October 18-24 is Teen Read Week. Sponsored by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, the theme for this year's event is Get Away, and it encourages teens to take a break from their busy lives by escaping in a book.
Before I grew serious about writing books, I read fiction to escape. I loved finding new favorite authors, waiting for their latest titles to emerge and savoring every word. But for the last seven years, I've read with a focus on learning to write better. When you're dissecting sentences and analyzing plot, it sort of steals the pleasure from the story. I miss the old me that approached each book like a house full of hidden treasure, anticipation tingling up and down my spine as I opened the cover.
And it still happens. Even with my brain set on Study Mode, I find books that draw me into a story so completely, I abandon the analyzing and dissecting, latch onto the protagonist and follow them like an adoring puppy. Because I love books. I love picture books that tickle and dazzle with carefully chosen words and brilliant art. I love middle grade stories, especially the ones that touch my heart. And of course, I love YA books, and not just because I write stories for that age.
My favorite books are the ones that make me see the world in a new way. Sometimes that's fantasy, sci-fi or magical realism. But just as often, it's a contemporary or historical tale. Good books take us to another place and when we leave, we're changed. Our minds have stretched to allow room for new thoughts and perspectives. I just finished reading the graphic novel Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson. I'm not into comic books or super heroes, but somehow this book landed on my reading pile. And I loved it. It's a book after all, with a story to tell, so I shouldn't be surprised.
Do you have your literary vacation picked out for Teen Read Week? Is it one book or a stack? Will you cozy up with familiar authors or try something new? There's still time to search. Go on now, what are you waiting for? Oh, you're in the middle of Algebra II, squinting at the impossibly twisted formula the teacher just scribbled? That's okay then. But the very next time your fingers hop online, head thee to the library and reserve a book. You deserve a vacation from mind-tangling math formulas!
A few weeks back, I attended a workshop where Dr. Joan Kaywell, professor of English Education at the University of South Florida, talked about one of her passions, The Hipple Collection of young adult literature at USF. Ted Hipple championed the preservation of YA literature and he couldn't have imprinted his cause on a more valiant supporter than Dr. Kaywell. In 2002, she donated 333 YA books to Special Collections at the USF library, establishing the Hipple Collection in honor of her mentor, Ted Hipple. She works tirelessly to grow and promote the collection. Today, it shelters 2500 titles and includes signed first editions, author's manuscripts and notes. The Hipple Collection's mission is to "provide access to outstanding young adult literature published after 1970 that speaks to the social, emotional, and cultural challenges of adolescence."
Dr. Kaywell brought some of those signed first editions to the workshop I attended. I held S.E. Hinton's Outsiders in my hands, touched her signature inside the covers. We were also privileged to witness debut author, Shannon Hitchcock, hand off manuscripts for her novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl (release date, 2013) to Dr. Kaywell. The paper will be stored in specially designed, archival boxes. I imagine it's a relief to most writers to have someone care about those mounds of paper that precede the book. Even though most writing is done on the computer these days, pre-publication, printed versions exist and what does an author do with it? Stuff it in a dark corner where it's discovered years later when they move on. Dr. Kaywell relentlessly pursues authors for their manuscripts and they give them to her. Why not? Her devotion to teen literature is undisputable. She radiates enthusiasm for its power to change young lives. It warms my heart to know there are people like her who care so much about the life of books.
The Library of Congress recently issued a list of eighty-eight American books published between 1751 and 2002 that helped shape our nation. The list includes many children's classics, such as: Charlotte's Web, Farenheit 451, Goodnight Moon, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Library anticipated and hoped to prompt conversation, even debate. There's a survey on their site soliciting reader opinions. As a Floridian, I would add Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling to the list. And as a former horse-obsessed child, Walter Farley's Black Stallion Series. The list seemed heavy in older classics, ignoring influential contemporary children's authors, specifically those writing for tweens and above, like Lowry, DiCamillo, Gaiman, Halse-Anderson, Blume and Cabot, to name a few. Maybe hindsight is needed to rate how those authors' books affect generations. More likely, the list is way too short.
I remember reading many of the classics in high school and college. Tampa Bay Times' book editor, Collette Bancroft, wrote an eloquent editorial addressing the book list last Sunday. She suggested that the classics remain relevant and deserve repeat readings, adding, "The best reason to read, or re-read, these books is that they are brilliant, engaging works of literature." As writers, that's a compelling call to study those who came before. For more of Collette's article, click here.
Check out the Library of Congress for the full list of books and leave your opinion.
Two years ago, Todd Bol built a tiny library and placed it outside his home to honor his school teacher mother. The idea was so popular he joined with friend Rick Brooks to create littlefreelibrary.org. and together they've started a mini library movement. The idea is simple: Build a small structure and fill it with books. Plant it on a pole outside your yard or business and invite people walking by to "take a book. leave a book." The website offers plans and kits for the boxes but many invent their own, some from recycled material. The site features pictures of artfully crafted libraries shaped as houses, barns, stores, or an eclectic mix.
The libraries are in thirty states and twenty countries. Their goal: 2510 mini libraries to top the libraries Carnegie endowed. I love this idea and since Florida lacks an icon on the Little Free Library map, I'd like to put one there. Now if I could just motivate the husband to dust off that dusty table saw . . .
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor