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The Truth About Celia - Contemporary YA vs Classic Literature
Oh no, not the briar patch.
tanaise
tanaise
Contemporary YA vs Classic Literature
When Goosebumps had that crazy boom while I was in HS, I think, and all the Harry Potter and Twilight craziness since then, I thought it was awesome. There may be better books in the world to read (yeah, there definitely are), but I figured every book someone reads is another book closer to a habit. If kids don't think books are fun or relevant or interesting, why should they bother reading for fun? Even if the kids never read another book on their own just for fun, that's still one more than they had before.

So, a while ago I was chatting with an English teacher and some other people my age ish. We were talking about the 'classics' from our high school days and how a) utterly inappropriate they are for teenagers in general and b) how boring they must be for kids who don't like reading much. I think the example that was used was Catcher in the Rye which is a coming of age novel given to people not yet of age *and* in a completely different world than the one in the book. And books like 1984 and Animal Farm, or my personal favorite, Brave New World (which to me in HS was so totally a Utopia--a world where everyone knew where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to do) are less obvious to teens than they are a few years later.

So I started making a class in my head, taking the classics, and pairing them up with contemporary books that 'match' but are more (theoretically) interesting to current teens. Surely it must be possible to look at what we expect a book to be doing and find an analog that would appeal to kids and still a) have the same message and maybe even b) help train critical reading skills.

So Brave New World pairs well with Scott Westerfeld's Uglies/Pretties/etc series. Dracula contrasts with the contemporary vampire books.

I had a few more, but I've forgotten them, and my work server is back up, so you'll just have to come up with your own.
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Comments
From: orbitalmechanic Date: August 10th, 2010 08:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
There must be something contemporary about Iraq/Afghanistan to replace the Red Badge of Courage. That is one freaky FREAKY book.
tanaise From: tanaise Date: August 10th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mind you, i don't think they always *need* to replace the classics. I think I clumsily combined two related but separate ideas in my post--A) why do we torture kids by making them read things they don't understand or identify with (thus not helping with the idea of enjoying reading) and b) why, when we're teaching kids to look at things critically, do we use examples from boring books.

I think there are critical reading skills which might be easier to teach if the added challenge of reading things which you don't care about is lessened. And once you can show how to read for, say theme, by reading Uglies and seeing how what Tally thinks is a utopia might not be, then you turn to Brave New World and say "okay, different book: but if you read it the same way, you get basically the same message."

I don't think it's a staggeringly original idea or anything, it's just something i turn over in my head from time to time.
From: orbitalmechanic Date: August 10th, 2010 09:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Agreed! I picked The Red Badge of Courage because it's strange and confusing and very literary in style. I didn't read it until grad school and I have no clue why it's read in high school--or rather, I'm sure it's taught as history, which is a waste of the book and a waste of the history.

And, on the other hand, we have an actual war going on right now, a confusing and complicated war that people not much past high school are fighting. I'm sure you could do some interesting work by comparing this war to the Civil War, but I wouldn't start with Red Badge to do that.
sandy_williams From: sandy_williams Date: August 10th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
(hopped over here from Jodi Meadows tweet)

Great idea! But would this theoretical class require the kids to read twice as many books? Maybe you could pair up the required classics with shorter, excerpted scenes from the current books? (and maybe that would entice students to read the current books if they haven't)

OR (this really is fun to think about!) students could break down into groups and choose a six weeks to read both the classic and the contemporary (so they only be reading one extra book during the year unless they wanted to read the others (for extra credit?)). Then they could report back to class.

Man, I'd love to be a student in a class like this.

:-)
tanaise From: tanaise Date: August 10th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, i was torn as to how the books should be read, so as not to over burden the kids. I'd considered the excerpts idea, as well as the idea of reading one of the paired books in class and then the other as a book report sort of book--so you'd read Uglies in class, and then read Brave New World on your own and write a report about it. Obviously, this depends on the quality of the contemporaries used, but I think high quality contemporaries could be found for most classics, and that also once kids get the hang of it, you can reverse it and read the classic and let them find YAs to compare on their own.
malinaldarose From: malinaldarose Date: August 10th, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Because you mentioned Dracula, I have to say that it was the only classic I read in high school that I actually enjoyed.

Though reading some of them now as an adult, I have enjoyed them much, much more. Which sort of makes your point, because I'm old enough to understand them. My favorite example is The Scarlet Letter. Even if I'd looked "adultery" up in the dictionary when I was thirteen, I wouldn't've understood what it was. But when I read that book again in my thirties? Loved it.
toratigris From: toratigris Date: August 11th, 2010 01:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I've said the same thing many times myself. Many of the books I had to read in high school put me off those authors, despite being a book lover who desperately wanted to be erudite.

Having read classics as an adult and genuinely appreciated them, I understand why educators want students to have read these books, but I still believe they're mistaken in the choices they make about student reading lists.

I think your idea is a good one, and should be paired with an attempt to choose classics that would actually appeal in some way to students--instead of _Great Expectations_, do _A Christmas Carol_; instead of _Ethan Frome_, do some of Edith Wharton's ghost stories; instead of _The Scarlet Letter_, do _The House of Seven Gables_; and so on. They might not be as "worthy", but at least students wouldn't get the impression that all classics are boring and reading is a form of torture. And then there's a chance that they might actually crack a book after they graduate.
katallen From: katallen Date: August 11th, 2010 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I have this theory that book lists are chosen by people who don't like books that much but feel certain things must be read (a little like they're some kind of vaccination).
cissa From: cissa Date: August 15th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd argue that for most of the people involved, "Brave New World" is in fact a utopia.

I loathed Holden Caulfield and everything about him. Rich NYC brat? NOT relevant to this Midwestern chick, and he whined too much to be interesting. Note that I loved Jane Austen at the same time.

I do like the idea of pairing "classics" with modern novels with a similar feel- nifty!
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