I had a most awesome NCTE experience today. Some righteous authors have inspiring words of wisdom to share with us, neighbors.
Laurie Halse Anderson reminded us that “fear is the child of ignorance.” She also talked about how hard it is to respond to all of the fan mail she receives. Like, right now she has about 500 letters at home and it will take months to get through them all. I loved how she was knitting (very politely, under the table) on the panel while listening to other people. At first I thought she was doing origami (it was really crowded and I had a bad seat – so crowded that Sharyn November was standing in the back!), but then the knitting needles clicked into the scene.
But what I really loved is what she had to say about the books she had to read in high school. In front of everyone in this room packed with English teachers, Laurie admitted that she never finished reading an assigned high school English book because she hated them all. See, this is why we’re kindred spirits! Me too! Well, I finished them, but I was hating the ancient hoo-ha of language so dry I needed two glasses of water just to get through a chapter. When kids read Speak, they have an emotional response. They make a connection with a depressed character because all teens are depressed on some level. Like Laurie said, “Kids don’t cry and need resources when they read Moby Dick.” Rock on.
Laura Zeises said how she recommends bibliotherapy for some of her college freshmen by encouraging them to read teen novels. How cool is that? Most of the teen novels I’ve read have been in the last two years and they always make me feel warm and fuzzy. Or snarky and angry. Either way, it’s all good times. And I just love that word: bibliotherapy.
Brent Hartinger really made me think about the way haters have access to authors’ private info. Because Brent dares to write about gay teens, he receives hate mail from evil beings. These beings can find him and hurt him, which I hope never ever ever happens, but evil is bad like that. Brent shouldn’t have to worry about that kind of ridiculousness. He should be able to write honestly and help teens survive. On the silver lining side, he talked about all of the fabulous email he gets from kids who feel better about their lives because of his books. He’s amazing.
E. Lockhart made an excellent point about censorship. When a book or topic is censored in school or by a parent, the message given to our kids is this: We cannot talk about this topic. Do not talk to me about this. You are on your own. And these kids are left to fend for themselves, dealing with really hard issues and most times having nowhere else to turn for help. If a book includes content about sex or drugs or abuse, that book should not be censored just because a few adults decide it’s inappropriate. Why should it be inappropriate to talk about issues that teens are dealing with in their lives? The issues are real. That’s the exact reason why kids should have access to related information. Kids connect to characters in books who are feeling the same pain, which helps kids feel less alone. And gives them hope.
And Carolyn Mackler told us how books saved her as a teen. How she turned to books and found friends there. I feel the same exact way. Books saved me and helped me to survive and made me feel better, and knowing how so many kids don’t even like to read breaks my heart. But knowing there are other people like me out there, who write for teens because they want to help them deal with the absolute hardest time of their lives, makes me happy.