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        This has been a very stimulating discussion.  I was planning to share an 
article on this topic at some point, but all of a sudden there it was being 
discussed on the list.  In the Winter 2004/2005 issue of American Educator, the 
journal of the American Federation of Teachers, there is an article by Barbara 
Feinberg entitled "Reflections on the 'Problem Novel'", pp. 8-19.  The subtitle is 
"Do These Calamity-Filled Books Serve Up Too Much, Too Often, Too Early?"  Barbara 
founded and now teaches at Story Shop, a creative writing after school program for 
children.  The article was adapted from her book Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, 
and the Mystery of Making Things Up, A Memoir [Beacon Press, 2004].  

        Although I don't believe she advocates going back to the days when Lassie 
getting her fur caught in a car door was a crisis, she believes that this severe 
"testing of the soul" and these "shocking rite of passages" that are so typical of 
YA literature are giving a view of life to teenagers that is not entirely healthy.  
Although 40% of the Newberry Awards go to these "dark reality" novels, she doesn't 
believe that these represent the authentic voice of the young protagonists or 
accurately portray life from the child's perspective.  These novels take away hope, 
there is no resource to fantasy, no open destiny.  She compares novels such as The 
Pigman by Paul Zindel to  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, the latter being 
one that offers solace along with pain.   

        I knew virtually nothing about YA Literature, but had an excellent 
introduction  through my course work at Syracuse.  I stopped reading these novels 
for quite some time, but have immersed myself in this genre for the last five years 
or so.  I am continually amazed at the variety, ingenuity and quality of the 
writing especially on themes and topics pertinent to our culture and contemporary 
life.  Many of these topics should be covered in the standard curriculum, but if 
they did exist before, have been squeezed out in the frenzy attached to 
standardized test scores.

        On the other hand, we are reading and assessing these novels from the 
viewpoint of an adult.  We have a great deal more knowledge, perspective and, 
hopefully, wisdom, when it comes to handling some of the God-awful circumstances 
that fate or human beings have inflicted on others or humanity in general.  If you 
are a teenager or younger and you are reading a steady diet of this material both 
in the classroom and from your other reading outlets, falling into a severe state 
of depression with potentially tragic consequences becomes a possibility.  Betty 
Winslow's experience [post of Feb. 3rd], relates what could happen with particular 

        My philosophy is to have a wide range of titles available from a variety of 
authors and perspectives.  Here is life from the viewpoint of young adult authors 
in all its tragedy, comedy, joy, sorrow, hope, despair, denial, acceptance, 
forgiveness, revenge, etc.  We cannot stop a student from reading a book that is 
going to be a downer, but we can promote titles for these same students that will 
show some light at the end of the tunnel.

Ed Nizalowski, SMS
Newark Valley High School
Newark Valley, NY

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