What Class: Young Adult Fiction
Who Teaches It: Professor Virginia Zimmerman, English
"I created Young Adult Fiction because 'YA' has become such a force in the publishing industry that it seemed important to approach the genre from an academic point of view. Readers are really passionate about the books they read in their teenage years, which means I get to teach students who already love the course content before we even begin. We build on those emotions with analysis and critical thinking, coming away with a deep understanding of individual texts and the genre as a whole.
"Students take the class for different reasons. Some want to be teachers. Some are STEM students fitting in a final English elective before they graduate. Some are dedicated English majors. All of them advance their analytic and writing skills. Some students come in thinking children are simple and carefree; they come away knowing that childhood is complicated and fraught. Some come in thinking literature for children is simple; they come away understanding how this literature is rich and strategic and finely wrought. They will not lose their love of the Harry Potter series or The Secret Garden; their love will deepen as their understanding broadens. They will become articulate about why they, or others, love these books.
"We study the origins of the genre in the 19th century and consider how it has evolved while also remaining rooted in its history. I always start in 1865 with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and end with something very contemporary. This semester we end with Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief. Along the way, we read golden-age classics like Peter Pan, 20th-century classics like A Wrinkle in Time and, of course, Harry Potter. We ask hard questions that reveal complexities casual readers may not notice. We talk a lot and write a lot.
"I usually assign a final project that involves the students creating a critical edition of one of the contemporary works on the syllabus. They write an introduction; create a timeline of the author's life; select supplementary materials to include, like interviews or letters or scholarly articles; and annotate a portion of the text, adding thoughtful footnotes.
"In general, my approach to teaching the course is to seek out the place where passion and analysis meet. My students learn thinking and writing skills they will carry with them into other classes and life after graduation, and they develop lasting relationships with books that will enrich their lives in ways they will continue to discover long after they've left Bucknell."
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