On glass ceilings and echo chambers

It was YALC this weekend and for those of you who don’t know what it means, YALC is a Young Adult Literature Convention held as part of the London Film & Comic Con. YALC is in its third year now and seems to be going from strength to strength which is excellent and lovely news. If you’re wanting to find out more about the event and to be cheered by life in general, I’d recommend a check of the Twitter hashtag. There’s really very little better than celebrating books in an overt and joyous manner – and enabling that enjoyment for a ton of readers? Brilliant.

I read a really interesting and thoughtful post this morning from Jo Hogan on the experience of taking her teenage boys to YALC. She writes about the exclusion felt by the boys from young adult literature and touches on some points that struck a chord with me . I wanted to talk a little bit about that. As Jo so accurately writes:

“a healthy community questions and challenges itself. A healthy community looks at not just whom it includes but whom it (unintentionally) excludes and whether there is more that we can and should do to welcome others.”

I am a writer, blogger, librarian, researcher, and reader. I wear a lot of metaphorical hats.  I write young adult fiction about the experience of girlhood and womanhood because I’m fascinated, preoccupied and occasionally deeply terrified about it. I’ve lived it. I’m still living it. Being the you that you’re meant to be is the hardest thing in the world. I write books that slide a knife into that and try to cut it open. I write incisions.

But I also balance that with all the other hats I wear.

I am a blogger. This blog, I hope, reflects a fairly diverse and open reading experience. I will read anything I can though I have a natural predilection towards certain genres and a distaste for other. Fantasy and love stories? Not for me. But I will read anything and I will try and help the good books to get out into the world and if I can write about it constructively, I will. (And if you have a book to recommend for me, that you think needs that extra coverage, please comment as I want to hear it).

I’m also a librarian. I work a lot with boys and young children and nervous, tense readers. It’s the Summer Reading Challenge at the moment in public libraries. It happens every summer and it’s one of the great joys of my life. As part of it, but also as commonplace, I get asked a lot about what books to recommend to people. And here’s the thing; I haven’t read a lot of the books that I recommend. I can’t. I am not superhuman enough (though I’d love that to be my superhero power).

So here’s my secret: recommending books? It’s often about actually not recommending them at all. It’s about taking the time with the reader, sitting down on the floor with them – talking to them  as much as I talk to the mum and dad – and it’s about finding their thing. Everybody has a thing. I’ll try some key words. Maybe find out about books they’ve enjoyed before. And I’ll watch where their eyes go, what makes them smile or what makes them look up – that’s the point where we click, that’s the point where I find them something. Might be a non fiction book about tigers, might be a comic about robot brothers, might be a recipe book. The point is, they’re invested and they’re a part of this journey. And they’ve, pretty much nine times out of ten, chosen the book themselves without realising it.

I’ve had children tell me that they don’t like reading, that they don’t read, that they don’t like books – and that they are ‘bad’ readers. All of that is fine, because choice, but that last one pains me so much. I would ban that expression if I could – and if such a sentiment wasn’t deeply against my liberalistic hippie tendencies. No child is a bad reader. They aren’t. Reading isn’t a scale; it’s about framing that journey differently for the needs of different people. And what so many people just need is time and the confidence that they too, will one day reach that glass ceiling and smash it.

Whilst I can’t yet coherently respond to some of the points made by Jo in her thoughtful post, I can address the points that stick with me.I can challenge the limits of the echo chamber. I can talk to the parents of the kids that I meet and the parents I don’t.

I am here to help you, and if I can I will.

I work to make, create and empower readers.

All readers.

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