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Lizzie Skurnick interview. The “Shelf Discovery” author on what girls read, and why. Babble.com’s Five Minute Time Out.

Lizzie Skurnick

The “Shelf Discovery” author on what girls read, and why.

by Aimee Pohl

August 25, 2009

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It was “the golden age” of young adult fiction; from “we must, we must, we must increase our bust” to running away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a little ESP and dimension jumping along the way. We grew up on these books, reading them over and over, even as we got older. Lizzie Skurnick, a poet, book critic, blogger and young adult author (she has written ten of the Sweet Valley High books) revisits some of the most popular girl-centric must-reads in Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Babble spoke to her about Twilight, why scary books are better than scary sitcoms, and how to encourage your children to read. – Aimee Pohl

What makes a book “young adult” rather than for children or for adults? Books like the Little House on the Prairie series are difficult to categorize.

In my world, young adult is really about the work for those truly between childhood and adulthood, those in flux, and those books can include Little House or Clan of the Cave Bear. For my book I realized very early that I had to dispense with whatever official categories a book fell in, because this was a story of the books girls read, not what people call the books that the girls read.

Part of why these books were fascinating to us as children was that they dealt with the older girls who we wondered about: the girls who got their period and went on dates.

Exactly. The girls we were going to be, not the girls we were. There are a lot of authors that you could argue were not specifically writing for YA but were packaged that way. It’s like “mystery”: some people think it’s an insult, some only want to be considered a mystery writer! Many authors would like to be considered serious literary fiction writers. YA is only recently starting to be considered serious.

Speaking of intended audiences, have you followed the controversy in Britain over “age banding” of children’s books? A number of authors, including Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling, have come out very strongly against the plan to put age suggestions on books. What do you think?

Most children ignore them. The real worry is that children have access to books and are given room to make choices, in my view. The rest is just for adults to organize, index and sell, and there’s nothing wrong with that, we just shouldn’t confuse it with reading. I think what they reflect is the new preoccupation our culture has with children and what they’re doing. My mother and father had no idea what I was reading and I don’t know that they would have thought it was their business or concerned themselves with it and I think that was terrific. I think nowadays there is a lot of evidence that we curate and monitor our children and, like all kinds of attention, that has benefits and drawbacks.

Are there any books you regret reading at a young age? I read a book when I was nine or so about a girl who is molested by her orthodontist. When I started going to the orthodontist I expected that I would get molested!

I never was scared by books, because they seemed to handle it all in a thoughtful way. It did scare me, and I talk about this in my Are You in the House Alone? review, how in the early ’80s they raped all the female characters on sitcoms with these “issue” episodes. They raped Deedee, they molested Tootie, Kimberly was kidnapped. That was horrible. I was sure that was coming up for me in a future episode and you could tell it was simply for the dramatic punch, and not a real attempt to tell a story. I was never scared when it was a story because I knew it had meaning.

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