YA Lit Symposium: Book Covers and Reality

YALSA_LitSymposium2014Continuing The Hub’s coverage of YALSA’s 2014 YA Lit Symposium, I’m here to give you a peek at two of the most thought-provoking sessions I attended.

Talking Book Covers with Young Adults: Whitewashing, Sexism and More

I don’t even know how to begin to summarize this session.

YA LitAllie Jane Bruce presented on her work with sixth graders and books. The reaction from the kids is what stole the presentation; I couldn’t write them all down fast enough. I’m not going to try and quote them all, but if you check out Allie’s posts here, you can see all their thoughts about the book covers they were shown. I highly recommend you look through the posts: really amazing things.

One takeaway from this session was that even young teens can see how problematic book covers are and the patterns they were able to see.

Following Allie’s presentation, Malindo Lo and Jacqueline Woodson continued the conversation about book covers. They pointed out that different backgrounds can add to the discussion. They also emphasized Rudine Sims Bishop’s thoughts that literature needs more mirrors than windows.

Whose Reality Gets Written?

This was my favorite panel that was moderated by Bythe Woolston with Svati Avasthi, Stever Bresenoff, Liz Burns, E.Em. Kikie, and Andrew Karre. The session probably had the most “real” talk I have heard about books. There was talk about the lack of books that have non-Christian religions, people with non-curable disabilities, and low socio-economic status, were just a few that were mentioned.

There was some debate about how “authentic” a novel can be. As Karre pointed out, a novel is actually imaginative and therefore not actually authentic. He also feels that authors should write ‘their culture’ and research and write outside their comfort zone. Avasthi wants authors to “tell the stories you feel you can tell authentically, regardless of your culture.” But she also warns that if you are wondering if you should write something, ask yourself why you want to write it.

There was also discussion about how we categorize books. If we make a book about one thing and we need to treat them as such in order for these books to gain a wider audience. If a book it touted only as a gay or lesbian protagonist, we do it a disservice. It could also be sold or promoted as a mystery. It was noted that as librarians we should be pushing the unique voice.

I am absolutely positive I missed something, because halfway through I gave up trying to take notes and got lost in the conversation in the room and on Twitter.  If you were there, please feel free to add things in the comments!

-Faythe Arredondo