Gatekeepers: the good, the bad and my mother – Keith Gray
I hadn’t read any of Keith Gray’s books before Reading Matters but, now that I’ve met him, I want to read all of his books. I had heard him talk at the Unconference on Thursday and his talk really struck a chord with me. On Friday he talked about the gatekeepers of young adult literature. He started by telling us a hilarious story about a ladder that he bought and the 18 different instructions that he was supposed to read before he used the ladder. Like the rules that were a barrier to him using the ladder, the gatekeepers of young adult literature are a barrier to teenagers discovering books. These ‘gatekeepers’ are publishers, librarians, teachers, parents and grandparents, and if one of these people takes offense at a book they can close the gate to teenagers. These gatekeepers are looking out for the ‘f-bomb’ and other language that they find offensive, and sex (which Keith says will have them ‘not just barring the gate, but melting down the key’).
Keith suggests that the ‘best books allow you to explore things on your own two feet.’ He trusts his readers to be able to think about big, tough issues and use their own judgement. He says that reading is ‘about learning empathy and opening your mind.’ I know I certainly wouldn’t be the same person without learning these things through books.
One of the things I really like about Keith is that he writes specifically with teenage boys in mind as his readers. He mentioned that he likes to portray teenage males as thinking and feeling humans that show emotion. As a male I hugely appreciate reading about those types of male characters in books, because I can really relate to them. They are the sorts of characters who really stick in my mind because I have a connection with them.
Keith finished by saying that ‘readers are the best gatekeepers.’ We can be a bit overprotective of teenage readers and we need to learn to trust them. They’ll decide for themselves what they do or don’t like, just as we do as adults.