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Staff Picks: Books

Banned Books Week --This One Summer

 Banned Books Week isn’t over yet, so here’s one more interesting, if controversial book to add to our blog discussion.

 

It’s no secret that I am a fan of graphic novels, and teen books, so it’s no surprise that I gravitated towards This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki. This beautiful book was initially very well received, winning the 2015 Printz Honor Award for best teen book, based on literary merit, and the Caldecott award for its stunning illustrations.

However, earlier this year the book was banned at parents’ request in libraries in Minnesota and Florida for its profanity and mature themes. Honestly, most of the upset was probably due to misunderstanding. Because the book is a Caldecott winner, an honor usually bestowed upon children’s books, people probably read it, and took offense that the subject matter wasn’t suitable for let’s say their eight year old child.

The book follows two twelve year old girls spending the summer in a beach town. Standing right on the brink of adulthood, they encounter and discuss subjects that are happening in their life, and the lives around them. That includes puberty, crushes, sex, marital problems, miscarriage, and unwanted pregnancy.

It’s a shame that this book was banned, because it really is a lovely book, and the graphic novel format really amplifies the work with the idyllic setting being inked in shades of blue. It’s a great novel, and I hope you take the time to check it out.  


When strangers meet

Here is a book that puts into words the extremely satisfied feeling I have gained from a lifetime of striking up conversations with random people in airports, playgrounds, stores, restaurants, libraries, on the street, and probably most of all, in LONG lines at various places! Kio Stark’s When strangers meet : how people you don’t know can transform you encourages intentional interaction with strangers, which can be a life-changing, enriching experience. Even brief word exchanges can help you become more a part of your community, and others. There is a world out there of people longing for connection…don’t just look down at the sidewalk.


The Seventh Wish

A banned book just makes me want to check it out. Earlier this year, a Vermont school uninvited beloved children's book author, Kate Messner, from a planned visit due to the content in her latest book, The Seventh Wish . Honestly, I might have missed this gem of a story, had it not been in the news for this reason. But I'm so glad I didn't because it's an important story and a good read. 

The Seventh Wish is about so many things, including Irish dancing, ice fishing, middle school friendships, and the love of a close-knit family. It's also about opiod addiction. In the story, the main character's older sister struggles with drug use and eventually leaves college to go to rehab for her addiction. In the midst of the rest of the main character's life, the effects of addiction on each member of the family are explored. This was, of course, this part of the book that caused it to be censored earlier this year. You can read some of the author's thoughts and details on this summer's events here


Don’t Ban Heather and her Family!

Heather has two arms, two legs, two pets and two mommies. There is a lot of love in her home, but when Heather goes to school, she worries maybe she’s the only child without a daddy. The teacher helps all the students learn that each family has their own special combination of people and that “the most important thing about a family is that all the people in it love each other.”

Leslea Newman self-published Heather has two Mommies in 1989. It’s been re-published many times since. This most recent version, published in 2015, is the best in my opinion. The pictures make all the difference! Laura Cornell’s watercolor illustrations add color and many comic touches to the story.

For example, when Mama Kate, the doctor, and Heather listen to each other’s heartbeats with stethoscopes, the two pets participate. Kitty Gingersnap is comfortably plopped on Mama Kate’s medical bag, and Midnight, the dog, leans in with her ear flopped over Mama Kate’s knee. The band-aids on Mama’s knee--stuck to the outside of her blue jeans--and at various spots on the sofa, as well as the purple lily attached to Heather’s hair are all chuckle-worthy. Gingersnap and Midnight appear some special place in every home scene, helping out -- mixing cookie batter and ‘cleaning’ the floor-- or just hanging out. (Look for them on the bed at storytime.) The school scenes are just as precious. This is a picture book, after all, and the pictures draw the reader in.

Heather has two Mommies was one of the most challenged books in the 1990’s, because it doesn’t represent some people’s beliefs about what a family should look like. The book endured over time, regardless of efforts to ban it. All kids benefit from seeing themselves and their family lives represented in story and pictures. Children can learn to embrace diversity by reading about all kinds of families and other children.


Banned Books Week: Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl and an Adolescent Thief

When I was eight years old, I stumbled across a book in my elementary school library that sparked a decades-long obsession for a certain period of world history and sewed the seeds for the activist I would become as an adult -- Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl.

The books in my elementary school library were sorted by grade level. Students were only allowed to check out books from their grade range. A few times per week, my class would visit the school library for an hour of quiet reading. During one of these visits, as I walked up and down the aisles, an off-white book with a black and white photo of a young girl caught my eye. I remember studying her face, her large eyes, and wondering what she was thinking about at the moment that school photo was taken. Intrigued, I plopped down on a whistle chair in a private corner and started to read.

Within minutes I was sucked into the world of this 13-year-old girl and quickly lost track of time. When my teacher informed the class it was time to check out, I panicked. I knew I would not be able to check out the book, as I was not old enough. I was desperate to finish it, so I made the drastic choice to slip the diary into my backpack. I remember sweating, being terrified as I walked out of the library, waiting for a firm hand to grab my shoulder and an angry voice to call me out as a thief. I thought about how much trouble I would be in. Despite the fear, I wasn’t swayed. I HAD to finish the book.

Anne’s life was drastically different from mine, but in many ways, I related to her. I too found escape through writing. I too found relief in creating other worlds I felt safe in. I identified with her feelings of isolation and desperation for a different life -- a different, kinder world. By the time I neared the end of the diary and realized she died alone at Bergen-Belsen, I was heartbroken. I felt like I had lost a friend, a confidant.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but at 8 years old, I had experienced the age-old, controversial practice of book banning. Someone else deemed the material was inappropriate for someone my age. Someone else determined I was not mature enough to handle the content of the book, and demanded my school prevent students of my age access to it. This someone had no idea the impact this book would have on my life. While I absolutely do not condone stealing, I do not regret my decision. 

