The Hub has a great defense of “weak” YA fiction in the face of rising literary pressure from the Common Core and what this means to teen readers. Maria talks about why not all books need to be weighty works of literature, and why those stories aren’t necessarily going to inspire all readers anyway. One point I liked:
“Thinking about reading for pleasure, I realized an important point. Literature that is “weak” — not intellectual, not “literary” — is often very enjoyable. It doesn’t require a dissertation; it just takes you along for the ride. And this is exactly the kind of literature that has the most power to motivate a struggling reader who thinks reading is boring.”
Although it’s important to help students’ vocabulary grow and to teach them how to analyze a text, it can be just as important to show students how awesome reading can be. Some students may love The Great Gatsby (crazy drunk parties and romance? heck yeah!) but others might be put off by the initial effort involved in reading and analyzing it. Lighter YA might never show up on the curriculum, but these can be so helpful for students who are developing their love of reading.
On a more personal note, I was always a reader. I was never put off by analyzing books in class or old-fashioned language. But I also read a lot of “weak” fiction in my day. Even though I’d like to claim that my young reading experience was all Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry, I also read a lot of Sleepover Friends and Baby-Sitters Club. Those books didn’t hinder my reading experience; and honestly, sometimes it’s nice to balance reading experiences between the light and the heavy.
Also, I can name at least three times when reading lighter fiction worked in my academic favor:
- In history class in 7th grade, we were just starting our Civil War unit. Our teacher asked when the Civil War ended and I knew it was 1865 because of Happy Birthday, Addy.
- On the AP US History exam, I knew the answer to one of the multiple choice questions (can’t remember what it was about, exactly) because of the Felicity books. (Basically, all my knowledge of US History comes from American Girl.)
- Taking the SATs, I recognized the word androgynous not from our English class vocab lists, but from Francesca Lia Block’s I Was a Teenage Fairy.
Again, this doesn’t mean Great Expectations or Hamlet should be taken off the curriculum. But I think we need to remember that students can get a lot from learning how to love reading and understanding that this experience can be part of their everyday lives. And a lot of times, that connects with reading “weak” fiction for fun.