Super Cool YA Fantasy Novels with Diverse Protagonists and Why Your Library Needs Them with Guest Blogger Sarah Blackburn-Lancaster

Fantasy painting of floating islandBy Sarah Blackburn-Lancaster, Valparaiso Community Library, Circulation Assistant

It’s been two decades since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series took the world by storm with its school of wizardry, and its popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. New movies are continuing to be released. There’s a play on Broadway. In 2018, big-box retailers are selling newly released dolls. The genre is booming, and we, the library, are the best source for patrons to get their fantasy fix.

There’s a lot going on in the world of libraries today: technology changing at an exponential rate, budgets that have never fully recovered after the recession, and government officials who question our relevance to the communities we serve. With 3-D printers and virtual reality becoming as common on the shelves as copies of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Jane Eyre, why on earth would someone write a blog post about fantasy fiction for young adults?

In short: because it’s important.

Okay, so it’s not cancer research. Fantasy novels aren’t going to perform brain surgery or settle Mars, but they can open the mind to new possibilities, creating new neural pathways which can, in turn, open the door to creative problem-solving. Fantasy stimulates the imagination. And isn’t that what leads to colonies on new planets or inventive new treatments for the illnesses that plague humanity?

Another advantage to reading fantasy novels, especially for younger audiences, is that it takes difficult issues that seem insurmountable in reality out of the constraints of this world, making them less daunting. Xenophobia, racism, classism, sexism, and the like, seen through the lens of fantasy, without the political or societal systems that seem to tether them in place, can be called into question. A wizard who seeks to enslave non-magical beings because he views them as lesser is, without question, a villain who must be stopped. Parallels are then drawn in the minds of readers, and young people make connections in their own world. They then begin to ask the question that is the first step to change: Why?

Here’s the catch: it’s difficult to make these connections when the reader can’t relate to the protagonist. If young audiences can’t see themselves as the hero in a fantasy novel, how can they be one in the real world? We’ve all heard the phrase, “If they see it, they can be it.” That’s why toy companies are creating dolls and action figures of a wider variety of ethnicities and representing different career fields. And seeing other groups represented is helpful to young people who belong to the majority as well. They become more empathetic when exposed to the viewpoints of others and that, in turn, leads to more harmonious interactions. It, therefore, makes sense that representation in literature is incredibly important for young readers who belong to both minority and majority groups.

Here is a list of YA fantasy titles with diverse protagonists to add to your library’s collection (in alphabetical order by author’s last name, of course):

And these are just a few of the offerings out there! Do you know of an excellent YA fantasy novel or series with a diverse set of characters? Share in the comments! Happy reading!

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Digital Natives?

Danah Boyd in her book, It’s Complicated, discusses the misunderstanding of the term, “digital native.” Young people are adept at using technological devices but don’t understand the basics behind them. Those of us who learned to use a computer and other technology gradually have a much better understanding of how it all works.

For instance the first computer I used was DOS based. While I may have forgotten much of the command line language, I still have an understanding of file structure and basic computer functions. The millenials and those who came after them grew up in a WYSIWYG world of point and click. They seem to know intuitively which button to push (or maybe they are not afraid to try them all), but they don’t understand how it works.

For example, my daughter received a digital camera for Christmas. This device needed a firmware update which required using an SD card and a computer to transfer the required file. I learned that my fifteen-year-old doesn’t know how to copy or move a file on a computer.

As the parent of a high school student, I can testify that the schools assume students know more about technology than they actually do. It not just about the hardware and software. Students also need to learn to navigate the digital world in an informed way: determine validity of information, protect their privacy, communicate effectively using technology, etc. The schools aren’t teaching this and many parents don’t have this knowledge either. Many teachers are too intimated by this topic to cover even a small portion in their existing classes. Media specialists have become an endangered species in the high schools in my county. University libraries teach information literacy to their students.  Public libraries offer classes for adults. What about the teens and tweens?

If your library offers information literacy classes to this age group I would love to hear about your experiences. Do teens come to your library? Does your staff go out to the schools to teach about any of these topics? Librarians have a role to play in educating young people about making the best use of technology. Let’s make sure they are not neglected.

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Feeding My Need to Read

Hi, I’m Carol and I’m addicted to reading.  My preferred format is e-books.  I always have several loaded and ready to go on my Kindle.  This habit of mine can get expensive.

I’m also a librarian.  So I know I can get access to e-books from my local library through OverDrive and with Recorded Books through PLAN.  While these collections are growing, they are still relatively small.  To feed my addiction, I have had to find some other low-cost alternatives. Continue reading “Feeding My Need to Read”

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Lifelong Learning

Training4“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” –  Peter Drucker

I recently read a Library Journal article “Top Skills for Tomorrow’s Librarians.” It reinforced for me the need for and value of continuing education for all library staff. Continue reading “Lifelong Learning”

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