Don’t worry, parent. Have no fear, librarian. Your teens are safe from the trials of television and the temptations of the Xbox—at least for the moment. Why? Because their noses are buried deep in the uncreased pages of a new book.
Young adult fiction is alive and well—stunningly so. Writers are offering up well-written books with increasingly complex and exciting plotlines, and kids are devouring them like candy.
While one might think that fantasy fiction dominates bookshelves, even J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter), Cornelia Funke (The Thief Lord, Inkheart), and Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) have to move over once in a while for the adventure novels of Eric Walters, Arthur Slade, Kenneth Oppel, and Louis Sachar.
But books that describe today’s political and cultural situations are also getting kids’ attention. The class I teach enthusiastically recommends Deborah Ellis, author of the Parvana trilogy that examines life in Afghanistan. Her recent novel The Heaven Shop explores the life of one of the millions of orphans of Africa’s AIDS pandemic.
Difficult topics for 12-year-olds? Perhaps, but today’s young readers don’t shy away from struggling with the concept of justice. When I spoke with Ellis recently, she said, “I write novels based on harsh realities because that is what I am interested in: how people cope with the horrors the world—and other people—put on them. That comes out of my social-activist background, seeing how some folks rise up to resist injustice while others will gladly perpetrate it.”
Not only global issues but also global authors are emerging for American readers. Ellis says, “We are getting more voices in literature generally, from other nations and cultures and perspectives, which I find very exciting.”
But let’s not forget the classics too. A good story is still a good story whether it was written yesterday or 50 years ago. Jan Little and Katherine Paterson are still favorites, and novels like Harriet the Spy, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry can still silence a classroom.
Silence, as every parent knows, is golden—and when that silence comes from a reading kid, it’s priceless. We adults need to endorse reading as a valued pastime, provide unscheduled moments kids can fill with books, and practice what we preach. If we want our kids to enjoy reading, there’s no better way than to read the best books to them—and to be seen reading ourselves.