Tag Archives: Walter Dean Myers

On The Pulse of YA Fiction

Back in my middle school days, I had a healthy obsession with book series. Between The Babysitters Club and Nancy Drew, I was a budding book stalker of the Scholastic book fair [blink three times if you remember those days].

I would always get two Scholastic order books, one for under my pillow which I would treat like purloined porn. Every minute I would pull the order form out, turn the pages and circle the books I planned on buying with the money I’d earn from running errands for my Granny.

Carefully reading the premises and calculating the cost, my 6th grade mind would race on rather I’d made the right decision. The second copy would be my official order form which I kept in pristine condition in my TraperKeeper. While everyone else worried about a pen or stickers, my mind danced with all the books I would take home, read and display on my bookshelf. 

On the day of the book fair I would be almost nauseated with excitement. When would they call my class to the fair? Why couldn’t my mom – a teacher at my school – come get me? What if all the other kids bought all the books I wanted and there would be none left for me?

When it was finally my class’ turn, you could find me at the front of the line, sprinting for the library – my Garden of Eden.

During these books fairs I met and fell in love with Walter Dean Myers’ books. At that age – and sometimes now – his biggest selling point for me was the black faces on the book covers.

I had always grown up in a home where toys and books had black faces, but seeing them out in the public still made me happy.

Although he’s considered a young adult writer, I find myself revisiting Myers’ books for comfort and complex storytelling. The books may be for younger readers, but Myers’ tone nor subject matters suggest he does not understand what children have seen and experienced more than adults are willing to accept.

Fallen Angels has been listed ranked #16 of the American Library Association’s frequently challenged books. Taken place during the Vietnam War, the novel follows a group of men who have to fight in a war they do not understand for a country who still does not consider them an equal citizen all the while becoming the men their families hope they become. Racism, depression, death are portrayed with such compassion and understanding.

Writing about war can be tricky, but Myers focuses on each character’s personal relationship with being a solider rather than overarching themes of war. 

Directly after reading Fallen Angels I drove into The Glory Field, a novel I feel is an excellent introduction into talking about slavery and sets younger readers up to read Alex Haley’s Roots in the future.

In fact, I would say The Glory Field is the younger brother to Roots in that both books span the history of blacks pre-and post the Antebellum era. But where there is no central character to reflex in Roots, there’s one in The Glory Field. By it ending in the 1990s, younger readers can connect more with the idea of familial history and the shame sometimes associated with slavery.

Myers really foregrounds this idea that the older generations haven’t done enough to instill in their children cultural history. There is a disconnect between them wanting the younger generation to “do right” and their inability to verbalize these concerns and embody them.

Monster is by far, the most stylistic and heart-wrenching of the three listed. A young man is on trial for a murder he claims he did not commit. To cope with being on trial, the narrator documents everything happening to him in movie script style, making the narrative a face pace and engaging one.

If you’re thinking about teaching a YA book in a classroom, I would suggest this one because students can act this out and there are so many activities that can go along with it. Is he really guilty? Who’s telling the truth? What are our perceptions about our legal system? I was a freshmen in high school when I read this book and I remember being totally heartbroken by everyone’s resolve of his guilt.

The despair and helplessness teenagers feel is felt in every page. Myers is never preachy, you can tell he understands and cares for the the young adult perspective.

What YA book series where you fans of? If you’ve read Myers’ works, what are your favorites?

Tagged , , , , ,