Banned Books Week Giveaway

Banned Books Week has officially started, so I’m bringing back my week of posts about banned books.  I always put up a display in my classroom during this week so I can discuss censorship with my students.  It’s an excellent time to talk about how they feel about books, what they find questionable, and how we should deal with censorship in our school.  I also have a banned books project choice in my Young Adult Lit class that involves my students reading and researching banned books before putting together a presentation about those books and whether they agree with the action taken.  Many of my students will read some of the books that I have on display and can’t understand why they were banned.

During Banned Books Week I’ll be posting about a handful of books that are listed on the ALA website as banned or censored from 2010-2011.  Because my students often have so much to say about these books and the issue of censorship, I’ll be including their thoughts in each of my posts.  I hope you’ll come back to my blog this week to learn more 🙂

To kick off the week, I’m holding a banned books giveaway.  The winner will be picked randomly, emailed and allowed to pick a banned book that I’ll purchase and mail to them.

Giveaway Guidelines:

* Must be 13 or older to enter
* U.S. residents only
* Giveaway begins Sunday, Sept. 25th and runs through Saturday, Oct. 1st
* No extra entries are required, but spreading the news is always appreciated 🙂
* Only one entry per person

NCTE 2010

Me with the uber-fabulous Ellen Hopkins! (Notice my Speak Loudly pin)

Since my last year at Central Michigan, I’ve regularly attended the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference (MCTE).  This year, I went out on a limb and requested to attend the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in Orlando, FL.  To my surprise and excitement my request was approved!  I was nervous about attending because 1. this was my first time attending and 2. I was going by myself.  I couldn’t be more thrilled about going.

The first day (Thursday) was overwhelming considering the flight and all.  I must say, I was able to avoid the horrible TSA body scanner.  I guess I don’t look “suspicious.”  The flight wasn’t bad, but I had to wait almost an hour for my hotel shuttle.  Once I showered and grabbed some lunch, I only had time to listen to Lois Duncan speak.  Holy cow!  She is a fascinating woman.  I loved her stories about growing up and becoming an author.  My favorite part was when she spoke about not being able to sew a skirt because she was more focused on writing a story.  She turned her story into a contest, won $50, and bought herself a skirt!  I loved her books growing up, and now many of the covers have been re-vamped for a new audience.  We were even given signed copies of her books; I received Don’t Look Behind You.

Friday was one of the best professional development experiences of my short career!  I’m still bummed that I couldn’t stay longer and attend the sessions on Saturday and Sunday.  The day began with Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers as our keynote speaker.  Oh my goodness, she was phenomenal!  We were told what most of us know of her story, but it was the added detail she provided and the eloquent way she told her story.  Multiple times I found myself tearing up.  Her story is heartwarming, but more than anything, it was reassuring that I am doing the right thing in my teaching.  I can’t explain how many times I am left feeling like I’m not teaching the “right” way.  That I’m not teaching the “right” materials.  That I’m not teaching the “right” habits.  Erin mentioned that she teaches in an authentic way that her students need.  She wants them writing about their personal experiences, their stories.  She set up a read-a-thon because she knows they need more than just the “dead white guys.”  This is the best quote of her speech: “We teach for that aha! moment.  The moment the student finally gets it.” 

Signed copies of Will Grayson, Will Grayson & Black Hole Sun (P.S. This was taken in my hotel- no crazy carpet at my house lol)

I’m not trying to sound like I’m some top-notch teacher who knows all.  I have plenty to learn and plenty that I want to learn.  But I refuse to become lazy and say things like “We don’t need to teach that material to them (reluctant learners) because they aren’t going to college anyway.”  I teach knowing that even the students who drive us nuts truly want a chance and want to learn.  They need someone who will reach out and listen to them. 

I teach “out of the box.”  I don’t want to hand out stack upon stack of grammar worksheets.  I’d rather teach grammar and figurative language using the texts we’re reading in class.  Erin talked about using music in her lessons.  On my way home I heard Alannis Morisette’s song “Ironic” and immediately thought of how much trouble my students have understanding irony.  I’m going to use that song the next time we discuss irony in class.  I promote the importance of reading every day.  We have SSR, we have book talks, we write and blog about what we’re reading.  When I mention doing things like this, I often hear excuses about why it can’t be done.  “Giving tests are easier.”  “How will we know if they read it without giving them a test?” 

