Young Adult Literature as Transitional Literature
Young adult literature should be appreciated and enjoyed “in and of itself” and young adults should have access to books written especially for them. Young adult literature should not be considered merely a stepping stone to “better” literature or a “holding ground” until readers are ready for adult literature. It is imperative that teachers and library media specialists provide young adults with excellent, well-written books that deal with important adolescent issues and that reflect their interests and concerns.
However, there is no question that reading excellent young adult literature can help adolescents make the transition from children’s books to adult books. By serving as a bridge, young adult novels provide the perfect vehicles to help adolescents cross from literature for children into the traditional literary canon that is studied in high school and college. Generally shorter than adult novels, sometimes less complex in structure, but often well-written and tightly constructed, young adult novels can lead students to a better understanding of the novel form and the elements of fiction. By studying these novels, young adults can understand the craft of fiction so that they are better able to read and comprehend the message and the literary conventions of the classics.
According to Gillet and Temple (2000), students move through stages of reading development. Independent reading begins in the Building Fluency State (usually second or third grade) and continues into Reading for Pleasure/Reading to Learn, and finally into Mature Reading, which includes critical reading and analysis. When teachers understand both the developmental and reading appreciation levels of their students, they are best able to help adolescents find appropriate materials that will simultaneously challenge and entertain them (Bushman & Haas, 2001). In Connecting Adolescents and Their Literature 1–2, Knickerbocker and Rycik (2002) suggest four broad categories of literature experiences that all young adults should have as they move toward becoming mature readers.
In addition to using young adult novels to teach literary conventions, educators can pair young adult novels with the more sophisticated books in the literary canon. Through pairing, teachers can introduce adolescents to a theme, situation, or setting the students find appealing and manageable. After a positive reading experience in which the adolescents become familiar with the concepts presented in the young adult novel, the teacher can introduce the students to the more complex format and ideas of the adult book. Teachers can use the pairing system to match books or authors (Samuels, 1992). A variation of this is to select one adult novel as the core book and then to identify a number of young adult novels that relate to it. The teacher can divide the class into groups with each group reading a different young adult novel. Following discussions within the individual groups, the teacher can host a whole class discussion on the various young adult novels before moving to a study of the core book.
Joan F. Kaywell (1993–2000) has edited a series of books that provide detailed instructional guides for linking young adult literature with the classics. A few of the combinations include linking Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with Cynthia Voight’s The Runner (1985); Ibsen’s A Doll House with Sue Ellen Bridgers’ Permanent Connections (1987); or The Tragedy of Julius Caesar with several novels including Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin (1978), Will Hobbs’ Downriver (1991), and Bruce Brooks’ No Kidding (1989).
Connecting Adolescents and Their Literature
Knickerbocker and Rycik (2002) believe that “it is inappropriate to make sharp divisions in the instructional practices for middle and high school students” (p. 200). Instead, they suggest four types of literary experiences that all adolescents should have:
- Reading young adult literature.
- Developing bridges between young adult literature and more complex texts and revisiting texts to apply “new understandings or methods of analysis” (p. 201).
- Interpreting literature by listening to dramatic oral readings by skilled individuals such as teachers and library media specialists.
- Responding to literature in ways including discussion groups, journals, and group conversations.
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