Better Reading was recently invited to the Supanova Expo 2017. For those who are unfamiliar, Supanova is a fantasy and sci-fi convention. While it covers all mediums (such as video games, anime, and film) Better Reading was especially excited to attend all of the many panels on writing and reading. With guests such as Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, Alan Baxter, and Maria Lewis, there really was an all-star cast at Supanova, and a wealth of experience and expertise.
We attended panels such as Researching the Novel, the Supanova Book Club, Pushing the Boundaries of YA, Stop Using That Trope! and Fantastic Beasts and How To Write Them. In addition, we were privileged enough to be a part of the Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner Q&As, as well as interviewing Brandon Sanderson and Wanda Wiltshire! The themes and discussions of these panels were incredibly diverse, but one theme that kept cropping up is writing and reading for a younger audience. Or more specifically, why fantasy and sci-fi are essential genres for young readers.
One of the most important things that came up is that young adult literature is not about writing down, as many adults seem to think it is. Sulari Gentill, author of The Hero Series, a fantasy set in Homeric Greece, said that “adolescence is when you are most likely to believe in grand epics and ideals.” This does not in any way mean that writing for young adults means toning down the language used. In fact, most authors present stated that they found young adults to be just as intelligent as adults! Even when a younger reader might not understand every word, they are usually able to grasp meaning based on the context.
As such, young adult literature is twofold. It both expands and challenges a younger reader’s vocabulary (essential to language development), and allows for teens to engage in wider themes. James Dashner, author of the bestselling The Maze Runner series, said that the ages of 10 to 15 were his most magical time of reading, where he was really exposed to just what writing and words could do. Brandon Sanderson, profilic and Hugo Award winner author of The Stormlight Archive and the Mistborn series, has said that he was ironically not at all interested in reading and writing. Until one day, his year eight teacher made him pick a book for a book report. He chose an Anne McCaffrey – The Dragonriders of Pern – and said that, “it had cool dragons, and helped him understand the world better.”
While fantasy and sci-fi can be seen as an escape, they are an escape that allows younger readers to reflect on universal ideals – love, family, corruption, and more – in a world removed from our own. This allows them to then think about these ideals and apply them to their own life. “Fantasy,” says Sanderson, “creates a world to aspire to. It’s interesting, exciting, and helps you learn about the world better. It takes the impossible and makes it plausible.”
Fantasy is the genre of imagination. Imagination is essential to becoming a fully formed young adult. And honestly, if your child is struggling to get into reading, entice them with dragons. Everything is better with dragons.