Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Books and Writing

Why children’s and YA literature deserves more media attention

by Danielle Binks , December 17, 20136 Comments

NYT bestellers

If you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover, then please don’t judge a readership by the coverage it receives in the mainstream media. Earlier this month, Jonathan Myerson blundered his way into a Twitter backlash with his article ‘Children’s fiction is not great literature’ in which he puts forth the argument that only adult literature ‘confronts the range of human experience’. The best *drops mic, walks away* rebuttal to this came from young adult (YA) Carnegie award-winning author Patrick Ness.

Around the same time in Australia, Sue Williams, wrote about ‘sicklit’ in YA (an insulting label in itself) and received similar eye-rolling ire from YA-readers and authors alike. Never mind that the ‘sicklit debate’ is about 11 months old and publications that actually asked young readers what they thought did a better summation. This journalist lost any credibility when it became apparent that she hadn’t even bothered to read the blurbs of the books she was name-checking as ‘sicklit’ examples. Then there was The New York Times Book Review which last month released their list of ‘100 Notable Books of 2013‘. Unfortunately, their ‘Notable Children’s Books of 2013’ only listed 25 titles.

For a long time now children’s and YA literature has received little or sub-par coverage in the mainstream media. But in Australia at least, Nielsen BookScan statistics suggest a media revolution is needed to reflect the increasing importance and stability of children’s and YA book sales.

I’ve long thought that The Age and The Australian books pages should have a section dedicated to children’s/YA reviews and discussions. If the Australian Book Review could dedicate a little extra space or an entire issue to reviews and discussions of young adult and children’s lit, it would be a change welcomed by many publishers, book retailers and readers. Hell, while we’re at it, can the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards give the Prize for Writing for Young Adults the same six-book shortlist as the Prize for Fiction?

Michael Webster is Adjunct Professor of Media and Communication at RMIT University. Last month he was keynote speaker at the Small Press Network’s Independent Publisher’s Conference, discussing Nielsen BookScan findings. Sales reports for children’s and YA literature were particularly hardy — 2013 sales to November 11 showed that the number of children’s & YA books sold were up by 2.8% compared to the same period in 2012, which is impressive, with the category representing 46.4% of all bookshop sales, compared to 28% for non-fiction and 25% for fiction. Australian titles also enjoyed a healthy share of each category, with 47% of the children’s/YA titles sold by bookshops being locally published. Such findings suggest there is a strong argument to be made in favour of more children’s and YA discussion in the arts media. Michael Webster concurs: ‘It always amazes me that the category gets as little coverage as it does.’

Webster acknowledges that a change might be needed in the mainstream media, who seem to believe the ‘myth’ that children are not buying their own books: ‘The success of JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer certainly suggests that’s not the case.’ Webster also notes a strong case for The Age and the Australian to make more room for children’s and YA discussion, because even if their readers are in the 50+ demographic, ‘that’s the grandparent market, buying books for their grandchildren.’

I think it would be truly wonderful if The Age had a separate books section dedicated to commentary and reviews of children’s and YA literature. Literary editor of The Age, Jason Steger admits: ‘Maybe we could do more. But the problem is limited resources, space and budget.’ Ideally, he says, ‘It would be nice to review more. But not many children read newspapers.’

To be clear, Jason Steger has nothing against children’s and YA literature. ‘I have read the Harry Potter series, I read them to my children. And I read Sonya Hartnett, who’s enormously talented, and some others.’ Steger suggests that there could one day be a space for more extensive children’s and YA literature coverage via The Age online, but until then those readers are more likely to turn to local and school librarians for their recommended reading, and as such a dedicated books section for them is unlikely.

Kate Blackwood is editor of Junior Books+PublishingShe agrees that there is a good argument to be made for more coverage of children’s and YA literature: ‘At the celebration of her appointment at the Wheeler Centre last week, new Australian children’s laureate Jackie French said:  “Australian children’s publishing punches far above its weight in the world.” I think that was such a simple and true way of putting it. We need to celebrate this vibrant youth literature industry of ours by making sure we discuss and analyse it as part of our mainstream media coverage.’

Maybe not many children read newspapers, but it’s not just children who read children’s and YA literature either. New York Magazine released a nifty infographic that shows the majority of people purchasing YA books are aged 18-29 and 30-44. It’s further proof that we all read all books. The ‘children’s’ and ‘young adult’ labels are now just that — labels. Superfluous tags to help bring some order to bookstore and library shelves, a useless bit of metadata that signifies nothing.

