Tag Archives: YA authors


No post last week.  I was traveling to Chicago to attend the annual NCTE Convention and the ALAN Workshop.  I just got back last night, and here’s what’s on my mind:

1.  Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner.

2.  The leaves that have buried my backyard.

3.  The ALAN Workshop:

a.  We heard from scores of BIG SHOT YA authors, including Utahns Jennifer Nielson, Kristen Chandler, James Dashner, Sara Zarr, Matt Kirby.  The headliners were MT Anderson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Walter Dean Myers, Jacqueline Woodson, John Green, Sarah Dessen, Jay Asher, Chris Crutcher, Kenneth Oppel, Neal Schusterman, Jennifer Donnelly, and David Levithan.

b.  Great quotation:  “You can’t revise a blank page.”  Nora Roberts

c.  Great moment:  During her speech, Laurie Anderson said she wasn’t feeling well.  She sat down for a few moments–still speaking—to clear her head.  Then she had to stop and put her head between her knees.  Then she said she felt really dizzy and nauseous.  Then she laid down on the podium behind the lectern and people rushed up to help her.  She had a glass of water, propped her feet up on a chair, had a cool cloth for her head, and then RESUMED HER SPEECH while lying flat on the floor.  It was a classic Anderson speech filled with humor, pathos,and insight, and she delivered it FLAT ON HER BACK!  After the speech, EMTs came in, Laurie puked into a book box, and then they hauled her off to the hospital.  Yesterday morning they told us she’d had a bout of food poisoning.

d.  Great moment 2:  At the Candlewick dinner, I sat opposite Katherine Paterson!  There’s not a classier, smarter, kinder writer in the business.  After dinner, she asked ME to sign a copy of my new picture book for HER!  Then she sat there and read the book!

e.  Great moment 3:  HarperCollins hosted a dinner at Lou Malnati’s pizza joint uptown, and I scarfed down 4 gargantuan slices of deep-dish Chicago pizza, the best pizza I’ve ever had.

f.  Great moment 4:  Candlewick hosted a signing for me and my new book, and I signed and sold all the copies they had.

g.  Great moment 5:  MT Anderson’s erudite and funny speech on the future of publishing.

h.  Great moment 6:  Hearing that John Green has 1.1 million followers on Twitter.

i.  Great moment 7:   Watching the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award ceremony and seeing Utah author Kristen Chandler honored as a finalist for the award.

j.  Great moment 8:  Matt de la Pena’s story of how his gift of a novel to his father led his father to go back for a GED and then on to a college degree.

k.  Great moment 9:  Hearing Kenneth Oppel talk about how difficult it is to write action scenes.

l.  Great moment 10:  Receiving 40 or 50 brand-new YA books.

Western Throwing-Uppers, next year’s ALAN Workshop will be in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand on November 19-20.  If you want to hobnob with and hear from an army of great YA authors, plan to attend.  http://www.alan-ya.org/


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Teaching YA Lit in the Classroom by Renae Salisbury

To say I am honored to chat with readers of “Throwing Up Words” is the proverbial understatement. In the literary world, I am definitely more of a reader than I am a writer. Let me clarify that by adding the wished-for adjective “published” writer. Nevertheless, Carol asked me to talk about the place young adult literature holds in our schools’ classrooms because I am a professional educator who LOVES Young Adult literature and because I especially admire Utah Y.A. authors.

A recent assignment to create an online 10th grade course for Utah Connections Academy also prompted me to re-examine this important topic, but first I must share my early experience with Y.A. lit. –


Why? Because there was a dearth of novels written for teens! You see, I lived in an era where there was very little between Nancy Drew and Mickey Spillane; between The Bobbsey Twins and Peyton Place; between Little Women and Lolita. (You get the picture.)

I remember one summer between eighth and ninth grade where I left behind Miss Drew and picked Exodus, and I don’t mean the second book of the Old Testament, but rather the novel by Leon Uris. In the opening paragraphs I first learned about the Holocaust – seriously! And it was traumatic. Where was Anne Frank when you needed her? Somehow I missed the 1959 movie version, and I know her published diary was NOT in our school library or talked about in junior high social studies or history classes!

