Today's guest contributor is Kelli Sowerbrower. Kelli and I meet so long ago I can't remember when it was. I know that we immediately decided that our mutual interest in books and reading would make us friends and, indeed, such is the case. Like Kelli explains below, I was also always a reader. As the photo below indicates, Kelli was one of the presenters at the UNLV 2015 Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature. She continues to engage students in the ELA classroom.
Putting the "Why" in YA Literature
I am a reader. I teach English because I am a reader. I’m pretty sure I found reading in high school; I recall Flowers in the Attic and a handful of Stephen King stories. BUT, I do not remember talking about what I was reading--maybe with my mom, but does that count? Then I went to college and found professors and peers who read. Together we dove into short stories, novels, discussion, papers, and I found myself.
I recently changed schools and moved to one where sets of classroom novels are everywhere. This was new to me; the curriculum was not based on a chronologically designed textbook that was published two decades ago but novels. All types of novels. My heart sang. Suddenly, I was finding my people who read because they were already reading the books on the syllabus. It didn’t take long for me to start a book club. We readers needed to be together. We needed to exchange titles. We needed to talk. We needed to be with our people to flourish and find comfort when getting emotional about fictional characters.
Why YA Lit?
Grace Martin (senior): Her current favorite: Divergent
I read YA Literature because I can dive into “coming of age” stories that I can connect with and relate to. Often times in YA stories, regardless of the genre of the novel, the protagonist is finding where they fit in the world and discovering their own identity. Though anyone of any age can resonate with these themes, I think it is especially easy for students to relate to these themes repeated in YA Literature. As a student, I am adjusting to new things and studying to prepare for my place in the world, so reading stories that reflect real life struggles that young people face allows me to connect it to my own experiences.
YA literature is something that I’ve been reading even before I would consider myself a young adult. Although I have broadened my interest into other genres of books, YA Literature is something I will always hold near and dear. For me, discovering YA literature was the first time I could really form my own opinions and start discovering myself as a person. Throughout elementary and middle school the reading we did in class were only for educational purposes: the books didn’t challenge my growing mind. When I began to read on my own, I discovered a whole different species of books: Something I could connect with on a personal level. When I began reading YA novels, it was the first time these confusing emotions I had inside me had actually been put into writing, and became something I could translate into words. YA literature opened a whole new door in my life where I could suddenly describe complex emotions lik
Amelia Davidson (junior): Her current favortie: Wicked Saints
I read because I was a bookworm throughout elementary and middle school. I loved (and still do) emerging myself into a different world, a different story, then feeling as if I had time traveled when I closed the book two hours later. I realize now that reading as much as I did improved my vocabulary, spelling, and writing skills once I got into school. It was a great way to pass the time in boring or easy classes.
I read now for a lot of the same reasons - I love immersing myself in the story and characters, and I love learning new things and techniques and ideas. But as I've grown older it's taken on more weight to me. It's difficult to carve out time to just sit and read in my increasingly busy schedule, but doing so is important to me. Expanding your own point of view--especially with YA I think--is a central theme in books and stories. With each book I read, I try to come away with more knowledge, be it about myself or others, emotionally, culturally, linguistically, whatever. I read to grow my knowledge and worldview.
Besides, as a teenager, who doesn't love a good excuse to stay up until 2 a.m.?
Katherine Henry (senior): Her current favorite: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Why do I read? A question that is as old as the first book and is one that has been addressed to me a thousand times. The simple answer is words are magic. Think about it! Words are just different letters put into a certain order that our brain translates into meaning different things. All words in the English language are made up of only 26 letters and there are thousands and thousands of words. Different words invoke different emotions and different responses depending on the person. Words have the power to tear people down or build them up. They connect people. Words help people learn about the past, faith, science, and everything to the extent that humans know. But my favorite thing that words do is make stories. Stories have the ability to completely transport me through history, into the future, launch me into space, or even into an entirely different reality. I love to read YA Lit because while I’m reading, I’m in a world that is completely my own and only limited by my imagination. I get to go to new and exciting places without ever leaving my couch. I get to know and love characters without ever even saying anything to them. I can go on adventures with the characters that would never happen in this world. I can imagine what everything looks like and the only boundary is me. Even when a book is over the story still continues in my head. And when I miss the characters, the place, or just how perfectly the story was written it’s always patiently waiting for me to open it again and start all over.
