Yesterday’s panel on Children’s Rights at Cooper Union featured authors who write for both young people and adults, though with its majority of YA authors it brought home the message that young people are concerned about more than shopping, sports, and vampires. Moderated by PEN Children’s Committee chair Susanna Reich, the panel included Polish journalist and novelist Wojciech Jagielski, children’s/YA author Debby Dahl Edwardson, YA author Patricia McCormick, and Cambodian human rights activist Arn Chorn-Pond, whose story of surviving the Khmer Rouge is the subject of McCormack’s forthcoming book Never Fall Down.
McCormick set the tone of the panel by observing that, in the years since the publication of her award-winning YA novel Sold about child prostitution in Nepal, she has seen a tremendous response among teens who want to hear about their peers around the world. (As the author of a historical novel set during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, I second her observation about the natural curiosity of teens and their willingness to think about issues outside their immediate experience.) Edwardson, author of My Name Is Not Easy about indigenous children stripped of their language and culture at a boarding school in Alaska in the early 1960s, connected the issue of children’s rights around the world to the right of parents in the United States to have control over their children’s education. Arn spoke about being relocated from war-torn Cambodia to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he saw children carrying guns as part of gangs. At that point he decided to devote his life to becoming a peacemaker and to healing the effects of war.