YA Lit and Teen Activism

In June, School Library Journal celebrated thirty years of the Margaret Edwards Award. Reading the article celebrating the award, I was struck by the impact young adult books have had. Those of us who have been librarians longer than we care to admit can remember back when YA lit became popular. It was and still is an important avenue for navigating the confusing and often painful teenage years. Through these books, readers discover characters who are experiencing body changes, identity issues, and conflicting emotions. It was like discovering best friends… who were non-judgmental, identifiable, and trustworthy.

Teens have been reading YA lit long before the Edwards Award. In fact, the term was coined in the 1960s by the Young Adult Library Services Association. Just typing that date made me wonder… can it really be 50 years since The Outsiders was published…or 44 years since we first read Blubber and The Chocolate War? These titles remain in demand because teens are still ostracized and bullied. High school can be a grim and at times dangerous place. Finding realistic YA books that weave these topics into believable stories helps to ease the fear, pain, and loneliness. Finding books that emulate their social experience can be life changing. Nikki Giovanni, the award-winning children’s author, sums up the need for fiction with this quote: “You never know what troubled little girl needs a book.” We should edit this line by removing little and adding boy

Like so many of their activist grandparents, today’s teens have read and been influenced by young adult literature. Books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseThe Hate U Give, How It Went Down, All American Boys, Until I Break, and Give a Boy a Gun reflect the bullying, racism, poverty, and violence teens still experience every day in their schools and communities. As librarians we need to continue to provide books that will resonate with students… books that will help students discover their own voice. In addition, we should remember as that troubled little girl or little boy becomes a teen, these books may be their only avenue of escape or the only avenue of survival.

So many of today’s teens have  become part of our national dialogue. From gun control and immigration reform to LGBTQ rights, these very vocal and committed teens are taking center stage in demanding change. Has YA Lit helped to shape the voice of today’s teen activists? Maybe so…


Author: Kate MacMillan

18 years as Coordinator of Library Services for Napa Valley USD and Napa Valley School Library Consortium; 2010-current CDE Recommended Literature Committee member; 8 years as an outside library consultant for Follett Library Resources; 6 years as a Napa County Library Commissioner; Current member of California Dept of Education’s Literature Committee; Napa TV Public Access board member; ALA, AASL, CLA (Californiia Library Association), CSLA (California School Library Association) and CUE (Computer Using Educators). Conference presentations include: United We Stand; School and Public Libraries Working Together (CLA 2016, CSLA 2017), It’s Not Your Mother’s Library 2012 and 2013 (CUE); Enhancing Online Resources through Library Partnerships (CUE 2010); Implementing School Library Consortium (CSLA 2008); Athletes as Readers and Leaders (2008 Association of American Publishers & CSLA Project). Contributor to School Libraries: What’s Now, What’s Next, What’s Yet to Come!

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration


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