Books, Classrooms, Communities: Young Adult Literature as a Lifeline
Hosted by The College of Education at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), the 5th Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature is sponsored by The College of Education at UNLV, The Gayle A. Zeiter Literacy Center, The Clark County School District, and the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District. Featured speakers, Brandy Colbert, Varian Johnson, and Malinda Lo along with Gae Polisner, Brendan Kiely, and Sonia Patel, are sponsored by UNLV and Oklahoma State University's Language, Literacy, and Cultural doctoral program.
Teachers, librarians, English educators, and their students--and practically anyone in the education community--continue to contend with the social, emotional, economic, and political aftermaths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lives, jobs, and relationships have been lost. The places we frequented--coffee shops, gyms, places of worship, schools, libraries--don’t look the same. Chairs are pushed apart, faces unfamiliar, comforts missing. We wish to return to what was, but there is no going back.
As we navigate challenges, we turn to books. Pam Allyn (2020) acknowledges our students’ “significant challenges and traumas,” stating that reading is a “lifeline,” “help[ing] all students feel a sense of belonging, to feel less alone, and to work on their journeys of becoming passionate, thoughtful, curious people in the world in spite of the challenges these days have brought to them.” Allyn also affirms that reading can bring that sense of community to “all of us...who care for and love the children we serve. Reading, and stories themselves, are a lifeline for all of us.”
In many ways, then, we can see YA books as a way to bring ourselves, our students, our colleagues, our communities, to a healthier place. After all, YA books help our marginalized students find safety, purpose, and agency. However, there are ways that books as lifelines are being questioned. Our newsfeeds are barbed wires instead of lifelines, populated with angry parents challenging books that each of us have come to value and love--books that have saved our students’ lives. However, Meg Medina, the 2019 Summit’s keynote, wrote, “Stop the Madness: Banning Books is Not the Answer'' on censorship:
To pull books from a school library because of the discomfort they create in adults is a recipe for disaster. It erodes the trust young people have in the adults in their lives and pushes them to secrecy. It undermines the studied opinion of professional librarians and educators. It supports a false idea that there is one version of life that is acceptable. And, it denigrates the work of authors who are brave enough to name experiences that are difficult and real.
Ashley Hope Perez, a keynote speaker at the 2020 UNLV Summit has aptly warned us that “attacks on books are proxy wars against people that some wish didn’t exist.” Laurie Halse Anderson, a keynote speaker at the 2018 UNLV Summit, has stated,“Censorship is the child of fear, and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them. They need us to be brave enough to give them great books so that they can grow into the strong women and men that we need them to be.”
With that hope, let’s consider:
In what ways are books lifelines, and how can teachers help students see books in this way? Similarly, how can authors, scholars, teachers, librarians, and human rights/literacy organizations nurture and sustain Young Adult Literature (YAL) as lifelines?
How can classroom libraries be seen and labeled as rows of lifelines?
In what ways can teachers encourage administrators to be allies in viewing books as lifelines?
What does it mean to provide lifelines in our classrooms---when books are being challenged? In the midst of censorship, how do we provide “alternative lifelines” to students when other books are challenged?
How can teachers stay up-to-date on policy decisions regarding challenged books? How can librarians advocate against censorship and connect students with “lifeline” books?
What organizations should teachers utilize in order to make books “lifelines”?
How does our desire for equity, diversity, equality align with books as lifelines?
How do educators form partnerships with community organizations to provide these lifelines?
This year the conference will be online one day and in person two days. Day one (virtual) will focus on empirical or conceptual research in the field; Days two and three (in person) will employ a practitioner focus. Those participating in all three days are welcome to attend with us in Las Vegas in person on the first day. Organizers are working on a schedule to establish a lively space of collaboration and dialogue on the state and value of YA literature.