Friday, April 27, 2007
When I was a teen, a local store instituted a policy of having only two teenagers inside a store at once. (If I was there with two friends, would they have kicked me out?) Recently, two local malls decided that after a certain time, teens have to be with an adult. (What should teens do if they need to buy a Christmas present for their parents and don't want them to see what it is?) It bothered me as a teen, and it bothers me now that the majority of teens gets punished by a few who cause trouble.
So what's the library's role in all this? I think it's important for librarians to avoid labels such as teens as "problem patrons." Even if we don't dislike teens as a group, we need to be aware of our own labelling, and what we expect different groups to be or act like -- the jocks, the nerds, or what have you. When someone identifies themselves as part of one of these groups, all of us have a picture in our heads of what that label means. Teens have their own ideas of the identity "librarian," and I bet it's one we want to change. Finally, by providing a variety of books and programs, we can expose teens to a variety of backgrounds and people groups, and in so doing we can work towards challenging the stereotypes they have of various identities.
McCarthey, Sarah J. and Elizabeth Birr Moje. "Identity matters." Reading Research Quarterly. 77.2 (2002): 228-238.
As a teen, this behavior really bothered me because I felt that in some situations, I wasn't really being "myself." I think that genuineness is important to teens I know now, just as it was to me then. I wonder if they struggle, like I did, to define themselves and figure out the difference that Bronwyn Williams notes between "identity" and "self." He writes, "If my sense of self is internal and somewhat stable, my sense of identity is external, socially contingent, and performed. My identity is a shifting and contextual thing. I negotiate and adjust it depending on my social context and the social script I am expected to follow -- my identity may change from one context to the next" (179). I think one of the reasons I worred about my behavior in different social settings was because I wasn't making this distinction -- external vs. internal, social construct vs. integral to me as a person. I wonder if my stress came not so much from feeling like I was acting different from my "self," but from not knowing in which situation I was doing so. Was I really talkative and friendly, or shy and quiet? Which did I want to be? How much choice did I have?
Part of being a teenager isn't just navigating identities, such as daughter, sister, student and employee, but also discovering the self - interests, beliefs, and desires for the future. If I no longer like what interested me as a child, where do my interests lie? Why do my parents/friends/teachers believe as they do, and what do I think? What career do I want? In some ways, a library is a great place to begin such an investigation. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, explore different people, situations, and interests. But I wonder if the library could do a better job in being a place teens feel they are being themselves. Are librarians intimidating or approachable? Does "Can I help you?" sound more like "Why are you here?" Sometimes unintentionally, we give teens the idea that the library is only for serious students and readers, and if they aren't like that, they may feel they have to be someone they aren't in order to be welcomed.
Williams, Bronwyn T. "The Face in the Mirror, the Person on the Page." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 47.2 (2003): 178-182.
Friday, April 20, 2007
- Do I like this story?
- Would a teen like this story?
- How does this fit in with the personal identity asset?
- I liked the story.
- I'm not sure. I wouldn't have read it as a teen, and I couldn't find reviews on Amazon by teens.
- Introverts are bad?
Like I said, maybe I'm reading too much into it. I'm interested in what other people in the class thought. I liked the book, the story of two brothers, Spider and Charles, who never met and eventually have to work together to survive, and how Fat Charlie started out kind of boring and embarrassed by his dad and really took control of his life. Though it was fun to watch his character change, I couldn't help but think, the way his character is described in the beginning, it seems like shy, introverted ("boring") people need to change. Being a rather introverted, shy person myself, I find this rather troubling. I had a sort of mixed reaction towards Fat Charlie, because while I enjoyed Charlie's change (I noticed, like a good English major, that at the beginning, he had his father's nickname for him, "Fat Charlie," but as his character changed, his name changed to Charlie in the narration), I couldn't help agreeing with him quite a bit at the beginning. His dad was kind of lacksadaisical, a poor father figure. I would have been embarrassed if my dad were like that. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, just a personality thing. Some people don't like the limelight, and get kind of embarrassed when people pay attention to them "by default," because someone nearby, like a parent or friend, is being, well, noticeable. Does it help or hinder teens' feeling about themselves if they think they need to change to be able to like themselves? I don't know.
