Today, I welcome Ellen Jensen Abbott with a guest post about why teenagers (and adults!) are drawn to fantasy novels. She is the author of the Watersmeet trilogy, which is young adult fantasy. The third installment, The Keeper, is now out, and in honor of this, Ellen is giving away the entire trilogy to one lucky winner! You can enter to win that below with the Rafflecopter form.
In the Watersmeet trilogy, readers follow the outcast Abisina as she leaves her village to search for her father and for acceptance. On her journey, she discovers the whole land of Seldara: the dwarves of the Obrun Mountains; the fauns of the western forests; the centaurs of Giant’s Cairn—some friends, some foes. When she reaches Watersmeet, she thinks she’s found the home of her dreams where all of Seldara’s folk are welcome, but soon Watersmeet’s existence is at risk, and Abisina finds herself outcast again. Can she save the home she loves? Can she unite the land against a gathering evil? Can she embrace her destiny and become the Keeper of Watersmeet?
These are a few acknowledgements that Watersmeet has received!
- IRA Children’s and Young Adult Book Award—Notable Book, 2009
- Nominated for YALSA’s 2010 Teens’ Top Ten
- Nominated for YALSA’s Best Book for Young Adults, 2009
- On Nebula Suggested Reading List—Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
- Nominated for the Amelia Bloomer List, for books that embody feminist principles and the fight for the freedom of self, body, mind, and spirit.
- Nominated for 2011-2012 Sequoyah Intermediate Book Award, Oklahoma
One of the big buzz words in education right now is “authentic assessment.” Paper and pencil tests aren’t particularly compelling. Try to get your evaluations to have real world applications, the educational theorists insist. As a teacher, I agree, as hard as it can be to find “real world applications” for a Hamlet soliloquy. “Authentic assessment” may also explain why young adults find fantasy so absorbing. Now I know that “fantasy” is the opposite of “real world,” but most of these stories are about the survival of the main character, the survival of a way of life, the survival of good in the face of evil. There is no more authentic assessment than survival. It’s what Suzanne Collins’s Katniss faces every day in the arena. It’s what Kristin Cashore’s Fire faces each time she leaves her home or takes off her headscarf. It’s what my main character, Abisina, faces on every page of the Watersmeet trilogy.
I teach high school and the students I see, thank goodness, are entirely insulated from questions of survival. In fact, they lead circumscribed lives directed by adults. Their parents get them up at the same time every day. They eat a breakfast that Mom or Dad makes, get on the bus, and then follow a schedule set by their school for seven hours. If they’re lucky they get four or five minutes passing time between classes and 45 minutes for lunch. After school, they start up a round of activities: music lessons, soccer games, CCD or Hebrew School, dance class. More adult oversight. In the evening, they sit down to do a couple of hours of homework before tumbling into bed, so they can get a few hours of sleep before they start over. Even their goals are adult directed: they must do well in school, so they can get into a good college. They don’t have time for play or adventure, and they’ve been told from a young age to be careful of strangers, to not go too far from home, etc. etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but think how dramatically different the life of your average fantasy hero or heroine is.
My heroine, Abisina, does not learn algebra. She learns to feed herself by hunting. She learns which plants are edible, which plants are poisonous. She learns to heal using herbs, and she saves lives. Once her mother is killed (a staple in fantasy—no parents!), she decides to set out on a perilous journey to find Watersmeet, which may not exist and her father who she has never met. She has no path to follow, and no one but a cranky dwarf giving her advice. Her tests aren’t the pencil and paper kind. She is abducted by hostile centaurs and saves herself through her wits. She has to teach a whole village how to feed itself, and eventually, she has to come face to face with evil to save the home she has come to love.
Fantasy allows an author and a reader to explore the basic questions of the human condition, questions that we can ignore in our real lives. I think this is why, as a child, I read The Chronicles of Narnia time and time again and why kids today flock to Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, and, I hope, my own books. There is something primal about fantasy. After all, we’ve been telling each other stories about monsters and magic, heroes and villains since we gathered as communities around central fires. Today those fires may be the Kindle, but the stories still speak to us.
To purchase a copy of any of the Watersmeet books, please visit: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780761459927
To enter to win the trilogy, use the Rafflecopter form below.