A response to the question Why Don’t Kids Read NZ Young Adult?

Tonight I have read an article in the wonderful The Sapling which has made me cross.  I’m responding here because I’m forming my thoughts and this is my blog and therefore my opinion.  This is a bit stream of consciousness, so apologies for it’s rantishness.

In the article, promoting her book review site, Eirlys Hunter makes the argument that NZ kids don’t read young adult fiction written by New Zealanders. She asked teenagers if they had read Margaret Mahy, and they hadn’t heard of her.  I can assure her that she is right in supposing that teenagers currently at school right now will never have read Mahy or Tessa Duder or a heap of other NZ writers who were popular in the 90s. This is for a really good reason.  These books will have been weeded from libraries long ago. We have to keep our collections current, they have to cater to the tastes of our current students.  If we cater to students by providing the books they should read, we will have no readers.

Now, I’ve been working in school libraries for nearly 18 years now, I have never read the Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe or Memory, in all honesty I’ve not even heard of them. While they might be admirable books, they are not books that I would ever attempt to pitch at a 14 year old in 2017.  But maybe a movie of The Changeover will start a Margaret Mahy resurgence, but maybe not.  Books and authors are not perennial in the YA world.  Despite the marvellousness they might have, they fade.  It is totally the same as with adult books.  20 years ago everyone was reading Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, now they are not (I do understand that they are not literature!)

If you ask some students now if they have read some of the common crop of New Zealand authors, people like Mary Anne Scott, Brian Faulkner, Fleur Beale and Melinda Szymanik you will find that there are quite a few who have.  Definitely not lots of them, but definitely some.  These are students who have either had a book sold to them by an awesome librarian, or they have come across the book been attracted in some way, in some cases this is definitely because of the cover!  There are certainly some dreadful covers floating around the NZ YA world.

I don’t think it is true that NZ YA is better than other places, there is some pretty ordinary stuff published here sometimes, but there is also some excellent stuff.  It is the same in every country.  The Self-publishing boom is getting even more books out there, and a few of those are great.  But when the Council tell us that only a small percentage of teenagers read, and some of the borrowing stats around the country would bear that out, you need to do more than just tell people that they should be reading books ‘from the olden days’.  Our teenagers want the cool stuff.  They are totally influenced by social media and librarians who are purchasing books are equally impressed.

It is a strange thing that reading, which is supposed to be pleasurable and a lovely thing to do, can so often be treated as a ‘should’ kind of thing by some of us.  That students are asked to write ‘proper’ reviews, of at least 500 words.  Surely that just turns something that could be fun, into something that is now work.  A surefire way to kill a love of reading is to make it a chore. Or worse, to make it homework.  Kids are already doing all kinds of other stuff which is drawing on their time, they don’t need to be guilted into writing pedantic reviews.  There are kids who yearn to be published authors, there are heaps who are writing for fun in their spare time but forcing it, taking away the joy and insisting on terms which are outdated and irrelevant to their lives.  We old people have to accept that the world has changed.  And engage with what youth think is cool.  Want to see some decent reviews by the target audience.  Go to this Goodreads List.  Read the reviews of people who read YA.  Who are the target audience for YA.  And then go and check out this You Tube channel.  There are lots of people who do this stuff.  They are not the book reviews of old, they are much more likely to be read by teenagers and they are the opposite of ‘proper’ book reviews, but I can guarantee the books are more likely to be read by teens when they are recommended in this way.  So yes, peers are the way to sell books to teenagers, But don’t discount librarians working in their libraries recommending books to readers, selecting great books and chatting to readers every day.

I want to address a comment in the article:

A side issue: how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?).

Well that is simple.  They haven’t been set as prescribed texts.  Schools can teach whatever books they like.  They tend to go for books from which they have seen great exam responses in previous exams.  Some of the books they do read are amazing.  In our school we have class sets of books by David Hill, Denis Wright, David Hair, all New Zealanders, while some students might not encounter those books, lots will.  And there is another thing, you need to get teachers to read the books.  In every school, in every English Department, you struggle to find a bunch of teachers who are reading YA, let alone those reading NZ YA.  There is a lot of good talk about reading and it’s importance to literacy by English teachers across the land, but very little in the way of reading the product and .  It constantly amazes school librarians!

And while I’m ranting, were you aware that it is considered in literacy circles that school librarians are inherently connected with literacy in schools! Yes, I know.  Ridiculous, but it is a fact.

I could go on.  But it is late and there is a leaders debate to watch.




Stop that with your “I’m so busy”

busy antsI have been listening to quite a few people tell me how busy they are for the last few months. That seems to be their modus operandi, busy at work, busy at home, busy being busy. I’m finding it a bit challenging. I have a full life, I work full time, I am involved in two organisations which are important to me and which I care about. Yep I’m busy too! No, I don’t have to drop kids at daycare, worry about babysitters, drive kids hither and thither and manage my life around them, oh wait …. manage my life around my kids? At the time when that was happening that was my life, my family was my life. I did other stuff, I was involved in organisations and stuff when they were young, but that wasn’t busy, that was just life. Oh yeah I worked too! But I’m pretty sure I didn’t spend my life moaning about being busy, and using busyness like it was a brownie badge that I needed to collect.  I think complaining about being busy is a new thing, a thing which is doing my particular head in.

