Monday, January 25, 2021

30th Anniversary of My YA Book Group

Photo by Gail de Vos

In January 2021, one of my (four) book clubs celebrated our 30th anniversary. The group began in 1991, after a course at the University of Alberta on young adult literature inspired some participants to continue reading more. In 2001, I was grateful to have been accepted as a member. I had been enjoying YA on my own, but didn't know other adults with whom I could discuss these books.

To mark the occasion, book group members went through our accumulated list of 494 titles with the goal of selecting our favourite authors. We also agreed to defend our list by explaining our criteria. Here's what I came up with:

My top authors (in order, along with their books read by our group):

1.   A.S. King (Dig; Ask the Passengers)

2.   Shaun Tan (The Arrival)

3.   Margo Lanagan (Brides of Rollrock Island; Tender Morsels)

4.   Mildred Taylor* (All the Days Past, All the Days to Come; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry)

5.   Brian Selznick (Wonderstruck

6.   Laurie Halse Anderson (Shout; Speak (the graphic novel); Speak; The Impossible Knife of Memory; Catalyst)

7.   M.T. Anderson (Daughters of Ys; Landscape with Invisible Hand; Yvain; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing; Feed)

8.   Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane; The Sleeper and the Spindle; The Graveyard Book; Coraline; Stardust

9.   Franny Billingsley (Chime; The Folk Keeper)

10. David Almond (My Name is Mina; A Song for Ella Grey; The Savage; Clay; The Fire Eaters; Kit's Wilderness; Skellig)

*Note: It was announced today that Mildred Taylor has been awarded the American Library Association's Children's Literature Legacy Award, which honours an author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.

My criteria:

1.     I will be excited about any new work from this author. This is based on my abiding emotional response and admiration for the books on our 30-year list.

2.     I will happily reread this author's books. This correlates to the depth of the work, and being confident that I will find new layers of meaning to appreciate, as well as notice aspects of the writer's craft (allusion, foreshadowing and so forth) that I may have overlooked initially.

3.     I look for an element of surprise, by which I mean an element related to delight or discovery, as opposed to a surprise ending.

4.     I look for an original or distinctive voice, which is also related to my delight in an author's work. One thing I know about myself as a reader is that I'm always looking for innovation. I like to be challenged, and I want that effort to be rewarded with new insights into the breadth of human experience. I want to feel changed after reading a book.

5.     I look for believable characters whose actions make sense. I put myself into characters as I read them, and even if they are very different from me (they usually are!) I want to understand why they speak and act as they do. I need to feel like the author treats their characters with integrity. 

6.     I look for a believable setting (whether it's real or imagined). I make a sort of movie in my head as I read and the setting both grounds me in the action and provides atmospheric depth to my reading experience. (An example: Yahaira boards a plane and sits in a window seat in Acevedo's Clap When You Land. I picture her (embody her) sitting with the window on her left. Then the text has her turn to the person sitting to her left and I immediately shift my mental image to the other side of the plane, because I realize she must have the window on her right.)

Margaret Mackey, one of the original members, has offered to compile our lists and her preliminary report is that we have far more differences than similarities in our reading. I agree, and that's what makes our discussions so interesting.

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