Young adult fiction is moving these days. That is, story lines are including an interesting amount of sport and culture-related themes. From the archery in “The Hunger Games” to new books about baseball, Janis Flint-Ferguson, professor of English and Education who specializes in young adult literature, sees young readers gravitating toward books with which they can best identify.
As part of her ongoing scholarship and dialogue with novelists of young adult fiction, Flint-Ferguson will host Chris Crowe (“Mississippi Trial, 1955”) and John H. Ritter (“The Boy Who Saved Baseball”), Tuesday, May 1, 4:00-6:00 p.m. at Gordon’s Tavilla conference room for area teachers and anyone interested in young adult novels. The event is free and open to the public. And on Friday, May 4, at 4:00 p.m. the two authors and Flint-Ferguson will join area youth at the Gordon baseball field for a special event, “Take me Out to the Ball Game” to celebrate the release of Ritter’s new book, “Fenway Fever.”
Here’s what Flint-Ferguson said recently about the authors, their books and the best-selling book-turned-box-office hit, “The Hunger Games”:
“John (Ritter) is great about seeing baseball as a metaphor for life. He and Chris are good friends and both have explored important issues in their books for young people. To have them in our community gives us a unique opportunity to understand how books (like these) appeal to today’s young people. Their work, along with The Hunger Games, shows how a good story can cross grade levels.
For instance, like Harry Potter, students across age groups are reading The Hunger Games and though I think it’s much more of a high school-upper middle school book with some of the issues that are raised, like any good piece of literature it does include some political aspects that might be missed by younger readers who will simply enjoy the adventure of it. Harry Potter was a little easier to deal with (for adults) because those stories included magic, things we know would never really happen. But children fighting against children (in The Hunger Games) means that the violence in the story raises possibilities. It’s real, happening on streets across the country. And that creates an interesting discussion for us all to have.
“Part of the reason I believe The Hunger Games is so popular is because it is the extreme of the world we live in, where pop culture television shows are all game shows with intense competition. It has a survivor feel to it but with a recognition of the dark side of humanity, so while reality television is a familiar concept, the book introduces discerning readers to a more analytical view of what they are watching. This is a book that raises questions of what entertainment actually is, a great question for middle and high school students to be asking. It is different from other recent books because while the survivor element invites creativity and problem solving, it always includes a dark side. It asks us to consider, what kind of a society would come to this kind of entertainment as sport? That of course harkens back to Greek mythology. So it’s not a new story but there’s certainly a new twist to it, and suggests that dystopia themes have become mainstream. While we’re not living in a dystopian society, there are certainly elements of dystopia around us; children whose parents are struggling to make ends meet and have lost jobs, who live in fear or concern, are gravitating to the themes in these books. And having these themes in a book means that a reader can control them; in a world where so much seems out of control for today’s young people, if it’s too much for them to handle, they can close the book and have some control. The Hunger Games helps us all understand the effect that our adult world and adult values have on young people.”