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Posts Tagged ‘multicultural’

book listsSo if international YA award lists can sometimes be lacking, what about international YA booklists? What kind of reading do they encourage?

Well, there are a lot of them, and like the multiple definitions of what ‘international’ young adult literature, they do not agree on what ‘international’ books are and how international titles  do or do not overlap with ‘multicultural’ books. Instead the booklists I looked at  reflected a multiplicity of definitions and ideas about what should be included on these ‘international YA’ lists.

Broadly speaking, I identified three categories of booklists that international titles appeared on: ‘in translation’ lists, ‘international’ lists and ‘multicultural’ lists.

Here is a breakdown of these three categories and some (though not all) of the lists I looked at:

  • ‘Books in Translation’: booklists from The Horn Book and the librarian blog, the YA YA YAs; lists do overlap with the Batchelders – roughly 30%, but both introduce international titles and subjects not honored by the Batchelders like fantasy and humor though; both lists do, however, have a definite European language focus to their selections; a benefit of a list like this is the surety that all titles are from categories #3 and 4 of intl books (for a definition of my categories of international YA click here)
  • ‘International’ Books: booklists from YALSA, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (2 lists: non-fiction and fiction) and the San Francisco Public Library; these lists overlaps with ‘multicultural’ lists and the selected titles came from a variety of ‘international’ categories especially category #1 and #2; however, determining what category of international book these titles come from can be difficult – only San Francisco library includes information on title’s country of origin
  • ‘Multicultural’ Books: booklists from Vancouver Public Library (VPL) and the Santa Clara County Library; these lists overlap with ‘international’ lists in how they define and select their titles; but interestingly, there is also little convergence between the two lists evaluated in this category – the VPL’s list includes mostly ‘international’ titles (i.e. those set or published abroad) whereas Santa Clara’s list consisted of a (mostly) domestic multicultural titles set in the United States

Reflecting the multiplicity of definitions that exist for  ‘international YA,’ these booklists reflect, overlap and diverge on what titles they include under the umbrella of ‘international’ YA and what type of titles they have selected for their booklists. The YALSA list for example, includes many retrospective adult titles on their international list like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, whereas the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the San Francisco Library included more contemporary and popular titles like Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging and Ineke Holtwijk’s Asphalt Angels (for more info on the exact specificities of these lists click here and here).

garciagirlsThen there is a title like Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez’s novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which focuses on the identity struggles of four sisters originally from the Dominican Republic who move to New York City. This title is alternatively classified as ‘international’ (as on YALSA’s ‘international’ booklist, 2009) and ‘multicultural’ (as on the Plymouth District Library’s nominally multicultural ‘Teens of Different Cultures and Places’ booklist, 2009).

The multiplicity of definitions and titles chosen can make international YA booklists on the whole a confusing tool to use. Some lists use a definition of ‘internatinal’ that seems to be more multicultural, and others (like the VPL) use the term ‘multicultural’ when their lists actually seems more international. Further, many of the titles selected on these lists give no indication of where the books were originally published  – which can make creating a balanced collection with books from both categories #1 and #2 (published domestically, but stories set abroad) and categories #3 and #4 (titles originally published abroad) more difficult. For my earlier discussion of these different categories of international YA click here.

However, there is great a variety on these lists though — though few graphic novels and manga appear on these lists, and while there is more subject variety, there is still a slight preference for ‘serious’ titles over fun, fantasy or ‘light’ reads.

Still librarian-created booklists are good tool to compare what titles other libraries are identifying and promoting to teens as good international reads.

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intntl YAIn looking at international YA in the library, one of issues that I keep coming back to is how hard it is to categorize and define the ‘international’ in international young adult literature.

Does ‘international’ mean works published abroad? Works published domestically by ‘international’ authors? Works published about international topics?  Or does it refer to works that also might be called ‘multicultural’?

Generally speaking, here in Canada and in the US, I have noticed four broad types of books considered ‘international’ in various booklists, awards and library resources.* Categories 1 and 2 tend to be the most popular in US and Canadian libraries – and they are the books published domestically, in English. Categories 3 and 4, by contrast – those books published abroad (i.e. outside of Canada or the US) – tend to be more difficult to find in US or Canadian libraries, and they tend to be the type of books not normally labeled ‘international’ like manga, fantasy, humor or general YA literature.

