Tag Archive: censorship


Banned Book Week 2014: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

Banned Books Week is Sept 21 – 27th. Ever since I took a class on Young Adult Literature in Graduate School, I’ve been interested in why books are banned and how I can  get people to read these banned/challenged books in protest of the censorship. I found this Ray Bradbury quote the other day, which is rather appropriate: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” For that YA class, I did a paper on Chris Crutcher’s book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, an awesome book, that has been challenged by at least one school district. My way is by getting the word out there is via book reviews, as the main purpose of the week is to celebrate freedom to read whatever you want.

Smith and Hickock Mugshots

Perry Smith (above) and Dick Hickock (below)

I have chosen to read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood for my review this year. Most people have at least heard of the book through the movie they made a year after the book’s release, in 1967, or the 2005 biopic Capote starring the late Seymour Hoffman. I have seen neither film, although the Capote film does interest me as it is the author’s story of researching for the book. I picked this book this year because I enjoy narrative nonfiction (especially true crime) and this book is supposed to be the birth of the true crime genre. The author had this to say about the book “This book was an important event for me. While writing it, I realized I just might have found a solution to what had always been my greatest creative quandary. I wanted to produce a journalistic novel, something on a large scale that would have the credibility of fact, the immediacy of film, the depth and freedom of prose, and the precision of poetry.” The book was an instant sell-out and made the author incredibly famous, though he already had a taste for that when the studios nabbed his short novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s and turned it into a movie.

All that being said, I rather enjoyed reading the book. Obviously this book has been reviewed a lot since its serialized release in 1965 and book release in 1966, but I will give a brief summary to those who have no idea what I am talking about. On November 15, 1959 Perry Smith and Richard “Dick”  Hickock broke into the Clutter Family’s home in Holcomb, Kansas in the middle of the night after being told by a fellow inmate months before that the Clutters were really rich and possibly had a safe on property. Dick planned on robbing the prosperous wheat farming family, and I believe brought Perry along as muscle, using him to tie up their hostages. When they realized that the Clutters only had about $54 in cash at the house, as Mr. Herb Clutter only paid for things by check, they killed Herb and his wife Bonnie, along with his 16-year-old son Kenyon and their 17-year-old daughter Nancy with a shotgun blast to the head. They evaded capture for about six weeks before the inmate that had tipped them off about the money also decided to collect a reward by tipping them off to the police.

Clutter-Family

Yes, it was a bit hard to read due the literally cold-blooded reaction to the murders by the men.  The crime scene photos, which were not in the book, are particularly horrifying even 50 years later. But it was fascinating and overall I enjoyed the book. You really felt like you were there with Alvin Dewey, lead investigator for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the team in charge of the Clutter murders. You can see him getting frazzled as he hasn’t been able to find any leads in the case and is smoking 60 cigarettes a day and not eating anything. You see the easy going attitude of Dick Hickock as he is not fazed by the newspaper reports on the murders, how paranoid Perry Smith is in contrast. While Smith has no trouble with violence, he thinks Hickock is disgusting in the way he cannot control himself sexually around young girls, and even goes so far as to say to Dewey that he threatened to beat Hickock up before he would let him rape Nancy Clutter. We even learn a little about the Clutter family, the victims in this case. Herb Clutter was well-respected in his community and at church and Bonnie was a shy woman and spent most of her adult life moving from hospital to hospital to cure her “nervous disposition”. Nancy was friends with everyone and though she was incredibly busy, always spent time helping others out. She wanted to go to college with her best friend Sue and study art together. Her brother Kenyon was shy like his mother, and spent most of his time driving around with his “Coyote Chaser” and building furniture in his basement workroom. They were simple country folk who met an untimely end. The two murderers, Hickock and Smith, were hung about five years after the murders.

