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IN NORTH AMERICAN colleges and universities, courses in English, Education, and Information Science often include the subject of Young Adult, or Adolescent, Literature. Most of the works commonly taught in such courses are realistic novels written during the last three or four decades, particularly those taught in any high school or junior high school today. As a consequence of this curriculum-materials approach, classic works revealing the long and rich history of young adult literature and classic works that challenge censorship often are not read in their entirety, if at all. Students tend not to realize that there is indeed a core group of young adult novels and authors respected for creating a tradition of historical depth and integrity. No anthology has heretofore existed to collect such novels and authors and to provide a history and analysis of relations among them. Instead, courses in Young Adult Literature have presented disparate scatterings of recent paperbacks, often with no overlaps at all among reading lists. What could and should be a true literature and a true subject of inquiry becomes a number of discrete reading experiences.
This anthology is designed to encourage the teaching of Young Adult Literature as a long-standing and valuable cultural phenomenon offering profound social and psychological exploration as well as artistic worth. It is a coming-of-age literature spanning at least a century and a half, a literature that presents significant situations, themes, and emotions shared by youths from diverse families and subcultures. We, the editors, believe it is time for Young Adult Literature to assert its rightful, valuable place in the teaching ofclassic, or enduring, literature, and we believe that this anthology can aid many teachers and their students in sharing their informed respect for such classics studied in relation to each other.
The chief problem we faced as we embarked on this project was, of course, deciding what to include. As with any anthology, practical problems of length, availability, and cost became intertwined with issues of quality and taste. We struggled with many lists of possible works, developing our criteria a little at a time. Finally we settled on these: we would include about eleven complete works (partial works were never considered); each work should have been intended, in the mind of the author or the publisher, for a teen audience; the work should have a young adult protagonist, a reasonably complex plot and complex characters, and themes that touch not only on teen concerns but on basic human issues; the author's style should be characterized by such maturity of language as to lend itself to close reading. Although we recognize that the audience for Newbery Medal winners includes young readers aged up to and including fourteen, we decided to avoid such books if possible; in critical and publicity material, they are identified much more strongly with Children's than with Young Adult Literature, and we wanted to choose works for readers from a broader age range. Hatchet is our one exception, though it is a Newbery Honor book rather than a Newbery winner. We also sought a balance among male and female protagonists.
After considerable thought and experimentation, we decided to use only novels. We recognize that some fine poetry, drama, short stories, and nonfiction are designed for young adult readers, and we certainly do not suggest that a course in Young Adult Literature should include only novels. But from a historical point of view, the short novel dominates the genre. Moreover, we decided to stay with North American writers. There were more than enough to choose from, because the genre has been most strongly identified with American literature despite the importance of, for example, British and Australian Young Adult works. Omitting Little Women was also a difficult choice. Because of their length we felt we needed to choose between this book and Anne of Green Gables, and decided in favor of Anne. In the case of The Pigman, another difficult decision, we felt, ultimately, that it was more important to keep The Outsiders and The Chocolate War, so in the interests of space, we elected to omit it.
The most vexing problem concerned fantasy. We believe that either Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea or Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat would have been the most effective addition to our anthology, but neither was available to us, and our search for other works of American fantasy did not lead us, in time for this first edition, to a suitable substitute. Since the short realistic novel most characterizes YA Literature, we are comfortable for now with what we have in this volume while recognizing the importance of fantasy for many Young Adult readers. Of course, we in no way intend this anthology to be the only text in anyone's Young Adult Literature course, including our own. Any good teacher would supplement with other works, and a work of fantasy would be essential.
Today's young people face problems peculiar to our rapid technological advances and increasingly multicultural society, but they are also beset by the same difficulties young people faced 150 years ago, or even 300 years ago or longer, on our continent and abroad. We are persuaded that the chief reason for reading literature is to reach across age and gender, class and ethnicity, time and space, to discover our shared feelings and concerns. Encouraging today's teens to see that Sarah Jones and Ragged Dick, or Dicey Tillerman and Manny Hernandez, might not be so different from them may be a step toward helping them see the world anew, and perhaps to see themselves as less alone in their struggles.