But, to break it down further, here are the 4 categories of books labeled ‘international’ that I have found thus far in my research:

1. Books written and published in Canada/US for a domestic audience by ‘international’ authors originally from different countries writing about their home countries such as:

  • Ting-xing Ye‘s autobiographical tale of life during the Cultural Revolution in China, My Name is Number Four, or her fictional work detailing the lives of young female migrant workers in China, Mountain Girl River Girl
  • Emmanuel Jah’s autobiographical story of life as child soldier in Southern Sudan, War Child; or Ishmael Beah’s memoir of his similar story as a child soldier in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone

2. Books written and published in Canada/US for a domestic audience about an international topic set abroad such as:

  • Chanda’s Secrets and Chanda’s Wars – two fictional, though realistic, stories written by Canadian author, Allan Stratton, which focus on the issues of AIDS and mass violence in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Journalist’s Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Palestine, which details his interviews in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the early 1990s or Guy Delisle’s graphic account of time spent in Burma, The Burma Chronicles
  • Audience — written for the domestic Canadian/American audience

3. Books originally written/published abroad for an international audience and published in translation in the Canada/US such as:

4. Books originally written and published abroad in English for an international audience and then distributed in Canada/US such as:

  • Melina Marchetta’s absorbing novel of YA suspense and family secrets, Jellicoe Road, from Australia – winner of the 2009 Printz Award for  excellence in YA literature or Shaun Tan‘s multiple YA picture books (like The Red Tree) also from Australia
  • Louise Rennison’s multiple Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books from the UK, all related in a confessional diary style à la Adrian Mole

The difficulty with these categories and the multiplicity of definitions for ‘international’ can, I think, be attributed to issues of accessibility, cost and collections.

Books from categories 3 and 4 are much more difficult to find – note that even the books I have mentioned in the categories above are from Australia, Europe and Japan, even though YA titles are published worldwide and many countries/regions like India and East Africa often publish in English.

Cost is certainly also part of this equation. To translate an international book or find a domestic distributor/publisher for one demands time and funds and in order to ensure a profitable return on this investment, it often seems that only those that are the best of the best and/or the most popular globally – like Moribito or Cornelia Funke’s novels –  get translated into English. The issue with this being that these books represent only a fraction of what is published internationally.

Moribito, for example, was originally published in Japan in the mid-1990s, has 10 books in its series, and has spawned various manga and anime incarnations. When it was translated and published in English in 2008 by Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic Inc.) Moribito was already a successful book with a dedicated audience.

There also seems to be significant conflation of the terms, ‘international’ and ‘multicultural’ in many collections – labeling that can create library collections that may seem  ‘international’ on the surface, but that may lack any books from categories 3 and 4.

The concern I have with the popularity of categories 1 and 2 in library catalogues is the question of representation. As you can see from most of the titles, especially in categories 1 and 2 (which are the most represented in libraries currently), there is a definite pedagogical and didactic bent to most ‘international’ works – many are about war, struggles with oppression, poverty, etc. The over-representation of these types of works in a collection that is supposed to be diverse can reinforce, not expand, a decidedly Western worldview – which is not the purpose of international YA as most would describe it.

In Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World (1993), Hazel Rochman wrote that the “stories you read can transform you because they help you imagine beyond yourself. If you read only what mirrors your view of yourself, you get locked in…buried.” (pp. 11)  Rochman further added that “reading makes immigrants of us all – it takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere” (pp. 15).

My primary concern here is that some of the ways in which we discuss or define the  ‘international’ in young adult literature today is limiting this potential.

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*Books NOT Borders note: for the purpose of my research and this blog I am looking at the US and Canada as my ‘domestic’ market, and everything written or published outside Canada and the US as ‘international.’ While there are distinct differences between the two countries, generally speaking—in librarianship—there are significant similarities and overlap particularly in the use of ALA materials (especially YALSA) north of the border in Canada, and in the abundance of American literature in Canadian libraries.

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