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Archive for the ‘Banned Books’ Category

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I want to say goodbye to Banned Books Week with the most recent list of books that are challenged in schools and communities. Here are the top ten of 2011. I’ve read many and think they are pretty good books. A few are for younger kids, so not ones we’d collect for high school libraries. However, the age-appropriate books are in the library for you to check out.

I found one surprise on the list. Although To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged consistently since its publication in 1960, it’s not always in the top ten. So, Frosh, enjoy reading one of the most banned or challenged books ever with your English teacher!

  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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Adult Books for Teens: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Wall-sized televisions that simulate interaction and communication with the person existing within the confines of the ‘living’ room don’t seem much like science fiction anymore, but when Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the late 1940s, he anticipated much that has since come to pass. And although the technology—ear buds with wireless communication capabilities, robotic creatures with homing devices—make this fascinating science fiction, the reason this novel has remained popular and very much worth reading is that it both warns of then contemporary threats to liberty and anticipates a future when communication is just a constant stream of shallow information, without any real meaning. The onslaught makes it impossible to think deeply.

The novel is titled after the temperature at which pages of a book will burn. In interviews, Bradbury says that he asked around about what that temperature was and got an answer from the LA Fire Department, and hoped that it was right.

Montag is a fireman, but in Bradbury’s vision of the future, firemen don’t put out fires; they create them. In fact, it is against the law to read books, and so anyone caught having books in the home has his or her house burnt down by the fire department and is then carted off to prison.

As the novel opens, Montag meets a teenage girl, his neighbor, who enjoys life, asks many questions, is intuitive about him and reads. She fascinates him. Montag is also fascinated by the fact that some people will risk their homes in order to read. When he goes to start a fire at a home of a woman who refuses to leave, who decides that she will die in the fire with her books, Montag can’t put it out of his mind. He does what must tempt any fireman—he steals a book. And then his life really explodes. Because in reading, he finds a connection to others, to their thoughts and hopes. Books are living documents of human struggle.

I realized recently that it was already time for celebrating ‘banned books,’ and that I had been too busy to do much about it. So, I thought it would be fun to have another look at Fahrenheit 451. I think the novel is paced differently than some novels written today. There is a lot of action and a lot of danger; but the climax comes earlier and the resolution is a bit longer. I found this interesting—that the resolution was given so much weight, that it really did matter as much as the action.

And yes, Fahrenheit 451 is a living document of human struggle, a book that has stood the test of time and will engage the reader with its poetic language and its fast action. The more sinister elements of the totalitarian society are still, unfortunately, fresh warnings.

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Tough Topics: Teen Sexuality: Forever by Judy Blume 

One in an occasional series on books with teen topics that are tough to address.

Katherine’s grandmother sees that she is getting serious with her boyfriend Michael and so gives her some information on adolescents and sex. One article asks the teen to consider four questions:

  • Is sexual intercourse necessary for the relationship?
  • What should you expect from sexual intercourse?
  • If you should need help, where will you seek it?
  • Have you thought about how this relationship will end?

I like this list that Blume posed all the way back in the 1970s. This book has remained popular and in print all these years—newer editions begin with a note from Blume about how in the age of AIDS, sexually active people must do more than worry about birth control. She includes a helpline and a website for more information.

While it wouldn’t be fair to call Forever an instruction manual (as some critics have suggested—they think that Blume’s purpose is to lure teens into having sexual relationships), it is very honest and pretty graphic.

Kathryn and Michael meet at a party and realize that they are attracted to one another. The first three-fourths of the book are their thoughts and conversations on sex, on their sexual relationship. Are they going to do it? When? Where? How? What goes right and what goes wrong as they explore intimacy? What embarrassing details do they have to deal with? They are so much in love that their relationship is the all in all of their lives. As they are seniors in high school, Kath is ready to select a college where she can continue to be near Michael. Michael gives her a necklace with the word “forever” engraved on it. Nothing can stand in the way of their love.

That is until Kath’s parents think she is becoming far too serious. For me, as someone much older, someone who knows that just falling for someone doesn’t mean forever, this last quarter of the book is actually a lot more interesting than the question of what sexual thing the couple will explore next. And it’s the question Kath believed she’d never have to think about: Have you thought about how this relationship will end? When Kath is upset with her mom because she won’t see Michael for weeks, she accuses her:

 “’I thought you’d be on my side.”

“’I am,’ she told me.”

Because Kath’s parents have been through all of this, too, they just want to see what will happen when Kath has some breathing room. They are on her side, but that’s very hard for her to see in the moment.

While the novel is quite realistic in terms of how teens explore a sexual relationship, and where the author is very careful to add the didactic elements about the necessity of birth control, the very hip attitude of the parents and even the grandparents made life just a bit too easy for the lovers. I don’t see most grandparents giving girls instruction on birth control.

Yet, this novel is as edgy and appealing to teens as it was forty years ago. But don’t just read it and take away how the couple becomes sexually intimate. Take away the important question “Have you thought about how this relationship will end?” And if you’re not ready to believe in that end to the relationship, you aren’t ready to start it either. Other relationships, other futures await.

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perks of wallflower

Tigers–I read and reviewed this book about three years ago, before I was at Chaffey. A teacher asked that I add it here so students would know why it was a good book, and why it was a mature book–and make an informed choice on checking it out. Here’s the review:

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is the next book for the Teen Book Club here at the library, sponsored by the Ontario City Library, Colony High Branch. Since the discussion date is quickly approaching (January 26), I moved this title to the top of my list and read it last week. I can see why it’s a ‘cult classic.’

