Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fantasy Annotation: American Gods

American Gods

After choosing to read a fantasy book and reading up on the fantasy genre, I realized just how diverse the category is. If you’re curious, check out Reader’s Advisory Online’s “Fluent in Fantasy.” I would categorize American Gods as a mix between paranormal fantasy and myth & legend fantasy.

2001 By Neil Gaiman
Fantasy Fiction (paranormal / legend and myth)
Setting: Mostly in modern day America, some episodes are historical and some are other-world.

Plot Summary:
When Shadow is unexpectedly released early from prison the surprise is not all happy. Faced with the death of his wife Shadow sets out on a journey of grief, illusion, myth and gods. As Shadow half heartedly returns home for his wife’s funeral he is met by Mr. Wednesday, who has a job for Shadow. After his wife’s funeral Shadow reluctantly joins Mr. Wednesday’s crew. On this unexpected journey Shadow is able to answer the mysteries of his past, have closure with his wife and ultimately save new gods and the old gods from a bloody battle. Gaiman creates a believable story of modern myth and post millennium, “ worship,” all while weaving in the stories of the “old gods” who were brought to American in the minds of their believers hundreds of years ago.

Appeal Terms:
- Intricate plot/ story line: Gaiman tells the story of Shadow and his journey with Wednesday, while also interweaving the stories of other “old gods” and their journeys to America.
- Character Driven: Gaimain focuses on Shadow. The reader is aware of all that Shadow sees, feels, hears and senses.
- Dark Humor: There is a subtle dark humor in this tale

Read Alikes (From Novelist using these search terms: Fantasy Fiction, Intricate Plot, Character Driven, Darkly Humorous)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaimain
His past marked by his father's embarrassing taunts and untimely death, Fat Charlie meets the brother he never knew and is introduced to new and exciting ways to spend his time. (Novelist)

Wicked Series by Gregory Maguire
The Wizard of Oz redux! A revisonist narrative of L. Frank Baum's classic story, this series sheds new light on the political history and social problems of Oz. Green-skinned Elphaba, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West, attempts to overthrown the corrupt and tyrannical Wizard of Oz, but the fight for equality and freedom doesn't end with her. (Novelist)

October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire
(First book in series) Half-fae Toby retreats to the human world after being rejected by her Faerie family, but finds her anonymity compromised by the murder of an important countess who binds her to investigate, forcing Toby to resume her fae position.(Novelist)

Alison Wonderland by Hellin Smith
After divorcing her philandering husband, Alison Temple works at the agency she hired to catch him under the name Alison Wonderland, tackles a case involving the shady dealings of a pharmaceutical company, and helps her best friend with her depressed mother. (Novelist)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Young Adult Readers’ Advisory - Special Topics

As a high school teacher heading towards a librarianship in a high school setting, I have spent a lot of time pondering how to grapple with issues specific to my patrons – young adults. Books for young adults seem to be popping up everywhere – I have no worries that I’ll be able to provide a sufficient variety of titles for these young patrons. I do however worry about what may be considered too mature, or too inappropriate for young readers. Or, perhaps the greater issue is – what will parents consider too mature or inappropriate? Some critics have suggested rating systems for books, others call for a re-categorizing of the large section considered “young adult.” Although school librarians have the same ALA Bill of Rights as any public librarian, their jobs within schools may make it difficult to avoid the self-censorship which librarians are taught to circumvent at all costs.

It’s no secret that young adult books are hitting record sales and subsequently librarians and teachers hope that those numbers are translating to more young readers. However, past those shiny new covers – what is the content in all these books? Whereas all young adult content runs the gamut of maturity and genres many agree that the topics in young adult books are becoming less veiled and more controversial. In Ken P. Coley’s paper, Moving toward a Method to Test for Self-Censorship by School Library Media Specialists, he writes that, “In the past few decades the content, character, and language of young adult (YA) literature, both fiction and nonfiction, has moved in the direction of greater realism and toward a more frank treatment of issues of interest to teenagers” (Coley). This is just a grown up way of saying that young adult books are dealing with sex, drugs, abuse and non-traditional romantic relationships, in a way that has never been so blatant and in your face. This frankness may be what is driving sales and drawing higher readerships among today’s youth. But, how much is too much? What is too mature or just downright inappropriate for today’s youth?

In 2010 blogger and father, Tony Buchsbaum of January Magazine published a post titled, “Are Your Kids’ Books Rated-R?” Buchsbaum, like other parents, questions the content of some young adult books. His post’s inspiration was Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green. Buchsbaum states that the publisher, Dutton Young Readers, categorizes this book for readers age 14 and up. Buchsbaum is trying to hold written sources to the same standards as the Motion Picture Association of American’s movie rating system. He explains that simply the use of the word “cock” would push this book up to a “PG-13” rating and other passages would easily categorize it as “R.” When this book was released I read it, and although I have no doubt that Buchsbaum’s quotes are accurate these were not the parts that made a lasting impression on me. I valued Green’s book for its ability to make a teenage homosexual male’s humanity real to me as a reader. There were no doubt other valuable aspects of Will Grayson, Will Grayson but that was the lasting effect on me. One issue at play here is protection, Buchsbaum undoubtedly would want to protect his young adult children from such lines as, “thrust your fierce quivering manpole at me” and “cock + pussy = a happy rooster-kitten couple.” Parents and teachers make many censorship choices for the children and teens in their care in the name of protection. But, who will protect these youth from ignorance?

