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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lessons in books - Didacticism or not?

Bruce Coville once wrote (loosely quoted), "If you have a story to tell write a novel; if you have a message use Federal Express."  I subscribe to that general line of thought.  The idea that every book must have a lesson in order for it to be worthy of reading is strange to me.  After all books should mirror life and doesn't life teach all sorts of lessons (different ones for the one experiencing life, depending on their past experience).  So it is with reading --  the story speaks to each reader in its own way.  If a title of a book is something like, "Too Much Television" I know right off that the book has a message and probably will be short on authentic story.  But on this subject I think Dr. Caroline E. Jones, an assistant professor of English at Texas State speaks clearly of teh need for "lessons" with these words:
      "YA "Lessons" This assumption of didacticism, whether attached to children’s or YA lit, makes me crazy! I believe that all good literature, regardless of intended audience, will illuminate for readers something about the world or themselves, but that it will do it in service to the story it tells, the characters it creates, and the language it uses, rather than in service to a lesson or moral. John Green’s Looking for Alaska, for instance, might “teach” teens not to drink and drive, but its real value comes in what readers learn in the aftermath of loss—even the vicarious loss experienced through the pages of the novel. I have had several students express their own gratitude for what the novel offered them in dealing with their own wide range of losses, but not one has ever said, “Boy, I’m sure grateful for the lesson that one taught me about drinking and driving!” Because kids get the lessons all over the place: school, parents and more and more, but literature models and enables emotional, experiential, reflective, and internal understanding. The “lessons” learned about being human resonate more fully and deeply than those behavioral lessons adults are so anxious about. Kids already know not to drink and drive, but maybe experiencing the aftermath of that behavior is the way to help them truly understand the consequences." ~ quoted with permission of Dr. Caroline E. Jones (8.18.11).
Dr. Jones teaches young adult literature and children's literature at Texas State University at San Marcos and she is also the editor of “Alice’s Academy,” the refereed column of the online journal The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature

Thank you Dr. Jones for sharing this perspective.  

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