Charlie, the protagonist, sends letters to an unnamed ‘friend’ without giving his identity away. He discusses what it’s like to be in high school. He’s a wallflower in the sense that he is an observer of all that goes on, yet he is not a participant. Something about his writing style made me think of the narrator of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,” a character with Asperger’s Syndrome. Charlie is much more average on the scale of normal interaction, but still, he doesn’t quite understand social situations in the same way that most people would.

Despite the strikes against him, Charlie befriends a small group of misfits—and the novel makes clear that just about everyone in high school is a misfit, even the most popular cheerleaders and football stars. Though “Perks” has been compared to “The Catcher in the Rye,” partly because it deals with teen depression, the subject matter is more contemporary—the characters must deal with current sexual attitudes, parties and drugs, date rape and teen pregnancy. Not that they don’t have fun—some of the most poignant passages in the book are on how carefully Charlie chooses gifts for his friends, how well he ‘reads’ their hearts and how much he loves them—and receives love in return. This is a truly engaging and honest book for mature readers. It’s also a quick read, so if you’d like to check it out before the discussion on January 26, come by the reference desk and pick up a copy!

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Unwind by Neal Shusterman 

“The Second Civil War, also known as “The Heartland War,” was a long and bloody conflict fought over a single issue.

“To end the war, a set of constitutional amendments, known as “The Bill of Life” was passed.

“It satisfied both the Pro-life and the Pro-Choice armies.

“The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen.

“However, between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a parent may choose to retroactively ‘abort’ a child . . .

“. . .on the condition that the child’s life doesn’t ‘technically’ end.

“The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called ‘unwinding.’

“Unwinding is now a common and accepted practice in society.”

So opens the YA novel Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I read the first few pages aloud on Saturday at a banned and challenged book event because I figured no one else would have chosen this book to read as it’s fairly new. From the above opening prologue, you can guess that the book is controversial. But it’s a thoughtful piece on the value of the individual in a free society, and on what happens when people just can’t admit that they don’t have all the answers.

It’s also a great read.

Connor, who can’t control his anger, is sixteen and his parents have had it. He discovers that they secretly plan to unwind him and he heads out on the run. Risa is a ward of the state, who, having failed at becoming a top-tier classical pianist, will be unwound because there just isn’t money for the state to keep useless teens. Lev is a ‘tithe’—because of his parents’ religious fervor, they will unwind him—their tenth child–as an offering to God.

All three are on the run. If they can make it to age eighteen, they might go to jail for awhile, but they are safe from being unwound.

The novel presents a sort of future ‘underground railroad,’ through which dedicated folks help unwinds escape to freedom. But generally speaking, teens who are about to be unwound have criminal records or anger issues—so hiding them in bunches can lead to an explosive situation. The actual unwinding process (at ‘harvest camp’) is bone chilling. (Note: If you are a sophomore on up, you can’t help but notice the nod to The Lord of the Flies—including a boy others call ‘the Mouth Breather’ because he has asthma. If you need to write a paper connecting LoTF with contemporary literature, this would be great fun.)

Action-packed, full of suspense, posing some deeper questions—this is another book for varied readers looking for very different things. I think just about everyone will like it. And that includes guys who usually don’t read. Check it out!

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Today, I had the pleasure of reading from Neal Shusterman’s Unwind at Claremont Library’s banned books event. I chose Unwind because it’s new to me, I liked it a lot, I think you will, too, and I want you to have the chance to read it. I’ll post a review soon.

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Horror: The Top Ten for Teen

With teachers bringing classes in for horror and mystery book talks near Halloween, I thought it was a good time to look at our collection of teen horror and update it. One of the problems I have anymore is in defining horror. So many books with vampires, werewolves and zombies are just romances with differently-abled characters. One of the book review magazines I read –Booklist—decided to rescue librarians by picking their favorite ten teen horror novels. None of the novels are heartwarming nor are they romances.

They’re horror.

I had most of the titles at Colony, but none at Chaffey, so I went shopping. (So Tigers, check before Halloween. I think they’ll be here.) I read my first on the list. And, yes, I thought it had the creepy factor. It’s also by the author whose books are most often challenged right now—and since it’s Banned Books Week and since our frosh classes are having a look at this author—I decided to start with Lauren Myracle.

Bliss by Lauren Myracle

Publisher’s blurb on the novel: Having grown up in a   California commune, Bliss sees her aloof grandmother’s Atlanta world as a foreign country, but she is determined to be nice as a freshman at an elite high school, which makes her the perfect target for . . . a girl obsessed with the occult.

Reason Booklist picked it: Creepiest sleepover scene of all time.

What other pros say: Publishers’ Weekly “Charles Manson Family murders, racism, ghosts, blood sacrifices and prom queens–and, remarkably, supports this outré mix with clever timing and well-placed red herrings.”

VOYA: “kept me reading all through the night. It’s geared toward a mature audience of readers who are strong in what they believe.”

What I have to say: hippie-dippy craziness of the Summer of Love (1969) turns sinister, plus the main character has an ESP connection with spirits, so what’s better than that? Myracle does make it better with deeper probing of the period—the KKK; interracial dating; the Charles Mansion Family murders (The Tate-LaBianca murders) set against the ultra-sweet popular TV show of that time, The Andy Griffith Show, and the wonderful town of Mayberry.

No silly, make-believe endings here. This one’s serious enough for your teachers to love—a good choice for outside reading. In general, it’s not blood and guts violence, but it is for mature readers because it is creepy, creepy, creepy.

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