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STRANDS Post #3-Dystopia Fiction- A Gateway Genre for YA Recreational Reading

April 16th, 2012

Like Harry Potter did for junior readers, The Hunger Games is being credited with awakening a whole new generation of YA recreational readers.  And, again similarly to Harry and crew, but  dissimilar to the Twilight series, The Hunger Games series appeals to a wide range of both male and female readers.

If you are one of the many teachers who are hailing The Hunger Games trilogy as the saviour of recreational reading for the 11- 15 set, perhaps you are feeling brave enough to harness that momentum and introduce the concept of DYSTOPIA as a genre of not only reading, but of THOUGHT. Yep, I said it, I DARE you to introduce the concept of Dystopia, and discuss examples of these constructs in writing and film to intermediate age students.

The danger here, of course, is snapping the trap down on the mouse as soon as it goes for the cheese. In other words, RESIST any urge you may have to delve deeply into the social criticisms, the historical references, the biblical allegories that all exist within The Hunger Games’ plot lines. You do not want to take away the sheer joy of an engaging read for those who have finally shown a willingness to give reading for its own sake a try.

However, by using The Hunger Games as a vehicle, you can gently take the opportunity to introduce to the kids that this story -that is great just on a story line level – does have more to it, and that it is just one of a whole genre of thought and social criticism available for them to explore as they continue participating in recreational reading.
By the time they get to Grade 11, with a few Dystopia titles under their belts, the political allegory  of Animal Farm might be less daunting. Heck, they might even enjoy it !
Mini-lessons or activities you can do with The Hunger Games that won’t suck the joy out of the book :

OVERVIEW OF DYSTOPIA AND ITS ELEMENTS
Provide a definition of Dystopia, (and this could also be a great opportunity to instance a time when Wikipedia IS an appropriate resource choice as the topic is well established in public knowledge, and the provided sources are recognizable, and easy to trace and verify.) Once the general description of what the concept of Dystopia is begins to emerge, students will likely realize they have been exposed to this genre of fiction before in either book or film format without knowing what it was.
Providing some academic boundaries to surround their prior knowledge will allow students to go into their personal backfiles for recall and categorization of information.

The most important concept for them to “get” about Dystopia is that The Authority”, be it Big Brother from 1984, The Government in The Chrysalids, The Capital in The Hunger Games, the not so nurturing qualities of The Nurturing Centre in The Giver, The National Administration Centre in the film adaptation of Kurt Voneggett’s Harrison Bergeron, tries to convince the citizens they oppress that the oppression they experience is justified or even good for them. This is what separates Dystopia from Science Fiction.

Adolescents are, of course, VERY receptive to identifying and calling out the hypocrisy of authority figures; they are biologically wired to do this !   Once they buy in, you can challenge them to go further; to take their critical observations and form them into a supportable argument.  Discussions of reasonable vs. oppressive societal restrictions are just around the corner!  Sounds like great preparation for Grade 10 Civics , Gr 12 Challenge and Change in Society, or the Philosophy courses available in Gr 11 or 12.  Best of all, they likely won’t even know you are clandestinely preparing them for it.

Introduce the fact that many authors, artists and film makers have explored the concepts associated with Dystopian society. Make a timeline of famous works: Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, Brave New World, 1984, A Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Clockwork Orange, ones they are likely to have heard or seen referenced in some context; be it film or fiction.

Be sure to throw in some YA titles, well known ones like The Giver trilogy, City of Ember, Canadian ones like The SALT Trilogy, The Dirt Eaters -all of which we have at the TRC – to legitimize books used in your classrooms as being part of a bigger picture.

  • VISIT A LOCAL OR REGIONAL PUBLIC LIBRARY’S  TEEN PAGE ON ITS WEBSITE

Our own KFPL, the Ottawa Public Library, or Brockville Public Library all have comprehensive sections dedicated to YA and Teen readers. There are lots of  lists of recommended Dystopia fiction for teens.  And thanks to Katniss, these read-alike lists are everywhere right now.

Like this  If you Love the Hunger Games list from Ottawa, or this list of Top 12 Dystopian Novels, or this Blog link to Reading Rants, for your kids with a little more * edge* who might take recommendations from other teens before they take them from you :)

  • HUNGER GAMES AS A GATEWAY TO SOCIAL JUSTICE

As we already know, empathy is the root of compassionate acts.  Making a connection with Katniss, and all the other suffering characters from the Districts, might just allow room for a connection to be made that there are people right here, right now, in your town, and in your school, or in their class, who feel such desperation and deserve support.

A great website that can serve as one of these gateway conversations is that of the Hunger is NOT a Game project, an offshoot of the Harry Potter Alliance found at:

http://thehpalliance.org/imagine-better/hunger-is-not-a-game/

This organization has brilliantly used The Hunger Games to spearhead discussions about power imbalances around the world and more specifically, about food security. Take a look at this amazing site and be prepared to be inspired !

  • And ….. THAT’S IT !

That’s plenty for the YA age group ( 11 – 15 or grades 6, 7, 8, 9)  Inclined readers are already reading, what we really want here is for those mice ( aka reluctant readers) to not have their noses snapped if they finally find a story they can grab onto. And of course,  you never know, if we provide these prompts, and leave them alone to explore all the amazing Dystopian cheese that is out there,  they just might read another one.

Here’s to the authors who engage the readers – and citizens – of the future !
Please visit the TRC catalogue and search by the keyword  Dystopia for available titles

And YES! we have The Hunger Games !

2 Responses to “STRANDS Post #3-Dystopia Fiction- A Gateway Genre for YA Recreational Reading”

  1. Ross Says:

    Thanks Peggy, I appreciate the Hunger is not a game angle, that is definitely a criticism many parents have expressed about using this book as a teaching tool. I can work with this.

  2. Cynthia Says:

    Love the Read a like list ! Thanks.

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