The Final Taboo in YA Lit: The Intelligent Book

“No child naturally hates knowledge. No toddler comes into the world saying, ‘Don’t tell me about how stuff works. I don’t give a shit. Everything about the world sucks.’ . . . It takes an adult to make a child hate knowing things. The fact is that kids don’t believe that thinking isn’t fun until we tell them so.” – M.T. Anderson

Watch M.T. Anderson’s 2009 Printz Award Acceptance Speech and hear what he has to say about the final frontier in children’s literature. Could it be true that we fear the “intelligent” book? What are your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “The Final Taboo in YA Lit: The Intelligent Book

  1. Thanks for the look at intelligent books, Ingrid. While peole would be wrong to pidgeonhole any group, especially children, I am not sure I share Mr. Anderson’s views. Kids are idealistic and from the time they’re two and “No” is the only word in their vocabulary, they have their own ideas and aren’t very enthused about being taught. They just want what they enjoy (as do many adults, including this one!).

  2. As a teacher, based on my experiences working with teenagers, I think it depends on the teenager or the child. Some will enjoy reading more “intelligent” books and others will gravitate towards less “intelligent” books. Still, I think the author does a disservice and even creates an insult by writing a book assuming that the reader does not want to learn anything. If you assume that your reader is intelligent and that your reader is happy to learn something new (even if they aren’t actively seeking new learning as a professional scholar), your writing will reflect that and actually become a compliment to the reader, which will make the reader have a more enjoyable experience and read your book again. There’s also a difference between writing a “brainy” book and building a story that happens to involve more specific less common vocabulary. It’s not necessarily that you’re putting something out there because you want to teach your readers something. It’s just that when you put words down on a page, you don’t hesitate because you’re not sure a teenager is smart enough to figure out what this word means, or because you’re not sure a child has had enough life experience to understand grief. Give the kids some credit. Life is hard. Even for them.

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