So now that I've been extremely critical, I should say again that I really enjoyed the story, and I really am looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought. :-)
Not being a parent myself, I can only say what I've observed as an outsider. It seems to me that people have a variety of interests, all of which could be constructive uses of time, that are not necessarily reading. I think of my own family: I was always the huge reader, one of my brothers is a huge music fan, and the other brother loves movies. We all read, though I read the most, and each of my brothers brings a depth to their interests in music and movies that I don't share with them. Not all children and teens will develop into huge readers. Some of them will never read classics. Some of them will not be interested in books in the same way as an English major. I think that's OK.
I don't think the point of having lighter reads is so that, eventually, a teen will move on to more in-depth literature. I don't have a problem with suggesting a classic I think someone will like based on their other reading choices, or offering it as one of many choices. But at the same time, I think that light reads should be enjoyed for themselves, not as bridges to the award winners. Personally, I do not think that award winners are always the best books. They often seem to me to be written, whether through subject matter or in-jokes, for adults. This doesn't mean that kids will never like them or read them, just that they won't understand the depth that seems to mean so much to those who hand out the awards. One example that comes to my mind is The Tale of Despereaux, a recent Newbery Award winner. One of the chapter names is a play on "The sandman cometh," and a rat is named Chiarascuro (in art, the interplay of light and dark). And yet, the cover of the audiobook says "For ages 7 and up"? It was a cute enough story, but...I don't know. I think adults have a tough time reading like kids.
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereax. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2003.
Friday, April 13, 2007
So, as you may expect, The Hookup Artist would not have been on the top of my reading list as a teen. I would have preferred something like Avalon High, which I could relate to my own life in some ways, but could still feel like I was separated, like I wasn't reliving my own uncomfortable experiences. In class, we've talked about why certain teen shows didn't fly...I think it's because they were too real for most teens and adults that wanted to forget the more painful and awkward social interactions.
That being said, I can see why some teens would like a book like The Hookup Artist. As a teen, I really wouldn't have wanted to relive the emotions I was going through. I wanted to read about other worlds, other times, and experiences different from my own. But for some teens, just knowing that someone is going through the same thing, that these awkward circumstances and complicated feels are normal is a huge boost. Just knowing that someone else -- even in a fictional story -- went through it and survived is really supportive and empowering.
In Avalon High, Ellie has to do the same. I think it's no accident that readers can figure out who everyone "is" by page 30. Ellie (Elaine), after all, has to be Lady of Shalott. It only makes sense. It's who her mother named her after, and what Mr. Morton -- and, to some extent, the reader -- expects. "Everything" seems to point there. The role is ready for her. She just has to step up and do it. The only problem is that she doesn't want it. She refuses to accept that she really is the Lady of Shalott, and in the end, that's why she succeeds. Because of her empathy for Will, she refuses to stay out of the way like she "should." As a result, history isn't repeated. I also loved that she refused to believe that she had to play a role. Even after handing the sword to Will and being revealed as the Lady of the Lake, she refuses to be defined by that: " 'I'm not the Lady of the Lake,' I said firmly....Besides, what if it is true? If you really are Arthur; and I really am Lady of the Lake. . .well, then this isn't how the story's supposed to go, is it? With us, I mean. Together. Like this" (287-288).* Elaine was a pretty independent character to begin with, but what she and the reader learn is that you don't have to accept the role that everyone thinks is designed for you. You need to make your own way.
A lot of what I've said so far can really be said for the next asset we're going to discuss, "Positive Identity," but I think that, especially as a teenager, these two are linked. Much of the way I figured out who I was and what I wanted to be was in my interractions with my friends. What did they expect of me? Is that what I wanted? Decision-making was partially wrapped up in what I wanted, partially in what everyone else wanted or expected. Resisting peer pressure is easier when you know who you are, or as in Elaine's case, who you aren't.
Cabot, Meg. Avalon High. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.