Now for the censorship part of the post. According to the ALA’s Banned and/or Challenged classic book list, In Cold Blood was “banned, but later reinstated after community protests at the Windsor Forest High School in Savannah, GA (2000). The controversy began in early 1999 when a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity in the book that was part of an Advanced Placement English Class.” According to the Marshall University Library, there was a challenge again in 2012 in Glendale, CA when the “Unified School District officials and parents attempted to block a request by a high school English teacher to add the text to the district’s advanced English curriculum because the nonfiction book was “too violent for a young audience;” the school board voted 4-0 to approve the book for Advanced Placement students.”

Book Reviews March 2014

This past weekend I went to the Tucson Book Festival and had a bit of a fangirl moment when I got to see Young Adult author Chris Crutcher and got him to sign my copy of his latest book. I was first introduced to the author’s work when I was in Grad School for Library and Information Science and was taking a class on YA literature. We had to do a paper on a banned book and why it was banned. I picked Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes  (to be further abbreviated as SFFSB) because I had never read any of his stuff and I liked his book the best out of the ones we had to choose from. I read a couple of them, for example The Perks of Being a Wallflower, just to figure out which I wanted to write on. It’s weird but I had never heard of  SFFSB, even though it came out when I was a teenager, but I rather enjoyed the book. The funny part was trying to explain the book to my mother, who immediately thought the book was horrible based on the number of times it cursed (there was a lot, I counted) or mentioned delicate topics like masturbation or abortion. I was also excited to see Chris Crutcher because I know how firmly he is on preventing censorship for teens, a topic that he has spoken on in length not only on his website (including SFFSB) but other public forums like magazines and the Book Festival. I sadly missed the lecture there because I mixed up the times. I also saw a very brief glimpse of Lois Lowry (who had signed a copy of The Giver for me about 5 yrs ago in South Carolina) and sat for part of a talk given by Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote Chains.

I’ve been making some real progress on the Newbery Challenge list this last month, so I’m rather proud of that. I’m trying to get better about picking advanced reader’s copy books that I can actually finish and write a review on, as I have been finding books that are very visual (graphic novels and children’s nonfiction) but can only be viewed in Adobe Digital Editions, and not my Kindle. Now that I have a laptop again, that problem should be a little bit easier to solve. I’m currently listening to Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata on audiobook. I’m reading Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, the newest Newbery Award winning book, which is absolutely hilarious

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I am still trying to finish my Caldecott (need link) Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 18 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all (need link) the award winners and at least one honor book. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It seems I have been a lot busier than I thought in the last month. So much so that I will have to split my normal book reviews post into two. The first one will be Children’s books and Caldecott, and the second one will be Newbery (Children and Young Adult), Young Adult, and Adult books.

Children

Pomelo Explores Color written by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

The Happy Gray of Rain - Pomelo Explores Color

I like the idea of a tiny pink Elephant named Pomelo, the illustrations were super cute (they would be great for individual prints to decorate a child’s bedroom), and the ideas for color descriptions were very original. However, I think this book, like its predecessor (insert title) fell a little flat. Let me explain. The book is all about Pomelo and his friends learning about different colors and how amazing it is to live in a multi-colored world. That part is fine. It seems like the intended audience for this book is toddlers/preschoolers who are just learning their colors, and despite the small pages, I don’t think this age group will pay attention for the entire length of the book. It is something like 70 pages. My 2 ½ year old lost interest somewhere around the second color. They definitely thought outside the box when picking the color descriptions, like “the mysterious blue of dreams”, “the comforting white of dandelions” and “the foamy white of hot milk”. The book would make a fun creative book for older kids, maybe do a lesson on colors or poetry. Recommended for ages 3+, 3 stars.

