Monday, April 28, 2008

Teen Spaces

Over the weekend, I was in the library looking at new YA titles. The part of the library was called Teen Zone, a space separate from the rest of the library. An older woman walked by and asked me why this fiction was separated from the rest of the fiction. "I think the topics are different," I shrugged. She clearly disapproved of the expansive area given over to teenage themed fiction. "There's a children's section over there," she pointed out. I nodded, not wanting to get into an argument since I already live with teens and argue too much. I didn't think of the woman again until this morning at breakfast.
My nine year old enthusiatically confided details of her imminent plans: planting a strawberry patch, scattering seeds on a barren patch by our house to create a wildflower garden, a trip she wants to plan to the zoo, and because she is still a kid, she informed me that she may (or may not) pen a novel. Lovely. Then, because I was in a good mood, I went in to talk to my sixteen year old. He is not a kid so I try to be in a good mood when I talk to him. I figure that way I won't grit my teeth quite so visibly. Of course, his door is locked, the music is blaring, and he doesn't answer my knock. "Christopher!" I holler. The cats run for cover. The dog raises her head. I pound on the door. "Did you die in there?" When he finally opens the door, he stands silently and glares."Why didn't you answer?" I ask. He yawns. "'Cause I knew it was you."
I mention how getting him to open the door is like goading the troll under the bridge, only it's more like a troll glued to the Internet.
"Huh." He half closes the door.
"I'm wondering what you have planned since you have three days off." He shuts the door. I hear the distinct click of a lock.
Teen Space. Different from kid space. Completely. And not just in the library.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Emma Gets Her Videoblog

If you are considering writing an MG novel, or if you just like them, I suggest you check out the kids on StoryTubes . These are kid-selected, kid-created videoblogs for grades 1 - 6. They talk about why they like books, and the some of the books they selected (it includes non-fiction) surprised me. Of course my daughter had to enter and explained to me, "Your book is a little weird, Mom, with the fires and the fish and all, and besides you have to be 12 to read it." She chose C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Guess dining with speaking beavers isn't weird...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Non Fictional YA Moments

Our house has become a place where more than a few middle schoolers hang out. We have a big, playful dog, old furniture, a couple of coldly glaring cats, and lots of snacks, so it seems right that they show up as much as they do. Plus, I used to teach middle school (I actually once requested a transfer from high school to middle school -- prompting my principal to ask me if I'd had a recent psych eval), so I like this age group. That being said, I forgot that I have always been on the side of the desk where they had to hold back, at least to a certain degree. I was, after all, their English teacher, and they would only tell me so much about disliking their stepmother or how they wanted to ditch their best friend from elementary school. I had never sat down with them as a Mom until recently. I did not realize how I had gotten so accustomed to the dull boundaries of adult conversation until yesterday afternoon when Kate and Matt plopped down next to me on the sofa.

"I like coming here," Kate told me, "my house is so boring 'cause my mom sleeps in the afternoons. She's on Xanax and it's like way too strong for her."
"Oh," I said, moving a magazine that didn't need to be moved, "that's good then. That you have a place to come."
Kate nodded. "It's cause of my stepfather," Kate continued, "my mom needs the Xanax 'cause he's drunk all the time."
"Not all the time,' Matt interjected.
"Right. But a lot." They both laughed. "I think she's going to divorce him."
"Probably," Matt agreed, "is there more root beer?"
"Yeah, I want some, too," Kate smiled.
While pouring their root beer, I remembered: one beauty of this age is that weird poise they possess, the balance they maintain between an awareness of adult issues and wanting more root beer.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Where Are the "Homemade Bands" in YA?

Maybe I haven't been reading the right kind of YA books, but I have noticed an absence of main characters, in particular, male main characters, talking about bands they form. You know the kind of bass-heavy bands that are attracted to Ozzy tunes and screechy metal songs? The ones that are vanquished to the basement and practice all day Saturday? Those bands...
Yes, I've seen lots of music mentioned, and organized school bands that obediently produce Christmas and spring concerts, but I wonder where these bands are in YA lit?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Middle Grader Dishes on MG Lit

Emma, Age 9

Emma is a fourth grader who likes to read, but who likes to write her own stories even more.
"Mostly I used to read and write only about fairies. Fairies are still my favorite subject, and all the stories I write have at least one fairy in them. But in the last year, I have begun reading a lot of other types of books so I can talk about them."

