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 BookTrib.com 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!

JAYASHER

Top Ten Tuesday: Posts That Describe Me Best

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday post is fun because it prompts us to choose ten posts that describe us best and that we wish all readers (and potential readers) would read.  I hope this post helps you get to know me as a teacher and reader! 🙂

1. The importance of creating a classroom library was instilled by the best professor I’ve ever had, Dr. Susan Steffel.  After some requests from a few Twitter followers, I wrote a post on how to create and manage a classroom library based on what I’ve been doing for the past five years that I’ve been teaching.  I’m crazy passionate about my class library and adding to it on a regular basis, so I hope you gain something from that post!

2. Besides being known by students for all the books I read, they also know that I read to them every day at the beginning of the hour.  Again, I learned this practice from Dr. Steffel.  Reading out loud to my students is one of my favorite things to do, especially when we get to the good parts in a book or when a chapter ends with a cliffhanger; their reactions are priceless.  I’ve had some major successes with books and some major hiccups, so I put together a list of my favorite books to read aloud to my high school students.

3. I love to find out what my students think about books/reading/covers/etc. so I try to poll them on different topics a few times throughout the year.  One survey that my students really liked was this one about their opinions on book covers.  I found out that they have strong opinions about book covers and could discuss them for a lengthy period of time.

Dr. Steffel and me at NCTE 2011

4. Censorship and book banning tends to get me fired up, so every year I put together a Banned Books Week display in my classroom.  During that week I devote my blog to posting about different books on the list.  I include where/why they were banned, my thoughts about it, and I also include what my students think.  I teach a YA Lit class and one of the most popular project choices is the banned books project.  Unfortunately, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler has been banned, but fortunately it’s one of the most popular books in my classroom.

5. Another part of my  YA Lit class is requiring my students to write book reviews for a couple of the books they read for their project.  Within the last year or so I’ve started posting their book reviews on my blog.  This is an example of a student book review that I loved.

6. My students and I love book trailers, so every Thursday I feature a book trailer or two on my blog.  This is one of my students’ favorite book trailers, especially since I read this book to my YA Lit students.  Every other day they’d make me show the trailer again to see if they understood another part of the trailer based on what we read.

7. I love verse novels.  Every time I find out about a new one, I have to get my hands on it.  Here’s a list of a few verse novels I recommend reading.

8. Starting this blog and reading other blogs has opened me up to so many books I probably would have never known about or thought about reading.  A past Top Ten Tuesday post prompted us to write about books we’ve read because of other bloggers.  Keep the recommendations coming, bloggers and readers!

9. Finding great books with guy appeal is really important to me because I’ve found that it’s usually harder to get my reluctant male students to read than it is getting my reluctant female students to read.  Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach is one of my all-time favorite books with guy appeal.

10. This book surprised me and moved me to the point that it’s one of my absolute favorites.  I really need to get a signed copy of it one of these days…

Top Books Read in September

This school year I’m doing something different with my book check-out system.  I’m still using a binder, but now I have it separated by class period; it seems to be a much better system because the kids can find everything easier as they check in and check out books.  Because I’m doing this now, I decided to break up these posts according to grade or class.  Right now I have a few classes of freshmen and one YA Lit class, so I have two different sets.  If I’m really ambitious, maybe I’ll start breaking it down according to guys/girls.  I hope you like the change 🙂

I’m starting with the most popular books borrowed and read by my freshmen.  This group of freshmen has really become excited about reading, but it took a few vocal kids and some booktalks and book trailers to get them more excited about reading.  Many of them were honest at the beginning of the year and told me they really dislike reading.

Top Book Borrowed & Read in September (3 students):

My freshmen have read over 30 different books.  Not that many of these titles have been read more than once, so instead of trying to break it down, I’m including a variety of the titles they’ve been reading and enjoying.

Various Popular Books Among My Freshmen:


The following books are the most popular among my YA Lit students.  In the month of September, they borrowed and read 54 different titles.

Top Books Borrowed & Read in September (3 students each):

Borrowed 2 Times:

Various Popular Books Among My YA Lit Students:


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.”

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

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Book Club (2)

Censorship in Texas

I’ve posted a couple times about the craziness in Humble, Texas regarding Ellen Hopkins being “disinvited” to the Teen Lit Fest.  But after talking to a few of my grads, I’d like to have a book club discussion about this.  I know many of us have read and love her books, so I’d like to know what you think of this.  A few authors have taken a stand against this act of censorship by backing out of the TLF, while Laurie Halse Anderson and Todd Strasser have said they should stay so they can discuss censorship with the teens that come. 

So YAers, what do YOU think?  After reading (or hearing about) Ellen Hopkins’ books, do you think she should have been censored?  Why or why not?  Do you think the authors should stand by her and not show up (causing more publicity and discussion) or should they show up to the festival and talk this out with the teens attending?  Which do you prefer? 

Please weigh in on this; I along with everyone else want your opinions!!  Also, please check out Ellen and Laurie’s LiveJournals so you can read their posts about this (the links are in my sidebar). 

I can’t wait to hear from you 😀

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