Getting students to read is a common problem in many secondary English language arts classrooms. Many teachers continue to assign only classic literature with novels that have been traditionally used in English language arts classrooms because of the belief in timelessness. There is evidence that the use of young adult literature in the secondary classroom can increase the chances that students will participate in satisfying literary experiences, read more, and become lifelong readers. In addition, young adult literature can better prepare students for the appreciation and understanding of classic literature.
There have been numerous books, articles, and opinion papers written about young adult literature and its position in the high school English classroom. During the past 10-20 years, thousands of academic professionals, English and reading teachers, administrators, and parents have come to recognize the value of young adult literature. They see that it can be effective for supporting the growth of literary understanding, for actively engaging the high school student in analytical reading and writing, and for creating life-long readers out of reluctant and even poor readers (GaIIo, 2001). Nevertheless, many secondary language arts teachers persist in assigning only the classics to their students and then bemoaning the deplorable reading desires and habits of their students. The term classic literature or classic, as used in this paper, refers to novels that have been traditionally used in English language arts classrooms because of a belief in their timelessness, such as Great Expectations, Huckleberry Finn, and similar works.
Many English language arts teachers are determined to make their students read "real" literature. They want to introduce them to authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and WiIIa Gather. They yearn for them to appreciate Austen's satirical diction, Dickens's poignant themes, Twain's marvelous wit, and Gather's remarkable imagery. They expect to turn their students, even the skeptical nonreaders, into lovers and admirers of novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and O Pioneers! They believe that all the students need is an enthusiastic teacher and a little bit of exposure to "fine" literary works. However, when faced with such authors, many students complain, balk, become impassive, and/or fall asleep. Teachers can become disillusioned and begin to question their own skills and abilities to inspire students. What they often fail to recognize is that many students do not enter the classroom with strong backgrounds in reading or with much exposure to different types of reading materials.
Young adult literature can be a vehicle that allows teachers to present the same literary elements found in the classics while engaging adolescent students in stimulating classroom discussions and assignments. Unlike classic literature, it can foster a desire to read. Because it: a) employs the literary elements of the classics, b) engages adolescent students in analyzing literature along with themselves and their principles, and c) promotes and encourages lifelong reading habits Young adult literature deserves a valued and respected position in secondary language arts classrooms.
Students often react negatively to teacher-assigned books. G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill (Herz, 1996) report that most of the high school students they interviewed did not enjoy the "masterpieces" their teachers assigned because the classic novels were too difficult to understand, seemed to be written in a different language, were often very confusing, had meanings that were too vague to comprehend, and did not relate to them and their present-day lives.
Because of his own experiences as a high school teacher and because of the results he obtained from a self-conducted research project on reading, Donald GaIIo (2001) argued that teaching the classics often creates a dislike for reading. …