Welcome to the world of YA novels: an interview with Christian Holzmann

When I think of the right shelf for young adult novels, I imagine putting them on a bridging-shelf. They are not really books for children, and not targeted at adults, still, young teens read them, and a lot of grown-ups also like them. Why are YA novels so successful and popular among young and not-so-young adults? What are YA novels at all?

There is a quote in this article by  Jennifer Lynn Barnes,  ‘A brief history of young adult literature’ on the CNN website, which inspired me to visualize the YA bookshelf as a bridge: “Just like adolescence is between childhood and adulthood, paranormal, or other, is between human and supernatural. Teens are caught between two worlds, childhood and adulthood, and in YA, they can navigate those two worlds and sometimes dualities of other worlds.”

What I really like about YA literature is that it is101 Young Adult Novels cover.indd a fascinating playground for entertaining and intellectual experiment, and the range of topics these titles cover is not limited by rigidly set taboos. This kind of literature keeps changing, as if it was a reaction to the needs, dreams, fears and hopes of young adults. This quality of YA fiction can be seen as one of the reasons for the success of the genre. What is the best way to use these novels in your English classes? They will inspire your students to read, and they provide a wide range of topics for discussions, as well as pointers to a wide choice of contemporary films related to the issues raised. You can start reading them with students over 14 at an intermediate, and perhaps upper-intermediate level (CEF B1+, B2), basically the same age as they will be approaching YA novels in their native language.

Start exploring the genre on the 101 Young Adult Novels website that accompanies our anthology, 101 Young Adult Novels, written by Christian Holzmann. In the anthology you will find inspiring ideas for your classroom, and remember to check out our resources and worksheets on the website. Plus check in regularly for updated reviews, worksheets and thematic reading lists.

We have also chatted with Christian to learn more about YA novels and the anthology.

Christian Holzmann

Christian Holzmann


Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): Where does your passion for reading come from?

Christian Holzmann: My family have always been readers. The story goes that my mother was reading while cooking and my father, a farmer’s son, regularly lost the cattle because he was reading. And since then reading has been infectious…

HRB: What was your favourite book as a young adult?

Christian Holzmann: I was a weird kid because I was running around with Goethe and Schiller plays and pestering people about which one was the better dramatist. And by the age of ten I had read ALL the YANs in the town’s library.

HRB: Where did you get the idea for 101 Young Adult Novels?

Christian Holzmann: Talking to Maria and and Lucia from Helbling, I suppose – who turned the 1001 into 101.

HRB: How much do you read a week? (Are you a fast reader?)

Christian Holzmann: I am – but I seem so busy with a lot of other things (like going to the movies and theatres). Still, I can finish 3-4 books a week.

HRB: Do you have any recipes for using YA novels in the language classroom?

Christian Holzmann: Plenty –and they are in the book. However, the most important thing is: be a role model.

HRB: Why do you think it is important to use literature in language education?

Christian Holzmann: Simply because it’s great fun. And if you know the books (and the kids) a lot of very interesting exchanges are possible.

HRB: Do you have any tips for increasing students’ reading speed?

Christian Holzmann: Practice makes perfect – which is not quite true in this case. At my school pupils are actually offered a speed reading course. No miracles, but it helps.

HRB: How can we deal with difficult language in YA novels with B1/B2 level students?

Christian Holzmann: The more boring the book, the more difficult the language. Think of all these 14-year-olds who read Rowling and Pullman and Meyer and Collins just because they wanted to know how the stories continue. It was above their level, but they were highly motivated. And kids are very good at filtering out what is beyond them. And sometimes kids return a book because they find it too hard. Then they pick another one.

HRB: What do you think of the future of YA novels?

Christian Holzmann: My 15-year-olds are extremely well-read, and I sometimes find it hard to catch up with them. Generally, I’d say the future looks good with all these waves that carry you away, for example vampires, and now dystopia.

HRB: Why do you think adults like reading YA novels so much?

Christian Holzmann: They don’t really exhaust you, do they? And even though you are familiar with all kinds of narrative patterns, YANs can have you at the edge of your seat.

HRB: Do you think there are taboo topics in YA literature?

Christian Holzmann: Not really. For instance, if you take Swedish YANs (e.g. Mats Wahl) there is far more sex than in most of the British YANs (or US YANs at that) and nobody seems to complain. I’m actually surprised that very few writers focus on topics like ’grooming’.

HRB: Can you recommend any ’classic’ YA novels?

Christian Holzmann: When does ’classic’ start? L’Engle? Cormier? For me, Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons is a classic. But I also enjoyed Nesbit’s The Railway Children in that lovely Collector’s Library Edition. And I collect Angela Brazil books who is not at all rated as an author by today’s standards (Ed. ‘supposedly modern schoolgirls’ stories’).

HRB: Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?

Christian Holzmann:  I have just finished Crossan’s Apple&Rain, which was pretty okay (Ed. and which has just been reviewed on the 101 YANs website). And currently I’m reading Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare (which is not a YAN).

HRB: Thank you for the interview, Christian!

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