Clickety Clack written by Rob and Amy Spence, illustrated by Margaret Spengler

I picked this up for my son because of his train obsession and it was funny because as soon as he saw the cover, he yells out “Clickety-Clack” and I was like “Wow, can he read that?” (he’s only 2 ½ ). Then I realized he probably has listened to it at daycare, and he said some of the repeating phrases along with me as I was reading the book. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with him. I enjoyed it too. I mean how can you not love a book with talking yaks, quacking ducks and mice who use fireworks! As I said earlier, the text repeats itself so a child can easily follow the pattern. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Mysterious Tadpole written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg

The Mysterious Tadpole

I love Steven Kellogg’s illustrations, they just remind me of my childhood.  So when I saw this book for sale at a local used bookstore, I immediately bought it. I enjoyed the story more than my son did, mostly because I’m not sure he really understood what was going on, but he liked the illustrations. I have to admit I was cheering a bit when he went to the librarian for help.

Every year, Uncle McAllister gets a really cool present for Louis’ birthday. This year he sent Louis a tadpole, which Louis just loves and even brings to show and tell at school. He names it Alphonse, discovers that he likes cheeseburgers, and Alphonse just keeps getting bigger and bigger. He outgrows the jar he came in, the kitchen sink and the bathtub. He is definitely not the frog that his teacher originally thought he was.

So Louis smuggles Alphonse into the junior high swimming pool, and becomes a paperboy so he can keep feeding him his favorite food. When the swimming coach finds out about the creature, he tells Louis he has to be removed immediately. What is Louis going to do? He needs a permanent place to put Alphonse, but his parents can’t afford to buy a pool. So he enlists the help of Miss Seever, the school librarian. Will she be able to help Louis and Alphonse? To find out, read this charming story.  Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

All Aboard! written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

Another train book I picked out for my son, but he lost interest after a couple of pages. The concept was an interesting one, but some aspects of the story weren’t immediately recognizable, and thus made the book rather confusing. The book starts off with a rabbit named Mr. Barnes, who is going on a long train trip. He is completely surrounded by animals on the train, except for a little girl, who no one else seems to be able to see. I liked pointing out all the animals and getting my son to name them. But the story just keeps going and going, with no possible end in sight. At the end of the book, the reader finds out that the little girl is the actual subject of the book and Mr. Barnes is her stuffed rabbit that she brought along with her for the extended train trip to her grandparent’s house. I enjoyed the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 ½ stars.

Huge Harold written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I will admit that when I saw the cover illustration for this book, I wondered if it was influenced by Harvey, that Jimmy Stewart movie about man with the imaginary 6 ft tall rabbit companion. I really enjoyed this story about a young rabbit who can’t stop growing, though I know my son was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any trains in it. Harold outgrows his family and must seek refuge in the deep forest, but he only finds predators though, so he must run away.

He finds a field full of yummy vegetables, but the farmer doesn’t appreciate him eating his produce and tries to shoot him. Harold hides in an abandoned mansion during a storm and my favorite illustration from this scene is Harold completely overwhelming a tiny twin bed as he is sleeping in it. Two boys see him and tell some farmers, who chase him for months. Harold finally finds refuge in a barn, where a kind farmer lets him stay and then he ends up being a “thoroughbred” racer. Recommended for ages 4-7,  4 stars.

The Insomniacs written by Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts

I picked this one up not because I thought my son would like it, but because I loved the cover art (it is even better inside). The book was about the Insomniac family, a working mom, a stay-at-home father and their daughter Mika. The mom takes a job on the other side of the world, twelve hours away, and the family is unable to go to sleep at night. After the whole family is falling asleep in the morning, they decide to do something about it. They try to go find a bear, thinking that they hibernate through the winter so must know how to sleep at night, but are unsuccessful. So they decide that they will stay awake at night and go to bed in the morning, this plan is pretty successful. I loved the illustrations by the Brothers Hilts, they were so quirky and fun. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Train written by Elisha Cooper

I picked this up immediately when I saw it at the library, for my son. It starts out with a commuter train, which goes from the small towns to the big city, then switches to a passenger train that goes longer distances. From there, we see a freight train with an incredibly long line of attached freight cars containing things like steel, oil and wheat. Next is the Overnight Train with its sleeping berths and tiny bathrooms, and finally the High Speed Train.  I loved the illustrations of all the different kinds of trains, and the little details like the animals that were passed by the train at the bottom of the pages. My only gripe was that the book was way too long for my son, as a read-aloud book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

