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I am writing this as a concerned parent. I am greatly concerned about the number of book challenges and out-right bans that occur every year in the United States. Concerned Parents are the greatest challengers to books in our country. Which is why concerned parents (and teachers, readers, librarians and average citizens, etc.) need to Speak Loudly against censorship and keep intellectual freedom strong in this, The Land of the Free.

Fortunately, we do live in a country which protects Freedom of Speech, so there are no books officially banned by our government. Not that they don’t try. But, authors are not put on house arrest, threatened with imprisonment and death, or banished from our country because of the words they have written. We truly are lucky. I wish I did not have to remind people that there are countries in which people are actually dying for the right to learn and read. Why would we want to threaten that right here?

I do understand why parents are concerned about what their children are reading, but I do not support the removal of books from a library, school system or bookstore. Of course, the obvious statement is, as above, if you don’t like it, then don’t read it. There are plenty of books available that you will like. But what about the required reading lists at school, which is what has led to the recent controversy in Missouri over SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and in other states for other books? Should they be allowed to be challenged? If a teacher deems a book worthy of educational analysis shouldn’t students have them available to be read? If peers are passing around a book or discussing it because of a topic that is relevant to their lives, should parents or teachers stop them? I am not talking about passing around a Penthouse in the locker room, which-guess what-happens anyway. I am talking about books for teens, about teens and about themes and subjects which are important to teens. Not to mention that the books assigned do have educational value to them including literary structure and cultural information. Contemporary novels deserve to be read and studied just as much as books deemed “classics” which often equates to “old” in the minds of the young.

When I met my son’s freshman English teacher, she showed us copies of the books that they would be reading. I was thrilled that SPEAK was one of them. I read it earlier in the summer and watched the Lifetime film based on it (starring a then-unknown Kristen Stewart). I cried, I laughed, I learned. It has all of the good stuff a book should have. Plus, it had the most redeeming factor, in my opinion, of being accessible to the modern teen. If it is new to you, then to summarize: a freshman girl experiences date-rape and plunges into a terrifying depression in which she essentially experiences Selective Mutism. The absolutely most important lesson that readers can get from this is to NOT be afraid to talk about problems, to use their voice and to tell someone when they are violated or in danger and need help. A ban of this specific book will teach the exact opposite.

I think the case with SPEAK has proven that when you tell a reader that they cannot or should not read a book, then their curiosity is going to be greater than ever and book sales will rise. Dr. Scroggins severely underestimated both the power of the Pen and of the Web. In this Internet era, there are more ways to get your eyes on a book than ever. Even if he achieves his goal (and apparently Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5 did get cut after his complaints) he has managed to promote these books more than he will ever be able to hide them. Authors, teachers and readers around the world have rallied to support these books and others. But that is the result of a challenge/ban. What leads to the challenge is what bothers me the most. The desire to limit information, to stop people from reading and learning, is appalling. This is what dictators do, this is what terrorists hope to accomplish. We cannot attack our own Constitutional freedoms by fighting amongst ourselves. When adults bicker over books, children do not learn how to rationally debate. When governors suggest books be removed from a public library, then we are in serious trouble. When anyone is told that they cannot read any book, then we face more limitations on our freedom.

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When I signed up to write about my favorite banned book over at @thmafi’s blog I was stumped. Which one to choose!?! There are simply so many! The obvious choice was the HARRY POTTER series, which as we know, I heart, and which tops both the list of best selling books for the past decade and the ALA’s list of most challenged books. But that’s too obvious. Basically, if people have not figured out yet that it is not a Satanic diatribe, well, God help them *roll eyes*

Of course, there are (sadly) many other fabulous books to write about. In its 50th year of publication, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is  a good example. It is often chosen as a classic Must-Read, and it has faced challenges since the beginning. But so have  a lot of others that I have enjoyed over the years: Gatsby, Catcher, Color Purple, GWTW, Rebecca,  Huck Finn (Twain’s response to Denver’s ban of his book is as amusing as most of his work 🙂 ) and yes, Winnie-the Pooh.

