How appropriate is your writing?
February 3, 2012 2 Comments
I have a question for authors: do you consider conceptual content in the creation and development of your narrative to target specific subgroups within the Young Adult field? Or do you write for a general Young Adult demographic and hope that the readers will find your work?
The reason I ask is because this morning I was looking at the reading ages of Year 7 students assigned to my writers’ groups. One of the groups is comprised of 12-year-old girls with reading ages of 17+. Reading ages are based on a student’s level of understanding of the text before them and 17+ is the highest score they can get. It means that these 12-year-olds are capable of reading material that is way beyond their chronological age.
It creates an interesting dilemma. Being able to understand what they are reading at a cognitive level doesn’t necessarily mean they have the social or emotional maturity to process it. I know firsthand. I was one of those kids. Starved for appropriate reading material as a child, I was constantly scouring my house for any book (magazines didn’t do it for me) that may have found its way inside, irrespective of content appropriateness.
You see, I grew up in a household of non-readers who did not understand my voracious need to consume reading material. They tried to accommodate my need to read by giving me books for birthdays and Christmases. But they were kids’ books—understandable I suppose, given that I was a kid. And I would devour them in hours and be left yearning for more.
There was the odd occasion when a popular-culture book would find its way into the house and I, in all my juvenile wisdom, would pinch it from my mother’s bedside table, take it back to my room and read until the early hours of the morning. Of course, reading Mills and Boone at age ten probably scarred me for life. But the book that terrified me for years was The Exorcist (1971) by William Peter Blatty. I was eleven when I read that. And with catholic religious instruction in my early childhood, I was convinced that the devil was alive and well and would possess me in my sleep. I spent the next few months walking around like a zombie because the nightmares that plagued me left me so sleep deprived I could barely function. At about the same age, I read Jaws (1974) by Peter Benchley. Reading that meant I was too terrified to swim. I wouldn’t get into the water. Any water. Not even my cousins three-foot deep above-ground swimming pool. Just in case.
There was no reading material available to me to fill the gap between cognitive development and social/emotional development. The two don’t necessarily advance at the same rate, and the disparity can sometimes be great. So without having someone around with enough awareness of the issue and knowledge of the literary world who can guide and advise, a child can be left flailing while attempting to fill a void they cannot identify and of which they have no understanding.
Thankfully, nowadays there are a few more options for young readers with chronologically older reading ages. In the technological context of childhood these days (ugh, I sound sooo old), information is so much more readily available to kids. They’re able to get online and seek out titles. They can search library catalogues themselves, they can source books from author websites, read blogs, join reading and book communities and connect with other readers like them. But there still seems to be a bit of a gap in the market.
I asked this particular writers’ group what kind of material they like to read. They’ve mostly all read the Harry Potter and Twilight series (remember they are 12), but many also enjoy the classics from Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. The Cherub series by Robert Muchamore was very popular as “something to get lost in to pass the time”, and the Tomorrow series (Tomorrow When the War Began et al) by John Marsden also featured highly. Romance, fantasy and mystery, were genres of choice.
None of these authors (except Bronte and Austen, of whom I was not even aware until I’d reached high school and found the library) were writing when I was young. And I’m pleased to note that for the past ten years or so, more authors (many of whom dealt with similar reading issues themselves as children) are developing a greater awareness of the need to target their narrative to specific groups of kids.
So again, my question to authors is this: do you consider conceptual content in the creation and development of your narrative, and target specific subgroups within the Young Adult field? Or do you write for a general Young Adult demographic and hope that the readers will find your work?