I’m Jeanie Phillips: welcome to #vted Reads, the podcast by for and with Vermont educators. And today, with Vermont students as well! We recorded this episode at last year’s Teen Lit Mob. What’s Teen Lit Mob, you ask?
Teen Lit Mob is Vermont’s only book-related conference specifically for young adult readers. Students from all around the state converge in a big joyful mass and squee about what they’re reading. They meet authors and get free books and did we mention the squeeing? So. Much. Squeeing.
And Teen Lit Mob is super important. Here’s why.
Close your eyes. Close them! (Unless you’re listening to this while driving; safety first.) Now think back: what was your favorite book when you were in, say, 8th grade?
Did you have folks you could tell about it? Folks who’d grasp your hands and just bounce wildly up and down sharing the absolute JOY of finding and loving, that one perfect book?
So that’s Teen Lit Mob: squee! bouncing! friendship! books! a bedazzled megaphone! books and squee.
So *we* showed up at Teen Lit Mob last year, and asked some of the attendees one simple, VITAL question: What book do you wish was being taught in your school?
Warning: #vted Reads assumes no responsibility for how badly this episode messes up your To Be Read list.
*whisper* Let’s chat!
My name is Sloan and I go to CVU.
Jeanie: Sloan, thank you for talking to me. What book do you wish your teachers were teaching?
Sloan: Probably American Street by Ibi Zoboi.
Sloan: I think it’s such a beautiful like, story, about somebody who goes to, like America. Somebody who’s really open-minded and really kind and really sweet. Everything is set up for her not to succeed and it shows how many people in this country, like, even if you come in with the best intentions, how the system is kind of setup against you. Like there’s more than one perspective of how you experience.
I’m Celia and I go to CVU.
I wish that my teachers would teach the book Black is the Body by Emily Bernard. She’s a professor at UVM of English. And her book has a lot to do about Black identity, especially in Vermont. I can imagine those essays fitting in in a class that has anything to do with diversity and race — like a social studies class — but also, in English class. Because not only does Emily talk about her experiences in her books, she talks about teaching English classes and the relation to race. How her students learn about it and become uncomfortable intentionally. And I think that’s a really unique perspective we don’t hear a lot in Vermont. So, I think any student in Vermont would benefit from reading the book but I think especially in English or social studies class.
My name is Christine. I go to school at Peoples Academy.
I wish that my teachers would teach Stalking Jack the Ripper, which is a new book that came out. It’s kind of like a fantasy while also historical. So I think it’s really interesting. At our school, we have a sci-fi and dystopia class? So, it would probably fit in there. But also, my English teacher does a lot of creative things. So, it’s not just the classics, like Great Gatsby, which we’re starting right now but it’s also some of the more interesting things.
Hi. My name is Isabel and I go to school at Peoples Academy High School.
I think it would be What If It’s Us. I just really like the book, and because it’s by two different authors who write two different like, styles? And then it goes back and forth and it’s really good.
My name is Steven and I go to Peoples Academy in Morristown, Vermont.
I really wish we were teaching The Count of Monte Cristo, one of my favorite books by Alexander Dumas.
I just love how the whole entire aspect of the book is created and like all the different characters, the main character gets to play as. It’s super exciting and I really think that a lot of people could learn from the book. It’s so good. It was one of the books I actually got into, like historical fiction. Which got me real excited about this Teen Lit Mob, which we’re actually doing today, so.
I am Noel. I go to CVU High School.
Well, a friend of mine recently introduced me to a wonderful book called Six of Crows. It’s extremely representational. It has several queer characters but it doesn’t shove it in your face the way some books do, which is, in my opinion, a very poor method of representation. Whereas Six of Crows, it’s just there. Just how it is in real life. And it is extremely well told and from multiple different perspectives. It shows multi-faceted characters; so many different very complex characters. It really lets you understand all of their motivations. And it’s just a tremendously related example of how one person can understand what’s going on in so many people’s heads.
I’m Ashka and I go to Mount Abe.
I’ve always been interested in graphic novels and they’re easier for me to read. Black Butler is a manga set. It’s like you read it back to front and left to right. Ask people like what their favorite book is and see if we like that, graphic novel.
Jeanie: Great ideas. Thank you so much, Ashka. Did I say that right?
Ashka: Yeah. Yeah.
Jeanie: Okay. Great. Thank you.
My name is Katrina. Most people know me as Artie, though. And I go to Burr & Burton Academy.
I wish my teachers taught more fantasy because I don’t see a lot of fantasy. And, so, I think I’d have to say a good place to start would be City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. She’s the newer version of the fantasy queen (versus J.K. Rowling).
City of Bones takes place in this mystical world that takes place just underneath human’s noses. Kind of like the Harry Potter world but there’s more diversity. It’s not just wizards. There’s warlocks, fairies, werewolves, vampires and demons. And the four factions that I named are all part demon. They have to be controlled by shaman hunters — which are demon hunters — in order to make sure they don’t hurt people. Generally, they can keep check on themselves because they’re half human ,so they do have some reason. But demons love hurting people because it’s what gives them life. And, so, the shaman hunters have to take care of these people.
