jueves, 28 de enero de 2016

Young adult fantasy literature… in the classroom? (1st part)

   Promotional artwork of the videogame Final Fantasy Tactics A2 developed by Square-Enix.
For this entry we are pleased to welcome a two-part contribution from Alberto Bolaños Montealegre. Alberto is a former student of the MEd in Children’s Literature and Literacies at the University of Glasgow and his entry is based on his Master’s dissertation for this Programme. Given his thoughtful research on YA fantasy books and the potential they have in the classroom, as well as his particular enthusiasm for Laura Gallego’s series, Memorias de Idhún, we felt sure that his ideas would be of interest and benefit for many of our readers and especially those who work with young people and reading.

Alberto Bolaños Montealegre specializes in second-language teaching and most of his career has developed in this field. However, his childhood interest in fantasy literature led him to explore YA fantasy books in the classroom in his masters’ dissertation. Currently, he works as a primary English teacher for the Department of Education of the Government of Castile-La Mancha (Spain).

In the entry of this blog entitled “Back to school and back to the same old issues with reading?” (Arizpe, E. and Guerrero, L., September 4, 2015) Evelyn and Laura emphasized how important it is to give a twist to literary education in school. It is true that the teaching of the classics is a fundamental part of the area of literature but it is also important to remember the interests and the tastes of 21st century youngsters. In my opinion, our task as educators and mediators of children’s and teenagers’ books is to find texts that can connect with our students; reflect their concerns and trap them in such a way that reading becomes the door to other texts.

That was precisely the idea that motivated me to write my Master’s thesis “The Educational Potential of Young Adult Fantasy Literature: The case of Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego García”. In this dissertation I tried to approach the fantasy genre, a literary genre which is usually ignored in schools, from a classroom practice perspective through the case of the trilogy Memorias de Idhún [Memories of Idhún], a saga which perfectly exemplifies the characteristics of both “fantasy” and “YA literature”. In this entry I am going to summarize the main conclusions of my work.

It is a fact that fantasy literature has never managed to find its place in school curricula. Educators and academics alike have frequently shared certain reticence toward this type of books by considering them “not-serious” or “low-quality” literature. Yet, fantasy literature and, particularly, its juvenile branch, have certain characteristics that make them a very useful educational resource, a situation which contrasts with the mistrust shared by the educational community. I will now build my analysis of YA fantasy from an educational point of view by trying to answer these two questions: Why should we include YA fantasy books in schools? Is it possible to include them into the classroom practice in a way that is coherent with curriculum planning?

Firstly, a simple but powerful reason to include these books in the class is that teenagers like this type of readings and we have research that confirms it: Smith (2012, pp. 20-21) comments that more than a half of the 25 most read books by the American teenagers in 2011 belonged to the categories of either fantasy or science fiction. Research carried out in Spain in 2013 points in the same direction (Federación de Gremios de Editores de España, 2013).

A second reason is how easy it is for fantasy stories not only to deal with tough and complex topics which concern teenagers (such as identity or parental absence) but also to situate them in a place far from our environment, a fantasy place, where it is easier to talk about these topics. In Colleen-Cruz and Pollock’s words (2014): “when children [I think it can also be applied to teenagers] read about a fantastical world, far removed from their real lives, it is much safer to think about issues of loss, betrayal, and change” (p. 185). In describing their own classroom practice, Colleen-Cruz and Pollock (2004) tell us how reading fantasy books led their students to develop interesting discussions about the nature of evil or death. Therefore, it is worth taking into account the potential of these books to create scenarios for debate in class, to address issues and the anxieties of our students or even to work with philosophical ideas or concepts.

In terms of how to include YA fantasy in the classroom practice, it is important to point out that fantasy is an especially heterogeneous, flexible and diverse genre and, for this reason, these texts offer a plethora of possibilities in the classroom. For example, in the area of language and literature, apart from the traditional teaching for literary analysis, these stories might be a useful resource to make connections to folklore and the oral tradition, given how deeply fantasy is rooted in them. Beyond literary education, YA fantasy books also offer many possibilities in other curricular areas such as geography and cartography (1) or audiovisual education (2), to name but a few (3).

All in all, YA fantasy books can perfectly fulfill the role of a didactic tool. Most of  students like it, they identify with the narratives and, moreover, these texts provide good material for working with different curricular aspects in a different and attractive way. However, the educational potential of YA fantasy books does not only lie in the stories they tell. In the second part of this article (next blog entry), I will look in more depth into some of the educational possibilities that these books offer beyond the book itself.


(1) See Sundmark (2014), an original classroom project proposal in which creative writing is developed together with cartographic concepts using maps of fantasy books.

(2) We can use these books, for instance, to treat concepts such as “transmediation” or to work competences related to “multimodal literacy” given that many of them end up having adaptations in other media such as cinema, graphic novels or videogames. See Soler Pardo, B. and Martín Marchante, B. (2014) for a classroom project proposal using both fantasy literature and cinema.

(3) YA fantasy can be integrated in the classroom in thousand different ways. If anyone is interested in checking out some different examples (among many others) of how to do it, I encourage to look up my Master’s thesis in my profile for the network “Academia.edu”.

- Arizpe, E. and Guerrero, L. (2015) “Back to school and back to the same old issues with reading?” Reading Changes: Adolescents, Young Adult Literature and Literacy Practices in Mexico. Available from: http://readingchanges.blogspot.com.es/2015/09/back-to-school-and-back-to-same-old.html (Last accessed 9th January 2016)

- Colleen-Cruz and Pollock (2004) “Stepping into the Wardrobe: A Fantasy Genre Study”. Language Arts, 81(3), pp. 184-195.

- Federación de Gremios de Editores de España (2013) Hábitos de Lectura y Compra de Libros en España. Alcalá de Henares: FGEE. Available from: http://www.editoresmadrid.org/media/43692/h%C3%A1bitos%20lectura%20a%C3%B1o%202012.pdf (Last accessed 9th January 2016)

- Soler Pardo, B. y Martín Marchante, B. (2014) “White as Snow, Red as Blood, Black as Ebony…: Employing film adaptations of the Brothers Grimm Snow White as a Didactic Tool for Learning EFL”. In: Reyes-Torres, R. et al. (eds.) Thinking through Children’s Literature in the Classroom. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

- Smith, D. (2012) Bringing Fantasy and Science Fiction into the Classroom. The ALAN Review, 39(2), pp. 19-24.

- Sundmark, B. (2014) “‘Dragons Be Here’: Teaching Children’s literature and creative writing with the help of maps”. In: Reyes-Torres, R. et al. (eds.) Thinking through Children’s Literature in the Classroom. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


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