The author Justine Larbalestier addresses the question, "What is the difference between young adult literature and plain old adult literature?" Some of her answers made me laugh, including the statement, "YA is never about a middle-aged professor who has affairs with his students."
I've had YA in mind because I'm in the middle of an interesting book by my friend Sarah Herz and another author, Donald R. Gallo, called From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges between Young Adult Literature and the Classics (second edition). It's written for teachers, but parents, librarians, and anyone involved with children's books are likely to enjoy this immensely readable guide, too. In her introduction, Sarah Herz, who taught English for 24 years, writes,
When I accepted and understood the possibilities of YAL [young adult literature], I found a powerful tool to help students take pride in their reading and help them develop into confident, critical readers.
YAL's value lies in its ability to connect students to the story immediately, because it deals with real problems and issues that are central to their lives.
I haven't yet reached the crucial chapter "Building Bridges: Getting Students from Wherever They Are to Where the Curriculum Says They Should Be," but I can tell you that the book is chock full of ideas and resources for "theme connector" young adult titles for frequently taught classics like "Romeo and Juliet," The Scarlet Letter, and The Odyssey. Herz and Gallo consider books for a wide range of readers, and they list many suggestions for using young adult lit in classes other than just English. Given how much I've enjoyed the book so far, I highly recommend From Hinton to Hamlet.
Hmm, now I'm wondering to which classics the 2006 Cybils YA finalists would be good bridges. Those shortlisted books are The Book Thief, A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, Hattie Big Sky, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and The Rules of Survival.
Thanks to Shaken & Stirred for the link to Justine's discussion.