Being at NCTE and surrounded by people who think like I do was beyond refreshing.  There were other teachers excited about reading and that look at authors like they’re celebrities (I stand by the fact that they are!).  I met teachers with fabulous lesson ideas for book trailers and more.  At a session with David Levithan and Ellen Hopkins speaking about censorship, I sat behind the YA goddess Teri Lesesne!  I swear I’ll be her in the future; I’m a YA goddess in training 🙂  I left the conference reassured that I’m a good teacher and that I’m only going to get better; it was exactly what I needed.

I could barely think of something smart to say when I met David Levithan...

Now, the exciting part… I met authors!  I took pictures with authors!  I had books signed by authors!  Does life as a teacher and fangirl get any more exciting?!  I left a session early to wait outside the room where Neal Shusterman and Brandon Mull were going to present.  I’m glad I did because I snagged a seat up front 🙂  I haven’t read any of Brandon’s books, but I’ve heard of his Fablehaven series.  If his books are anything like him, I need to read all of his books, like, yesterday.  He was hilarious and inspiring.  This is a fabulous quote and it’s going up on the wall in my classroom: “Write what you love because passion is contagious.” 

Neal Shusterman reading from BRUISER

 Neal Shusterman was A-MAZING.  I’m still regretting eating lunch and missing out on his signing of Bruiser.  Who needs food anyway?  He told us that he hated reading in third grade, until his teacher forced him to go to the library every day as punishment.  The librarian gave him a book every day until he found “the one.”  After that he was allowed to open up all the new shipments of books and pick from the pile first.  He started telling stories when he was a camp counselor; it was the only way to get the younger kids to calm down.  His professor forced him to write outside of his comfort zone and explore all genres.  He majored in psychology to learn the inner-workings, and drama to learn how we act out.  I was taking furious notes because I learned so much from him.  Again, I’m still bummed I didn’t get a signed book even though I did get a picture with him.

Signed copy of Fallout and "Manifesto" by Ellen Hopkins

As I said earlier, I attended a session about censorship featuring David Levithan and Ellen Hopkins.  Oh my gosh I was so excited that I got a front seat.  I was talking to my mom on the phone when Ellen Hopkins walked in (no I wasn’t on the phone during the session, she came in early) and I about squealed with delight.  I had to let my mom go…  Anyway, David has a wonderful way with words; he’s so poignant, especially when speaking about his passion.  He is a strong and important voice for LGBT teens and he’s correct when he says “Witholding books is taking books away that could save kids’ lives… We need to defend the books AND the kids.”  Ellen was, of course, fantastic.  Her stance on her books is that “One bad choice can ruin your life.”  Reading her books helps students avoid making life-ruining choices because they’ll learn from the characters’ experiences.  The “good kids” will learn to be empathetic and understanding of those who are experiencing problems like her characters.  She told us that she keeps all of the letters she receives from people thanking her for her books and telling her how they saved their lives.  She’ll be happy to send us copies if we need them to fight the censorship of her books.  I bought a new copy of Fallout to be signed by her and she was giving away posters of her poem “Manifesto.”  She signed one and addressed it to my class 😀  It’s proudly hanging up behind my desk.

Besides all the cool books I had signed (Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Black Hole SunFallout), I also received some awesome ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies).  Copies of Clarity by Kim Harrington were just sitting out under a sign saying “Take One.”  I was happy to!  One of my boys in class already borrowed my copy 🙂  I was about to leave, but told myself I should walk around the exhibits one more time.  I went past the Penguin booth and saw Across the Universe by Beth Revis sitting on a shelf.  I asked one of the reps if they were giving copies away.  She had a sly smile and said “Only to those who specifically ask.”  I made sure to ask!  While she was looking for a copy I noticed Gayle Forman’s ARC of Where She Went.  She gave me one of those as well!  I was GIDDY.  My problem was figuring out how to get all of the books home.  I had to throw clothes and a pair of flip flops away.  I mean, I can buy more clothes, but ARCs and signed books don’t come around too often.  Wouldn’t you do the same?

Look at all of those glorious ARCs!!

 If you can’t tell by this lengthy, honest post, I’ll be attending NCTE 2011 in Chicago.  This time I plan on staying longer, and **fingers crossed** I’ll get to stay for ALAN and meet some fab authors!

Banned Books Giveaway Winner!

Before I announce the winner of the Censorship Causes Blindness: Banned Books Giveaway, I want to thank everyone for their comments.  The Harry Potter series and To Kill a Mockingbird were definitely the most popular choices, and rightfully so.  I enjoyed the other books named as well, like Speak and The Lord of the Flies.  Even though Banned Books Week is over, I hope everyone continues to speak up for banned books throughout the year.  If you haven’t already, check out the Twitter thread #SpeakLoudly and the incredible website in honor of this thread.

I used to choose the winner.  Congratulations to Amanda West @! 😀 I will be contacting you through email to find out what two banned books you’d like.  I’ll update this post with pictures of the banned books Amanda chooses along with the picture of the signed copy of Unwind once it arrives.

FYI- During the week of October 25th, I’ll be participating in the Spooktacular Book Blog Giveaway Hop, so check back to enter to win some goodies 🙂

BBW Final Post- The House of Night series

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.   I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway.   Included in this giveaway is a signed copy of Unwind so make sure to enter!  FINAL DAY TO ENTER!

Banned Book: The House of Night series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Banned at Henderson Junior High School in the Stephenville, Tex. Independent School District (2009). The entire teen vampire series was banned for sexual content and nudity. Since the series has not been completed, “Stephenville ISD actually banned books that have not yet been published and perhaps even books that have yet to be written. There is no way the district could know the content of these books, and yet they have been banned.” Source: Nov. 2009, pp. 197–98, 225.” (Taken from

Why It Should Be Read: My best friend, a fellow teacher, recommended reading this series while we eagerly awaited the release of Breaking Dawn.  I was instantly hooked and read the first books in a matter of days.  This was over the summer, so when the school year started I told my students all about this series.  It didn’t take long for these book to become popular.

What I like best about this series is that not only do my female students enjoy this series, but many of my male students as well.  They’re fun and easy to read, so many of my more reluctant readers have advanced to series like The Mortal Instruments after reading The House of Night books. 

Sure the series revolves around teenage vampires, but all of the characters are dealing with normal high school issues.  They learn how to handle bullying, rumors, becoming a leader, relationship issues, and making and maintaining friendships.  P.C. Cast is a high school English teacher, so she understands the dynamics at play in the world of teenagers.  She’s writing the series with her daughter, Kristin Cast, who is in college now so she hasn’t forgotten the first-hand experiences of high school.  They’re a winning combination writing books that hook readers and help them in the process.

Student Response: This response comes from one of my students, Ellie, that graduated last year (Isn’t it cool that my kids are still participating even after high school?!)- “The House of Night series should be read because, aside from the whole vampire thing, there are a lot of normal teen problems, like discrimination, juggling guys and fitting in.  It shows that just because a problem is your own doesn’t mean you have to handle it by yourself.  I honestly don’t understand why the whole series is banned seeing as not all of the books in the series even exist at this point in time.  If the content hasn’t been written yet how do you know it will contain sexual material?  You don’t.”

BBW Day 7- Crank by Ellen Hopkins

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.   I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway.   Included in this giveaway is a signed copy of Unwind so make sure to enter!

Banned Book: Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: Unfortunately Hopkins’ book, Crank, along with her other books have been banned too many times in too many places.  To add insult to injury, Hopkins has even been dis-invited to the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, Texas.  To simplify this I’m including this link to an article about some of the book bans she’s experienced.

Why It Should Be Read: There are so many reasons to read Crank!  First of all, the verse it’s written in is gorgeous.  Some of her poems can be read both from left to right and top to bottom, some of the poems are concrete.  I can’t imagine the amount of time, effort and talent it takes to write something like that.  Truly wonderful.

I read Crank during my first year of teaching; I read it in one evening!  Honestly, I didn’t know crystal meth was referred to as crank until I read this book.  Once I figured that out, it hit a little closer to home because the school I did my student teaching at had a problem with crystal meth use.  Knowing this, it was a no-brainer that I had to tell my students about it the very next day.  They were immediately intrigued and- yet again!- another “non-reader” wanted to read it.  Once he did, this book didn’t stay on my shelf for the rest of the year.  It’s been that way every year since 🙂

I’ve said this before, and I’m saying it again, Crank is a new Go Ask Alice (and far better!).  I’ve never understood the appeal of drugs, and that understanding is even further away after reading Crank.  How can anyone rationally think “I’d like to try meth” after reading Hopkins’ book?  Kristina hits rock bottom once she tries “the monster.”  Teens should read this so they can see what happens to her and what could happen to them.

Student Response: One of my freshmen recently borrowed my copy.  When she did, she told me that she wanted to read it because a couple of her family members (including her mom) are addicted to meth.  Thankfully she’s not living with her mom, but I know it’s still hard for her.  She told me that this is the kind of book she needs to read since it hits so close to home.  I wouldn’t have known this about her if I hadn’t read Crank and put it in my classroom library.

BBW Day 6- Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.   I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway.   Included in this giveaway is a signed copy of Unwind so make sure to enter!

Banned Book: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Why/Where It’s Been Banned: “Challenged in the Hillsborough County, Fla. school system (2007) because it was considered too intense for teens. Source: Mar. 2008, p. 59.” (Taken from

Why It Should Be Read: First of all,  I wish this information was more specific.  Did it stay in the school system?  Who complained about it? 

Anyway, I’m a huge Sarah Dessen fan so I can’t fathom why any of her books would ever be censored.  Just Listen, along with all of her novels, teaches valuable lessons. Annabel is perceived as the girl who has it all, but she has plenty of family issues and an incident from her recent past that constantly haunts her.  Annabel learns how to deal with her problems and how to reach out for help.  This is a hard lesson for teens to learn, which makes reading this book even more invaluable.  Honestly, censoring this book is right up there with Mr. Scroggins trying to ban Twenty Boy Summer and Speak.  Speak loudly and read Just Listen

Student Response: This is from one of my former students, Tiffany- “Just Listen really has no reason to be banned at all, it talks about a girl who deals with a horrible thing happening to her.  That’s nothing that should cause a book to be banned, it’s something that people see and deal with quite often. Just because someone is not comfortable reading about something that is reality to many people does not mean that it should be banned for everyone, it’s not right.”

BBW Day 5- The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.  I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway

Banned Book: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Removed from the Harford County, Md. High School curriculum (2007) because its message on the dangers of bullying is overshadowed by instances of vulgar language, including homophobic slurs. In November 2007, the Harford County’s school superintendent reversed her decision to bar Cormier’s novel and returned it to the classroom. Teachers now have the option of using the novel in a course that deals with harassment and decision making, but must get permission from all parents of students in the class. Challenged as an optional reading in a bullying unit at the Lake Oswego, Oreg. Junior High School (2007) because the novel is “peppered with profanities, ranging from derogatory slang terms to sexual encounters and violence.” Students are given a list of book summaries and a letter to take to their parents. Four of the eight optional books offered are labeled as having “mature content/language.” Challenged in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho School District (2007). Some parents say the book, along with five others, should require parental permission for students to read them. Challenged as required reading for seventh-grade students at the John H. Kinzie Elementary School in Chicago, Ill. (2007). Challenged at the Northridge School District in Johnstown, Ohio (2007) because “if these books were a movie, they would be rated R, why should we be encouraging them to read these books?” Source: July 2007, pp. 147-49; Sept. 2007, p. 181; Nov. 2007, pp. 242-43; Jan. 2008, pp. 28-29.” (Taken from

Why It Should Be Read: This is the perfect example of how horrible bullying can become.  Archie is the leader of a “secret society” called the Vigils at his private school.  He’s very much a sociopath and forces those that rank below him in the social hierarchy to take part in activities they normally would avoid.  Selling chocolates in the annual chocolate sale is one of those activities, but one student, Jerry, refuses to sell them.  This sets off a chain reaction of increasing amounts of bullying against Jerry.  The social hierarchy, however, also involves the school’s administration, so it’s difficult for Jerry to gain support; Archie also holds power over the administration. 

Yes, there’s poor language and sexual situations, but that doesn’t take away from the message.  This book teaches about the importance of standing up for yourself and the dangers of giving one person too much power.  Another great part of The Chocolate War is Cormier’s amazing ability to create dynamic characters.  The reader gets to know Archie and Jerry like they would in any other book, but Cormier takes it to another level by taking the reader into their psyches.  We understand them at a different level, along with the lessons meant to be learned.

And of course, this book has really been a home run with not only reluctant readers, but reluctant learners.  My first year of teaching involved a student who constantly got himself into trouble (at school and with the law) and wouldn’t do his work.  When my students started working on an independent reading project I recommended The Chocolate War to him.  He was reluctant at first, but after some encouragement he tried reading it.  After that day I never saw him in the hall without it in his back pocket, and he never forgot to bring it to class.  All of a sudden he was staying awake in class so he could read.  Even better, he wanted to talk about it and do his project.  When he finished, he asked if he could go to the library to pick up another book by Cormier.  That in itself is reason enough to read this 🙂

Student Response: This is a response from Zach, one of my students that graduated last year- “The Chocolate War opens your eyes to how bad censorship can be especially towards books that absolutely have no reason for being banned. The only book I have ever seen/read that doesn’t need to be banned, but contains alot sexuality and maturity so should be strongly discouraged towards younger readers, is Boy Toy.”