I was a single parent of three kids for 6 years at the beginning of that they were 5, 7 and 8.  Then I wasn’t for a while, then I was again when they were older.  I had my Mum and Dad for help in emergencies for a while, but I didn’t get to have weekends away, ‘alone time’ and a bunch of friends who looked after my kids. When I needed to go to the doctor, the kids all came too!  That is what happened when you had kids, you didn’t leave them for someone other than another parent, you fit your life around them, they didn’t fit into a supposed adult life that had little room for kids, they and their needs were my adult life. I was busy, it was a bit stressful, but I didn’t have to tell the world my problems on a social media platform and I didn’t (or at least I don’t think I did) whine about my busyness.  If I couldn’t take the kids to an activity because I was doing something else at that time, then they didn’t go.

So, this afternoon I read this article from the Huffington Post.  It suggests that being busy is a sickness.  And I got to thinking about my week last week.  A week when I wasn’t feeling spectacular due to my ongoing ovary situation, and the flatness which comes from having your surgery cancelled, and I remembered the other day when I went to visit another workplace not far from mine.  I bumped into three people I knew on the way to my destination, every single person I spoke to, and these are friends mind, and people I like so I’m not being mean, I’m commenting on the situation.  Every one of these three people told me that they were incredibly busy!  They commented that they were busier than ever before in their lives. They were really surprised when they asked me how I was and I said I was spectacular, or fantastic, which is my standard response.  When I had asked them the same question they had responded with the busy thing. Work is supposed to be busy. That is kind of the definition of work – things you do for money which make you busy. A job which wasn’t busy would be boring wouldn’t it? When these three people each told me how busy they were, they were at that time standing in a corridor chatting to another person, just chatting!

When people say they are constantly busy It is irritating. Everyone has stuff to do.  Everyone has jobs that need doing.  People have a habit of saying to me, “I don’t know how you do everything you do”.  Often these are people who I know are busy people. My response is usually that I do lots of things, some of them really well but some of them I do fairly perfunctorily.  We all prioritise the things that are important to us.  I choose to do lots of things, to get involved in lots of stuff and I almost always enjoy it.  When I stop enjoying doing these things I’ll stop. I think a lot of what is going on is “self created stress” putting pressure on ourselves to constantly be doing stuff. Feeling like we, or our kids, are missing out if they don’t take every single opportunity available. Feeling that we punish ourselves or them if we say no to something on offer.

I increasingly believe that the people who do this crazy busy thing, need to look at what they are doing and think about whether this stuff they are doing, which makes them so unreasonably busy, is actually necessary. The world simply won’t end if you swop out one activity for some time on the couch.  If you cannot get out of doing things that you don’t want to do with your kids then share the load.  You do not need to see every game, attend every single meeting, pay attention to every single gripe of your kid, take to task every teacher who does your kid a supposed injustice, parent who sends their kid to preschool with a cold. A friend of mine who is a primary teacher says parents take so much dealing with these days, they cannot let a single thing go, they don’t let their kids deal with the things that they need to deal with to learn negotiation. For people who are supposedly busy, they spend a hell of a lot of time at school not letting their kids take responsibility for anything! People take a chill pill. Most things work themselves out.

Lets stop the glorification of busy, lets start to look at it differently. I’ve got stuff to do, that is great, I won’t be bored. Some stuff I won’t get done today, but will it matter? Some things I have to do because they are part of my life, I have to cook, clean and all that stuff. That is part of normal. Everyone has to do those things. I’m so sick of hearing about how busy people are when they tie themselves up in knots because they will have to do a bunch of stuff for their families, their jobs, their lives. I guess these are my solutions:

  • Stop moaning about your life, if your life sucks change something
  • If you are doing too much – think about dropping something
  • If you have bought this constant business upon yourself, stop moaning and again, change something
  • Maybe it is your attitude that you need to change, maybe you are moaning about things you actually like doing, do you like spending time with your kids?  I bet you do.  Then don’t whine that you are committed to being with them.
  • Do not make I’m so busy the first thing you say when someone asks you how you are.
  • Everyone goes through phases when they have too much to do.  This blog went completely abandoned until I felt strongly enough about something to write a blogpost.  This blogpost!
  • Remember that your being busy is not exclusively about you. Your complaining about being busy brings everyone down. Especially if it is the main or first thing you say to someone every time you talk to them.
  • You are not so busy probably. You are not running a company, being Helen Clarke, sorting world peace by lunchtime.
  • Sympathy will not be given to those who are constantly whining. Try to be positive. You don’t want to be the hard work friend.
  • When you are doing your “I’m so busy” spiel have a thing about who you are talking to. If you are talking to someone who is busy, wind it back! Ask about them. Show a bit of empathy for their busy life after all you are so busy that you understand right?.
  • Some of the things that make people busy are choices: you have chosen to do something new which makes you busy or you have a new project/pet/baby/job/project that makes you happy. Hell! You’ve chosen that. Don’t moan about it!  That makes you a pain in the proverbial.
  • If you bring me down by your whinging, your I’m so busy attitude, your life is so difficult thing I will block you of Facebook. It has probably already happened!


A busy person of Dunedin

Works mostly alone doing two jobs in a really big school, is the president of a national association, is on the board of a big project, has a partner and a life at home, has three now grown up kids, is involved in other stuff and interested in everything. Volunteers for school stuff. Doing things which make my life richer but yes, which keep me busy!