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Episode #213

Young Adult Literature

Air date 10/21/10 | CC
Host: Gene Edwards
Guest(s): Richard Peck, Margaret McMullan, Sharon M. Draper

Teens are rocking the books. Young adult literature, riding a wave created by wizards and vampires, has entered a golden age of redoubling readership and great writing. “We are held to higher standards,” comments Newbery medalist Richard Peck. “But I do try to do edgy kinds of things,” adds Sharon M. Draper. Just what is young adult literature? “It’s short, there’s no sex and it’s told from the point of view of a young person,” laughs Margaret McMullan.




“When I read adult novels, there are typos. There are mistakes. There are huge logic problems,” says Sharon M. Draper. Margaret McMullan agrees. “It’s amazing.” And Richard Peck adds, “We are held to higher standards.” All three authors concur. “Young adult novels are much, much more deeply, carefully edited than adult novels.”

The Newbery Medalist in 2001 for A Year Down Yonder, Peck says young adult novels “are really coming of age novels.” He writes for “young people who are too old for children’s book but too young for anything else and are looking to find their way,” and says that the genre was born in the 1960 with a book called The Outsiders.

Sharon M. Draper, 1997 National Teacher of the Year, remembers,“I searched for books about children my own age when I was a teenager. Now there’s just thousands and thousands of books for young people to choose from. I’m glad that we have that.”

Both Draper and Peck left careers as teachers in order to write for adolescents. Margaret McMullan took a different approach. This university professor, who writes for both adults and teens, hired an agent to market How I Found the Strong, and that agent saw the YA potential. “I said YA? What is that? And she said, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s short, there’s no sex and it’s told from the point of view of a young person.’”

“Young people can tell the difference when you are writing to them and you’re trying to moralize to them. They will reject you in a minute,” says Draper. “A good young adult novel appeals to them and speaks to them on their level. I am fifteen, and I understand this character in this book that is also fifteen, and we have common problems.”

Peck remembers his students. “They’d heard those stories about being young long ago from their own parents, and they didn’t believe any of that could happen in a free country. So I knew to write about them, not about me.Another classroom observation led him to writing in the first person.“I learned how long they would listen to me, and how much longer they would listen to each other.”

I teach through the back door,” adds Draper, “so that they’ve learned something, but that they don’t know that they learned it.” Peck agrees, “We need to keep our adult personas and our adult vocabularies and our adult messages off the page, but not too far off.” All three authors include strong adult role models in every book.

In spite of their similarities, these authors have different writing styles. I get up at 4:00 in the morning, and I write until maybe 7:00or 8:00,” says Draper. After breakfast, she returns to her book-in-progress, “and then I write all day long.” She says she lives with her characters until they become real. “I have to know what the kitchen smells like. I have to know that the kitchen table, one leg is uneven. I have to know what color the walls are. You can only do that if you’re just totally involved in it.”

McMullan laughs, “Well I get up at five, so there so I’m already an hour behind.” After breakfast with her family, she goes back to work. “I’m at the desk at 7:30 and I go at it hard until noon.” In the afternoons, she writes more, edits, or researches. “And I do love living what my characters are living.”

“I write each book six times because I can’t get anything right in the first five tries,” says a smiling Richard Peck, who works on an electric typewriter. “Then when I’ve finished it, I take the first chapter and without re-reading it, I throw it away. Then I write the first chapter that really goes with that book—now that I know how it ends—because the first chapter is really the last chapter in disguise.” This author of 38 books offers one more piece of advice. “The first chapter should be the shortest.”

By going into schools with their books, these authors enjoy direct and immediate contact with their readers. “They give me energy. They give me ideas,” says Draper. McMullan tells the story of the inspiration for her novel Cashay. “I had a student who was really sassy and bold, and she came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you write a book about me?’ And I just thought, oh, my gosh! That’s what we’re all looking for. We’re looking for a book about ourselves.”

Peck gets also gets ideas from school visits, from his readers, and from the news. “All my stories have morals,” he elaborates. “The underlying moral is you will never grow up until you declare your independence from your peers and find yourself. And so each one of my stories moves on that arc to that end.”

“The things I write about come to me. They’re given to me,” says Draper. “I don’t set limits on myself,” she continues, “but I try to do edgy kinds of things.”In Just Another Hero she wrote about guns and school violence. “It lets them think about it and it takes away the fear and it takes away the lack of knowing, and they need to know to be able to protect themselves.”

“Every book needs background information, needs preparation,” Draper believes. “A teacher needs to first do some background study, present some background information for any book in order to make it so that students understand it and can accept it and are open to all the ideas in the book.” For teachers’ convenience, a part of Draper’s website contains study guides for most of her books.

When host Gene Edwards asks what Harry Potter has done for young adult literature, Peck declares that they “have snatched whole publishing houses back from the financial brink.” “I think it’s also spilled over into the adult world of fiction, too,” adds McMullan. “I think plot is back, and I think that they’re getting that from young adult novels.”


