From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges between Young Adult Literature and the Classics

By Boyd, Michael | American Secondary Education, December 1997 | Go to article overview

From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges between Young Adult Literature and the Classics


Boyd, Michael, American Secondary Education


Building bridges between young adult literature and the classics.

The theme of From Hinton to Hamlet is that Young Adult Literature (YAL) is an effective bridge for getting teen-aged students interested in reading the classics of a required school curriculum. The authors also argue that the improved literary quality of YAL in recent years can allow teachers to introduce the students to and augment their understanding of traditional literary concepts.

Chapter one is primarily anecdotal. The author tells of the experiences with her seventh and eight grade classes that lead her to YAL. They were reluctant -even hostile- toward reading the required literature. When she tried YAL, the classroom atmosphere and students' attitudes changed for the positive. The author relates some further anecdotes to show actual student responses.

The last section of chapter one is not anecdotal but is an attempt to convince teachers to give YAL a chance. It is, in effect, a call to read on in the book with an open mind.

Chapter two is designed to dispel the traditional notions about Young Adult Literature. It begins by giving a summative history of YAL. In the 1920's-1950's the literature was superficial even though a few authors produced some literature of higher quality and relevance. However, in the late 1960's and early 1970's came the turning point. Literary talents of authors became more evident. The first section of chapter two concludes with a listing of characteristics unique to YAL.

The second section of the chapter deals with the problems of the traditional attitudes toward YAL, while the remainder of chapter two argues that, contrary to the traditional viewpoint, YAL contains valuable universal themes and motifs and characters.

Chapter three argues that traditional teaching of literature in which the teacher emphasizes literary techniques and the meanings of books prevents students from experiencing literature on a personal level. The author emphasizes that having students read for the pleasure of discovery should be more of a goal.

In what is probably the most cogent sections of this book (pages 15-21), the author examines the stages of literary growth in readers. She also deals with the old (and probably valid) educational concept of reading readiness. As a means of collaborating her beliefs, she cites Louise Rosenblatt: "Like the beginning reader, the adolescent needs to encounter literature for which he possesses the intellectual, emotional, and experiential equipment."

Chapter three concludes with an argument for using student-centered, response-based teaching as a means of engaging students in the reading of literature.

Chapter four encourages teachers to be flexible in allowing students to choose literary selections, in accepting student responses as valid, and in allowing classroom time for reading and small group discussion, and for changes in students' reading attitudes. The author recommends two weeks as the optimum time for dealing with a Young Adult selection. By providing this time, either before or after reading a required classic, she argues that students will become more engaged and enthusiastic about their reading as they make connections between literary works and as their confidence grows. The recognition of these connections can be fostered in students by introducing archetypes in literature and by using thematic literature units.

The final argument of chapter four is that by students having the interest and readiness to read, teachers will still be able to cover the material required by the curriculum.

Much of chapter four provides pages of examples of how YAL can tie in to works commonly required in an English curriculum. These pages are potentially a good reference source for teachers unfamiliar with the Young Adult Literature.

Chapter five promotes changing the students' image of libraries by having teachers, library/media specialists, and public librarians convince teenagers to browse and shop the library just as they do the mall.

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