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Celebrating Banned Books week with “Bridge to Terabithia” By Katherine Paterson

Happy Banned Books Week!  I hope you’re reading something scandalous in honor of the fight against censoring books.

Somewhere, there’s someone who doesn’t want me to read “Bridge to Terabithia,” likely due to the heart-breakingly sad ending, the fact that there’s a character in the story who’s father beats her, or the use of the word “Damn.”

So I read it.  I remember it vaguely from elementary school, but decided it was time for a re-read.  Man, am I glad I did.

What a wonderful book about friendship and growing up.  Preteen Jess has worked all summer to get faster at running so he can be the fastest kid in the fifth grade, but his plans are cut short by the arrival of a new neighbor girl – Leslie – who is faster than all the boys.  Jess and Leslie soon become best friends, and build an imaginary kingdom in the woods and make themselves King and Queen.  It’s a touching story of two kids learning about the world.

And then there’s the sad part. And geez, is it sad.  But it’s not unrealistic.  Tragedies happen to even the best of kids, and kids shouldn’t spend all their lives reading about fairy princesses and happily ever after.  I’m keeping this one on my bookcase for a few years down the line when my son is ready for a great read.  Also, a Newberry Award winner.  😉

If we’re speaking of the power of books, when I mentioned on facebook that I was reading this, here are some responses I got;

“It will make you cry.”

“Just don’t read “Where the Red Fern Grows” or “My Brother Sam is Dead” for a few weeks after Bridge to Terebithia or you won’t be able to get out of bed ever again.”

“Bridge to Terebithia is the only book I found worthy of pulling an all-nighter (as a Fr. in college), just to have an uninterrupted, unassigned pleasure read. Wonderful book.”

These terrible books, these banned books, are the ones we remember.

Celebrate the power of amazing literature this week — read a banned book.

“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London

Now, I know I’ve read “The Call of the Wild” before.

I’m fairly sure it was sometime in elementary school, and I’m 99% sure that I probably didn’t care much for it, as I was a girly girl and really liked things with love stories.

Upon learning that Jack London’s classic was on the most challenged list, I decided to read back in September to celebrate Banned Booked Week.  Then, full disclosure, I had a baby and completely forgot to write about it.  So here goes.

“The Call of the Wild” is a good read.

I originally questioned why it would be banned, but I can sort of understand now.  It’s quite a violent book, and one maybe best left for kids who are a little more mature readers, and a little less likely to be upset about sad things happening to puppies. (From experience, I remember reading Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” before I was mature enough to appreciate it, and the very introduction to the book scared me away from it for about a year, so I understand.  I literally put the book under my bed for a few months.)

For adult readers, though, it’s a win.

Our hero is a dog named Buck, who’s pretty pampered in his sweet gig as the house dog to a Judge until he’s stolen, sold, and shipped up to Alaska to join teams of dogs pulling sleds for gold prospectors.  From there, Buck is reborn.  No more is he a sweet pet, but his animal instincts are released and he becomes a strong and cunning leader of a team.  In a particularly violent chunk of the book, he faces off with the previous head dog, Spitz, and there’s a bloody battle to the death, which Buck wins and takes the lead position.  Buck works for a few teams, including a group of clueless newbies who fight all the time and nearly work their dogs to death.  Luckily, Buck winds up with a man named John Thornton, and the two come to love each other deeply.   Buck even wins a bet for Thornton by pulling a thousand pound sled locked in ice a hundred yards.  (Sad spoiler ahead!) After John Thornton is killed, Buck completely gives in to his nature and heads into the woods where he truly becomes a wild dog.  The end.

Cheery, right?

For those interested in travel or nature writing, “The Call of the Wild” is a classic.  Jack London describes his Alaska in gorgeous ways and really brings the experience of being there, particularly the brutality of the weather, to life.  He experienced it first-hand, so he knew what he was writing about.  (By the way, did you know that Jack London developed scurvy during his time in the Klondike Gold Rush? Me neither!)

I read “The Call of the Wild” on my Kindle after downloading it free from Project Gutenberg.  (Also, it appears you can get pretty much everything London ever wrote on PG as well.)

I read Banned Books and I cannot lie. (OR, How I’m celebrating Banned Books Week 2011.)

It’s that special week of the year when readers around the world gather together to celebrate their freedom to read whatever they want, whenever they want.  Banned Books Week 2011 kicked off yesterday, September 24th, and though I’m ready to have a baby at any second, I’m still taking part.

