Voice of a Generation

USF professor, collection recognizes literary and social value of young adult novels.

By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (June 9, 2012) – Call it the year of YA.


Book sales to teens and ‘tweens are booming like never before. The Hunger Games became a box office juggernaut and solidified its place as a future classic for young readers. Even the undisputed queen of young adult (YA) fiction, Judy Blume, had for the first time one of her books, Tiger Eyes, adapted into a movie that is making the rounds of film festivals.


For USF College of Education Professor Joan Kaywell, though, the renaissance of YA fiction has been a longtime coming. Kaywell is among one of the nation’s leading experts on the genre and has helped USF amass one of its country’s most important scholarly collections of YA books, manuscripts and materials, the Hipple Collection of Young Adult Literature at the USF Library.


USF College of Education Professor Joan Kaywell with Joyce Sweeny, author of 14 YA novels, and Augusta Scattergood, author of Glory Be, in the stacks of the Hipple Collection of young adult novels at the USF Library.

“These are books that speak to their readers,” Kaywell said. “They are incredibly relevant to the times. Don’t tell me you don’t see a lot of parallels with contemporary times in The Hunger Games.”


The Association of American Publishers report from late March is an indicator that teen literature is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, fueled by hugely popular series and a surge in kids using e-readers.  Twenty-one companies reporting figures for children’s and YA titles, the electronic format showed hardcover and paperback sales were up in January 2012 by nearly 70 percent over the year before. Electronic book sales is up by more than 475 percent as iPads, Kindles and other reading devices become a more common household item.


But long before the genre began catching fire – The Hunger Games reference intended – Kaywell and her colleagues had seized upon YA literature as a potentially transformative type of expression as the genre more boldly began to tackle contemporary issues and become a sounding board for teenagers grappling with life’s realities.


Kaywell not only teaches future and current middle and high school English teachers to incorporate the best of new YA fiction into their lesson plans, but has enlisted some of the top YA authors to engage in literary discussions with her students. She’s even managed to persuade S.E. Hinton, the legendary author of the The Outsiders who is considered somewhat of a recluse in the literary world, to meet with USF students via Skype.


Kaywell hopes to preserve these conversations as important literary history.


“Imagine if you could listen to William Shakespeare discussing his work with his contemporaries,”she said. “Future generations will one day have that opportunity with the contemporary classic authors of our time!”


Perhaps the best kept secret to come out of Kaywell’s work is the Hipple Collection, kept on the fourth floor of the USF Library where it is a virtual treasure trove of literature written for young adults. Among the treasures is an autographed copy of Blume’s iconic book Are you there God? It's me, Margaret, as well as a copy of The Chocolate War, autographed by author Robert Cormier.


The collection began with Kaywell, active in YA literary societies and past president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English, collecting signed copies from authors for her two sons.


More than 300 books later, Kaywell donated the books to USF and named the special collection after Ted Hipple, a pioneering scholar, a founding member of ALAN, and champion of literature for adolescents. Now at more than 2,500 titles, the collection also has grown to include signed first editions, manuscripts, authors’ working notes, and page proofs that serve as a unique window into the YA world.


Kaywell’s favorite is a hand-written manuscript of Luna by Julie Anne Peters and credits award-winning author and National Book Award finalist Jacqueline Woodson for jumpstarting the collection of authors’ manuscripts.


Hipple, who died in 2004, fought not only to keep hard-hitting adolescent literature on school and library shelves, but was one of the loudest voices to confront a problem that seems quaint in these times of e-books: past YA titles, even the best ones, are hard to find on bookstore and library shelves.


For Kaywell, the books are only one part of the story. It’s what they come to represent to their young readers that makes all the difference in why YA has blossomed into a genre not only reflective of society, but of a time in life where experience and emotions are magnified and can shape future selves.


Recognizing the special role these stories play, Kaywell has written several books to connect educators to the unique value of YA novels: Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics: Addressing Critical Issues in Today’s Classrooms, teaches teachers in how to connect the themes of modern works to classics to assist those students might be more reluctant to read; six volumes of Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers to Cope with [Abuse, Alienation & Identity, End-of-Life, Family, Health, and Societal] Issues, which has licensed counselors giving therapy to young adult protagonists. And Dear Author: Letters of Hope is a look at the letters readers write YA authors.


“Often the only adults they encounter who seem to remember the conflicting emotions and struggles of that age are authors,” Kaywell said. “Understanding that dysfunction begets dysfunction, I asked these authors to give teens advice using their wordsmithing skills to put that wisdom into a short letter in response.


“We know books can save lives, and we see it right there in their letters,” she said. “They see their lives reflected in these books.”


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.