September is National Literacy Month! Have you perused the creative and varied ways literacy-based organizations are celebrating the month? If so, you will have picked up on an interesting tidbit; there is not a body that sponsors and promotes the day, as in Read Across America or Teen Read Week (perhaps such sponsorship is a job for the Library of Congress).
Also, in September, the long list for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature is announced. This week we are excited to hear of the list of ten books under consideration, with authors from Laurie Halse Anderson to Jason Reynolds.
As I thought of the importance of this month and the national awards associated with the genre(s) of children’s and YA literature, I considered winning titles over the past few years. The subject of many (or most) adult-driven children’s book winners is serious indeed! For example, the ten titles mentioned above speak to rape culture, slavery and civil rights, gender identity, atomic bombs, family secrets, murder and monsters, WWII, and nationalism. We can wipe our brow now, right?
Of course, it is most important to introduce kids to the problems they will be solving, the history they must understand and avoid. Yet, I pause to beg the question: Have we gone overboard? Are we creating an atmosphere of doom for our youth via the reading selections we publish and offer?
We know the Children’s Choice Award winners are ALWAYS different than adult-driven award winners, right? In contrast, consider this year’s kid-based winners; the subjects are entirely different: love of language, imagination, a day at the beach or river, fan clubs, school days, and pizza parties.
Humor is a fine medicine, as the saying goes. Are we publishing enough of it for children, honoring it as quality literature, helping improve the general mood of the upcoming generation? If most of children’s literature is based in doom-and-gloom subjects, are we creating a generation prone to societal depression? Who EXPECT a dystopian existence?
How do we insure our children, by means of the literature we provide for them, understand the need to balance life, yes, addressing important issues, but also remembering to rejuvenate and enjoy life, choosing, at least half-the-time, fun and laughter! Perhaps the answer lies in “lightening up” our collections, suggestions, publication and reading lists, and award criteria.