“Tackling rich literature is the best way to prepare students for careers and college, said [Sandra] Stotsky, who blames mediocre national reading scores on weak young adult literature popular since the 1960s.” (From The Independent)
Are you spluttering in outraged confusion yet? This quote appeared in several recent articles about the Common Core State Standards in English and promptly caused a library listserv flamewar. Sadly, I couldn’t find out much more about the context for Stotsky’s quote and why she thinks of YA literature as “weak” when it truly has never been more creative or thought-provoking. Unable to comprehend the sheer magnitude of out-of-touch-ness displayed by this quote, I turned to the Pueblo City-County Library’s Teen Advisory Board (thanks Anthony and Cory!) to tell me what real young adults thought about it.
Has “weak” YA literature made students mediocre readers?
“No, it’s that students are not motivated to read.” –Savanah
“No. I believe it’s a change in our culture that doesn’t promote reading, and it is because of the digital age and culture.” — Gary
“No, the two have no correlation, except perhaps a circumstantial one. There is not enough care for reading in the schools.” — Nikkol
“I don’t think the quote is accurate because, while poor young adult literature exists, it does not cause mediocre national test scores. Those are more likely caused by lack of reading.” — Cory
“I don’t think so; it should be blamed more on the educational system. Books we read are old works of literature and often don’t prepare students for standardized tests. Young adult literature is a stepping stone for teenagers and young adults to improve their reading level.” — Chelsey
Unsurprisingly, the responses of these teens mirror research on the importance of reading for pleasure. If you can’t read the 35 page PDF now, here are the takeaways:
- Reading for pleasure is linked to a host of literacy-related benefits, including increased grammar comprehension, greater breadth of vocabulary, and increased self-confidence as a reader.
- Young people who read for pleasure do better on standardized tests of reading comprehension.
- Young people are more motivated to read and enjoy reading more when they read books they choose themselves.
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. So maybe instead of bringing up a hundred examples of strong and thought-provoking young adult literature, we should celebrate books that are just fun. God bless weak YA fiction! Forever may its kingdom stand! Because then the teens who need to read the most will always have something to enjoy.
What do you think about Stotsky’s quote? Is YA fiction not challenging enough? Should we be pushing teens to read more intellectual material?
— Maria Kramer, currently reading a variety of Doctor Who and Star Trek novels, just for fun. So there.