While Mama had a quick little chat written by Amy Reichert, illustrated by Alexandra Boinger

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat

I picked this one up for myself because the premise seemed amusing. I really enjoyed the look of the illustrations. The premise to this rhyming story is that Mama gets a phone call from Uncle Fred and just wants to have a “quick little chat”, and so her daughter Rose must get ready for bed. But before Rose can really get started, there is someone ringing the doorbell saying they’ve got party supplies to deliver, so she lets them in. Then all these guests, waiters, and musicians start arriving and pretty soon she has a full house, and her mother is still on the phone. Part of me wondered how on earth the mother couldn’t hear all these people coming in to her house and a party going on, and the other half was just in awe of the story wondering how it would end. Will Rose be able to get rid of everyone and make it to bed before her mother finishes her chat? To find out, read this captivating book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

Chester the Worldly Pig written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I had seen this book at the library book sale, but had not picked it up because I had never read the book, but decided to try to read it at the library when I got the chance. I’m glad I did. It was a cute story. Chester decides as a piglet that if he wants to avoid the common ending of a pig (being made into food), then he needs to do something extraordinary. He eventually manages, after much trial and tribulation to balance on his nose on the top of a fence post. He waits for the circus train to pass the farm so he can be noticed, but ends up taking it upon himself to do it as the circus folk were all asleep when the train passes. He is quickly discovered and put in the show, though after being put in an act with some tigers and being so terrified he couldn’t perform, he is re-delegated to the clown’s baby buggy and later chained up so he can’t escape. He does eventually manage to escape off the train, only to run into a wild bear and then a group of Hobos, who both try to eat him. He decides that he’s had enough and goes to a farm, where he does live the life of a pig and grow fat. On the day he is to be slaughtered for food, he is saved by a traveling showman for double his worth. Can you guess why? To find out, read this enchanting story. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Fortunately, the Milk Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

Fortunately the Milk's Aliens

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, but it is always checked out. This book is Neil Gaiman at his zaniest, which I just love! The illustrations were hilarious and really made the story even funnier. The book is all about a family with two kids. The mom has gone away to a conference and the father is left in charge. When the kids get up in the morning to eat cereal for breakfast, they realize that they are completely out of milk. So the dad goes to the store to get some more and he is gone “for ages and ages.” When he finally returns he has quite the tale to tell. He claims he was on the way back from the shop when he is abducted by aliens, goes back in time and end up on a pirate ship, gets rescued by a dinosaur professor, does some more time travel and meets some vampires. All in one morning, of course! The children do not believe his story, as they think he just took elements from around their kitchen, like the sister’s book on vampires and the son’s dinosaur toys. But they’re not quite sure as he does have the infamous milk. Highly recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Hello Mr. Hulot! by David Merveille, according to Jacques Tati

I picked up this book browsing the children’s section. This is one of those books that I think I would like if I had grown up in a French-speaking country or knew the films of Jaques Tati, who was apparently famous for originally creating the tragic comic character. David Merveille took Mr. Hulot and converted him to a wordless picture book, which is pretty ingenious if you think about it. I loved the 1930s-looking illustrations and the crazy situations Mr. Hulot seems to constantly find himself in. Recommended for ages 6-10, 3 stars.

