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Evolving Mirrors and Windows Within Adolescent Literature


David Bruce Smith discusses the expanding canon of adolescent literature that has opened windows to a broader perspective and begun to mirror the diversity within adolescent readers. 

In just a fistful of time, adolescent literature has catapulted into complexity. Though the evergreen masterpieces of my era— “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and “The Outsiders” are still beloved, those books do not necessarily fit, snugly, over the current culture. Nor was it expected. Coming-of-age was far simpler; in today’s world, R. J. Palacio’s “Wonder,” or Sundee T. Frazier’s just-published “Mighty Inside,” are heftier—and more suitable for a teenager in distress.

quote by Eric Smith

Eric Smith, an author, and literary agent has written that, “When kids grow up not seeing themselves in books they grow up feeling like they don’t matter.” Thankfully, the “Diverse Book Movement” and all of its shadow “voices” has exposed thousands of teachers and students to an expansive range of fiction and non-fiction about the gauzy taboos of divorce, mixed race families, and sexual orientation ambiguities. The left-out kids who were not allowed to think or act differently are finally provided comfort from like people, as they move into a more tolerant mainstream.

According to John Morgan, an executive editor at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, “We talk about representation every single day. When I started publishing two decades ago at a different company, we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘gay’ in describing a character unless it was specifically tagged a ‘gay book’ and was geared toward that community only. Now it feels like there is a real push toward diversity, a focus on and celebration of that.”

Fortunately, a more inclusive discussion of history in middle and high school classrooms has already begun; now more young adults can “see” themselves in the past, and thoughtfully engage in the present.

Help every child find themselves in books on AdLit’s Diverse Book Project! 

six diverse historical novels

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Text Set: Immigration

We hope this text set fosters understanding, empathy, and a high level of engagement for your students as they explore the complexities of the immigrant experience through varying perspectives.