Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Superfudge is still here! Or, outreach with literature.

I'm not the target audience of Babble, a parenting site, because I don't have children. Despite my lack of children I do have an interest in children's books (obviously), so I was intrigued and extremely dismayed to read this blog entry, Where, Oh Where is Superfudge? by Rachel Shukert who, as I see from her bio, is a writer. I guess she's a writer that doesn't read children's or young adult literature, or one that has any familiarity with the reading habits of young people, because those who are familiar with the ever-widening offerings in the children's and YA lit world can see right through this entry.

Shuket's overall argument is that children's and YA books these days are too, well, shiny, too focused on the exploits of rich kids. She can't find any books about poorer, urban, nonwhite, etc. children and seems to believe that they don't exist in children's literature anymore. She encourages readers of her entry to "rescue all those Carter-era stories of latchkey kids and public school and Native American girls abandoned on islands off the coast of California as well."

Believe me, my head is still spinning, and not just because Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of the most boring books I was ever forced to read as a child.

Fancy Nancy is acknowledged, but not Trixie and her beloved Knuffle Bunny in all their Brooklyn landscape glory. Shukert shows a fundamental lack of knowledge about the difference between children's and YA literature, stating in an opening paragraph: There was a time when the shelves of the Young Adult section at the bookstore (or even the library, as the more ancient among you may remember) were filled with stories of smart, urban, and overwhelmingly middle class children doing very normal and often humorous things. She then goes on to talk about Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, which is not now, has never been, and never will be classified as YA. Beyond this, those shelves are still filled with stories of smart, middle-class children doing normal and humorous things. She just doesn't seem to be willing to look for them, choosing instead to focus on Gossip Girl and the other Poppy series. Shukert goes on at length about Serena van der Woodsen but never once mentions Jacqueline Woodson. She's quick to complain about the lack of normal kids in YA literature but I have a signed galley of Paper Towns that says she's never heard of John Green, or Laurie Halse Anderson, or Walter Dean Myers, or Joan Bauer, or Sarah Dessen, or any other author that does exactly what she complains about authors not doing, that is, writing great books about middle-class and/or urban teens who don't have superpowers.

Lest it seem that I am too hasty to blame Shuket for her complete lack of knowledge of MG and YA literature, please know that one thing I can't stop thinking is, "Why does she know so little?" Any children's and/or YA librarian would be happy to load her up with books by the authors I mentioned. Why did she not talk to any of them before writing off the last three decades' worth of children's and YA books? Why are librarians still so invisible to those who love to complain about how great children's and YA books were back in the good ol' days? In the good ol' days, where gay characters almost always died, and teens who had sex were punished for it by pregnancy or disease, or... Sorry. But seriously, children's and YA lit has come so far in 30 years and I can't help but wonder why there are more books now but less knowledge about them. It's become almost as important to reach adults, especially parents, with YA lit as it is to reach teens. Hmm. Another underserved population, perhaps?

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