Clickety Clack written by Rob and Amy Spence, illustrated by Margaret Spengler

I picked this up for my son because of his train obsession and it was funny because as soon as he saw the cover, he yells out “Clickety-Clack” and I was like “Wow, can he read that?” (he’s only 2 ½ ). Then I realized he probably has listened to it at daycare, and he said some of the repeating phrases along with me as I was reading the book. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with him. I enjoyed it too. I mean how can you not love a book with talking yaks, quacking ducks and mice who use fireworks! As I said earlier, the text repeats itself so a child can easily follow the pattern. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

All Aboard! written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

Another train book I picked out for my son, but he lost interest after a couple of pages. The concept was an interesting one, but some aspects of the story weren’t immediately recognizable, and thus made the book rather  confusing. The book starts off with a rabbit named Mr. Barnes, who is       going on a long train trip. He is completely surrounded by animals on the train, except for a little girl, who no one else seems to be able to see.  I liked pointing out all the animals and getting my son to name them. But the story just keeps going and going, with no possible end in sight. At the end of the book, the reader finds out that the little girl is the actual subject of the book and Mr. Barnes is her stuffed rabbit that she brought along with her for the extended train trip to her grandparent’s       house. I enjoyed the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 ½ stars.

Caldecott Challenge

All Around Town written by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone

An inventive ABC rhyming book written for city kids, this book is a little dated. It won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. Some of the subject words were a little weak, but I thought overall the rhymes were excellent with good vocabulary. I will say that I always get a little bummed when people can’t come up with good word for the letter X and like to use “X-tra Large” or “Xtra Cheese” instead. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Wuffles! Written and illustrated by David Wiesner

Every time David Wiesner creates another wordless picture book, I swear he gets more and more imaginative. Though this one had been on my to-read list for awhile, it made an appearance sooner rather than later after winning a 2014 Caldecott Honor. Mr. Wuffles is a black and white cat (reminds me of my cat growing up). His owner keep buying him toys to play with, but he is never interested in any of them, until he finds a small spaceship-sized one. Only it’s actually a tiny spaceship complete with aliens, intent on colonizing our planet. They manage to escape from Mr. Wuffles under a countertop, and it is here that they meet ants and a ladybug. They befriend one another, and help each other to escape Mr. Wuffles’ clutches, and allow the aliens to return to their ship. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

Flora-and-the-Flamingo_03

I realized after I read this book, that the author/illustrator also created Tea Rex, another recent book I’ve read that I thought was really creative and different. This books follows in the same vein, though this one is wordless. It reminds me a lot of Fantasia 2000 as the flamingos in that movie were practicing ballet as well. This book won a 2014 Caldecott Honor and rightly so. I just love not only the ballet positions but also the facial expressions on the little girl as she mirrors the flamingo. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Wild Birthday Cake written by Lavinia R. Davis, illustrated by Hildegard Woodward

I had been putting off this one for awhile due to its length (a bit too long to read to my son). I really enjoyed the last book, Roger and the Fox, that I read by this author and illustrator team. This book won a 1950 Caldecott Honor, and it’s the best one I’ve read so far from that year.

Johnny is a young boy who has bought a backpack for himself, filled it with a lunch, and intends on going hiking in the woods. On the way there, he sees some of the people he regularly helps out with chores, but is too intent on his mission to stop. He also runs into the Professor, who is always rescuing animals from the nearby woods, and who reminds Johnny about his birthday party that afternoon. Johnny totally forgot about it, so he starts rushing around trying to find a suitable gift. He makes the Professor a card out of a piece of birch wood.

While on the edge of a pond, he spots some ducks flying overhead and then sees one in the pond. He decides that he wants to catch it for himself. He of course gets completely covered in mud in the process, and his mother refuses to allow him to keep the duck, even though it is injured. He brings it with him to the Professor’s house, and he shows the boy three ducklings that he’s found. Johnny adds his duck to the Professor’s pond, which turns out to be female, and she starts leading the ducklings. He asks the professor to keep the duck and fix its wing, and the professor decides to name the duck Birthday Cake. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker

Journey

This seems to be the year for wordless picture books, as all 2014’s Caldecott Honors books are wordless. This one has almost no color in the beginning, all white and grey illustrations, except for one item of importance that is colored in bright red. The basic storyline is a girl who is ignored by her parents and sister, so she finds a red crayon and draws a door on her bedroom wall. This opens and she finds herself in a forest somewhere else. It is here that the illustrations get more way more colorful. Her adventures continue until she meets a boy with a similar magical purple crayon. The illustrations, despite their lack of color, are full of imagination, whimsy, and lots of little details. I couldn’t wait to see what the girl would do next with her magical crayon. Recommended for ages 4+, 4 stars.

