Young Adult Literature is a course offered in the English department at the 3000 level. It is required curriculum for English education majors. The course, taught by Dr. Lindsey Panxhi, highlights the development of a distinct YA genre and the impact it can have on readers of all ages, especially those in a classroom setting.
YA literature is a relatively new market in publishing with the boom really beginning in the 1990s. Now, YA literature is often read by people of all ages and has created million dollar franchises and industries.
“Young adult lit and children’s lit have been [genres] I’ve always read and followed with interest,” assistant professor of English Dr. Lindsey Panxhi said.
“Partly because I want to write YA lit and children’s lit, and anytime you want to write in a genre, you need to read it thoroughly and know it well. I also just have a natural enjoyment of it. It’s like, you know, when you have free time and you get to pick what book you want to pick up and read, I gravitate towards children’s lit.”
Panxhi’s specialty is in medieval and Renaissance literature. So reading YA literature gives her the change to read works from the perspective of a child or young adult, which bring a certain innocence and refreshing quality to the work.
“In terms of how I choose curriculum, it’s really hard to choose every year, because if I could, I’d assign a hundred books and we only have time for usually 13 full length novels in a semester. So, I do try and think about a variety of genres, reading fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, contemporary realistic fiction, trying to let people see the different genres,” Panxhi said.
While YA literature is often marketed as an individual genre, that is not the case.
“YA literature obviously is not just a genre itself. It is an umbrella under which many genres exists like dystopian literature. In the class, students read a wide variety of literature in different time periods, genres and cultural perspectives,” Panxhi said.
Panxhi commented on the characteristics she takes into consideration when choosing pieces of YA literature for her class.
“I always try to think about age [and] variety of ages of protagonists. If some are gonna have younger protagonists others, we want to have like 18 to 20, you know, so a range of ages. I think about different ethnicities,” Panxhi said. “I also just choose based on the sheer delight of a book.”
Panxhi only assigns books that she enjoys herself, ones that are valuable for teaching in the classroom.
“I choose things that are hopefully going to be enjoyable. I also like to pick based somewhat on familiarity and unfamiliarity. So, there’s going to be some like “The Hunger Games” or “To Kill a Mockingbird” that students have read before, and we’ll read it and discuss it on a deeper level or hopefully anew, see new lights or new angles to consider,” Panxhi said.
This year the YA syllabus features a good mix of familiar and unknown works of literature.
“But then there’s other texts that I hope they’ve never heard of and wouldn’t read unless they were assigned, and they get to discover some new favorites and meet some new authors that maybe were writing in the eighties or the time before the students were born, that they would miss otherwise,” Panxhi said.