Nonfiction to Help Teenagers Learn Who They Are and Where They Fit (page 2)
When young adult specialist Patty Campbell spoke at an American Library Association annual meeting, she pointed out that teenagers are so wrapped up in what the psychologists have labeled the "adolescent identity crisis" that they have neither the time for nor the interest in sitting down and reading about the world in general. What they are looking for are books that help them decide on who they are and where they fit into the scheme of things. Informative books they judge to be helpful include sex education books, some physical and mental health books, selected how-to books, and biographies or true accounts of experiences teenagers can imagine themselves or their acquaintances having. Nearly all the other information books published for teenagers are read under duress—only because teachers assign reports and research papers.
Teenagers especially appreciate books that give advice on managing one's life and being successful right now. Marie Hardenbrook, librarian at McClintock High School in Tempe, Arizona, says that over the last few years her "Inspirational" display and booklist has been consistently popular. She includes such sports-related books as Richard E. Peck's Something for Joey, William Blinn's Brian's Song, Steve Cameron's Brett Favre: Huck Finn Grows Up, and Shannon Miller's Winning Every Day: Gold Medal Advice for a Happy, Healthy Life. The runaway best loaners, however, are Jack Canfield's books including two volumes of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul: 101 Stories of Life, Love, and Learning; Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul: Stories about Pets as Teachers, Healers, Heroes, and Friends; and Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul: 101 Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirits of Women. There are also books that answer more specific kinds of questions that kids ask about both themselves and each other; for example,
Can I get AIDS from French kissing?
Do I have diabetes?
Why do I feel like crying all the time?
How serious is herpes?
What's the difference between just trying a drug and becoming addicted?
If I'm pregnant, what are my options?
What's an STD?
Is being fat really unhealthy?
What causes pimples?
What happens if someone has Hodgkin's disease?
My mother has breast cancer. Is she going to die?
Is anorexia nervosa just in a person's head?
Why does my grandfather say such strange things? Will I be like that when I'm old?
What will happen if I have venereal disease and don't go to the doctor?
The best books offering answers to such questions have good indexing, clear writing, suggestions for further reading, and, where appropriate, information about Web pages, telephone numbers, and support groups. The Need to Know Library, put out by Rosen publishers, is a dependable series of self-help books. Each book is sixty-four pages and includes a glossary, index, photos, and suggestions for further reading. With self-help books, girls make up the majority of readers; hence authors and publishers work hard to create such books as Erika V. Shearin Karres's Mean Chicks, Cliques, and Dirty Tricks: A Real Girts Guide to Getting Through the Day with Smarts and Style and Girlsource: A Book by and for Young Women About Relationships, Rights, Futures, Bodies, Minds, and Souls. And even a more neutral sounding title such as Florence Cadier and Melissa Daly's My Parents Are Getting Divorced: How to Keep It Together When Your Parents Are Splitting Up will probably attract more girl than boy readers.
The exploration of sexual matters in books for young readers is an especially sensitive area for the following reasons:
- Young adults are physically mature, but they probably have had little intellectual and emotional preparation for making sex-related decisions.
- Parents are anxious to protect their children from making sex-related . decisions that might prove harmful.
- Old restraints and patterns of behavior and attitudes are being questioned, so that there is no clear-cut model to follow.
- Sex is such an important part of American culture and the mass media that young people are forced to think about and take stands on such controversial issues as homosexuality, premarital sex, violence in relation to sex, and the role of sex in love and family relationships.
- Talking about sexual attitudes and beliefs with their teenage children may make parents uncomfortable, especially if the father and the mother have different views. This means that many young people must get their information outside of the home.
While some books focus specifically on a problem such as AIDS or pregnancy, it is more common for books to cover emotional as well as physical aspects of sexual activity. No single book can satisfy all readers, and this is true of those dealing with sex education. An entire collection must be evaluated and books provided for a wide range of interests, attitudes, beliefs, and lifestyles. Those who criticize libraries for including books that present teenage sexual activity as the norm have a justified complaint if the library does not also have sex education books that present, or even promote, abstinence as a normal route for young people.
Materials dealing with sex are judged quite differently from those on less controversial topics. For example, in most subject areas, books are given plus marks if they succeed in getting the reader emotionally involved, but with books about sex, some adults feel that it is better for young readers to be presented with straightforward, "plumbing manuals"—the less emotional involvement the better. Other adults argue that it is the emotional part that young people need to learn. Coming to agreement is not at all easy because adults have such varying attitudes and experiences.
Well-planned and well-written books can present information about different viewpoints, and teachers and librarians are performing a worthwhile service if they bring such books to the attention of young people. Over the last few years, we have noticed that women's magazines are increasingly using sex-related articles as a selling point. In magazines for young women, many of the articles are written as though their purpose is sex education, when in fact they border on what Playboy editors once described as "pious pornography." Women who have inhibitions or feel guilty about sex can think and talk about sexuality as long as they are doing it to learn something, especially if they are made to feel that they are being unselfish in learning to "please their man." We were talking about this in one of our summer school classes, which had an unusually large number of parents in it, and casually remarked that maybe there was no longer a need for sex-education books because kids could get all the information they wanted from the Internet. There was an immediate uproar with the parents in the class saying there was a greater need than ever for well-thought-out and well-designed books, if for nothing more than warning kids against entering into sex-related conversations on Web chat rooms, and so on. The consensus from the parents was that they wanted their children to have nothing at all to do with sexual information posted on the Internet.
When helping young adults make reading decisions in this area, we need to consider the reader's purpose. If the reader wants basic information, nonfiction is far superior because it can present a wider range of information in a clear, unambiguous way. But if the reader desires to understand the emotional and physical aspects of a particular relationship, an honest piece of fiction usually does a better job.
The important thing for adults to remember is that they should provide both kinds of material in conjunction with a listening ear and a willingness to discuss questions. Schools and libraries need to seek community help in exchanging ideas and developing policies. Family values must be respected, but honest, accurate information must also be available for those who seek it. Charting a course along this delicate line is more than anyone individual should be expected to do, which is why people need to communicate with each other. Professionals working with books are also obligated to find and study the latest, most authentic information and to bring that information to those who are helping to shape policies and practices. The general public may get away with objecting to or endorsing ideas and books that they have never explored or read. Not so for the professional charged with leading a group to consensus or compromise. The more you know about the materials, and the more you understand about individual and group differences, the better able you are to participate in book selection, discussion, and, sometimes, defense.
© ______ 2009, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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