Juanita written and illustrated by Leo Politi

Juanita

The author and illustrator Leo Politi can do everything. He creates delightful multicultural stories with adorable illustrations, and writes music and lyrics for his books (though some are traditional songs I believe). This is the third book I’ve read of his for the Caldecott Challenge, and this won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. The book is another book that starts on Olvera   Street (the same as his book Pedro, the Angel of Olvera   Street), which is the Hispanic part of Los Angeles. On the street are shops owned by Mexican families, including one named Juanita after the shop owner’s young daughter. Juanita is turning four years old and her parents have bought her a dove for her birthday, and her mother has sewn a beautiful pink and lace dress. Juanita takes the dove everywhere with her. On the day before Easter, the local Catholic Church has a Blessing of the Animals ceremony and all the local families and their pets attend, including Juanita in her new dress with her dove. After the day’s excitement, Juanita’s dress is hung back up for Easter Sunday and her mama sings her to sleep (the music/lyrics are included in the book). Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca

Locomotive

There was a bit of a wait on this book and I can understand why. This was a truly fascinating book and I know this, and the fabulously detailed illustrations, is why this book was the 2014 Caldecott Award Winner. The first thing I thought of while reading it was that it was like a G-rated version of the show “Hell on Wheels”, as it too is about building and traveling on the newly-created Transcontinental Railroad. We follow a family traveling from one end, which starts in Omaha, Nebraska and ends in Sacramento, California in 1869.

If you think about it, considering that sixty years earlier, people were using covered wagons to travel across the country, a steam-powered train was a pretty revolutionary way to travel.

Although the book was way too long for my son to sit down and listen completely through, he loved the up-close-and-personal brightly-colored watercolor, ink, and gouache painted illustrations of the train.

The end pages in the back of the book featured a diagram of a steam train and showed where all the components talked about in the book were, like the Johnson Bar (kind of like a car shifting control) and how the fire builds up the heat for the water, that is carried from the tender to the engine, to boil and create the steam used to power the train. The end pages in the front of the book show the route of the Transcontinental Railroad, which is helpful as they don’t always mention the state or territory in the book, usually just the city or town name that the train stops in. It also features the piece of legislation that created the idea for the Transcontinental Railroad, signed by President Lincoln. It is long for a picture book at 64 pages, but well-worth the effort of reading it aloud. Highly recommended for ages 5-10, 5 stars.

Henry, Fisherman: A Story of the Virgin Islands written and illustrated by Marcia Brown

Henry, Fisherman

One thing I love about the Caldecott Challenge is that I get to read and find all sorts of lovely new books, authors and illustrators. I have fallen in love with Marcia Brown’s work. This book was a 1950 Caldecott Honor. It is about a young boy named Henry who lives in the Virgin Islands. All of the male members of his family have been fishermen, and he can’t wait to be one himself. The story tells about Henry and his family, and what he does on a normal day. I love the bright and colorful illustrations! One day, Henry’s father lets him go fishing with him, and sends him down to unhook the fish traps, where Henry narrowly escapes from a shark. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Two Reds, written by Will, illustrated by Nicolas

I wasn’t a huge fan of their other book, Finders Keepers, but since this is also a Caldecott book, 1951 Caldecott Honors this time, I figured I would give it a try. It was a charming story. The Two Reds of the title are a young boy named Red (not his real name but he has red hair) and a homeless cat (whose real name equivalent is hilarious) also named Red that live in the same neighborhood. The boy and cat don’t like each other because they both like fish, but for different reasons. It is early in the morning and the cat is hungry, so he goes in search of food.