BBW Day 4- Forever by Judy Blume

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.  I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway

Banned Book: Forever Judy Blume

Where/Why It’s Been Banned:  “Challenged in the Fayetteville, Ark. Middle and Junior High School libraries (2005). The complainant also submitted a list of more than fifty books, citing the books as too sexually explicit and promoting homosexuality. Source: Sept. 2005, p. 215.” (Taken from

Why It Should Be Read: First of all, it’s been a few years since I’ve read Forever, but I don’t remember anything that promotes homosexuality.  Maybe someone who’s read this more recently can fill me in on this.  The other part of the challenge says it’s too sexually explicit.  Yes, Katherine and Michael experiment and have sex.  Yes, there are a few scenes in which the couple is sexually active.  But is that the whole point of the story?  No.  Forever is about first love between a teenage couple. 

Many of the girls in my classes check out my copy and then have their friend(s) read it.  Like many of the books I have and am going to highlight this week, Forever is a book that’s successful with my reluctant readers.  That really shouldn’t be surprising considering how many teenagers are in “I love you” relationships and having sex.  Many of the girls in these relationships are so caught up in everything that they think they’ll be with their boyfriend forever.  Is that the case most times?  No.  The story isn’t any different in Forever.  Teenage girls should read this book so they can experience Katherine’s first love before they experience their own.  Or so they can learn how to deal with a serious relationship if they’re currently in one.  Girls aren’t going to be reading this and learning to have sex (there’s plenty of that in TV).  They’ll read this and learn that just because they’re “in love” doesn’t mean they should have sex because they may not be with their boyfriend forever.  This may be surprising to some, but there are legitimate lessons to be learned from Forever.

Student Response: This is from one of my freshmen girls, Taylor- “Forever is actually a really good book.  It’s great for teenagers and helps you connect with the problems going on in the story.  Plus, it proves good points about relationships and the different situations involved.”



Book Club (5)

In our book club meeting we decided to read a banned book (or multiple!) in honor of Banned Books Week.  So… How are your books?  Do you agree with them being banned?  Have you done any research on why it’s banned? 

Here’s my list of banned books that I am proud to have read and provide in my classroom library 🙂

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Speak / Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Forever by Judy Blume
The House of Night Series by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassandra Clare
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
I Am the Cheese / The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Shattering Glass by Gail Giles
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Crank, Glass, Burned, Impulse, Identical, Fallout by Ellen Hopkins
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things / Vegan, Virgin, Valentine by Carolyn Mackler
Cut by Patricia McCormick
The Twilight Series by Stephenie Meyer
Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging / On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

I didn’t realize how many banned books I’ve read!  I know I’m forgetting some, and I’m purposely leaving off Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird because I teach those.

BBW Day 3- Unwind by Neal Shusterman

In honor of Banned Books Week I am highlighting a different banned book each day of the event (maybe even more!) here on my blog.  I’m also hosting a Banned Books Week giveaway.    Included in this giveaway is a signed copy of Unwind so make sure to enter!

Banned Book: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Withdrawn from classroom use and the approved curriculum at the Montgomery County, Ky. High School (2009), but available at the high school library and student book club. Some parents have complained about five novels containing foul language and cover topics — including sex, child abuse, suicide, and drug abuse — unsuited for discussion in coed high school classes. They also contend that the books don’t provide the intellectual challenge and rigor that students need in college preparatory classes. The titles appeared on suggested book lists compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, for twelve- to eighteen-year-olds who are “reluctant readers.” The superintendent removed the book because it wasn’t on the pre-approved curriculum list and couldn’t be added by teachers in the middle of a school year without permission. Source: Jan. 2010, pp. 16–17; Mar. 2010, p. 56.” (Taken from

Why It Should Be Read: Yet again, I have another book for reluctant readers 🙂  Unwind has turned at least three of my students last year into excited readers.  The cooler part is that those three students told other students about their success with the book!

Besides hooking teens, Unwind also makes readers think and promotes discussion.  Almost every student of mine that’s read this has said “What if that happens to us?”  Yes, what if?  It’s important for books like these to be readily available to students because one day they’ll be in charge and making big decisions.  We should all hope that teens are thinking in-depth about the future now.  I suppose thinking is dangerous, but where would we be if we didn’t? 

Student Response: This is a response written by my student, Caroline, that graduated last year- “I absolutly loved the book Unwind by Neal Shusterman.  This book constantly had my attention.  Based on the future where abortion is no longer allowed at all, parents can choose to have their children unwound during the child’s teenage years.  I loved following the run-away unwinds through their journey for survival.  I don’t think that this book should be banned. This book can give kids an insight on how things could be, and how to look at all sides of a story.  On one hand, the unwinds are helping others, but on the other hand, the unwinds don’t get to live a normal life.”

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