Teen Lit response from Lisa Snell
Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation, with a response to an item in my last email:
I love all of your emails and I get great value from them. I must disagree with your characterization of the Graveyard Book. While the book does open with a scary scene (it has to set the stage for why the boy is being raised in a graveyard by ghosts), this is a very heartwarming story about ghosts adopting an orphaned boy that they name Nobody (Bod) for short. This is a coming of age story and each chapter marks a significant development in Nobody's life among the ghosts that raise him. The story is often delightful, warming, and comforting. My son read this book more than once as a young teenager and it is books like this one and Harry Potter and the Lightning Thief series that turned my son into the huge bookworm he is today. I often sample the books my children are reading and this one was a keeper. There is a reason it won a Newberry medal. I would encourage you to give the book a second chance. In this book danger is balanced with enchantment.
As for the Hunger Games, there is certainly nothing new about dystopian novels with authoritarian themes being directed at older teenagers. The book is regarded as a work of literature and only time will tell if it will take its place among the likes of: The Lord of the Flies, Handmaid's Tale, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Running Man--all novels directed at older teens with depressing themes about the authoritarian state. While Hunger Games is not my personal favorite, the theme of this novel is not so different-- just set in our time using the most depraved vehicle one could imagine--the ultimate reality tv show-- that could be used against a captive and compliant audience.
And by the standard of violence and evil, the entire Harry Potter series would be out as well. It also begins with a murder of a child's family and it is well documented how many thousands (millions) of boys and girls owe J.K. Rowling a thank you.
I'll agree that there is a lot of dreck written for kids with gratuitous violence without any redeeming qualities, however many of the more popular choices, if read closely, recreate a popular story line about kid's survival without the help of their parents and with the help of other kids in new and sometimes more disturbing settings. Although often no more disturbing than the kind of dire circumstances that were faced on the prairie by Laura Ingalls--including disease, death and violence. My kids were serioulsy traumatized by Little House on the Prairie and The Bridge to Terabithia--two great and long-standing children's classics with valuable lessons to offer.
Here is a couple of articles about how much better kids really have it in terms of reading--