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YA, cultural novels take center stage at Mission ISD book fair

December 3, 2016 GMT

MISSION — Mission High School librarian Margie Longoria spent five years trying to organize a book festival targeting junior and high school students.

Longoria credits volunteering at a larger festival in Houston and scoping out others in Texas, as the catalyst for today’s Border Bash: Celebrating Teens and Tweens book festival.

Few local students experience major book festival. Sending students to Austin for the massive Texas Teen Book Festival is costly for school districts.

“ I wanted to do this where I live,” Longoria said.

She previously worked as an eighth-grade reading teacher at Alton Memorial Jr. High, the campus hosting the event from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today. Longoria remembers reading novels with her class, something she said a lot of teachers don’t do for multiple reasons.

With the support of the principal, “she allowed me to read whatever I wanted, as long as I covered the (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for story elements,” she said.

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One year, she fought for her students to read “Twilight.” The endeavor included 300 eighth graders watching the movie, discussing the difference between the book and scene adaptation.

“ Yes, classics are great, but contemporary YA (young-adult) literature is very good, too, if people knew what was out there,” Longoria said. “You get more kids to read by giving them something they want to read.”

When students are younger, time in the library is scheduled. Every two weeks kids hit the library for lessons or books, she said. But as they get older, they have more on their plate.

“ Getting them to the library is a little more difficult than it was when they were kids,” Longoria said. “This is our job in the high school — to get them back in here.”

That might be by offering books teenagers are interested in. The Mission High library didn’t have a robust collection of manga and graphic novels 10 years ago. Now they do.

“ That’s something we’ve had to build over the years to bring them in,” she said.

High school libraries should be diverse, Longoria said, reflecting the range of reading levels of the students they serve, from picture books to college-level texts.

“ That’s my job as a library, to look for books that would appeal to the young adults now and try to get them hooked on reading again, like they were when they were kids,” Longoria said.

Award-winning author Meg Medina will be among the featured authors at today’s events. Medina said YA literature fills a hole between the traditional classics and student experiences.

YA literature can address things like “what it’s like to date, fall in love, to have a family problem, along different economic (or) racial lines in different places in the country and world,” Medina said. “There are so many things that just bind us as human beings.”

Some of the 20 writers booked for today’s fest visited Valley schools Friday. Medina spoke at Mission High.

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“ YA represents a diverse group of people, especially newer YA,” Medina said before her visit. “The voices coming to the table are really challenging voices and stories and narratives we haven’t necessarily heard before.”

Medina was in her 20s before reading a story that included Latinos.

“ When I work with kids now, I say to them, ‘this notion that our story isn’t worthy of a book is outdated,’” She said. “The human experience is the human experience. Embrace it. Name it, because that is literature. That’s not necessarily what we see in the traditional canon, but it’s what’s coming up the pike with YA literature.”

Traditional teachers may argue that sticking to traditional book choices “prepares” students, Medina said.

“ And my question is always, ‘prepares them for what?’ It might prepare them for exams, if the exam is about the cannon,” Medina said. “But if we’re really thinking about preparing kids to be lifelong readers, reading to their own children as parents, to read something critically and do the next step of verifying whether something is true or not — for that you need to have kids that read things and really engage and feel represented in that literature.”

In the current climate, simply being a person of color is now a political thing, Medina said.

“ It’s a tinderbox in terms of cultural, racial (and) economic relations,” she said. “We’re at a place in our country where we have to ask ourselves hard questions about who we want to be.”

Medina said it’s time for educators and all who interact with children to reconnect with the idea of citizenship and what they want for young people.

“ We want them to feel proud of who we are. We want them to be critical thinkers. We want them to be engaged,” Medina said. “And that is going to come by speaking up. It’s going to come by supporting the books that are coming out that speak diverse stories. It’s going to be by going to school board meetings, advocating for wide range of literature.”

The festival will feature three local writers, which was important to Longoria.

“ Everybody wants to say that nothing good comes out of the Valley, but there’s a lot of great things — a lot of important, successful people,” she said. “I wanted them to see that these people from here, just like you, were able to write a book and publish it because they had that dream.

“ If you have that dream, you can do it too.”

dflores@themonitor.com