Addressing Gender and Diversity Gaps with Fiction

This article by Julie Drew it today’s Huffington Post caught my eye. Apparently, adolescents are reading tomes (think the Harry Potter series at more than 4,000 pages in total and books like Divergent by Veronica Roth at almost 500 pages) and at record pace. “Young adults want to read,” writes Drew, “good stories, told well, fiction that speaks to the current young lives and that helps them imagine how they could and should act upon the world as adults.”

I’m always surprised at the idea that teens don’t want to read. Kids love books; they love good, strong stories that are engaging (just like adults). Which makes sense, as surveys show, kids and young adults read for fun. Given that, the current YA landscape is a fantastic place to read.

Drew’s article also reminded me of the recent research (see Scientific American and Edutopia) about how reading fiction cultivates empathy. Given the awareness that children growing up today have about conflict, strife, and uncertainty (true-life stories about bad economies, global warming, wars, are just a quick search away), gaining understanding, different perspectives, and problem solving ideas, seems a wonderful reason to read and write for teens. 

Even as literacy rates rise, there is a persistent gender gap; boys consistently score higher in science than girls. This presents an opportunity for YA authors to incorporate science into books that teens will love, and for teachers to start aligning YA fiction with informational text that supports the content behind each plotline. It’s intriguing to think how this shift could impact how teens develop their own perspectives. As Drew writes, “young adult literature, perhaps more than any other commercial genre, contributes to shaping the worldviews of its formative readers.” 

This is where I see YA literature, gender and diversity gaps, and the Common Core colliding. Teaching engaging literature that showcases characters of gender and ethnic diversity alongside informational text that builds students’ technical and science knowledge. After all, as Madeline L’Engle once said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

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