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Adolescents, Adolescent Novels, and Authors Writing the Edges: Choices

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Book Cover for Crossing the Tracks“I loved everyone who said yes to the world and
tried to make it better instead of worse,
because so much of the world was ugly—
and just about all the ugly parts were due to humans.”

–Cat, from Shine (p. 290)

In the last few months I have read a number of books that would fall under the category of “social issues realism,” and so often that sub-genre is about the ugly parts of the world. What is so timely about these texts for adolescents is their ability to present young adults, who may just be emerging into the world with their own opinions about the reality they encounter on the news, at the dinner table, or in all the other spoken but not examined arenas of their lives. In essence, many young people have few opportunities to test their theories, hypotheses, and values. Adolescents are on the edge of discovery about the world, its politics, and both the world’s and their own potential. They have so many thoughts, so many questions, and so many opportunities to make a difference, yet they don’t know how much that difference can mean. Continue reading

Adolescents, Adolescent Novels, and Authors Writing the Edges

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’ Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’

Kimberly Perry, The Band Perry

I don’t feel I am in a dark place, but writing about adolescents and novels “on the edge,” well, you have to wonder. Continue reading

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Geography & International Literature, Part II

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense that gives us our identity.

~ J.B. Jackson

Addressing geography and international literature, I want to explore issues of identity with readers. In last week’s blog, I pondered teaching geography through international literature. This week, I am interested in how young readers reflect upon their own geographical identity and resultant affinities for particular places or locations.

Certainly, geography plays a role in our identities and colors our perceptions as readers and writers when the books come from our home culture, but how does that work when the literature is produced outside our geographical selves? How we might read a text from a geographical/cultural location that is outside the book’s cultural backdrop? I am not thinking about outsider/insider perspectives here, but rather, a geographical sensibility that is part cultural but also part physical location or physical affinity.
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Geography & International Literature, Part I

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

If some peoples pretend that history or geography gives them the right to subjugate other races, nations, or peoples, there can be no peace.

~ Ludwig von Mises

hotblack_20070818_Mumbai_077Because I like to travel, as I mentioned in my last post, geography has become of real interest to me. How can we engage international literature without thinking about geography?

I grew into my fascination with geography, but I believe I have always liked maps and movement. Thinking about Kathy Short’s post about the often dated illustrations of picture books set in present day, I find it important to educate young people about geography, and the present reality of a particular location. Frequently the best of places blend past and present, but young people need to know that the world is connected on a myriad of levels and that progress is a world event. So, what happens “at home” is connected to the world and what happens “a world away” may have an impact on the immediate neighborhood. We could think of it as the butterfly effect in more political or economic terms; an event that may not be noticed by young people in one location, but is prevalent in another place and could influence the former. A case in point is how young people in the U.S. may not be aware of child labor issues in other countries, but wear articles of clothing manufactured by children in sweatshops.
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“Travel” and International Literature

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Like most people, when I read I have images playing my head, almost like a movie. I am traveling! But to get that movie and to take that journey, I need some prior knowledge about the setting of the story along with other details that bring the text to life. If I have a sense of the setting I don’t attend to the description as much as when I need to build the picture in my head from scratch. If I have been to a place, it serves as a handy backdrop to the piece of literature I am reading. When I haven’t been there, I need help. Of course, most of us do not have the extensive travel experience we would need (or like) to feel comfortable reading in this way. But travel is handy. It was also my passion when I was younger, and so I find that my experience of different places I have been are useful for my reading of international literature—on two accounts.

ThisisRomeFirst, I like reading about where I have been. The reading is enriched when I can picture it. I pull the images from my memory to help envision the world to which the author has led me. Secondly, the reading enriches my experience of the places I have traveled. It’s also great to find books to read about a place—whether fiction or informational—when planning to travel in it. Some fun texts for cities across the globe are the Miroslav Sasek series such as This is London and This is Rome. These books were written in the 1960s and 1970s, but have “this is today” excerpts that help students see how cities change over time.
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Social Responsibility and the Reader

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

OneWorldIf you ask me what I came to do in the world, I, an artist, will answer you: I came here to live out loud. — Emile Zola

Kathy Short’s June WOW Currents posts broached the issue of the social responsibility of the reviewer. I should have responded then, but waited because that posting had me thinking about Rosenblatt’s theory of transaction and the relationship between the reader and the author’s text. Searching the Internet, I found a Wikipedia entry on social responsibility along with One World, One Earth: Educating Children for Social Responsibility by Merryl Hammond and Rob Collins. After more thought, I am beginning to wonder, what is the connection to reading and social responsibility, especially if and when we find ourselves “outsiders” to the culture highlighted in the text?
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A Language for the Literature

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

BreakingBoundariesI am on a hunt. I am searching for the variety of ways international literature might be conceptualized by teacher educators, teachers, and teacher candidates. I am also interested in the ways in which they might address and differentiate between international and multicultural literature as well as how they perceive various other terms that might be used for literature that, well, transcends its native borders. I became interested in such a venture because it seemed as though as much as I discussed what I suggested was the difference between, say, “international” and “multicultural” literature, the terms and their nuances seldom transferred to my students. Was I not trying hard enough? Was I being too esoteric? Needless to say, I found the phenomenon intriguing, and so thought I would broach the topic via WOW Currents.
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