“Approaches to Teaching an Online YA Course: Spending a Month with the Printz Award Winners”
King, A.S. (2019). Dig. New York: Dutton.
LaCour, Nina. (2017). We are okay. New York: Dutton.
Lake, Nick. (2012). In darkness. New York: Bloomsbury.
Lewis, John, et. al. (2016). March: Book three. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.
Nelson, Jandy. (2014). I’ll give you the sun. New York: Dial.
Ruby, Laura. (2015). Bone gap. New York: Balzer + Bray.
Sedgwick, Marcus. (2013). Midwinterblood. New York: Square Fish.
We are entering the half-way point in our class right now, and students have begun to notice several common threads among the award winners. The first half of our reading (In Darkness, Midwinterblood, I’ll Give You the Sun, and Bone Gap) are all told through alternating narratives from various characters and/or through different points in time. Students began to posit why this specific narrative structure resonates so much with YA authors and readers alike, and they explored how this type of structure supports the idea that adolescent readers, who are in the midst of expanding their worldview, need support in interrogating events from multiple points-of-view and in drawing cause and effect conclusions.
Another similarity among the first four books on our reading list resides in human connection, whether the narratives are told by twins or two characters connected by space and time. These connections are ones of love and sacrifice; of betrayal, separation, and reunion; of the fight against injustice; and of acknowledging what unites us all. Through our discussions, these are some guiding questions that have begun emerging: (1) In what ways is love coupled with sacrifice? (2) How do we confront cultural and societal systems of oppression that are rooted in the fabric of a place’s history? And (3) How do we find the courage to acknowledge and accept truth?
While we still have the second half of the readings to tackle, I have enjoyed approaching this particular class through an inductive process, letting the texts speak for themselves and giving students the space to explore what these texts have to offer readers. I look forward to discussing the award-winning qualities of these books with my students and to help students develop a rational for why YAL is relevant, potent, and necessary, not just for adolescents but for all.
Below, I’ve provided a little introduction to each text with a link to the authors’ Twitter pages. Happy reading!
Told through two alternating narratives across centuries, In Darkness offers readers a glimpse into Haiti during two poignant moments in time: the 2011 earthquake and the struggle for an end to slavery. In 2011, Shorty finds himself buried beneath the rubble of a hospital after the earthquake and tells his life story asking readers to reserve judgement until we learn everything about how Shorty has ended up in this particular situation. The other narrative is told by Toussaint Louveture in his leadership during the Haitian Revolution. While these two narratives are centuries apart, Shorty and Toussaint reach through time to find themselves connected amongst the most impossible of circumstances.
Blessed Island is a seemingly welcoming and beautiful island, but its mysterious nature baffles all who visit. Told in seven separate yet interconnected stories spanning centuries, readers begin their journey to Blessed Island with Eric Seven, a journalist on his way to discover the mysteries of the island. Not much is known about the island to outsiders, such as why its inhabitants tend to live for very long amounts of time or why the dragon iris only survives here. However, Eric soon discovers he is connected to this island in more ways than he ever imagined.
In I’ll Give You the Sun, twin siblings Jude and Noah are both interested in art and attending a private arts school. Their mother is an art critic who supports her children’s love of art, but she seemingly sees greater talent in Noah. This perceived favoritism of Noah’s art only complicates his relationship with his sister, Jude, and becomes complicated further still at the death of their mother. In alternating narratives from Jude and Noah at different points in time, I’ll Give You the Sun leaves readers guessing every step of the way.
The mysterious nature of the community of Bone Gap serves as the perfect setting of this award-winning book. Told through alternative narratives from Finn, a teenager who is the target of loathing from his community, and Roza, a beautiful young woman who mysteriously disappears from Bone Gap. While Finn saw her being captured, the police and everyone else in Bone Gap refuses to believe his account of her abduction and disappearance, and while everyone else seems to have moved on, Finn cannot stop searching for the mysterious man who took the lovely Roza.
March: Book Three by John Lewis, et. al
John Lewis recounts his experience during the Civil Rights Movement and the Selma March in this graphic memoir. As part of a trilogy, the third installment in the March series leads right up to the pivotal moments in planning for peaceful sit-ins and marches in Selma, Alabama while confronting the systemic racism of Mississippi and the nation at large. Readers will also begin to explore the delicate balance Lewis and his peers enacted as they drew people together for a common cause as well as their interactions with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.
A beautiful and devastatingly real look at grief, We Are Okay’s story is told by Marin, who has fled her life after the death of her grandfather for reasons no one knows, not even her best friend, Mabel. Marin begins her freshman year of college in New York with no friends, no clothes, and no support system. At the end of her first semester, Mabel is traveling to visit Marin and to try and uncover what went wrong and why Marin has shut everyone out of her life. We Are Okay is an honest, realistic look at how adolescents, and adults alike, process grief when confronted with the truth of our loved ones’ pasts.
Told through narrative verse, Xiomara experiences what many young women face as they experience physical development: being too seen by others around them. While Xiomara is noticed for her changing body, she does not feel heard by others, even her own family, but she begins to find her voice through poetry and a poetry slam club at her Harlem school. She navigates what it means to be a young woman and an individual within a family culture in which she herself does not feel comfortable. The Poet X shows readers the utter power of poetry and how adolescents like Xiomara can learn to find their voices, if we only stop and listen.
Part mystery and part surreal, Dig. tells the tale of five cousins from a family of potato farmers. Each cousin narrates alternating chapters, yet the five narratives seems to be disjointed for much of the text. That is, it is disjointed until he five find one another and begin piecing together how their own stories overlap into a deeply disturbing family history. Readers begin to explore how the Hemmings family’s entrapments in deeply rooted racism has unraveled the former standing and respectability of the family, and readers quickly learn their secrets go as deep as the potatoes they farm and harvest.
Until next week.