Meanwhile, there are the books that make one say “WTH” ? the Dictionary!?! Captain Underpants? What about Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (which I personally have avoided reading over and over and over for the past year…parents know what I’m sayin’) but which serves as an example of the ignorance that surrounds book banning. It was banned in Texas because the school board did not A.) Do their freaking research B.) Bother to read the book and C.) Think that it is possible for 2 men to have the same name, i.e. “Bill Martin”. Funnily enough, the author of this and dozens of other picture books is a Junior, so obviously there is more than one.

I often wonder if people who challenge books actually read them first. Or if they just want to promote their own agenda. Or if they really care about Freedom of Speech. There was a local news story about a woman who was challenging a book on a school’s Recommended Summer Reading List. NOT required, not even (most likely) expected. Just suggestions of books to choose from if a parent should decide to take their child to a library over the summer. Her beef was the junior picture book version of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH by You-Know-Who. Now, I get that some people still think science and climate change are not real. Whatev. But I still think she just wanted to get on TV and try to push her (completely unsubstantiated) opinion.  If it is not required reading, then do not read it. Duh. Rant over.

So, I narrowed it down to Books I Have Read and Books Under Challenge Now. Yes, there have been a lot of books challenged and banned in the past. Some of them are on the list every year and are familiar to many readers. I am more concerned with the newer books that are being challenged and banned. Most of these are Young Adult books that are challenged for sexual references.

I think that to most young readers (and let’s face it–they are the citizens whose intellectual rights are challenged the most) books are an important source and outlet for information. I admit, I read books that my parents would not have approved. I also read books that they did approve and bought for me. I generally liked most of them. But part of growing, learning and becoming a functioning adult is  practicing critical thinking and developing your own mind. I would not want to keep my children from having all available resources or from pursuing their own happiness.

Young adults are going to learn about sex one way or another. If parents have not learned how to discuss it with them, if teachers are not able to teach non-abstinence facts, then teens will still learn about It. I would prefer the new-found knowledge be from a book, rather than from television or the Web. And I would rather their learning be done critically, showing all facets and points of view as most books do, especially books published as Kid Lit, instead of physically through clumsy trial-and-error which may lead to STDs, teen pregnancy and/or hours of crying into one’s pillow. (Or worse! Teen suicide is a bigger problem in this land than teen sex. There. I said it!) Also, as a writer who can only hope that one day she makes it to a Banned Books list, I want kids to read and I know that they are far more likely to read a book they are interested in, rather than an assigned book chosen by an adult. Personally, I think it is amazing and awesome that there are SOOO many books being published in the children and young adult market. End of the Book, pshaw!

So, I pondered it, read lists, looked on my own highly controversial bookshelves and I went to the best place to learn about books: The Library. One of the most beautiful facts of our country’s freedoms: we get free books. I spend a lot of time at the library and have a good dialogue with my librarians. The conversation we had about banned books (as she set up their display) was heartening. I learned that only one book has been challenged (in her knowledge) in our  400-year old, smallish, right-leaning county: AND TANGO MAKES THREE. {Follow the link for a post about that children’s picture book from the fabulous Booklady’s Blog.} The saddest thing about that challenge is it is NON-fiction. People want to ban facts. Grrr…

Finally, I opened the library’s print-out of this year’s Banned Books Week campaign and saw THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie listed first. And I learned that it was banned, removed by a school board in Missouri this year and previously in Oregon among other challenges. I read this book, primarily because it was a National Book Award winner and one of the top recommended books for teen boys. I like sharing books with my son, ever since he was in utero. I read it, laughed, cried, laughed A LOT more and even learned a little (granted, I had some previous knowledge of the subject matter). Then I gave it to him and said “You have to read this” which was not an order, but as he knew, just a great suggestion.