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Since Anne’s father Otto Frank published the first edition of the diary in 1947, Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl remains one of the most challenged books in history. The original published diary, and the subsequent releases of the rest of Anne’s writings have been under constant fire by opponents, mostly Holocaust deniers, who have questioned their authenticity.

Because of the persistent accusations against the diary in the 1960’s and 70’s, Otto Frank led the charge for a number of investigations. The most extensive was executed in the early 1980’s by the Netherlands Forensic Institute at the request of the National Institute for War Documentation. The result was a 250-page report that irrefutably proved the authenticity of Anne’s collection of work.

It is ironic that ever since her death at age 16 in 1945, Anne Frank is still being persecuted. As recently as 2013, a mother of a seventh-grade girl in the Northville school district in Michigan claimed the definitive version of Frank’s diary, which includes passages left out of the original 1947 edition, is too graphic for young students. The mother felt Anne’s description of her developing body was “pornographic.” Fortunately, the school district rejected the challenge.

Anne Frank’s diary is considered one of the most influential, historical documentations of The Holocaust, which is exactly what Ann hoped to accomplish when she rewrote her diary with the intention of publishing it when the war was over. Anne wanted to “go on living, even after her death” and she has. Hatred and ignorance extinguished her life, but despite continued oppression, her voice is louder than ever.


Hispanic Heritage Month

I am a huge fan of the award winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month I submit these two excellent picks by this author.

The Princess and the Warrior is a re-telling of one of Mexico’s most cherished legends. It is the story of unlikely love between a princess and a lowly warrior. The king issues a challenge to the brave warrior: defeat their enemy Jaguar Claw. Will they end up together? Find out.

My other pick is Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras. This is the history of the Day of the Dead Calaveras. Calaveras are those skeletons dressed as ladies called Catrinas, and other characters that you see around the time of the Day of the Dead. The library will be hosting programs for the Day of the Dead at many locations. Check our LINK.

If you’re interested in a jump start on the history of the artist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) who made the skeleton images an indelible part of these celebrations, you’ll enjoy this book.


Where Am I Now?

You may remember Mara Wilson as Robin William’s youngest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire or as Nikki Petrova on Melrose Place, but she’s most widely known for her wonderful performance as Matilda in the 1996 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel. She left Hollywood when she was a teenager to pursue her true love—storytelling—and study at NYU. Her first book, a memoir called Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, is a smart, funny take on her experiences going from an odd child to a well-adjusted adult. I imagine a grownup Matilda would love to read this.


Boy Meets Boy Meets Bans?!?

One of the proudest moments in my career happened when we invited author David Levithan to Kalamazoo. The program was not only going to feature the future Margaret A. Edwards Award winning author, but KPL was also going to give out books to teens featuring LGBTQ characters. The excitement for Levithan's visit soon turned sour when we learned that some people in the community were not happy with the program. The primary objection was that the main character in Levithan's novel Bot Meets Boy, expressed that he knew he was gay in kindergarten. Paul's ability to self-identify at an early age was not something you read about too often in books for teens in 2003. In fact when first published, Boy Meets Boy sparked a revolution in LGBTQ literature for teens. Here was a book that at its core is love story featuring two teens, dealing with teen problems, who happen to be gay. Levithan does address one character's battle with his super conservative parents and how people react to the school's transgendered quarterback/Homecoming Queen, but in the end Boy Meets Boy is about love

As the day of David's visit got closer, we learned of a protest outside of the library. The local news stations started to call asking for interviews. The staff planned for every possible response from the public that day. When it was time for Levithan's talk to begin, I was proud to see a full house (with people even in the hall) of excited advocates and lovers of literature. Outside I found less than ten protesting. Love won and prevented fear from keeping the message of Boy Meets Boy away from those who need it the most. Celebrate Banned Books Week by reading anything by David Levithan, one of the most challenged and banned authors in the past 13 years. 


The Upside Down Boy - El niño de cabeza

In The Upside Down Boy - El niño de cabeza, United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera tells the story, in verse, of a pivotal time in his childhood when his mother and father moved their family to the city so that he could attend school. He tells the story of how his third grade teacher, Mrs. Sampson, invited him to the front of the class to sing a song. He sang “Three Blind Mice” and Mrs. Sampson told him “You have a very beautiful voice”.  The book is dedicated to Mrs. Lucille Sampson, Herrera’s third grade teacher, who, at age 95, was present at the Library of Congress when Herrera was inaugurated as the United States Poet Laureate in 2015. You can hear Herrera tell this story in front of an audience at the Kansas City Public Library on New Letters On the Air.

Juan Felipe Herrera’s Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes is a Pura Belpré author honor book.

Empathy

Leslie Jamison’s book of essays, The Empathy Exams, begins with her experience working as a medical actor. What is a medical actor? I had the same question. It is an actor that is given a profile of someone with a particular ailment and symptoms and personality. Then they will have a mock appointment with a medical student so the student can practice diagnosing the illness. However, they aren’t just practicing the clinical part, but the social skills part; the ability to empathize with their patient and create a relationship where the patient would be willing to talk freely about their illness.


Can you practice empathy? Can you practice empathy when you know the person is just acting?

 
These are some of the questions she explores in the first essay. After that, the most difficult ultramarathon race, a prison in West Virginia, mines in Bolivia, and a tour of South Central Los Angeles are just a few of the places she will take you on her nuanced and moving dissection of empathy.