The boy goes out to play, and wants to ride a fruitman’s horse, but he is a work horse not a riding horse. Both Red the boy and Red the cat try to catch a pigeon. Red watches a group of boys called the Seventh Street Signal Senders performing a secret initiation, after he smells a fire, but they catch him watching and start chasing after him. Red the cat steals one of the fishman’s fresh fish and runs away, where he collides with Red the boy and each get away from their pursuers. They decide the other is not as bad as originally thought, and spend the rest of their time together. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Banned Book Week 2013

BBW13_160x200

Banned Book Week is Sept 22 – 28 and it is probably one of my favorite library-related holidays. I believe in freedom to read whatever you want, no matter what others might think and fighting against censorship is pretty much what Banned Book Week is all about. Here’s some ideas from the New York Times about how to celebrate. Last year, I reviewed Brave New World (banned since 1932 in various capacities) and the graphic novel The Color of Earth (banned in 2011). I will have to look through the 2001 – 2012 Banned Books lists to see what books I will check out this year.

I liked this list of some very famous books that have “shaped America” that have been banned and the reasons why, from the official Banned Books Week website. One of the most talked about Censorship cases this year happened right here in Arizona, with the Tucson Unified School District. These are the most challenged titles from 2012 (I’ve read 2, 5, 7 and 8):

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey. Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson. Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz. Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison. Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

After a few weeks drought, I finally have some more pt library job interviews this week. So fingers crossed that one of them works out. In celebration of Banned Book Week, which I already posted on Sunday, I decided to read a couple of the books on the Most Challenged Books of the Year list. I picked Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa.

I had never read Brave New World, and really before going to library school, the one way I had heard of it was because a friend of mine who is a year younger than me, had read it in 10th grade and loved it. Since I respect her good opinion on books, I decided to give it a try. Wow is the first thing I would say about Brave New World. It is literally unlike anything I have ever read. Honestly I was pretty sure that the author either has one hell of an imagination (remember that this book was written in 1931 and published in 1932) and/or was taking a lot of drugs. He obviously was later when he published his book The Doors of Perception, which is all about his drug experiences. This website helped me understand the book a bit more. Under the Historical and Literary Context section, the author says this about related historical events:

“When Huxley wrote Brave New World in the early 1930s, the world had recently undergone a terrible world war, totalitarian states had sprung up in the Soviet Union and Fascist parties were gaining power in Europe, and another war seemed to be on the horizon. In addition, huge strides had been made in both science and the application of science through technology, and the world had industrialized. Huxley took all these developments and spun them into the World State of Brave New World, a totalitarian dystopia that uses technology to, basically, trick its citizens into loving their slavery.”

When you look at it that way, the book totally makes sense. By using technology to keep the citizenry happy all the time, they are conditioned to understand and not be affected by pain, death, or emotions. They shun solitude and individuality. Because everyone is grown from test tubes, they have no need for families. “Mother” and “Father” have become dirty taboo words. They do not see a need for religion or art, as those are considered “old things,” and therefore not useful anymore. The state promotes sex with multiple partners and there is plenty of birth control to prevent pregnancies. They also promote the use of soma, a drug which makes you happy and unaware. For whatever reason, Henry Ford has replaced God and time is counted from the first year that the Model T came out (1908), and the book is set 600+ years after that. So instead of saying “Oh God,” or other forms of using God’s name in vain, they say “Ford”.

The book is about Bernard Marx, a sleep-learning specialist who tends to prefer solitude and is love-lust with Lenina (even though that sort of thing isn’t supposed to exist in this world). Bernard takes Lenina to New Mexico to observe the Savages, Native Americans on a reservation that have not been “civilized” and live the way people did before: having monogamous relationships, marriage and families, mothers bearing children, and no scent dispensers or soma pills to take one’s mind off hardships. While at the reservation, they discover Linda, a former civilized person from London who naturally bore a son named John who lives among the natives. Bernard decides he must bring John the Savage back to civilization. John has been educated by Linda using songs she knew growing up, her work manual and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which he has memorized and frequently quotes. John, growing up so sheltered, is very naive and becomes romantically-in-love with Lenina, even though he knows she is immoral and promiscuous, and spurns her sexual advances. As the characters can get kind of confusing, here is a website that explains them.

