(T.J. Akers has written a cool new novel called The Final Paladin, available Nov. 16 from L2L2 Publishing. He's stopped by today for a behind the scenes take on his love of literature. I had the pleasure of meeting him in July at the 2017 Realm Makers conference. Make sure you check out his book!)
I think literature for young adults and children is the most important literature there is.
In this age of denouncing the U.S. public school system as a bloated and inefficient institution, I would like to take the time and publicly credit my love for reading to the very same U.S. public school system. In the days before PCs and when cable television was a rare luxury, my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Puka (pronounced “poo-ka” and yes, that was her real name), would bring a television into class twice a week, and we would watch a show called The Book Bird.
The host and creator, John Robbins, would introduce a book and some of its characters. A narrator would read portions of the book as the viewers gazed at an original illustration. Another portion from the book would be read, but this time someone would draw the scene as we listened. The narrator would stop at a “cliffhanger” moment, and Robbins would encourage the audience to go find the book in the library. It worked on me, twice.
One episode covered A Wrinkle In Time. Robbins hooked me from the beginning, and when he was done, I stopped at the school library and checked it out. The next week he did The Dark Is Rising, and I found it in the school library. After that, I no longer waited for The Book Bird to offer a title. I looked for books on my own and became addicted to a lifetime of recreational reading. For that I thank John Robbins, Mrs. Puka (yes, that was really her name), librarians worldwide, and Hawthorne Elementary School in Kennewick, Washington.
From then on, even high school couldn't kill my desire for reading. College came close, but today I’m still reading—and yes, even writing my own fiction.
One would think our school system would have learned by now that if you can get a kid to love reading books early enough, it is almost impossible to kill that desire by the time they are adults. I genuinely don’t believe that is the case anymore. High school works hard at killing the desire for our readers to read. I don’t blame teachers for this anymore. I blame the teachers who teach our teachers.
In the modern university, the supposed fount of all knowledge in our land, books from 1967 and newer that are marketed to young adults (readers from grades seven through twelve) are looked down upon and often referred to sarcastically as “kiddie lit.” So when a state taps our universities on the shoulder and asks what books to we “require” our children to read and use as the “official” canon of literature, they offer things like Great Expectations, Catcher In The Rye, Ethan Frome, The Great Gatsby, For Whom The Bell Tolls, and The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. You know, the “important books.” Of course these books could be argued to have shaped and changed the face of literature, but how many kids today or yesterday really cared about them or liked reading them? Yes, I'm guilty on both counts.
Adults like me, interested in perfecting our writing for YA and children, will turn to MFA programs to perfect our writing. In 2009, few places offered such specialization. That may have changed by now, but it didn't help me then. So I did the next best thing: education classes that taught teachers how to use books written and marketed for seventh to twelfth graders. This faculty loved YA and children’s literature.
My instructors were probably unique as far as universities go. They never classified YA literature as “trashy, second-rate” titles, though there are books that certainly fit that category. My university professors endeavored to pass on to their students this primary message: "If a student isn't reading, their learning is being limited." My instructors pulled out an arsenal of first-rate books written for seventh to twelfth graders and made the student-teachers teach them to one another. They even found titles marketed to adults that were co-opted by kids.
Of course, I don’t wish to denounce classic literature. These books have stood the test of time, and for good reasons. (Though some of them really could be retired and replaced with others.) Wouldn't it be great if the PhD’s that keep telling our state legislators to use tired and irrelevant books would also tell those same legislators to allow room for schools to introduce some “new” classics?
T.J. Akers desires to be a multimillionaire when he grows up and give his wealth to his favorite causes: churches, schools, and animal shelters. Since the millions have been slow in coming, he’s settled for working as a computer technician for a state university and volunteering at his church and local animal shelter. Whenever possible, he indulges his love of writing stories to entertain people, especially younger readers. Akers holds a Masters of English from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and can often be found roaming the university’s library, especially the children’s and young adult sections. Librarians have always been his heroes. He lives with his beloved wife of thirty years, his dog, and two cats. The dog is an excellent writing companion, but the cats have proven to be rather critical. Learn more at www.tjakers.com.
Purchase Link (L2L2 website): http://www.love2readlove2writepublishing.com/books/the-final-paladin/
Facebook Launch Party Link: Thursday, November 16, 2017 https://www.facebook.com/events/1666303696725307/