No doubt about it — we YA lit fans love our authors. In teens and adults alike, YA authors can inspire the kind of hysterical adoration usually associated with twelve-year-old girls and boy bands. This was perhaps never more evident than two weeks ago at YALSA’s 2012 YA Literature Symposium, when I was among the hundreds of librarians who eagerly mobbed the hotel ballroom for the Book Blitz, hoping to get a book signed by our favorite authors. Aside from … well … the births of my children and stuff, it was one of the highlights of my life.
What I had never considered, however, was how authors can become valuable partners in the research process for my students. In this session, a panel of YA authors addressed just that.
The young people we work with have grown up with the accumulated knowledge of all of history at their fingertips, and that can make it easy for them to think they don’t need help when it comes to research. Unfortunately, they may not even realize they lack the skills to, as Kersten Hamilton put it, “convert an ocean of facts into usable information.”
This is what authors do every day. Much like us librarians, they are research gurus. Presenters Carolee Dean, Kersten Hamilton, Betsy James, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, and Carolyn Meyer represented a wide array of genres. Whether contemporary or historical fiction, fantasy or nonfiction, behind each of their books lies hours upon hours of painstaking research. As they were quick to point out, they have a treasure trove of tips and secrets they can pass on to our teens.
For authors to partner with, most of us need look no farther than our own communities. The presenters advocated bringing together a dynamic panel of local authors to get kids excited about research, and they set up the session to give attendees a feel for what such an event might look like. They shared anecdotes and advice on everything from travel and interview techniques to making the most of technology.
They also offered suggestions for how incorporating YA lit can make a research project more meaningful. Whether you are researching a social issue or an historical event, reading a novel about it can help you forge a personal connection to your topic.
Perhaps the most insightful tip of the session highlighted the unique perspective that authors have to offer in the way of research guidance. Carolyn Meyer admonished educators and students to think about what we want from the research. “Story is better than facts and data,” she said. Amen to that. Who knows? Maybe we can make those term papers as much fun to read as a YA novel.
Handouts from the session, including detailed guidelines for planning a YA author research panel and bios of the panelists, can be found on Carolee Dean’s blog.
— Wendy Daughdrill, currently reading The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser
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