2008 Young Adult Literature Symposium

I am extremely grateful to have been given the chance to attend the 2008 Young Adult Literature Symposium in Nashville, YALSA’s first such event! I promised my coworkers I would share what I learned, but figured I’d do it by way of my blog for others to see. First, here is a list of links to the materials and handouts from the symposium that are currently available online.

And now, the highlights of each session I attended. I took a ton of notes, but in the interest of brevity I will try to keep my report short and to the point! Feel free to contact me for further discussion.

Listening is Reading: Teens Choose Books Out Loud

The session began with booktalks by Jerene Battisti, Education Services Coordinator at King County Library System in Washington. She recommended:

Next came my favorite part of this session—Katherine Kellgren, former teen audiobook listener and now herself a popular narrator of teen audiobooks, talked to us about her experience with audiobooks and read an excerpt from Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer. Her beautiful voice completely morphed into a full-fledged cockney accent as she transported us to a bustling shipyard in eighteenth century London. Fascinating!

As someone who has never ventured into the world of audiobooks, I left the session inspired to give them a try. In fact, I also snagged a free copy of What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones. (Don’t worry, when I’m done, it’s going right into the Summer Reading Program teen prize collection!)

Books Between Cultures

This was probably my favorite session of the entire conference. Mitali Perkins, author of books I’ve never read (but plan to!) like Monsoon Summer and Secret Keeper, spoke about how we can evaluate stories to see whether they empower or alienate the young people we serve. She maintains website called The Fire Escape, “a safe place to think, chat, and read about life between cultures.” In a humorous yet compelling way, Perkins weaved into her presentation her own life experience as an Indian-American growing up in an all-white suburb in California. She outlined six myths or stereotypes that often appear in stories, and offered six questions we can ask when evaluating books for young adults.

The 6 Myths (or how people of color are often portrayed in books):

  • The Noble Savage
  • The Exotic Stranger
  • The Token Sidekick
  • The Accented Alien
  • The Under”class”man
  • The “Not-It” Reject

The 6 Questions (what we can ask of the books we read and recommend):

  • Are the non-white characters one-dimensional?
  • Are the characters exoticized in any way? If so, is it needed for the story?
  • Who are the people with the power to change things in the story?
  • Does the storyteller use accent as a shortcut to characterization?
  • Does a person have to adopt “mainstream” or “white” behavior to resolve a conflict in the story?
  • How is beauty described? Race described? Why is race described?

One of the things I appreciated about her talk was that she enjoyed many of the books that have “cringe-worthy” moments in them (in other words, books that resort to the use of stereotypes. In fact, in looking back at her own work, she (with horror!) her own moments of “cringe-worthy” writing. However, she is able to recognize them and question them, and encourages others to do the same.

(See Materials and Handouts for links and handouts related to her presentation.)

Fandom, Fan Life, and Participatory Culture

There is a whole world of hard-core fandom out there that I knew little about. This session, hosted by Liz Burns and Carlie Webber (both youth librarians from my home state of New Jersey), was very informative and fun! Just yesterday, our library hosted a very successful Twilight party for teens, so we capitalized on the power of teen fandom whether we were overtly aware of it or not. That’s one of the important things I came away with after this session—if a book or movie has a strong fan base, the program we build around it is almost certain to succeed!

Instead of going into great detail myself, please refer to Materials and Handouts to view this session’s Powerpoint Presentation—I promise it’s worth a look!

(P.S. Claudia, we need to order this book if we don’t already have it!)

Inside the Authors’ Studios: Printz Award Winners

Teacher Librarian Joel Shoemaker did an outstanding job interviewing two Printz Award winners, Terry Trueman and Gene Luen Yang.

Trueman’s first novel, Stuck in Neutral, won a 2001 Printz Honor Award. It’s a story that revolves around a fourteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. Among the many topics he discussed, Trueman spoke about his own experience as the father of a son who suffers from cerebral palsy. I thought he was engaging and funny and genuine, and I really enjoyed hearing him speak.

Gene Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese won the 2007 Printz Award. This “groundbreaking” work tells the story of a Chinese American teenage boy struggling to define himself against racial stereotypes. Yang too was down-to-earth and humorously self-deprecating. Later in the conference some friends and I ran into him and he generously agreed to a picture, so there’s a photo of us floating around somewhere that I need to get my hands on!

Teen Readers’ Advisory: How Research Informs Practice

Michael Cox, teen librarian, and Jessica Moyer, doctoral student in Literacy Education, presented an informative, entertaining session on readers’ advisory, particularly in relation to teens. Their talk was based on the YA chapter of Research Based Readers’ Advisory, published in 2008.

I didn’t take too many notes on this one, because they were awesome enough to create their own presentation wiki with notes, slides, and a handout! But here are some of the important ideas I came away with:

  • Remember to let each and every teen know that you are there to help! Often they don’t realize that you can make great reading suggestions, and, of course, they often won’t approach you first.
  • Don’t forget to recommend graphic novels, nonfiction, magazines, etc. Just because it’s not fiction, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile reading and something that will interest your patron.
  • Novelist has apparently improved immensely over the last year, so consider giving it another chance!
  • For teens, passive readers’ advisory (lists, displays, etc.) is just as important as actively talking to teens about books. Think about it—they can get good reading ideas without talking to a scary dorky grown-up!
  • A “10-minute read” is all you need in order to know enough about a book to recommend a book. I can see this one being up for debate among librarians. What do you think?


I had a great time, learned a ton, came away inspired, and met some awesome librarians along the way! I’ll leave you with a picture of me (left), my roomie Ofilia (right), and Debon and Laura, two YA librarians from neighboring Plano, all crammed into a photo booth at the Authors’ Happy Hour:



1 Comment »

  1. Richelle said

    Thank you so much for posting this! Hopefully someday I will get the chance to attend YALSA – it sounds like you heard and saw some really cool things.

    P.S. I’d love to “borrow” the Sonya Sones audiobook – I love her stuff!

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