How Young Adult Literature Won Over Librarians

Though young adult literature has arguably existed since at least Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, which was published in the 1930s, teachers and librarians were slow to accept books for teenagers as a genre. “Today, many librarians are acting like frightened ostriches,” Mary Kingsbury complained in 1971. Afraid of parental criticism and the threat of concerned administrators, she claimed, librarians were turning away from a tide of literature about and for young adults. “Librarians may never span the generation gap,” she predicted, “but by sensitive book selection they can demonstrate an awareness of the particular hang-ups being lived through by young people.”

Just seven years later, the phrase “young adult” was becoming increasingly common in libraries. But with the new title came new concerns about realism in books for young readers—books that, according to Maia Pank Mertz, worried adults who feared that “some young-adult novels defy, or indeed attempt to subvert, society.” Mertz, on the other hand, defended the trend of “New Realism” in young adult novels, looking at books like S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and challenging librarians to “develop students who can critically examine our culture’s covert as well as overt assumptions.”

Erin Blakemore, writing about the history of young adult fiction for JSTOR Daily.

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