Young Adult Fiction on the Move with “The Hunger Games” and New Baseball Novels

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.”

Why Immigration Issues Are Complicated

In this week’s Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, Ruth Melkonian-Hoover, associate professor/chair of political science, addresses the complexities of immigration reform policies. In her article, “Prosecutorial Discretion on Illegal Immigration: Prudent or Punting?” she explores both the current administration strategies as well as responses from the Christian community:

By Ruth Melkonian-Hoover, April 20, 2012

“In the past year, the Obama administration has chosen to focus its immigration enforcement resources on the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, while at the same time exercising discretion and often showing leniency toward lower-risk undocumented immigrants (e.g., those who’ve been in the US for a long time, who’ve served in the US military, minors and the elderly, etc). Previous administrations have exercised similar discretion; what’s novel is that, whereas prior administrations focused solely on prospective cases, namely whom to detain, this administration also requires the revisiting of cases already under review

A number of Christian organizations have responded positively, among them the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. They commend this administration for taking what they see to be prudent action making the best use of limited resources. It is an approach that, as Samuel Rodriguez of the NHCLC claims, ‘reconciles the notion of compassion with the rule of law.’ Hard-line conservatives have, unsurprisingly, been far more critical. They have characterized the Obama administration’s embrace of prosecutorial discretion as a kind of amnesty through the backdoor and an attempt to curry favor with Latino voters in an election season.” Read her entire essay here.

Finding Hope—and Leadership Examples—In the Movies

Christian hope can be found throughout the media, even in pop culture, says Nathan Baxter, associate professor of communication arts. This semester in his selected topics course called, “Group and Leadership Communication,” Baxter and his students have explored theories and examples of leadership in various media. In one section of the class, they’ve looked at specific films that reflect the issues they’ve studied, and then developed three panel discussions for this year’s Symposium. The series, “Titans, Teens, & Tiaras—Cinematic Glimpses of Christian Hope” examines such issues in the films, “Remember the Titans,” “Mean Girls” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” Here’s how Baxter describe the series:

“Pop culture provides windows into a culture’s soul—at least for those with eyes to look through, and not merely at, those windows. And the soul is a home of hopes—horizons of the possible and impossible, dreams of how to move toward those horizons. Some of those horizons move in the directions of Christian Hope, some dream us along (often) well-intentioned paths that lead toward destruction. Whatever their direction, dreams grow—and die—in community, nourished and energized or stunted and polluted through countless acts of communication.

Christian media literacy in part involves learning to look through those windows into our cultural soul—to move beyond merely “consuming” or merely “critiquing” pop culture (see Andy Crouch, Culture-Making). If Josef Piper is right that humans thrive when hopes sustain the tensions that keep us “on the way” toward God’s coming kingdom (On Hope), and if part of faithful ministry means building on aspects of culture that move in the direction of God’s calling and purposes, then faithful media literacy looks through “windows” to notice horizons of hope and to cultivate life-giving tensions. These cultural hopes are what N.T. Wright calls “echoes of a Voice” (Simply Christian): richly poignant variations and blends of longings for Justice, quests for Spirituality, hunger for Relationships, and delights in Beauty. Continue reading

What Young People Offer the Church

Youth ministry needs a new way of thinking, says Sharon Ketcham, associate professor of Christian ministries. On April 5, the national organization Youth Specialties sent an independent videographer to Gordon to interview Ketcham for an upcoming training event aimed at youth workers. Ketcham’s scholarship explores biblical and theological perspectives on the role of community in shaping the faith of young people, and how the local church can best address adolescent faith development. She speaks and teaches often on the topic. Here’s a snapshot of what Ketcham said last week:

“The community of faith has an inherent purpose to it, one that addresses the questions many young people ask today. But does the community of faith offer today’s youth a sense of that purpose in such a way that they are captured by the story and that they can be invited to be a part of that story themselves? Are kids contributing to that community, or are they merely expected to be passive recipients of the faith that’s being transferred to them? If the church or ministry is only a service provider, one that doesn’t recognize the contributions of its youth, why would they want to continue to be a part of that faith tradition? If Jesus is just another commodity they consume in our culture, then really the Christian faith becomes nothing more than anything else they consume in our culture. And as consumers we easily discard. Genuine Christian faith, though, as seen throughout the biblical story of God’s people, is an invitation into a community to be an active contributor and participator, and that happens as young as a little one can walk across the floor of the church building. The question we need to ask, then, is whether our church ethos is one that honors the contributions of our young people.”

Beyond Salvation: The Writing Life of William Booth

100 years after his death, William Booth (1829–1912) is remembered for the role he played in founding the Salvation Army, the evangelical organization that now operates in more than 120 countries. What few people know, though, is that Booth was also a prolific author, writing articles and speeches on topics such as Christian doctrine and women in ministry.

Roger J. Green, professor and chair of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries and resident expert at Gordon on the Salvation Army, has compiled many of Booth’s more important essays in a new book, Boundless Salvation: The Shorter Writings of William Booth. Green has written extensively on Booth, his theology, Catherine Booth and the organization. A lifelong Salvationist, he’s also the co-editor of Word and Deed: A Journal of Salvation Army Theology and Ministry, and travels internationally for the Salvation Army on speaking engagements. He was the first layperson appointed to the Army’s International Doctrine Council. Click here for more details on his new book.

Health Care’s ‘Civil’ Discourse

In another Capital Commentary, Tim Sherratt, professor of political science, offers a unique perspective on the recent hearings before the Supreme Court concerning the issues of health care. In it, he writes that the best examples of a democratic process were on display this past week in Washington, D.C., becoming perhaps un expected role model for elected officials on the other end of town. The result? A bit of good news for civic discourse. Read his essay.