The Mock Printz Club begins and so does a new year in our reading lives.
Yes, it’s said that we only live thrice – in the actual, in our dreams, and in our books/literature.
And the living we do in our books enhances the actual, and, of course, our dreams.
Far too many, in fact, the majority of graduate students, all practicing English teachers or pre-service English teachers in the “Teaching Literature for Young Adults” course that I’ve taught at NC State for fifteen years, regret that they have a huge gap in their reading lives – their teen years. As English teacher and blogger Lee Ann Spillane observed:
My own thinking is often confirmed by what students say and write. One said it was more an issue of priorities and time management. Another student said, “it’s not what gets in the way–it’s more like what takes the place of reading.” Ah, “takes the place of” that’s what’s happening as students mature. I have been watching that happen at home in my son’s reading life, so I am not surprised that students experience a shift in their own reading habits too. There are only so many hours in a day, so many minutes in class (from “What Gets in the Way of Pleasure Reading?”)
And it’s not only a gap in the practice of reading for pleasure that my teacher-students experience but usually a serious omission of young adult literature and all the value that can come from reading literature that shares the unique perspective of young adults learning to make their way in the world, real or imagined.
Many of my students note that they don’t recover from their high school pleasure reading slumps until college or even after college. And these are English majors. What about all of the young adults who never get turned on to books again?
That’s why for fifteen years I’ve partnered with the Margaret A. Edwards award-winning Eva Perry Mock Printz Club to not only bring the latest and greatest of YA lit to my teacher-students but to inspire them with the passion for reading and talking about literature that these teen readers demonstrate.
This year when I met with the club, first off we talked about the official Printz Committee and the criteria they use for selecting the books they recognize. But before I shared the criteria which are essentially the literary elements plus a thoughtful explanation of what they don’t look for and how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I decided to see what the teens use for their criteria.
So I asked them to work in pairs or trios to list the literary elements they’d studied for years in school. Then, the clincher – I asked which element they thought was most important or took priority. The overall results are predictable and classic in terms of what we usually think attracts teens to books – three of seven groups identified plot as the most important literary element in determining literary quality. Voice, originality, writing style, and characters were identified by single votes.
So are the majority of teens plot-driven readers? It will be interesting as we continue our reading of the 2015 YA titles to see what element(s) the teens identify as most important in the books they recognize as distinguished in literary quality.
We didn’t really have time to debrief afterwards, so I’d love to hear from the Eva Perry Mock Printz Club teens here. Why do you think plot seemed to win out in our brief group survey? Do you agree with the choice of plot? What signifies literary quality to you? Or, even better, how do you make the time to live your reading life? Or best yet, what question did you bring away from our conversation?