Last year, I attended the Newberry Library’s Banned Books Week Read-Out and read Margaret Mitchell’s oft-banned ‘Gone With the Wind.”

This year, I’m reading TWO books.

First, I’ll be reading a challenged classic – Jack London’s “White Fang.” (Download it from Project Gutenberg if you want a free read.)  I know I’ve read this before – in grade school – and for the life of me can’t remember what was so scandalous about it.

Second, I’m reading a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald – author of one of the most challenged classics of all time – “The Great Gatsby.”

Read something this week.  Make it something you want to read, and are grateful for the freedom to read. And enjoy it.

“A Flood Tide of Filth” – amazing Banned Books video

In honor of banned books week, a friend posted this to my facebook.

I thought I’d share.

Read something someone thinks you shouldn’t, dude.

Banned Books Week Readout — Recap!

Yesterday (a chilly but bearable early fall afternoon) a friendly crowd of book-people gathered in the Bughouse Square park across from Newberry Library to kick-off Banned Books Week 2010 with a read-out of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2009.

For those of you who think this sounds vaguely dull, consider this — one of the most contested books of the year was a childrens picture book about two male penguins who find themselves taking care of a neglected egg.  These “gay penguins,” and the book they’re from (“And Tango makes three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) have been causing controversy for two years now.  In 2o08, they were the most contested book of all.  This year, they’ve fallen to the #2 spot, but still — it’s all about the gay penguins.

Presented by the American Library Association, The Newberry Library, and the McCormick Foundation, the read-out was a lot of fun and privided a lot of food for thought.

After some opening statements from Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library association, a young man (who was not credited in the program and who’s name I sadly didn’t catch) was brought onstage to read passages frmo one of the most famously challenged books of late: The Qur’an.

He read passages, while encouraging the audience to read the whole thing — not as a religious text ordering people to do things, but as a complete work – and it made sense.  Hey, if you’re going to be anti-book banning, you really do need to fight against the banning of all books – regardless of personal feelings.  While I have no problems with the Qur’an, I’d personally like to trash every copy of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue” I can get my hands on, but… that’d be censorship, too.  If someone wants to read Palin’s (cough, ghostwritten) book, who am I to stop me?  Just like who are you to stop me from reading about… say, gay penguins.

But I digress…

Our emcee for the afternoon was author Chris Crutcher, an author of young adult literature who frequently finds his works challenged and banned.  Crutcher is a funny, affable man and a clear fighter for the freedom to read.  He made a great host for the event.

Each of the ten books was presented and a section of the book was read.  (And in each case where I haven’t already read the book being presented, I now want to read the book.  So there, people who tried to ban them.)

(Members of the Chicago Public Library’s Teen Volume Readers Theatre group read a selection from a Crutcher book, to start off the events.)

#10 — The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier.

Brad Lash, the technology coordinator of the McCormick foundation, read the section from this book – which is apparently about a high school student being pressured and bullied.  The book seems smart and clever, though apparently there’s sexually eplicit talk later on and it’s deemed unsuitable for young readers.

#9 — The Color Purple, by Alice Walker.

Elizabeth Taylor (Literary Editor of the Chicago Tribune) read sections of this masterpiece.  The Color Purple is a mature novel, no joke, but rather than banning it why not talk about the issues it presents?

#8 — The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler.

Carolyn Macker could not attend, but a statement from her was read by Nanette Perez (Progam Officer of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual freedom, and the event organizer for the day) about how many young girls have written her letters telling her that the book gave them hope.  Then, members of CityLit theatre read selections from the book, which seems really clever and just made it’s way onto my “gotta read” list.


#7 — My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

This is probably going to make me (and my friend Chelsea) sound like book snobs, but whatever….

When Roberta Stevens, president of the ALA, finished reading the segment of the Jodi Picoult novel about a girl born primarily to serve as a bone marrow donor for a sister with leukemia, we looked at each other.  Then Chelsea said, “I think I actually have to read that book now.”

(Please note: I am still NOT seeing the movie.  That is that.)

#6 — Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger

If there was a highlight of the speakers of the day for me, it would have to be Rick Kogan of WGN talking about the stupidity of banning books, and then reading a selection from Salingers infamous novel – the section in which Holden Caulfield talks about sex and the prostitute. Kogan is a great speaker, a brisk newspaperman who knows the power of words.  He spoke about doing work in southside schools and how there was a little girl he met who, living in a concrete and violence world, simply wanted to see a tree.  Really, energy is being expended on banning books?