The main reasons cited for banning TATDOAPTI are language, substance use, and sexual situations. I admit, I was keenly aware of giving my son a book that discussed masturbation, but I had a feeling he already knew about that. But sex, drugs and rock n’ roll aside, this book depicts a reality that many teens in this country experience daily. At the same time, it also depicts one that many people are not aware of or do not understand. I wanted my brilliant son to appreciate his education and just how good he’s got it.

The main character experiences obstacles, discouragement, and a whole lot of stress in order to pursue his education. Since birth, he had physical challenges, which required brain surgery. He is awkward and ridiculed and also brilliant and hilarious. His story is about making the most of what you can in your life no matter what problems you face. He actually walks miles to get to a school that can give him a better education. Alexie throws light on the difference between reservation schools and US public schools. He also details a bright boy’s struggle to find his place in two societies, neither of which fully accepts him. A student speaking out in support of the book said at the Stockton County, MO school board meeting

This book in a nutshell is my hope. It’s not about giving up. It’s about not letting people tell you you’re not worth it.

and she was completely ignored. The vote was 7-0 to ban it. I pray that does not cause her to lose hope. She and her peers need to know that their experiences and feelings matter, too. When young people are constantly told that their opinions and beliefs do not count, they begin to believe it.

Junior, the MC and narrator of “Absolutely True Diary” , is one of those teens and his story is worth reading. Yes, teens cuss, are exposed to substances, and think about sex too much. But they also try to find their talents, develop their abilities and dream of their futures. Why would we want to censor that?

(Subtitled: Let’s Just Say I was Hibernating and Leave It at That)

Yes, I have been neglecting my blogging duties, and I really have no excuse, except for the plethora of ones that arise daily. But, I refuse to delve into the personal griping that nobody really wants to read. I did mentally compose, at one point, a post entitled “Why I Will Never Be Super Mom” and it was hilarious, at least in my own mind, but nope, that never was completed either. C’est la vie…

However, I have not given up on the WIP and have been researching Everything You Need to Know About Agents But Are Afraid to Ask in order to be as well-prepared as possible for the day I have the (fully revised) final draft completed and ready to go. Meanwhile, I am really here to celebrate National Grammar Day and share their new anthem with anyone else who loves the English language.

I also want to recommend a lovely book I am reading which is perfect for us word nerds and fellow philosophers. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery was originally written in French and, fortunately, translated by Alison Anderson for those, like myself, who have neglected to keep up with the “language of love” since high school. I have not completed the novel, so cannot properly review it, but it has rave reviews all over the Web. (Why I only heard about it because of a Glue recommendation I cannot answer.) It is not a light read, but it is humorous, thought-provoking, and gosh darnit, deep. I think it should be required reading in Grammar 101 courses. Seriously, I was in stitches while reading a passage on the misuse of a comma (“I was not prepared for such an underhanded attack.”). The two female narrators (one young, one older) both have appreciation for the simple beauty of life, particularly the nuance of language. They also have a hard time hiding their disdain for the crowds around them who fail to see what they see. I can imagine that the author had some of these thoughts herself long before she put them in her characters’ voices. Par example:

The gifts of fate come with price. For those who have been favored by life’s indulgence, rigorous respect in matters of beauty is a non-negotiable requirement. Language is a bountiful gift and its usage, an elaboration of  community and society, is a sacred work….Society’s elect, those whom fate has spared from the servitude that is the lot of the poor, must, consequently, shoulder the double burden of worshipping and respecting the splendors of language. Finally, Sabine Palliere’s misuse of punctuation constitutes an instance of blasphemy that is all the more insidious when one considers that there are marvelous poets born in stinking caravans or high-rise slums who do have for beauty the sacred respect that is so rightfully owed.

To the rich, therefore falls the burden of Beauty. And if they cannot assume it, then they deserve to die.