Although there are those who would prefer to censor language and situations that display anything but simple black and white problems with obvious right answers there are certainly teens and adults who are standing up for more complex and mature young adult literature and they have a solid argument. In the Educational Leadership article, “The Relevance of Young Adult Literature,” B. Joyce Stallworth writes about the importance of young adult literature in helping teens to “confront weighty life problems.” Stallworth’s article focuses largely on incorporating young adult novels into classroom curriculum, but the message here is still supportive of modern young adult literature, even if it contains mature issues: “Many contemporary young adult novels contain themes and content that mirror problems facing many of today's young people (Stallworth, 1998), from bullying and sibling rivalry to more serious issues like teen pregnancy” (Stallworth). Stallworth and other library professionals are not the only ones speaking up for young adult literature.

Author of the blog, Meditations of a Teenage Philosopher, who comments largely on books for teens and calls himself, Uomo di Speranza recently authored a post titled, “Should Parents Censor What Their Kids Read?” Speranza argues that parents are trying to protect their children when they restrict their reading – but from what? Reality? On the issue of teenage pregnancy specifically Speranza points out that many parents would warn their children against having an unplanned pregnancy – but few would discuss the emotional state of a young mother. He writes, “In most minor’s lives, parents are the only people we can trust to accurately describe these issues; yet, can many parents accurately describe the feelings associated with teenage pregnancy, or would they ever describe a sexual experience to their child? I do not think so. This is a need that reading can fill superbly” (Speranza). The greater argument here is that reading about real life—real scary—situations can give teens a chance to share in the emotions without sharing in the actual experience. Speranza ends his blog post by reminding all readers that young adults will soon inherit the reality that adults already poses – books that offer realistic situations, characters and emotions can only help prepare teens for their inevitable future.

So what’s a good librarian to do? There seems to be no end to new and potentially controversial, yet popular, young adult literature. Caught in the crossroads between what literature might offend parents or administrators and what teens are reading, librarians have a tough line to walk. In her 2010 School Library Journal article, “The Problem of Self- Censorship,” Rebecca Hill writes about how easy it can be for a librarian to self-censor, especially in a school setting. The tag-line for the article reads, “You’re nervous. The book in question is edgy, maybe controversial. Someone might complain so you have to decide. Does it stay or does it go? Do you put it on a restricted shelf or require parental consent? This is a crossroads that many school librarians face. When the pressure to self-censor happens, do you let fear determine what you do with the book?” (Hill). Hill’s message is clear, don’t let fear cause you to self-censor; wait for a real challenge to come then continue to fight the good fight. Just this quote causes book titles to pop into my head – some award winners even – Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, John Green’s Looking for Alaska or Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and The Handmaid’s Tale, to name a few. This article’s most realistic piece of advice came from Dee Ann Venuto: librarians should always be armed with the library’s selection sources and a reconsideration form. Would these tools quell a parent on a rampage over the oral sex scene or drinking in Looking for Alaska? What about the cussing and drug use in Going Bovine?

One thing is clear – there is not an easy path to take. Young adult literature is thriving and readership is growing. School librarians of the future have an important task at hand: creating a rich and diverse collection and pointing students in the right direction to their next book choice. We have to trust that teens know what they are comfortable reading and try to provide quality works for them. There will be challenges but hopefully, with use of selection sources and the backing of the ALA librarians will keep their jobs – and keep doing their jobs well.

Works Cited

Buchsbaum, Tony. "January Magazine: Are Your Kids' Books Rated R?" January Magazine. 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

Coley, Ken. "Moving toward a Method to Test for Self-Censorship by School Library Media Specialists", American Library Association, September 27, 2006.

Hill, Rebecca. "The Problem Of Self-Censorship." School Library Monthly 27.2 (2010): 9-12. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 22 Feb. 2012.

Speranza, Uomo Di. "Meditations of a Teenage Philosopher: Should Parents Censor What Their Kids Read?" Meditations of a Teenage Philosopher. 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Stallworth, B. Joyce. "The Relevance Of Young Adult Literature." Educational Leadership 63.7 (2006): 59. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.

Works Consulted

"50 Years of Reading Free." YALSA. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

Benedetti, Angelina. "35 Going on 13: The Best YA for Adults 2009." 302 Found. Library Journal Archive, 19 Nov. 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

Goldstein, Meredith. "Young Adult Novels Heating up the Charts." BostonGlobe.com. 6 Nov. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

Merri, Lindgren V., and Megan Schliesman. "Edgy Young Adult Books:Examining Boundaries in Literature for Teens." CCBC Booklists. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

Pulverness, Alan. "Draw the Line | TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC." TeachingEnglish. BBC, 25 Nov. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

"SafeLibraries." : High School Student on Censorship. 10 Jan. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .

"YA Books That Are Too Mature? - Reader's Paradise Forum - GardenWeb." GLYPHS. 5 May 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. .