But until mainstream media and certain arts publications realise the sense in offering more discussion and reviews of children’s and YA literature, can they at least refrain from offering us insulting jargon that only serves to highlight how little they know? Because what’s currently covered in the mainstream media is not a reflection of what the YA-community are discussing or even care about. Those immersed in the readership are thinking critically about ‘whitewashing’ and ‘The disappearance of race and ethnicity from YA covers.’ They’re looking to celebrate more diversity by ‘Making Room for Everyone: Gender Nonconforming and Transgender Characters in Middle Grade Novels’. Or examining how women’s reproductive rights are being explored in sci-fi-dystopias: ‘YA Lit, Roe v. Wade, and the Future of Girls’ Bodies’. Children’s and YA is a wonderful literary world — and these are the types of discussions such powerful books and their readers deserve.

Danielle Binks is a Killings columnist and book reviewer on her blog Alpha Reader, with a particular interest in children’s and young adult literature. She is also Digital Editor at Spinifex Press, and is currently working on her first young adult manuscript.  

ACO logo




6 thoughts on “Why children’s and YA literature deserves more media attention

  1. Great article, Danielle, on a very frustrating topic.

    What baffles me is that the mainstream media doesn’t look to children’s and YA specialists for comment or insight.

    Really intelligent, engaged and eloquent kids lit specialists are not hard to find. At the very least, we have a Centre for Youth Literature there at the ready – and that’s not to mention the plethora of ace folks around on the webs.

    The fact that children don’t read newspapers is the most limp excuse for not reviewing more – their parents will, and what better place for these grown-ups who might not be reading kids and YA books to find more interesting titles for their children than the big blockbuster stuff?

  2. Agree on all points, but it’s probably just another point in favour of new publications like KYD and others taking over from where the mainstream (and declining) news media refuse to go.

    Really, they’re using the “it’s not you, it’s us” defence, and it’s mostly true! But when most coverage that gets in is a variation on “YA is no good” it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

    • I agree, Stephen. It’s probably a reflection of the relationship between new media and youth that the best place to read and discuss children’s & YA literature is online. There’s a vibrant and thoughtful community of book bloggers, authors embrace communities like Tumblr and indeed, places like KYD are picking up the slack of ‘old media’.

  3. Fantastic piece, Danielle. Agree with all your points and would like to add one more in response to Jason Steger’s comment (‘It would be nice to review more. But not many children read newspapers.’). Children might not, but their parents and grandparents (aka their book buyers) certainly do. The Canberra Times has a small section dedicated to children’s book reviews. It is limited, but at least it’s something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

6277209256_934f20da10_z

Veronica Sullivan

What cannot be counted: reflections on the 2013 Stella Count

Today, the Stella Prize released the results of the 2013 Stella Count, which calculates the gender breakdown of authors reviewed in Australian newspapers. This year, as in previous years, the Count shows that Australian literary pages review female writers significantly less than they do male writers. But there are other insidious patterns … Read more »

5562248-3x4-700x933

Carody Culver

Man out of time: Nick Earls and his analogue people

Some readers persist in the belief that the sort of light-hearted, character-driven comedy produced by authors like Nick Earls is intrinsically less worthy than serious literary fiction, but it’s as much a challenge to make your audience laugh as it is to make them gasp at the elegance of your syntax or the gravitas of your ideas. Read more »

6362f-cindersprince

Chris White

A Burning Desire: The culture of censorship

Plenty of titles on the banned books list are there for good reason – they are dangerous. However, it’s a slippery slope between books that promote dangerous activities, and books that promote supposedly dangerous ideas. Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

stepup5poster

Anthony Morris

Let’s Dance: unapologetic repetition and Step Up: All In

A franchise of movies based entirely around good-looking people performing unlikely and oddly aggressive dance moves wouldn’t seem to require heavy continuity – or any continuity at all – but Step Up: All In is surprisingly effective. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

Inky Awards

Danielle Binks

By teens, for teens: the Inky Awards

The Centre for Youth Literature’s Inky Awards are amongst the most important book awards in Australian literature. Read more »

9780987507013

Review: The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew

This is a coming out story but one that desperately needed to be told on two counts – one because it’s an Australian YA coming-out story, and two because it’s a coming-out story about a young man questioning his homosexuality alongside his Jewish faith. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

arthur-russel-beckman

Chad Parkhill

Calling out of context: The perennial appeal of Arthur Russell

When Arthur Russell died in 1992 at the age of forty, he did so in relative obscurity, having released four commercially unsuccessful albums and granted a single print interview: not exactly a promising oeuvre on which to build a legacy. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »

DP

Stephanie Van Schilt

Idle hands and Devil’s Playground: Going to the movies to watch TV

I recently went to the movies to watch TV. I bid a reluctant farewell to the comforts of my couch and heater and ventured into the frosty evening in search of Devil’s Playground. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »