Banned Books Week, Jay Asher, and an Online Literary Hangout

Banned Books Week sneaked up on me this year, and for the first time in a couple years I don’t have a series of Banned Books Week posts ready. 🙁 Today kicks off the week, so I’m happy to at least acknowledge it with this opportunity that was brought to my attention last week.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is one of my favorite books and unfortunately it’s been banned and/or censored in the past. On Tuesday, September 24th at 3pm EST, Jay Asher will be joining Google+ and for Literary Google+ Hangouts On Air. During the hangout, participants can ask Jay questions directly and enter to win both Thirteen Reasons Why and The Future of Us.

I plan on telling my students about this since I have so many Thirteen Reasons Why fans. I’m sure it will be a fun event!


Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Banned Book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: Banned in the Stockton, Mo. School District (2010) because of violence, language, and some sexual content. Retained in the Helena, Mont. School District (2011) despite a parent’s objection that the book contained “obscene, vulgar and pornographic
language.” This New York Times bestseller won the National Book Award in 2007 in the “Young People’s Literature” category. (Source–Quote taken from the ALA banned books resource page.)

My Thoughts: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a spectacular book that’s full of heart.  Yes, there’s violence, poor language, and a brief piece of sexual content, but Junior is a dynamic character that readers can learn from.  The violence stems from racism, both on and off the reservation.  Junior values his education, but making the choice to attend school off the reservation is a tough one because it makes him look disloyal and like a traitor.  It’s hard for his family, friends, and community to understand his motivation.  Watching Junior acclimate to his new environment at the new school is at times heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it’s ultimately hopeful.  This book is so much more than violence, poor language, and sexual content.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do.  We added it to our freshman curriculum last year which turned out to be a huge success.  It was so popular, we had to order more copies to appease our students.  And it really helped our students connect with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Student Response: This quote comes from one of my seniors, Austin.  “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is banned for several reasons including sexual content and plain truth about school.  I think it shouldn’t be banned because we say and think way worse things than what’s in that book.”

Banned Books Week: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Banned Book: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Retained at the Bangor, Pa. Area Middle School (2007) despite a student’s aunt’s concerns about the book’s depiction of school violence. Source: Mar. 2008, p. 79.” (Source–Quote taken from the ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: Give a Boy a Gun has been part of our sophomore English curriculum since I started teaching at Clio six years ago.  It’s also one of the most successful and engaging units we teach.  Todd Strasser hits many big issues like bullying, violent video games, troubles at home, etc. that students have no choice but to speak up and discuss what they’re reading.  Almost every time we read this book in class I end up hearing from my most introverted students.  It’s a powerful moment when so many students in class are buzzing and engaged and asking to have a discussion.

The story is violent, so I understand concerns about reading Give a Boy a Gun.  My bigger concern is the rising number of violent acts in schools.  They’ve escalated so much we’re now seeing news coverage of shootings near popular tourist attractions and on college campuses.  Todd Strasser makes some valid points in his book in a number of ways.  He includes information he found while researching as footnotes in the story.  He also has the book set up from varying points of view so readers can get a full perspective.  The teachable moments in this book are plentiful, so I hope teachers, librarians, and parents will take it upon themselves to read it and share it.  It’s certainly a book worth discussing.

Student Response: This response comes from one of my YA Lit students and aspiring author, Noah.

“I’m not surprised, but I still think it shouldn’t be banned.  We hear real life stories like this book all the time.  It won’t convince any kid to perform a school shooting and it tells what some kids went through.”

Banned Books Week: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Banned Book: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “The Blue Springs (Mo.) School District has removed Nina LaCour’s young adult novel Hold Still from its library and classrooms in response to parental complaints about its language and sex scenes.”  (Source–Quote taken from an American Libraries article.)

My Thoughts: When this story first came to light last November I was shocked.  At the time there was a video news report available (which I can’t find now…) interviewing the parents and the pastor involved with censoring Hold Still.  The part that upsets me the most is that a pastor was brought into the mix.  There is this whole separation of church and state thing, right?

Anyway, I agree that parents have a right to say what is right or wrong for their child, so kudos to them for being involved.  Going to the school and requesting that the book is removed and made unavailable to ALL students is not their right.

Hold Still is a beautiful book dealing with a heavy topic.  No one wants to lose their best friend, so can you imagine losing your best friend to suicide and not knowing why?  Caitlin is devastated by the loss of her best friend, Ingrid, and is barely hanging on.  She ends up finding a journal Ingrid wrote for Caitlin to find which sheds light on Ingrid’s dark world.  Hold Still takes us on Caitlin’s journey to finding hope and light and new friendship in the midst of her best friend’s suicide.  It’s one of the most popular books in my classroom because the (typically) girls who read it empathize and connect with the characters.

If you’re a teacher or librarian, I urge you to read Nina LaCour’s debut and make your own decision.  I have two copies in my room and both are nearing the point of replacement because they’ve been read so much.  Our students know when and how to self-censor, so we really need to trust their choices.  If you’re a parent, I urge you to read this book with your son or daughter so you can have an open and honest discussion about it.

Sarah @ GreenBeanTeenQueen wrote an excellent post about this when it first came to light.  Read why she supports Hold Still.

Student Response: Felicia, one of my current YA Lit students and one of my former freshmen students, read Hold Still last year.  I knew she enjoyed Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, so I suggested this as her first SSR book.  I remember her telling me she didn’t know if she liked it, so I suggested trying to stick with it for 50 or so pages before she abandoned it.  She ended up loving it and became a voracious reader last year.

Hold Still should not be a banned book.  This book is very real and tells a story that could really happen in your high school years.  This book just tells a story of your typical high school girl who commits suicide.  This is a very good book and shouldn’t be banned.”

Banned Books Week Winner!

Thank you to everyone who entered my Banned Books Week giveaway, commented on posts, and helped spread the word!  I used to choose the winner.

Congratulations, #18 Christi the Teen Librarian!

I’ve emailed the winner, and she’ll have 48 hours to claim her prize.  Thank you, again, to everyone who participated 🙂

Banned Books Week: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

This is my last post for Banned Books Week this year.  Reminder: I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice (ends Saturday).

Banned Book: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “The Belleville, Wis. School Board (2011) decided to keep a book that’s required reading for high school freshmen in the curriculum despite a parent’s complaint that the book was “pornography” and its language was “pervasively vulgar.” Published in 1993, the novel has been read by ninth-grade students at Belleville High School for eight years. The book deals with topics of abortion, sexuality, and the power of religion.” (Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is another staple in YA literature.  In my About Me page I mention the Young Adult Lit course I took during my undergrad at Central Michigan with Dr. Steffel.  This is one of the novels Dr. Steffel required us to read; it’s also one of my favorites from that class.  I haven’t read Crutcher’s book since the summer I took that course, but I still remember it well because it’s a powerful story.

Do some of the characters swear in the novel?  Yes.  I had a discussion with my freshmen the other day about the use of “vulgar language” in novels.  I was impressed when a majority of them said that they can tell when an author is using that language purposefully and when it seems like it’s thrown in for no reason at all.  They understood that different characters speak different ways, so some may swear when others won’t, just like real life teenagers.  The claim that Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is pornography is outrageous.  There simply isn’t anything pornagraphic in the novel.  The characters are in a class where big issues are discussed and debated, so topics like abortion and sexuality do come up and fit with the story.

In my opinion, if you’re a teacher or librarian, it would serve you well to have a copy of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes in your library.  Everything about this novel is purposeful and well-meaning.  When I think about this book I think of the power of friendship, overcoming abuse and stereotypes, and self-esteem, just to name a few.  Chris Crutcher is a master storyteller and Staying Fat for Sarah Brynes is one of the best examples of his craft.

Student Response: Kayla, one of my Young Adult Lit students, is focusing her trimester project on Chris Crutcher so she recently read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  “If Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was banned it would be upsetting.  It was a very good book; I could barely put it down.  I think this book being banned takes away the opportunity for a good book to be read, but also for people to learn about what happens in this kind of relationships.  I loved it.”

Banned Books Week: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

It’s Banned Books Week so I’m highlighting a different banned book each day this week.  My posts will include the banned book, where/why it’s been banned (or challenged), my opinion, and a student’s opinion.  I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice.

Banned Book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Challenged, but retained, at the Clarkstown, N.Y. North High School (2011) despite a parent’s complaint about the teen coming-of-age novel, which deals graphically with teenage sex, homosexuality, and bestiality.”(Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been around for a while now (since 1999), and even though it’s still considered current, I feel comfortable saying it’s a classic example of YA literature.  I read it a couple years ago after a student told me that it’s the one book she’ll read over and over again.  I really enjoyed it, especially because it’s an epistolary novel.

The story is about Charlie who is trying to understand his life and get over the loss of a good friend and his aunt.  His life hasn’t been perfect; something awful has happened to Charlie which is foreshadowed throughout the novel.  Charlie’s going through life and trying to deal with everything that’s going on.  He’s a character readers relate to and understand, which is one of the reasons this book is so popular with my students.  Not only do readers connect with Charlie, they empathize with him and are shocked at the truth which is revealed at the end of the novel.

I have two copies of this book in my classroom because I see it as a staple to YA literature.  I’m glad that it was retained at N.Y. North High School because the reasons for its challenge are extreme.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I know I’d remember if there was bestiality in the novel because that’s something that would concern me.  I’ve actually had three students interested in reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I had to send one of them to our high school library to borrow a copy.  He’s the student I asked to respond to information about the challenge.

Student Response: Michael, one of my freshmen, just finished reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I disagree with what they are saying about the book because it’s about a kid becoming a teenager in high school who doesn’t have any friends because everyone thinks he’s weird and his only friend died.  It tells us what could happen in high school and what we could face.  I think it’s a very good book.  It keeps a person wondering what’s going to happen next, and then you realize things you didn’t expect.”

Banned Books Week: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

It’s Banned Books Week so I’m highlighting a different banned book each day this week.  My posts will include the banned book, where/why it’s been banned (or challenged), my opinion, and a student’s opinion.  I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice.

Banned Book: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Challenged in the Republic, Mo. schools (2010) because it is “soft-pornography” and “glorifies drinking, cursing, and premarital sex.”  (Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: I was outraged about this last year when the challenge first came up.  It upsets me all over again now reading why it’s been challenged and knowing that Sarah Ockler’s debut novel is still off shelves in that school district.  Any person who has read Twenty Boy Summer knows it’s the farthest thing from “soft-pornography.”

I am constantly encouraging my students to read Twenty Boy Summer because it’s an excellent book that handles tough situations very well.  Anna and Frankie are suffering greatly over Matt’s sudden death.  Anna is suffering privately because she never told Frankie that she and Matt (Frankie’s brother) were dating when he died.  Can you imagine not being able to tell your best friend that and have her to console you?  Anna and  Frankie are helping each other deal with Matt’s death, but it’s not complete for Anna when Frankie doesn’t even know how deeply hurt Anna is.  Frankie isn’t handling her brother’s death well at all and is acting out.

What can readers take away from Sarah Ockler’s touching novel?  They can take away lessons in maintaining friendships through honesty, understanding and compassion.  They can take away a better understanding of how people grieve and how to deal with grief.  The best thing?  Yes, I’m speaking of “lessons,” but this isn’t a preachy novel.  I never felt like Sarah Ockler was trying to hammer a message into my brain, but when I finished reading this novel I know I had a better understanding of the fragility of friendships and love.  The focus of this novel is not sex and partying.  It’s all about forgiveness, understanding, letting go, and learning to love again.

Student Response: This response comes from one of my YA Lit students, Mackenzie.  She’s “new” to reading and recently read Twenty Boy Summer as part of her trimester project.  “I don’t see how Twenty Boy Summer is on the banned books list.  When I read the book I didn’t think the main point of it was about sex and alcohol.  I thought it was more about Anna telling Frankie about her and Matt.”

Banned Books Week: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

It’s Banned Books Week so I’m highlighting a different banned book each day this week.  My posts will include the banned book, where/why it’s been banned (or challenged), my opinion, and a student’s opinion.  I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice.

Banned Book: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Challenged and presented to the Goffstown, N.H. school board (2010) by a parent claiming that it gave her eleven-year-old nightmares and could numb other students to the effects of violence.” (Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: I can understand the parent being upset about her child having nightmares, but The Hunger Games wasn’t written for her child’s age group.  I know 11-12 year-olds that read this trilogy, but they’re obviously mature enough for it, although I question how much they comprehend.  It’s a parent’s responsibility to be aware of what her child is reading and whether her child is ready for the book he/she has chosen.

I won’t deny that The Hunger Games is a violent book.  But do we really want to make that argument when there’s so much violence in TV, movies, and video games?  And besides arguing which is more violent, we need to think about the reason behind the violence in Collins’ novel.  Many of my students who read this trilogy comment on how they can see something like the Reaping or the Hunger Games really happening.  We have conversations about violence in the media today and how shocking this story is.  This trilogy hooks my most reluctant readers and drives thoughtful discussion.  If there’s violence in the media that will make our students numb, it’s not the violence in The Hunger Games.

Student Response: One of my former students, Caroline, wrote this response for me because she’s awesome and knew that I procrastinated and didn’t have a current student write one in time.  “I don’t understand why a teenager would have nightmares over this novel at all. This is one I could not put down. I felt super-glued to the pages. If your eleven-year-old is having nightmares over this, you may have over-sheltered them. Watch what your sensitive kid reads, but don’t tell others what to read. I suggested this book to my ten-year-old sister, and if I had a copy I know she would read it without the effects of nightmares. There are definitely worse books out there.”

Banned Books Week: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It’s Banned Books Week so I’m highlighting a different banned book each day this week.  My posts will include the banned book, where/why it’s been banned (or challenged), my opinion, and a student’s opinion.  I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice.

Banned Book: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Removed from a spring break elective course at the Bedford, N.H. School District (2010) after a parent complained about the novel’s sexual content. The complainant further suggested that the school only allow “youth versions” of particular books or organize a parental review system over the summer that would look at books that students need parental permission to read. A checklist has been proposed that Bedford school officials would use to rate books and other instructional materials.” (Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: I chose to highlight this book first for a couple reasons.  First, I didn’t know until a couple days ago when I was getting these posts ready that Water for Elephants had been banned.  Second, this book wasn’t published as a YA novel.  I read it this past spring after one of my high school students handed me her copy and told me I had to read it.  I was surprised by the mature, sexual scenes but that’s because I’ve been reading YA almost exclusively and had to remind myself that this novel wasn’t published YA.  It did make me wonder what my student thought of those scenes, which we discussed when I gave her book back at the end of spring break.

Despite the maturity of the novel, there are quite a few positive messages in the novel which I think outweigh those scenes.  Jacob, the main character, suddenly becomes an orphan just as he’s about to graduate from college and become a veterinarian.  As a last resort he hops a circus train and is thrown into a bizarre and often dangerous life.  Water for Elephants is historical fiction and Sara Gruen did a wonderful job researching the time period and the circus culture when writing her novel.  Her story focuses on Jacob and how he learns to survive this new life, but also how he shows compassion for both people and animals, learns to stand up for himself, and finds his first love.

I have a copy of this book in my classroom library, because I know my mature readers will enjoy it.  I made sure to buy a copy with the original cover (the movie cover has Robert Pattison and Reese Witherspoon) because I think my boys in class will be more likely to pick it up than they would if I had the movie cover edition.  If you’re looking for a rationale for Water for Elephants, it’s listed as a Scholastic Reading Counts book **side note: I’m not an advocate of boxed reading programs like this, but I know many schools use them.** and it’s a 2007 Alex Award winner.  The Alex Award is given to books that are written for adults but appeal to teen readers.

Student Response: This quote is from Tristan, my student who let me borrow her copy over spring break.  “The book is an adult book to begin with, so why would the author have to worry about sexual content? As far as having it in a high school, I think that teens can handle it. And if a parent has a problem, THEN THEY DON’T NEED TO LET THEIR CHILD READ IT!  But they don’t need to drag other students into it. I do agree this book does contain a lot of sexual content, so I wouldn’t want my middle school sister reading this. But teens can handle it, and parents shouldn’t be naive enough to think this isn’t something their children are oblivious about.”

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