That was the question my peers used to ask me. And not in a nice way either, because this question was always accompanied by a sneer or scoff, along with a pointed glance in the direction of whichever ill-fated book I happened to be carrying.
I guess this seemed to be a point of shame for me at one time, almost like a burden of my personality. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages, away from the ink that enraptured me in a way nothing else could. I couldn’t define WHY I spent hours of my life invested in something “not real, unnatural, pointless…” Honestly, the only explanation I could have given was that it made me smart. Back then it seemed as though that was the only thing that mattered, that “smartness” that gave me good grades and made me have a high STAR math level and reading level. After that, it wasn’t about the reading anymore, it became, “WHY won’t you just stay on the same level as us then?” And it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that there was nothing wrong or shameful about books, nothing that made me less of a student.
Jennifer Briton (senior): Here current favorite: Pride and Prejudice
Reading allows me to escape the limitations of reality. Whenever I put my nose in a book, I get transported into a world where anything is possible. Reading sparks my imagination more than anything else, because it gives me the ability to picture the author's world in my head in a way that I know is uniquely my own. Immersing myself into a book and reading characters' thoughts opens my own mind to diverse opinions and exposes me to situations that I have never experienced myself, which helps me to be a more understanding person. Even though reading is often done alone, it can also be a great way to bond with people. Someone can read the exact same book as me and have a completely different take on it. That's what's so great about books. Their stories belong to everyone, but no story feels exactly the same to each person.
Thomas Comte (senior): His current favorite: Dracula
I read because life is too mundane. Through the pages of a novel I am transported to different lands, times, and most importantly different perspectives. Through these different perspectives I can learn from the authors and characters experience so that I may challenge my way of thinking. Through the worlds that an author creates I am able to experience things vicariously through the characters that I would never be able to. I will never battle for a kingdom, or ride a dragon, or create a creature from nothing. Through reading I am able to grow from both experiences and perspectives that I could not have without the book.
Emily Ray (senior): Her current favorite: The Velveteen Rabbit
I was diagnosed with moderate-severe Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism) in the second grade, and one of the key signs that comes with that is sometimes the affected person will be basically mute, requiring other non-verbal ways to communicate. I wouldn’t talk. I can’t even remember if I was mentally holding back or if I just couldn’t comprehend the need to speak, but nevertheless it was obviously a rough time for me. The few times I tried to talk (to go the bathroom, etc), I would have a severe stutter and couldn’t pronounce many character combinations (tch, ch, sh, cl, ck).
It was pretty hard to make friends because even if I could communicate with them, my social skills were lacking, and they most of the time couldn’t understand me. So I would go to the library instead of being in class or at recess. I quickly realized that it was just easier for me to be reading constantly because then people wouldn’t bother me, and I would blend in more. It’s kind of sad, but that’s how I started reading.
However, how I got invested in reading and literature was the Geronimo Stilton book series. These books helped me experience language in a new way because some words were displayed in a different font (ex. The word “cheese” was in a font that looked like cheese, etc). I found these books when I was in the 4th grade, and up until that point I kind of figured that words by themselves were meaningless unless put into a strand. It’s kind of hard to explain, but if A is an adjective and B is the rest of the sentence and C is the meaning to the story I figured that no matter what A was, B would always lead to C. This made me completely rethink how much individual words matter.
This is also why I read because sometimes there are things that are inside of you that you don’t realize until you read them off a page. And I know that these experiences don’t always have to come from literature, some people feel this way about music or art, but for me, it was. That’s why I love story writing and reading because it helps me find myself.