If Kogan were to record Catcher in the Rye as an audiobook, I’d buy it.  Done and Done.

#5 — Twilight (series), by Stephanie Mayer

While I find the Twilight books to be boring and sloppily written, there’s REALLY no need to ban them.  Nothing happens, other than a lot of passionate longing.

Actors from CityLit theatre presented a reading of a section of the book in which Edward sneaks into Bella’s room, and it garnered a lot of chuckles from the audience — especially the actor playing Edward, who did a surprisingly good Robert Pattinson impression.

#4 — To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Mockingbird is the best book ever, and it turned 50 this year.

It’s still on the most challenged list, per usual.

Kent Oliver, president of the Freedom to Read foundation, read not only a section of the book (which made me want to re-read the book) but also a letter that Harper Lee wrote to a local newspaper when she learned a school board was trying to ban her book.  [That clever lady sent a donation so the school board could enroll themselves in 1st grade to learn to read.  Oh, Snap.]

#3 — The Perks of being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Kristin Pekoll, a young adult librarian, talked about the challenges she and her library faced recently when a group of concerned citizens decided to target young adult literature, including this book, at her library – calling it “pornographic” and “criminal.”

Take heart: At the end of the day, the vote was 9 to 0 to keep the book in the library and place no restrictions on it’s availability.

Pekoll then read a section of the book about being teenaged and dating, as well as learning that your also-teenaged sister is pregnant.  Heady stuff, but it’s also real-life stuff that happens.

(Also – Stephen Chbosky could not attend, as he was on the set of the movie version of his much-challenged book. Bring it.)


#2 — And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Finally, it was gay penguin time.

The picture book – in it’s entirety – was read to the audience by the adorable duo of Jessica and Sydney Krug, who are the granddaughters of the former president of the ALA.

Hearing these two innocent girls read this sweet story about family was a lovely, and made the challenging of the book seem ridiculous.

(Also, the girls clearly practiced their performance – one read and the other showed the artwork from the book, like a well-oiled machine.  Well done, ladies!)

#1 — ttyl: ttfn: l8r: g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle

First of all, Lauren Myracle is all kinds of adorable.

Her first act of business was to apologize for knocking the gay penguins out of the #1 spot.

She’s also a passionate speaker and a joy to listen to.  When she first made the most-challenged list, she apologized to her ediot, who told her to “be proud.”  You can tell she is.  She, like many of these other writers, write about kids and teenagers as they really are – and that’s sometimes tough.

As a finale, CityLit presented readings from her series, the most challenged of the year.

Post-event, both Chris Crutcher and Lauren Myracle signed and gave away free copies of their books to the crowd.  I was fortunate enough to get to meet Mr. Crutcher as well as get a signed copy of his novel, “Deadline” which I cannot wait to read.  (And will absolutely write about in a post this week.)

Lovely, smart people gathered for a wonderful cause.

The weather could have been warmer, and I probably should have brought a hot beverage, but I have absolutely no other complaints. 🙂

Banned Books Week 2010

September 25-Oct 2nd.

Celebrate your freedom to read.

“Books on the Chopping Block” — presented by CityLit Theater

Books on the Chopping Block: September 25-October 3, 2010

In honor of Banned Books Week 2010, CityLit Theatre (a company who’s repertoire is based off literature) will be taking it to the streets, presenting a program of readings from the ten most frequently challenged books of 2009.  Selections from the program were presented today as part of the Newberry Library/ALA/McCormick Foundation’s Banned Book Week ReadOut (which I’m recapping tomorrow!) but, if you missed it, there are more chances —

“Books on the Chopping Block” will be presented:

*

Sunday, September 26 2:00 PM

Harold Washington Library

400 S. State St,, Chicago

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Monday, September 27 6:30 PM

Chicago Public Library, Near North Branch

310 W Division St., Chicago

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Wednesday, September 29 6:00 PM

Chicago Public Library, Bezazian Branch

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Saturday, October 2 2:00 PM

Chicago Public Library, Roosevelt Branch

1101 W Taylor St, Chicago

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Sunday, October 3 2:00 PM

Glencoe Public Library

320 Park Ave, Glencoe

*

Visit CityLit.org for more information.

Banned Books Week Begins!

Completely and with all my heart, I believe in my freedom to read whatever I want.