Some years later, a young author wrote a book called The Outsiders, and I read about S.E. Hinton’s success in getting teens to read. By the time I read that newspaper article, I was a young mom whose reading habits had changed to board books – Brown Bear, Brown Bear – or Little Golden Books: Pokey Puppy. But when I started teaching seventh grade even MORE years later, the first novel I used with my students was – you guessed it – The Outsiders.

Hinton has been credited with opening the golden era of adolescent and young adult literature, and if that’s true, I herald her. While The Outsiders may not be the best written Y.A. novel of all time (let’s remember the author was only 16 when it was published), it did address mature themes on an appropriate teen level.

By appropriate, I mean Hinton wrote about real-world problems many students face without including gratuitous violence, explicit sex scenes, and extreme language (I think there is one “damn;” maybe two.) While some educators and parents think there should be NO violence, sexual references, or “language,” I disagree because I believe such topics need to be discussed in homes and classrooms. I do not think, however, that many – if not most – teens need to delve into some of the adult audience best sellers, even those that are critically acclaimed.

And that’s where I – along with many of my colleagues – welcome quality Young Adult literature that addresses universal and/or mature themes on a level commensurate with teens’ knowledge, experiences, and maturity. Just as important, is the engagement factor.

While many students resist Dickens’ “coming of age” novels, they relate to Cormier’s stories of challenges related to growing up. They may dislike The Grapes of Wrath’s details of the Great Depression but totally empathize with Billie Jo’s plight during that era in Out of the Dust. And while our kids may be frustrated with the world’s direction, they don’t all appreciate Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, but they totally “get” the issues explored in popular dystopian novels like The Giver, Hunger Games, and Matched by Utah’s own Allie Condie.

I’m not saying all these titles can compete with the “classics,” but I maintain they can accompany them, and thus reach struggling, reluctant, or just typically bored teen readers. Furthermore, the contemporary literature often addresses topics that are often associated with unique situations of interest to teens that are not often written about.
For example, Carol’s The Chosen One examines the regional issue of polygamy in a beautiful poignant way that touches young readers because the point of view is that of a peer. And the premise is NOT sensationalized but approached with dignity and honesty.

Ann Dee Ellis’ This Is What I Did deals with problems very close to teens: bullying, peer pressure, friendship, and abuse. Her “Hemingway-minimalist” writing style keeps kids turning the pages to discover the source of Logan’s anguish. And so many relate to that suffering.

At the other end of the spectrum, Emily Wing Smith introduces readers to the popular Joel Epson in The Way He Lived. Through several of the character’s peers, we learn about Joel – how amazing and how human he really was. Not only do readers like this kid, they like his friends and family who are all so very different from one another. Because of these characters’ distinct personalities, a teen reader can find one that totally resonates with him or her.

We mustn’t leave out romantic relationships! And I’m not talking about the paranormal variety that draws in every twitter-pating (I know that word totally reveals my ancient years) female heart even though Bree DeSpain’s Grace in The Dark Divine series can fill that bill. Instead I direct you to Ann Edwards Cannon’s The Loser’s Guide to Life and Love where we meet darling, adorable, AND quirky Ed who dons a new persona – think Shakespeare here – in order to impress his dream girl. Fun all around for all those teenagers who ride the emotional roller coaster of young love.

I haven’t even mentioned fantasy, but let me tell you, Utah has authors aplenty that rival the best and the brightest writers of this genre. And while fantasy is not a big part of classroom curriculum, it should be. There is not a theme unaddressed in these works that boast of having the most loyal reading fans on the planet. Am I right?

Well, my friends and acquaintances of TUW, I better sign off. Carol will probably edit this down to a more readable size OR split it up into a mini-series so you can zip right through it. I hope I’ve shed a little light as to the importance of Y.A. literature so that all you writers out there (and I’m speaking to myself as well) will keep writing good stuff for this audience. You are valued by kids AND teachers alike.


Renae is an educator and writer of YA fiction. She’s nice, too.


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