Do you remember your favorite picture book?

I read all the Olivia books, then all the Madeline books, but I especially loved any story that had a cat or cats in it.

What types of books do you and your friends usually read now?

My friends read a lot of books that are from Disney movies or from Saturday morning shows. We also all read the American girl books. I don't really like the books from television or movies. I read books with enchantment and fantasy, books that take place in castles or have some mystery to them. I like when books don't match tv, and I don't know how the story ends already.

What makes you pick up a book?

Well, it used to be only the cover. Now I read the first few paragraphs before I decide whether or not I want to read it.

What kinds of covers do you like?

The cover can only have one main thing on it. I don't like covers with lots of little pictures and two or more things happening. I just put those down.

When you read those first few paragraphs, how do you decide if you like it or not?

The main thing is I don't want to know what the problem is right away. I love drama, when the writer makes something dramatic happen right on the first page and I get a picture of it happening in my head. Then I feel like I'm sort of going into the story, that I can see it. But when they say the problem, I feel like I don't know what's going on, that I missed a page before the first page. If I don't know where the story is happening or who the characters are, I'm not ready to know what's wrong.

What makes you keep reading that story after you've taken it home?

I like to feel a little bit scared while I'm reading. I don't like to be relaxed. It's exciting when the character has to do something like be quiet for a long time not to get caught or to escape from somewhere. I have to be just a drop worried and think about the book when I'm not reading it. That's a good book. It's like the story is happening to you. And I love details once I'm in the story. I like to know what the people are eating, what it looks like, where everything is on the table.

Is there anything you don't like about some books you read that you would like to tell writers?

Yes. This is something I have noticed and my friends have, too. In the last chapter, all the problems have to be solved very, very clearly. None of us like it when we have to try and figure out what the author meant. Like, did she escape? Or did she turn into a different type of fairy?
That's terrible. When authors do that, I don't read any of their other books. I just feel disappointed at the end.
One other thing is that you don't need to have the character like a boy. I feel like I can't wait until that part is over and the writer gets back to the story. It's like an interruption.

Thanks for doing this, Emma.

You're welcome, Mom. Only next time, I'd like to do a videoblog instead of watching you type.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Tomorrow's Blog

My nine year old daughter is not happy that I write YA when she reads MG. So, with Emma, I am going to start/attempt (they're different verbs for a reason), an MG with her as an advisor.
She also read "Ben's" interview and wants to discuss what makes a good MG novel according to her and her friends.
I must say, convincing a high school boy to agree to be interviewed is a task similar to the herding of cats. With this age group, her friends eagerly volunteered, and instead of being anonymous, they wanted their pictures posted alongside the interview...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Centers of Their Own Orbits

I have always had the secret belief that teenagers are very similar to babies in their self-centered behavior, only teenagers have a more highly developed sense of self. But I wasn't thinking about this the other day when a friend of ours called to invite us to a church play she was directing.

Now, you can imagine how, right after Easter, my kids reacted to the idea of additional and non-required church attendance.

But my middle guy, Philip, had an idea. He would go if I would consider the idea of allowing him to get a lip ring. Everyone, he assured me, had or was scheduled to get a lip ring. "Just think about it, Mom," he implored, "just think about it. That's all." He went on to tell me all the bodily regions where his friends had piercings, and how one boy, now a kind of quirky high school hero, had just had his tongue split.

We watched the play, and during a symbolic crucifixion scene,Philip leaned forward in his seat. An epiphany? The dull glaze had left his eyes, and he seemed interested, yes interested, in the play. For a wild moment, I imagined an older Philip on the altar delivering his homily.

I touched his arm and smiled.

"Mom," he said softly, "this whole thing is like a body piercing story..."