Now, I do not necessarily want to encourage grammar snobs to take up arms and riot against the abuse of the comma, but she does have a point. I confess that I have a similar opinion reserved for those “pundits” who claim to speak for the masses, yet cannot speak clearly or correctly (and refuse to learn when to shut up), as well as certain political leaders (turned pundit and/or author) whose speeches are merely a string of colloquial phrases that together make no sense. But, I digress… 😉

No, the entire novel is not an ode to grammar. There are plenty of other topics covered including philosophy, Russian literature, French and Japanese culture, film and cats. So, really, there is something for almost everyone to appreciate, especially the story of an unlikely friendship, which is the true gem offered. I am eager to read more now, so I will stop here and wish you (all three of you 🙂 ) a Happy Grammar Day and a good writing and/or reading weekend. I will return soon, I promise.

I am sorry that I have been absent for so long (if anyone was looking)…Let’s just say that I hit a speed bump, not a block 🙂 But I do know that the first rule of writing is: Sit Down and Start! and that if at first we don’t succeed, try, try…you get it. So, here I am tired, humbled and maybe a bit more determined. Today is the first day of the rest of my yadayada…
normal_book1jkrfanAnd what a great day in literary history it is! Joanne (K) Rowling was born today, July 31st and she also gave her famous protagonist the same birthday, so some people call this Harry Potter Day. I don’t know if they need their own holiday (?) but it is a good day to apply pen to paper and get back into the flow.
Personally, she is one of my inspirations as far as success stories and admiration of style and skill, as well as, darn it, personality. When I first discovered the Harry Potter books, I was a single mother, struggling through a bad separation and divorce, temporarily living at my parents and waiting tables while also trying to finish my degree and maintain a healthy relationship with my 5-year old son. My British, reading-teacher mother actually bought the books to read to him while I worked dinner shifts, but reading at bedtime was one of our Favorite Things, so one night I read a chapter to him, then could not stop after he fell asleep. I had to go back and start the wondrous journey all over. Despite being tired, stressed and a literature major for goodness sakes, I was enthralled. That was in 2001, the boy is 13 now, and we love all things Harry Potter.
I admit to being a bit of a fan, as in fanatic, when it comes to Rowling and her amazing Wizard World. Hearing her own story only cemented my obsession. {btw: if you have not yet seen the documentary A Year in the Life with JK Rowling, you can view it on the ABC site.  i cried. } She was at a low point in her life, divorced with a young child who depended completely on her and an idea for a story that apparently would not leave her head (a feeling I know well). I think that millions of people would agree with me when I say, “Thank God, she wrote it down.”
I believe that her story, both the fictional and the biographical one, epitomize the answer to the struggling writer’s question “Why write?”  A: You never know, it may just change the world.

ADDED Aug 7: Since I have been in a Potter mood this summer and the books are always fun to read, I am definitely signing up for this challenge at Galleysmith. If you haven’t read the series yet, well, of course I recommend it! And if you have, then you may want to listen to the audiobooks, which is accepted for  the challenge. You have almost a year to complete it and yes, there are prizes. But, of course the biggest reward is the joy of reading, right? 😉  Sign up by August 15th to be entered for the prize drawings!

Obama book I have to admit I was happy to get an opportunity to participate in a blog tour through MotherTalk for the New York Times‘ Young Reader’s Edition of Obama: The Historic Journey. This book is definitely going to be a staple in libraries across the country, but it is also a great addition to home libraries. All of my kids were surprisingly interested in it, though they mostly wanted to see the pictures of the President when he was a baby [always a fascinating image for kids]. They are all here, the snapshots of a young unknown collected together, some of which have become familiar after being shown during the campaign. Though there is a bit more text than the preschoolers are used to listening to, it is an easy to follow mini-bio and narrative of his life, career and campaign written by NYT managing editor Jill Abramson.  My middle-schooler also browsed the pictures more than anything, but I would not be surprised if he turns to this book as a reference in the future. Above all, it is a collection of photographs taken by NYT staff of Obama’s rise to the public eye, from before the campaign all the way up to the Inauguration, many of which are stunning and inspiring. The layouts include highlighted quotations and a few charts. Some of the controverisal topics are discussed, including his absent father and his “father figure” Rev. J. Wright, but the facts are told simply and, I think, offer parents a chance to discuss such topics with children if curiosity arises. There is also an “Adult edition” available which includes texts of some of the Times’ columns and editorials focused on President Barack Obama’s journey. Personally, the junior edition is enough for me, because a lot of the info is old news at this point, and because it skips a lot of the politics and gets to the heart of the story: an American boy, with odds stacked against him, worked hard and dreamed big [with all that audacity] and achieved great things with support from his family and country.