If I feel like reading Madonna’s “Sex” book, or a “Harry Potter” book, or (hey, why not?) the Bible or the Qur’an, no one should have the ability to stop me.  That, my friends, would be censorship, and censorship is indicative of closed minds and fear-mongering.  How dare someone impose their beliefs on another person, especially when it comes to art and expression?  (I realize this whole “imposing belief” thing happens in many other arenas than books, and I would love to go into this much deeper, but really… this is a book blog. So I’m leaving it there for now.)

Book censorship is not only closed-minded, it’s annoying.  And it really pi$$es me off.

Therefore, Banned Books Week is something I hold close to my heart.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like had I not always been granted the freedom to read.

Sure, there were times I found myself reading things that were a little over my head.  For example, Judy Blume’s “Forever” was probably not a good follow-up to the more age-appropriate “Superfudge” novels.  It led to an awkward moment where, while reading the book, I came out into the living room while my Mom had friends over and asked “What’s this word mean?”  Imagine Mom’s surprise when the word in question was “orgasm.”  I think maybe I was in fourth grade.

However, my Mom is awesome and didn’t take the book away from me and forever forbid me to read anything of Judy Blume’s ever again.

In sixth grade, I was an advanced reader (much beyond my age level) and I also had a fascination with ballet at the time.  My wonderful and open-minded teacher, Mrs. Kunze, recognized these things.  So while my classmates were reading a book I’d already finished, Mrs. Kunze suggested a book for me to read.  The book was Gelsey Kirkland’s memoir, “Dancing on my Grave.”  Kirkland was the belle of the ballet ball in the 70’s and 80s.  As the book contained parts involving sex and drugs, she made my Mom sign a permission slip first, but I was allowed to read the book.  (Same thing with “Go Ask Alice.”) I wasn’t denied these books because of adult and dark themes.

Things that happen in life happen in books.

Not everything that happens in life is pretty.

Instead of closing our eyes, let’s admit these things and move on, shall we?

The truth is simple.  Harry Potter doesn’t make kids practice witchcraft.  Reading about homosexuals won’t make your kids gay.  Sex is a thing that happens, both in books and in life.  People do drugs, and reading about their experiences isn’t going to give you a contact high.  You can read a book like “Lolita” without going out and doing bad things to underage girls.

SO:  In honor of Banned Books Week 2010, I’m going to finally sit down and read Margaret Mitchell’s thousand-ish page masterpiece, “Gone with the Wind.”

While it may be thought of first and foremost as a cinematic masterpiece, the book has been challenged and banned since it’s first date of publication.  Not only is there a vibrant, sexual woman at the center of it (gasp!) but there’s also slavery.

Slavery, unfortunately, is a thing that actually happened in real life.  Pretending it didn’t won’t make it not true.  Banning books such as “Gone with the Wind” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” aren’t going to erase history and paint everything with daisies and butterflies.  Maybe reading about it can help us modern folk better understand our collective history.

I’ll be reading “Gone with the Wind” this week.

Both because I want to, and because I can.

Anyone else reading any Banned Books to celebrate?  I’d love to hear them, and why you chose them.

Newberry Library to kick off Banned Books Week – 9/25-10/2!

The annual event known as Banned Books Week is upon us – and the good people at the Newberry Library are kicking it off off with a few hours of readings and signing by some of the most challenged authors of 2009!  Details below 🙂

The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week Read-Out

Saturday, September 25, Noon – 3:00 pm
Washington Square Park (across the street from the Newberry Library, 901 N. Clark St.)

“Join us to kick-off Banned Books Week in historic Bughouse Square (a.k.a., Washington Square Park). The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the McCormick Foundation, and the Newberry Library are proud to sponsor this event.  Chris Crutcher will host authors of the ten most challenged books of 2009, as they read from their work and share their experiences as targets of censors. The readings begin at noon and will be followed by book signings by all the authors. City Lit Theatre Company will perform work from frequently challenged authors who couldn’t join is in Chicago.  Admission is free and no reservations are required.” (<– All info taken from the Newberry Library website.)

Oh – and in case you’re curious:

The Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2009

1. “TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
2. “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
3. “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
4. “To Kill A Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
6. “Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger
7. “My Sister’s Keeper,” by Jodi Picoult
8. “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things,” by Carolyn Mackler
9. “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
10. “The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier

If humanly possible, I will be at Bughouse Square for what promises to be an awesome event, celebrating our freedom to read.

(And seriously, THESE are the most offensive books? Really?)