In my opinion, the best part of the book is in the last 30 or so pages. This is when John the Savage comes face to face with Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Western Europe. Mond sends Bernard to an island for his unorthodox behavior. Apparently Mond has a library of forbidden books, books that are old and considered useless, i.e. The Complete Works of Shakespeare and The Holy Bible. According to the above Who’s Who website in the previous paragraph, “The Controller argues that art, literature and scientific freedom must be sacrificed in order to secure the ultimate utilitarian goal of maximizing societal happiness. He defends the genetic caste system, behavioral conditioning and the lack of personal freedom in the World State as a price worth paying for achieving social stability. Stability is the highest social virtue because it leads to lasting happiness.” After his failed arguments with Controller Mond, John ends up in an abandoned lighthouse in the English countryside, whipping himself in punishment for his sins. He is hounded by the press and finally commits suicide by hanging.

The ALA (American Library Association)’s Office for Intellectual Freedom lists the following as the reasons why the book is constantly being challenged: “Insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit.”

I had heard about The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa before, but had never gotten a chance to read it. So when I saw it on the 2011 Most Challenged books list, I figured I would give it a try. I was amazed to learn, after finishing this graphic novel, that the author was male. It is surprising, given the nature of the material. The graphic novel is about a young Korean girl named Ehwa and her widowed mother, and how Ehwa and her mother mature and change as time goes on. The story starts when Ehwa (whose name means “pear blossom”) is nine and a couple of local boys decide to have a pissing contest, and want to see her gochoo (which is the word for chili pepper and also a euphemism for penis). She refused and goes home to tell her mother about it, thinking that she is somehow deformed because hers doesn’t look theirs. Her mother explains to her that she doesn’t have a gochoo, but instead has “a door where babies come from (pg 36).” In the next chapter, Ehwa is still nine and learns about how the Ginkgo tree reproduces. That night, Ehwa and her mother meet the traveling pictograph artist, who steals her mother’s heart. In this chapter, she learns that men and women don’t have babies the way a Ginkgo tree does but rather in a different way. The gourd flower chapter was one of the most interesting in the book because it is the first time that Ehwa meets the young monk, who she falls in love with and him with her, and they exchange their favorite flowers. The proceeding chapters see Ehwa growing up into a young woman, who can’t decide between two boys and discovers more about her self and her sexuality, which her mother describes as perfectly normal (like it should be). I liked how the rain and flowers played such an important part in the book, and as the critic Hwang Min-Ho says in the back of the book: “Flowers even become a metaphor for a lover, or a beloved. And the rain, the element of water, takes on the potency of a life force. With each rainy season, little Ehwa matures a bit more in mind and body (pg 315-16).” The black and white drawings are so beautiful and well-done and illustrate the story perfectly. Definitely looking forward to reading the other two volumes. Highly recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom lists the following as the reasons why the book is constantly being challenged: Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

Another Banned Book Week is upon us and I look forward to this every year. As I have state before in an earlier post, I am against book censorship. I believe in Intellectual Freedom and the right for everyone to choose what they want to read, with a few exceptions. The ALA (American Library Association) has put together this timeline to celebrate 30 years of “Liberating Literature”. It’s also a good way to find a book to read during the week. This guide from the New York Times can give you ways to celebrate Banned Book Week. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom always puts together a list of the most challenged books for the preceding year, and I think the way they redid the list makes it look rather catchy. I think this year I will try to read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and The Color of Earth  by Tong Hwa-Kim. I encourage everyone to go out and read at least one banned book.

Here’s the list for 2011:

Out of 326 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism
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