Then there’s this girl Clary, who finds out she’s one of these people after thinking she’s been human for so long. And she’s just thrown into this chaotic world that her dad wants to screw up.
Jeanie: Ooh. You’ve convinced me! I want to read the book.
My name’s Maria. I go to Woodstock Union High School.
So, I wish my teachers were teaching Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. (I can’t pronounce her name; I’m very sorry!) But there’s just so much diversity. And like diversity in a fictional fantasy world,? It’s like, really hard to find. I like them so well. The gods and religion is shown there and these are really magical. And the writing is fantastic.
My name is Jade and I go to Peoples Academy.
I would have to go with probably The Bad Beginning from A Series of Unfortunate Events. Because when I was younger, I really liked reading the series. So, if like they were to teach it, I’d be really happy.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. That’s a very good book. It’s about a girl who is taken captive in like, a castle, and is trained to be a champion but was already trained as an assassin when she was little.
Jeanie: Wow. It’s fantasy?
Jeanie: It sounds thrilling!
Jade: It is.
I’m Carly. I go to school at CVU.
And I’m Emily and I also go to school at CVU.
Jeanie: What books do you wish your teachers were teaching?
Carly: I just think a lot more inclusive books. Books with people of color, books with queer community. It’s starting to be integrated into the academic thing. But it’s just not as…
Emily: Yeah. I mean that’s really important and I definitely agree with that. And I also think that maybe — like I don’t want to say more interesting books, but less like — more relevant kind of. I don’t know how to explain it, but like we do a lot of Shakespeare and Lord of the Flies. I feel like there are other books that can get those same messages across that are like more modern day, I guess.
My name is Ruby and I go to Champlain Valley Union High School.
I really wish we did Jane Austen. Or just kind of any book… that doesn’t have… a really gross misogynistic male main character. Or if it does, that that’s a bad thing and not just a generally accepted character trait. Like, her work like doesn’t pass the reverse Bechdel Test. Like it’s just really fun to read. It’d be nice to have narratives in the classroom that are about women. I think it’s cool because Mr. Darcy is a flawed male character and kind of like… a bit toxically masculine. But he changes? And it’s just a thing that happens, and it’s good and it’s not a weakness or anything. It’s just him becoming a better person.
Jeanie: And, so, tell me — sorry, Ruby. I’m just so interested in this. Do you read many books written by or about women in class now?
Ruby: Well, I think part of it is just the curriculum and then what fits that. But you can find as many female authors for anything as you can male. But we read The Odyssey earlier this year. Which was interesting because I really like Greek mythology, but also, Odysseus is a pain. *laughs* Like, he is just really grossly misogynistic and stuff and it’s never addressed at all. Especially because we were reading the journey chapters. So, the whole thing is he’s telling it to this king, trying to impress him. So, it just shows how acceptable it was to be so grossly misogynistic and how it was even seen as a good thing. Because this is what he’s telling the king about on his journey to try and impress him.
Jeanie: And were you able to talk about that in class?
Ruby: Yeah, we were. I really like my humanities teachers. But it’s just the reading itself can be sometimes a bit much like we criticize it quite a bit for these reasons.
My name is Maeve and I go to U-32 High School.
So, the books we read in our class for ninth graders is comp and lit — or composition and literature. We read a few different books throughout the year. But none of them are really written currently in today’s culture, even if it’s not a current book. Just written by an author who’s part of today’s society, I think would be a really helpful and valuable. Something that could really help us benefit from the books more than reading. Something that’s still important and relevant but it’s not as necessarily as interesting.
For example, we read To Kill a Mockingbird. And it’s like it’s a very good book. It speaks to some very important issues. But it’s also just, in my opinion, not a super interesting book. And it doesn’t necessarily teach, I think, some of the things that a current author would be able to do, especially with like today’s — all of today’s technology information.
Jeanie: Hi. Tell me your names and where you go to school?
Riley: My name is Riley.
Amelia: I’m Amelia.
Reuben: And I’m Reuben. And we all go to CVU.
Jeanie: Thanks for joining me. Tell me what books do you wish your teachers were teaching in the classroom?
Riley: We had a bit of a discussion about this book called Scythe, which was written by–
Jeanie: Neal Shusterman?
Riley: Neal Shusterman, yep. And actually the third one of the trilogy was just announced. We all agreed that, that was one of the books that should be really taught in schools. Because a lot of times we now analyze different books, and talk about the metaphors and different meanings. And Scythe is really just thoughtful with them. There’s all sorts of inner meanings that you can read into it and it’s really interesting to see, kind of as a philosophical thought experiment.
