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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?

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!

I purposefully did not blog yesterday, though I kept thinking about it. A lot, in fact. It’s like I cannot stop now. I have a blogging addiction. I am sure it will not last too long, but I do want to avoid unnecessary blogging. After finishing out November doing both NaNoWriMo and National Blog Posting Month, I decided I should take a day off. But I cannot stop the mindflow, so here I am again. I am sure that I will eventually fall back into my non-pattern of random blogging. I have also been neglecting to add to my novel’s word count, but have not given up the story yet. I am eager, though, after a month of writing and researching, just to read for fun a little more.

I am definitely giving a lot of book gifts this year, especially to the kiddies. We are opening a couple early, because I cannot stand the wait and because I get to open presents for St. Nick’s Day [December 6th]: my British-born mother said so. {We leave out shoes and everything}

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Yes, btw, I am a Potter-head and I am still po’d about the Half Blood Prince film debut getting changed from November 21st to July ’09 [apparently they did not want the wizards to compete with the vampires or something]. And I need a fix. So, tomorrow I will be picking up a couple of copies of the latest gift from J.K. Rowling. I look forward to some relaxing indulgence, but I still want the one with the cool cover. Apparently Amazon has a limited number of collector’s edition remakes (not handcrafted by Rowling). Unfortunately that hundred dollar book will have to remain on my “I Wish” list.

I am happy that this particular work will delve a bit further into Rowling’s wizarding world, as in further back in the cultural history. The “Tale of the Three Brothers” you may recall, figured significantly in the last book of the series as a cross between children’s tale and clue-filled legend. Even then, I desperately wanted to read what they were reading. I still wish she would do “Hogwarts, A History” for us nerds.taleofthreebrothers

There are, of course, lots of events and hoopla surrounding the release beginning at midnight. If you live in NYC, or visit in the next month, you can view one of the original books at the NY Public LIbrary. You can get better info from the best wizard blog The Leaky Cauldron and well, pretty much all over the web. The best part about the book is that proceeds will benefit the Children’s High Level Group, which is the group Rowling helped found to aid European children, particularly those in the Eastern war-torn countries. So, I can feel good about my indulgence.

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