Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Books then and now

I've noticed a funny thing while browsing YA at my local library (new to me for the past 11 months). It's a rural area and a lot of the books are a) old or b) self-published/from a small press. Also, the whole thing skews rather young, with books I'd definitely put in MG shelved as YA (and a few books that really are adult stuck in YA as well, for some reason). There's a new children's/YA librarian and the library's just had an addition put on, with more room to look for new YA and MG. So there's hope for change. But it does give me insight into how much it's all changed since pre-Harry Potter days. And just how writing styles and techniques can go out of style in general.

1. Length. Whoa. 200 pages used to be normal for YA. Now it feels like a taste. It's not that the stories themselves are any longer. But the old ones feel waaaaay summarized.

2. Which brings us to show, don't tell. Some authors have always been this way. But a lot of the quick reads from pre-HP days are really bad about this. Today, after HP and Twilight and the like, kids want to feel like they're really there--they want to feel that the story is immediate and all around them, not summarized from a remote position. They want to be inside the characters' heads, not observing from the outside. Point of view is really important in YA especially!! There are still authors who write the old way, who have been publishing for a long time and just have kept on doing the same old thing. But if you compare what is "hot" today with what was "hot" in 1990, it's not the same thing.

3. Please pick names that aren't dated--especially when it's supposed to be contemporary and you're using names from your childhood. For example, Will is a great name for a boy today. Bill sounds...um, a little 1950s/60s? I know, Bill Weasley! But they specifically have old-fashioned names. If you don't have a good reason like that...maybe check out the latest Social Security names list.

And finally, re: then vs. now: I recently ran across a post from a home schooler who seemed proud of never reading modern children's literature with her kids, only classics. I realize most people who stumble across this blog already love (current) books, and I also realize that schools are just as guilty of classics overkill. But you do realize this is the golden age of children's literature, don't you? That there are more high quality books on more varied subjects out there for kids now than EVER BEFORE? That many of these books ARE classics, and will be read many years from now? Has there EVER been a plot genius like Rowling? Would you really deprive your kid from the heart and wisdom of Kate DiCamillo or Ingrid Law or Cynthia Lord? Effortless Greek myths come back to life with Rick Riordan? The funny and frightening aspects of childhood and first love as seen by Wendelin van Draanen? Meeting tragedy with humor with Lindsey Leavitt? Meeting real kids from very different cultures through Trent Reedy? I could write pages and pages about all the wonderful books that have been published since you were a child that are filled with humor, wisdom, courage, heart, insights into other people, etc. Charlotte's Web is a wonderful book, but if you haven't read anything since then, then get thee to the new book shelf at your library. Talk to a librarian. Maybe let your kid pick something out that looks interesting instead of only letting them pick something off your classics list. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a favorite new author, too.

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