If death is no longer possible really, how would people act? It’s fascinating. Like, in the book there’s a profession: your job is just to go and die, like for the entertainment of another [specific] person. In that universe, people can’t die except through very specific means. So it’sa legal profession. It’s just, it’s a really interesting philosophy that book takes.
Jeanie: I love that book. And I think you’re right, there’s so many interesting questions. There’s so much going on. That “The Thunderhead” has been compared to the internet and how much power it has. That is a really intriguing book. I think you’re right it would help us have really rich conversations about current social issues.
Other texts you might suggest to your teachers? Other books?
Reuben: I would suggest the book Children of Blood and Bone…
Jeanie: Oh yeah!
Reuben: The reason I found intriguing is because it gives us a lot of the topics you already have now, such as not segregation, but more discrimination towards specific groups? And the targeting of very specific attributes that make that group what they are? So with the Children of Blood and Bone series, it was mostly just targeting those who are able to form magic.
And what I find interesting about that is that although it is chemistry-based, it does tackle all the issues we have regarding the inner violence within some communities. How we don’t necessarily understand another community or ethnicity group, ethnicities, much more than that. And how we don’t understand other groups’ particular traditions, and what they value and so I feel like it be an excellent book to have students talk about. Mostly because it would encourage a lot of conversation regarding heavy topics such as that and it would give someone who’s going through some of these issues — maybe they might be able to relate — a way to be easier for them to talk about it.
Jeanie: Yeah, yeah. That is a really awesome book. I love the way it illuminates power: who has power, and who gets discriminated against just because they don’t have power, right? It’s a great book to talk about racism and Black Lives Matter and other powers, like (instead of going on for an hour today). It’s also really violent.
Riley: It’s so violent.
Jeanie: And gripping.
Jeanie: Amelia, do you have a suggestion for us?
Amelia: I don’t really have a specific book suggestion, just more kind of a suggestion, for the kinds of themes that would be much appreciated, to kind of put a spot light on literacy. Particularly books having to do with relationships that are not male and female. Where you have people who are gay, lesbian or transgender. Just books that deal with that, and any kind of topic or situation, just because it will help normalize this idea that not everybody loves the opposite gender and that they can love freely. And that’ll really help encourage younger generations to kind of grow up with this idea that different is normal and not to be afraid.
Jeanie: Yes. Amelia, what you’re reminding me of is that many books in the canon, many other books that get taught? Don’t have diverse representation of any kind?
Jeanie: It feels really important that we all be able to see ourselves in books.
Jeanie: And then we all get to see people that are not like us in books, too. Some of us *only* get to see books about people that are not like us. And that kind of stinks. Yeah. Those are great answers! Any other suggestions for teachers, educators, out in the world around literature?
Riley: I just I think which is books that take that are written in modern times. Because a lot of, a lot of classes try to make parallels between like this book and modern issues, and I think a lot of our books do that very well. But, but I think that because it’s written in the past time, there’s a lot of just ideas that, that can be made parallel but don’t translate as easily? And I think it more important to talk about topics that are more relevant. Which is going to be founded books that are written more recently.
Reuben: I would say books that revolve more on focusing on the political climate of some locations?
There was a book I read recently called The Rook which although it is, again, fantasy, and focuses on supernatural whereabouts in London. It touches heavily on how an action that we don’t necessarily think can have many multiple consequences. That each go in o a diplomatic scale, which can drastically effect how the climate of the work environment or healthy climate of the population is affected. I feel like there aren’t a lot of books that we do talk that are political and do relate to politics but most of the books and again as Riley mentioned, kind of aren’t set in the modern world. And so we don’t have any way of actually understanding how that politics relate to the ear it was written in.
Jeanie: That’s really thought provoking, thank you.
Last words, Amelia?
Amelia: I just really think that it’s important that teachers and school administrators really stress that importance in diversity but also how are all the same and we may look differently, we may act different but really we are all just human.
Jeanie: I think your librarian, Peter Langella, does a program about reading for empathy. Right? It talks about empathy books. And I think that too: reading characters that are different than me, allowing us to step in somebody else’s shoes, that feels really important. Is that what you’re saying to Amelia?
Amelia: Yeah. Being able to empathize with people you normally would not on the surface see as yourself? Allows you to broaden your worldscape. And kind of make it easier to just step into other people’s shoes in the real world.
Jeanie: Yes, I love that phrase, broaden your world scape. That’s my new goal in life: to broaden my worldscape through literature. Thank you all three so much for talking to me about books. You guys are amazing.
Riley: No problem.
Amelia: Thank you.
Reuben: Thank you.
This year’s Teen Lit Mob is coming up March 27th 2020 at U-32 in Montpelier. If you’re a young adult in Vermont, Teen Lit Mob registration is free and currently open, and we hope to see you there. Go to libraries dot vermont dot gov for more details. We will be at Teen Lit Mob again this year, with our mobile podcasting kit, and we will absolutely grasp your hands and bounce up and down sharing the sheer, umitigated JOY of a good book.
#vted Reads is a podcast of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont.