up in a family of storytellers. As a kid I just thought they talked a lot. But looking back, I think I learned voice and storytelling and character from my own family."
Now, she weaves many of her neighbors and childhood friends into her books, breaking many stereotypes about inner city kids in the process.
"You think you know what life is like in the projects, but I'm here to tell you that you don't know what you think you know. We aren't all that different. Literature can break down these walls of assumption. You can find elements of yourself all over the place. I'm not saying that black kids should only find themselves in black books, but they should have that opportunity."
She also stressed that when talking about diversity, we often forget to include diversity of experiences as a factor in the conversation.
"You can't look at my zip code and know my experiences," she quipped. "I grew up in the inner city, but I had a librarian as a neighbor and a Jewish man who owned a corner store at the end of the block. As a writer, I try to take away some of these preconceived notions while still remaining true to my characters and their environments. You cannot say you want diverse books but then won't allow the characters to also have diverse experiences."
Learn more about Flake here.
Follow her on Twitter at @sharonflake.