The #amazonfail tweet-a-thon is still going strong. Amazon is calling the whole thing a glitch and there are several conspiracy theories floating around. I think they are trying to cover their assets because they really did not expect to get such a backlash. The thing is several authors have been reporting these issues going on for months and there are reports that Amazon employees stated that certain books deemed too adult would be kept from the searchable rankings. But now it is a glitch. Right…I am no techie, but the glitch theory is bunk [“why it’s not a glitch” is explained quite technically HERE]
The only theory I am partial to is that a puritan hacker/Amazon employee created the term-specific-glitch, which still makes it censorship (even if it is not authorized). But that’s still pretty weak because it does not explain why people were being told in February that their books would not be listed in the sales rankings. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has been covering the story well and  DailyKos has a good round-up of info and posts. Meanwhile, this hilarious chart from the National Coalition Against Censorship illustrates the recent buzz:

This is not over, even if they think they can whitewash it and move on. A boycott of Amazon has begun and several petitions are available upon request. I personally don’t use Amazon, and recommend independent stores and sites like BetterWorldBooks [link on sidebar!]. One of the things that turned me off of Amazon in the first place was that they seemed to be taking so much biz from the stores. I had to create an account at some point when I received a gift certificate [which I still haven’t used!] but now I can’t figure out how to delete it…Let’s hope we see a surge in bookstore sales now.  BTW: Powell’s Books, a very established indy store also has a discount going on…on tweets its being called the #amazonfail discount, but the folks at Powell’s are a bit kinder than that. Here’s how they put it:

#powellswin deal!

At Powell’s, all books are created equal. We hold this truth to be self-evident. Whether any given title is deserving of a wide readership, we leave that decision to you, our customers. In the spirit of such freedoms that perhaps we too often take for granted, today we’re offering friends a special, winning deal.

    Just enter the code “#powellswin” by 11:59 pm (Pacific) on Thursday, April 16, 2009, and you’ll save 20% on your order of $20 or more.

Coupon valid online only, not in our stores. This discount cannot be combined with other offers. Offer not valid on eGift Cards. Limit one coupon per customer.

So, go buy a book! Anywhere but Amazon…

I know I talk about writing and books a lot more these days, but when I first began this blog, I was often ranting about media issues, and I was “dedicated” to fighting censorship and the demise of print media. So, this topic tweeked my ire last night and now I return to my roots:

In case you haven’t heard, there is a huge controversy going on about Amazon’s ranking system which is suddenly [from some accounts drastically] dropping sales rankings of books which they deem to be “Adult” in nature. No, we are not talking the smutty books which honest people used to have to go to dark rooms in the back of “those stores” to purchase. Some of the books being affected include feminist books and especially LGBT books. I am reading what I can, before I pass too much judgement, which is always recommendable, but from what I have read and seen, not surprisingly, Amazon is bowing to the puritanical pressures which have been dictating what we are supposed to read, watch and think for about as long as we have been here. I don’t really use Amazon often, and some arguments in the comments are that they “can do what they want with their sales rankings” but this reeks of censorship to me. If books are being bought they deserve their rank. And how are they deciding what is too “adult”? Which seems weird to me anyway… Because most books are written for adults and there are some pretty hot scenes happening in plenty of hetero romance novels. Once again free speech, literacy and the pursuit of happiness are being hindered based on what other people think is appropriate? Anyway, I need to read more, but you can follow it on Twitter, hash #amazonfail or at Jezebel here and here or …A brand new update at NYTimes I am going to read now…

