There’s a book fair going on downstairs in the gym, and I can’t help feeling a bit jealous.  There are so many good books now in the “young adult” genre, and I feel like I totally missed out.  There are authors – good authors – who are devoted to writing for that age group, and I just can’t remember having this kind of selection when I was in middle/high school. 

In middle school, we lived in a small town (pop ~24,000) that had only one library.  While I enjoyed going there as younger child and reading in the bathtub they had propped in the children’s section, it became rather limited as I got into middle school and had devoured all appropriate books in my house.  Case in point – in 6th grade, all the science classes had to do a 3 page report on whales.  In a town with exactly one middle school, that meant every 6th grader in town (minus the few at the Catholic school) was hot on the trail of books about whales.  By the time I managed to get myself to the library (procrastinator I am and was), all the whale books (and I do mean all) had been liberated from the 599.5 shelf, leaving a gaping hole where my research should have been.  In 1992, before computers were anywhere useful enough for research (not even Encarta could help me then), books were the limit, and I was out of luck.

Fortunately, we had connections, of sorts, at the college.  We had a babysitter or a housesitter or a dog walker who was a college student, and I found myself, late one night before the paper was due (remember procrastination?), graciously reaping the benefits of a mediocre college library. 

Beyond my academic pursuits, the local library did not support my leisure reading, which was a shame, as I devoured everything with print I could get my hands on.  I reread cereal boxes until the Cheerios were soggy and had disintegrated in the milk.  I recited billboards as we drove past.  I read warning labels, instruction manuals, recipes, and drug facts.  I was unstoppable, except when it came to age-appropriate literature.  There just wasn’t enough, or I couldn’t find it.

One summer during high school, as we were engaged in precocious pursuits at Harvard Summer School, Jessica, a close friend of mine, upon hearing that I’d never read “Anne of Green Gables,” took it upon herself to make me buy it from a used book store we’d discovered.  She, somehow, despite also growing up in a small town (and so sheltered from such worldliness she didn’t know what FAO Schwartz was! I had things to teach her, too.), had managed to find all the classics.  While Jerry Spinelli and J.K. Rowling had not yet come into the market, folks like Carl Hiassen and Julia Alvarez were still writing only for adults, and the popular graphic novel was in its infancy with “Maus,” there were in fact classics to be had.  I have since gone through most of the Anne of Green Gables series and the Chronicles of Narnia,  and I’m anxiously trying to catch up on my missed adolescence of literature. 

For my wedding, Jessica and a bunch of high school friends banded together to buy us an assortment of books.  Never ones to be traditional and shop the registry, they opted instead to schlep 12 or 15 books across the country.  Is it any surprise she’s become (I’m sure an inspiring and creative) teacher?  Along with the guide to murals in Philadelphia and the requisite home improvement book, we found classics like “The Alchemist” and “A Wind in the Door”.  I had never heard of most of these books, which I’m sure she knew.  Last week, looking for interesting reading for my students, I grabbed my entire young adult section from the shelves at home and brought them into school.  Among the half-dozen books, I selected “A Wind in the Door” to read during some down-time.  I had never heard of “A Wind in the Door,” which is a companion to the more popular “A Wrinkle in Time,” which I also skipped as a child.  Though written in 1973, it’s done with a timeless nod to science fiction, imagination, and the enduring themes of belonging, adapting, and family ties.  I started the book last week, I thought about it all weekend, and this afternoon, I finished devouring it. 

With so much effort being put into newer young adult books, and so much quality in the classics I never knew about, I think they’re worth a second look, or, in my case, a first look. 

Let me know when it’s time to eat dinner.  I may be deep in Narnia, so call before the food gets cold.

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