Richard Peck

  • Sounds and Silences: Poems For Now, Delacorte 1970.
  • Mindscapes: Poems for the Real World, Delacorte, 1971.
  • Don't Look and It Won't Hurt, Avon, 1972.
  • Leap Into Reality: Essays For Now, Dell, 1973.
  • Dreamland Lake, Henry Holt and Co. 1973.
  • Through a Brief Darkness, Viking, 1973.
  • Representing Super Doll, Viking, 1974.
  • Pictures That Storm Inside My Head: Poems for the Inner You, Avon, 1976.
  • The Ghost Belonged to Me, Viking, 1975.
  • Are You in the House Alone?, Viking, 1976.
  • Ghosts I Have Been, Viking, 1977.
  • Monster Night at Grandma's House, Viking, 1977.
  • Father Figure, Viking, 1978.
  • Secrets of the Shopping Mall, Delacorte, 1979.
  • Amanda/Miranda, Viking, 1980.
  • Close Enough to Touch, Delacorte,1981.
  • New York Time, Delacorte, 1981.
  • Something for Joey, Laurel Leaf, 1983.
  • The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, Delacorte,1983.
  • This Family of Women, Delacorte,1983.
  • Remembering the Good Times, Delacorte,1985.
  • Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death, Delacorte,1986.
  • Princess Ashley, Delacorte,1987.
  • Write a Tale of Terror, Book Lures, 1987.
  • Those Summer Girls I Never Met, Delacorte,1988.
  • Voices After Midnight, Delacorte,1989.
  • Unfinished Portrait of Jessica, Delacorte,1991.
  • Bel-Air Bambi and the Mallrats, Delacorte,1993.
  • Lost in Cyberspace!, Dial, 1995.
  • The Last Safe Place on Earth, Delacorte,1995.
  • The Great Interactive Dream Machine: Another Adventure in Cyberspace, Dial, 1996.
  • Father Figure, Puffin, 1996.
  • London Holiday, Viking, 1998.
  • A Long Way from Chicago, Dial, 1998.
  • Strays Like Us, Dial, 1998:
  • A Year Down Yonder, Dial Books, 2000.
  • Fair Weather, Dial, 2001.
  • The River Between Us, Dial, 2003.
  • The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, Dial, 2004.
  • Past Perfect, Present Tense (short story collection), Dial, 2004.
  • Here Lies The Librarian, Dial, 2006.
  • On the Wings of Heroes, Dial, 2007.
  • A Season of Gifts, Dial, 2009.
  • Three Quarters Dead, Dial, 2010.
  • Secrets at Sea, Dial, 2011.

Sharon Draper

Margaret McMullan

  • When Warhol Was Still Alive, Crossing Press, 1994.
  • In My Mother’s House, St. Martin’s Press, 2003.
  • How I Found the Strong, Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
  • When I Crossed No-Bob, Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
  • Cashay, Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
  • Sources of Light, Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

Richard Peck

Information about Richard Peck

deGrummond Collection – Richard Peck papers

Interview with Richard Peck

Information on Peck and descriptions of his books

Quotes by Richard Peck

Video interview with Richard Peck

Richard Peck on reading and writing

Announcement of Newberry Award for Richard Peck

Article about Peck winning the National Humanities Medal

Lesson Plans, Teacher's Guides, Novel Unit Plans, Study Guides

Featured Book with activities, related books and links

Reviews of A Year Down Yonder

Review of On the Wings of Heroes


Sharon Draper

Author’s website

Sharon Draper’s blogsite

Sharon Draper: 2008 National Book Festival

Biographies of Sharon Draper

Official Publisher Page

Interviews with Sharon Draper

Review of Out of My Mind

Review of Copper Sun

Review of Just Another Hero


Margaret McMullan

Author’s homepage

Information about Margaret McMullan

News about Margaret McMullan

Interview with Margaret McMullan

Articles written by Margaret McMullan

Information about the Civil War and the life and times of Frank Russell

Review of When I Crossed No-Bob

Review of In My Mother’s House

Review of Sources of Light

Sources of Light Facebook page


To read excerpts of works by Richard Peck, Sharon Draper, and Margaret McMullen, click on a title below.

Richard Peck

Sharon Draper

Margaret McMullan


Click here for a complete list of teaching resources related to this episode.


Young Adult Literature

Grandma Dowdel

The Outsiders

Simon and Schuster

Houghton Mifflin

Alex Haley

Mark Twain

Eudora Welty

Richard Wright

Zora Neale Hurston

J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter

Why I Read

Twenty Minutes a Day

Civil Rights movement


 Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival

The deGrummond Children’s Literature Collection


Producer: Edie Greene
Associate Producer: Kate Robison
Cameras: Larry Uelmen
Ryan Bohling
Jeremy Burson
Chris Bufkin
Floor Director: Kate Robison
Production Audio: John Busbice
Taiwo Gaynor
CCU: Adam Chance
Videotape: Clark Lee
Location Videography: Jeremy Burson
Eddy Rennick
Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan
Production Supervisor: Paul Miller
Editor: Kate Robison
Edie Greene
On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen
Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell
Art Director: Karen Wing
Makeup: Pamela Bass
Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke
Audio Post Production: Taiwo Gaynor
John Busbice
Closed Captioning: Keri Horn
Scenic Designers: Karen Wing
Jack Thomas
Frank Cocke
Kenneth Sullivan
Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas
Ray Green
Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith
Publicity: Margaret McPhillips
Mari Irby
Jana Brady
Laura Mann
Webmaster: Thomas Broadus
Host: Gene Edwards
Guests: Richard Peck
Margaret McMullan
Sharon M. Draper
Director of Television: Jason Klein

Special Thanks to
Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi
University of Southern Mississippi
Catharine Bomhold, PhD
Karen Rowell
Ellen Ruffin

Image of Margaret McMullan in Little Rock used by permission of Margaret McMullan. All rights reserved.

Created by
Gene Edwards
John Evans

Copyright © MAET 2010