Academic journal article English Journal

The Moral of the Story: Young Adult Authors Speak on Morality, Obligation, and Age Appropriateness

Academic journal article English Journal

The Moral of the Story: Young Adult Authors Speak on Morality, Obligation, and Age Appropriateness

Article excerpt

During our preparation to teach a col- lege course on adolescent literature in the secondary classroom we came across an article on morality and young adult (YA) literature written by Carol Jones Collins. In her commentary, Collins examined the role literature can play in "[i]mparting to young people, and especially to young adults, moral val- ues" (158). Collins asserts YA literature can serve as a moral conduit for adolescents. In support of this perspective, Collins cites the works of theorists such as Louise M. Rosenblatt and Rita Manning who purport fiction can help readers determine and understand their own ideas about morality and can help them work through moral quandaries, some- thing both authors have witnessed in the use of YA literature in their own classrooms. Framed through these classroom experiences, the authors of this ar- ticle not only agree that YA literature contains the power to affect an adolescent's sense of morality, but also recognize the use of YA literature to promote this developmental aspect of the adolescent is ab- sent from our current classroom dialogue.

In the summer of 2011, we had the oppor- tunity to interview a dozen YA authors through a graduate course at the University of South Florida. Each week we met and spoke to YA authors about their lives and their works. In a conversation with Lauren Myracle, the topics of morality and age ap- propriateness within her novels arose. Her response to questions posed about these topics led us to au- thor Shannon Hale's blog. In this blog, Hale so- licited responses to the question, "Do young adult writers have an obligation to have moral standards and create boundaries in their books so as not to expose children to issues/situations that are age inappropriate? Why or Why not?" The dialogue included authors such as Holly Black, M. T. An- derson, and Carol Lynch Williams. Their blog re- sponses started us thinking again about Collins's article and the power YA literature potentially has in influencing the moral values and beliefs of its adolescent readers.

When it comes to morality in YA literature, we often hear from parents, educators, or mem- bers of community groups who are challenging a book's moral content, yet we do not often have an opportunity to hear from the authors themselves. As secondary educators we see the value of YA lit- erature in the classroom as a medium for not only academic growth but for personal growth as well. However, we are left wondering to what extent YA authors write to impact the personal growth of their readers, if at all. Furthermore, do moral- ity and obligation intersect in the writing process? Because these questions could only be answered by the authors themselves, we posed our questions to 22 YA authors, of whom 17 graciously responded. In addition to the email responses, we also exam- ined responses from Shannon Hale's blog where she asked YA authors' views on morality and the ob- ligations that YA authors may or may not have to their readers.

What Does MoralMean?

Any talk of morality must first begin with a defini- tion of moral; yet because of the diversity of people and lifestyles in our world, no one definition of this word exists. With its ambiguity, it was not surpris- ing many authors also felt the need to define moral prior to answering our questions. Some believe the word itself is indistinct, while others believe moral is often used to mean something else. While there was no one definition agreed upon, the idea that moral is something personal was accepted by all.

Truth is, I think if you ask five different writers you will get five different answers. Additionally, that which constitutes "moral standard" in one person's mind might not constitute such the same in another.

-Alan Sitomer

I believe the word moral is very subjective, because morality differs from per- son to person. For instance, there are people who would say it's immoral to portray homosexuality in young adult literature, while there are others who would say it's immoral NOT to. …

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