Let the Creativity Bloom: Final Projects for the Young Adult Literature Course
by Leilya Pitre
Announcing the project early in the semester and reminding about it every couple of weeks jumpstarts students’ thinking and focuses their attention on various ideas as we progress through the novels. They may choose one, two, or several YA novels, including the novels of their choice for this task. To begin the creativity flow, we complete Body Biography projects, as described by Smagorinsky in Teaching English by Design (2008, pp. 36-37). This small-group project engages students to think beyond the traditional character charts or reading logs as it allows employing symbolism when considering both surface and inner complexities of the character’s psyche, actions, and reactions to the events. Formerly, the project was completed on a human-size poster paper, and all the drawings, writing, and coloring were finished manually. After finalizing the art part, each group collectively writes an essay explaining all the symbolic representations and choices included in the poster. With the move to online teaching and access to technological tools, the project can be executed using multimedia resources. Below are some Body Bio examples from the last spring semester.
Who doesn’t like to eat? Right, we all do! Maddie P. (with the permission of my students, I use their real first names in this post), as a true Louisianan, where food culture is rich and central to any event, decides to showcase food mentioned in some of the YA novels. She notices that almost in every text of the course characters mention food they like either at their favorite food joints, self-prepared, or cooked by parents. Maddie examines three novels: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (2018), I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman (2018), and The Music of What Happened by Bill Konigsberg (2019). She chose Maya’s Mouthwatering Biryani and Tandoori Chicken (Ahmed, 2018, p. 9), Max’s Cloud Eggs (Konigsberg, 2019, p. 107), Jordan and Max’s World Famous Organic Homemade Prickly Pear Frozen Lemonade (Konigsberg, 2019, p. 110), Freya’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Foreman, 2018, p. 120-121), and Harun’s Family Seekh Kebabs (Foreman, 2018, p.189). Since there are no pictures or recipes provided in the novels, Maddie has researched the dishes, found the images and recipes, and created The Young Adult Cookbook.
During her presentation, she explains the history of each dish and emphasizes their cultural value. The discussion naturally moves onto eating habits of teenagers. When I am writing this part, my husband is grilling chicken and ribs on the back porch. I am tempted to add this to The Cookbook.
This idea and implementation belongs to Jacob B. who created three thematic posters inspired by nine out of twelve novels we read in class: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oats, Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pena, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, My Name is Parvana by Debora Ellis, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner, I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman, and The Music of What Happened by Bill Konigsberg.
The first poster exemplifies the theme of hope with a vital implication that hope requires maintenance. It has to be sustained, relentless, and unyielding to life encounters adolescents experience daily. As symbolic representations from each novel, Jacob has chosen Parvana's worksheet of fractions (Ellis, 2012), Valerie's black notebook with the famous Hate List (Brown, 2009), and Max’s portrait of Jordan (Konigsberg, 2019).
Finally, Jacob introduces the theme of personal growth via creating bonds with friends claiming that it is easier if adolescents are not alone in their struggles, but “tethered” as Hannah confesses (Polisner, 2016). This third poster draws from The Memory of Things, I Have Lost My Way, and Mexican Whiteboy and employs images of Hannah’s swan wings (Polisner, 2016), Freya’s grilled cheese sandwich (Foreman, 2018), and Uno’s mitt, holding a baseball and cash (de la Pena, 2008).
The theme of ugly truths is examined through Speak, Freaky Green Eyes, and All American Boys. Through this analysis Jacob insists that ugly truths must be confronted to be rectified. He includes a branch from Melinda’s tree (Anderson, 1999), Quin’s t-shirt (Reynolds & Kiely, 2015), and Krista’s journal (Oats, 2003) as symbolic images reflecting this theme.
This class includes students with different majors. One of them is Jillian; she is an Art major focusing on photography. For this course, she creates the new book covers for two novels: The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger, 1945) and Exit West (Hamid, 2017). I will explain The Catcher in the Rye cover here.
In order to recreate the disturbance Holden’s (Salinger, 1945) inner world is undergoing, which conflicts with reality, Jillian has crafted a composition which is seen from an unorthodox angle. Because Holden’s disillusionment with the world results in a changed worldview for him by the end of the narrative, she decided to animate the “camera” through which the artwork is being viewed. By turning it on its side, viewers may feel compelled to turn their head to perceive the artwork from a more natural-feeling angle, adjusting their perspective, just as Holden had to adjust his.
Several students have tried their hand in creative writing—rewriting one of the novel’s final chapters, adding another chapter, or responding to the novels with an original writing. One of them, Ellie H., has attempted to write a sequel to Anderson’s Speak (1999). She entitles the sequel Listen, makes a book cover, and writes the first chapter. See the book cover to the right.
a cloud of ash and smoke.
in sheets of glass.
move toward me,
a path unknown.
(Yet I know it all too well.)
Push me outside of my fortress.
I am a bird.
I am wounded.
(I know this pain.
I am lost
as I search
all around me.
They begin to
I push trough them,
water meets sky.
I will take off.
Fate has clipped my wings.
Fate is pulling me
back into shapes,
“Look at me…”
“Open your eyes…”
through bodies of
(But Freya is not here.
I am not Freya.)
I am a bird…
Leilya Pitre, Ph. D., taught English as a foreign language in the Ukraine and ELA/English in public schools in the US. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor and English Education Coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana University where she teaches methods courses for preservice teachers, literary analysis, American and Young Adult Literature courses for undergraduate and graduate students. Her research interests include teacher preparation, clinical experiences, secondary school teaching, and teaching and research of Young Adult and multicultural literature. Together with her friend and colleague, Mike Cook, she co-authored a two-volume edition of Teaching Universal Themes Through Young Adult Novels (2021).