We have entered a new and glorious era in my home – The Tween is now reading YA. And the best part is now I get to take her with me to all the book festivals I go to and she enjoys it. I love getting to share these moments with her. I love how the two things I love, my kids and librarianship, come together in these glorious moments. So yesterday we went to YAKFEST 2015 in Keller, Texas.
This road trip began and ended as all good road trips to: with loud music, stupid dancing, great stories, and laughter in the car. We brought along the Bestie, who is now on her 3rd book festival and seems to love it as well. I believe I am raising a book lover and my heart swells with pride as our memory book is filled with these moments.
There were lots of highlights to this book festival, but our two favorites were hand down Tim Tingle and Matt de la Pena. Tim Tingle got up and did some good old fashioned storytelling. Because they are 12, the girls kind of snickered when they heard his name. But in the end they learned a very valuable lesson because they were blown away by his storytelling which was full of humor and pathos and awe and wonder. He told a story about his own roa dtrip with a friend who sadly had passed away at the end of last year. In this road trip they were saved by a fox in the road. He spoke about honoring that fox that had saved their lives on that road trip, about a No Weep Tree where he honored his buried pets, of a flood that almost took his home (and collection of John Steinbeck first editions), and of being visited by his father’s ghost. It was moving and beautiful.
Meeting author Lindsay Cummings at YAKFest 2015
Then Matt de la Pena got up to speak and as a mother and advocate for kids in low income homes, I was moved by Matt’s personal story of how he almost didn’t graduate high school. Of how for him college didn’t seem an option because he knew his family couldn’t pay for it. Of how he got a scholarship and was amazed by the doors that were open to him, suddenly his future was in his hands, choices were open to him that he didn’t know he had. And of course in the midst of it all he talked about falling in love, writing bad poetry, and learning to love reading.
So after this day of authors and panels and standing in lines to get books signed, we got back in our car for the road trip home. The radio was turned back on and we flipped the dial to find the best songs for rocking out and singing along. During one scan we landed on a Christian station to a song the girls knew. They began to sing-a- long but then The Tween stopped and asked me, “Do they have Jewish songs on Jewish radio station?” And the Bestie asked, “Or Hindu or Buddhist?”
Meeting author Victoria Scott at YAKFest 2015
Suddenly my life was imitating my blog as we started to talk about religions that were different than our own. And the conversation turned to the Holocaust, mostly because this past weeks the girls started a unit on the Holocaust in their social studies classes. And it reminded me of some of the behind the scenes conversations we have been having with some of the various authors who are working on guest posts about Judaism in YA lit. One of their concerns is how Judaism seems to be almost limited to Holocaust fiction in much the same way that the African American experience in YA lit often gets boxed into historical fiction on slavery or the Civil Rights movement as if there aren’t other stories to be told.
I’ve been learning so much in planning and organizing the discussion on the Spiritual Lives of Teens in YA Literature and in this moment I had knowledge and perspective that I didn’t have before that I could share with these girls whose hearts were open. So we turned off the radio and talked about what they were learning in school and I reminded them that yes probably some of their friends practiced a faith different than their own, and that some of them had no faith at all. The Tween is actually very used to the concept of Atheism because one of my very best friends in life is an Atheist and we have talked about what that means and how to respect that belief when talking to our friend.
Last year, because I hadn’t yet had all the discussions that I have been having about the spiritual lives of teens, I would not have had answers to some of their questions. I wouldn’t have tapped into the hearts of these generous people who have agreed to share their lives and heart and faith with me and I would not have been able to share that with these girls. My own personal teachable moment spilled over into a teachable moment for these girls questioning a world with diverse faiths, which is exactly why Ally and I decided to have this discussion. I just didn’t know that a song on the radio would spark it, but that’s how teachable moments work. That’s why we need diverse literature, because every moment can be a teachable moment, that’s the power of story to help us peek into lives different than our own and build community.