I am apparently not writing a poem today, just surfing and recovering from the sugar overload. And sharing stuff with others, too…Here’s a good list to check out:    10 Best Writing Books on Editor Unleashed
http://editorunleashed.com/2009/04/08/the-10-best-books-for-writers/
I am so glad I have some of these 🙂 It is a good sign.

March appears to be going out like a lamb, so I guess its time to wake up and officially come out of hibernation. I have been missing the blogosphere, but haven’t been able to force a post out lately. When we get a round of flu, it takes a few weeks for the whole crew to recover and of course Mom ends up cleaning and caring for everyone else, even when she’s down and out. So, I have found it hard to do more than a quick look at some sites and multiple rounds of mind-numbing Scrabble. I did sign up recently for another reading challenge. This one is called Diversity Rocks! and focuses on adding new cultures and authors of color to our reading lists. It runs all year if anyone else is interested, and there are several “levels” of participation.

Speaking of challenges… April is bringing many to the web including Script Frenzy from the makers of NaNo. I considered trying this one because I thought it would be a good way to quickly learn about scriptwriting. NaNo was a fun experience, but it kicked my booty too, and I know I will have a raging case of Spring Fever by Earth Day, so maybe another year. I did, however, find a couple handy links just-in-case. If anyone else is thinking of trying their hands at writing 100 pages of screenplay, play script or TV shows [apparently graphic novels are also included in the Frenzy, but I don’t have links for that style.]:

Screenwriting.info

Screenwriters Utopia

Stage Affair– offers an e-book on play structure when you sign up for newsletter

I still would like to try my hand at playwriting someday…I am more of a one-act stage person than screenplay writer I think. I used to like reading plays though I never did any theater stuff myself.

Anyhoo, rather than the call of the stage, I am returning to an old love and taking up the Poem A Day Challenge happening through Poetic Asides, the  Poet’s Market blog from Writer’s Digest. April is Poetry Month and I have always had fun writing my own ditties. Each day a topic or prompt is posted on the prompt and participants add their words right in the comments. It makes for some interesting reading…often hilarious.

Just to add to the fun, I am planning on combining this challenge with NaBloPoMo again. ..why not? I need to stretch my muscles. I like writing poetry, but have to add the universal disclaimer that daily poems written for fun may not always be considered “art”…there are so many ways a poem can go and sometimes it gets out of control. But what a great way to celebrate spring!

BTW: I also wanted to share this with folks because its just so exciting [it doesn’t take much for me :)]… after our discussions on books made into films, here’s one I wasn’t expecting and yet apparently have been waiting all my life to see, because now I cannot wait. Obviously, the storyline is getting changed in this one since the original is about 100 words or less. Maurice Sendak certainly had a way of proving the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.” His classic book said so much in so few words, and spoke volumes to millions. Or perhaps it was just the imagination running away with us. Enjoy!

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Share a Story - Shape a Future

I just learned about this blog, just in time to share before the festivities begin. This week, Mar 9-13 there is a blog tour  happening which concentrates on children’s literature and literacy. Anyone interested in kid lit, whether as a writer, teacher or reader, will find a plethora of information there. Each day is hosted by a different blog and covers a different theme/topic. I got the heads up through The Reading Tub whose blog is hosting the first day. There will be related downloads and giveaways too. As a mom, I look forward to gaining some insight into teaching the skill and love of literature to my own kiddos. As a writer, I think we can probably gain some insight into what children’s literature encompasses and how to write for young audiences. Either way, encouraging literacy in the new generation is beneficial to our culture, future and anyone who loves books.

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