Friday, October 19, 2018

Voracious Readers

I've always worked with kids who have a lot of barriers around school in general and reading in particular. Sometimes it's language--13 years teaching ESL means I worked with plenty of kids who were fluent in Spanish, conversant in English, but really challenged by the literacy demands of grade level English classes. Other times it's a host of personal issues, from high mobility to frequent absences to ADHD to trauma in the home that makes it hard to give a rip about what's going on in the classroom.

I work hard to reconnect my students to the power of story. I have expanded my idea of what "real" reading is year by year, and now I push graphic novels, audiobooks, comic books, re-reading books, and reading online. If a kid re-reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid over and over, I let them, because re-reading is a great way to refine and build skills. I read aloud, I embrace students' right to abandon books, I bring in books that are way below and way above my students' age level, and I booktalk constantly. I'm able to get most kids to read SOMETHING, and most kids end the year reading more books than they ever have before. I treasure the times students tell me they stayed up late reading, or ask me for the next book in a series, or groan when I announce the end of reading time.

from Urban Threads

This year, there's been something different going on. Teachers were asked to offer electives in addition to our usual assignment, and while I ended up teaching an independent project elective, a number of kids had signed up for a free reading elective as well. So in each of my reading workshop classes, I have 3-6 kids (out of about 25) who are there because they signed up for that elective. This means that for the first time, I have students in my classes who LOVE TO READ.

It's amazing.

Seriously, I love all my students and I love what I do, but these kids who read constantly are just so dang easy to relate to. There's C., who sped through The Leaving so I could read it next, and wanted to talk with me about what made it so suspenseful. There's K., who asked me to point her to as many GLBQT themed books as I could. There's H. and L., who pass books back and forth between themselves constantly, J. who's reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A., who's reading Shogun, and M., who plows through fantasy series without even coming up for air. Two girls in my independent project elective were struggling with how to fill class time, as their projects are things they are mostly working on at home--so they decided to have a two person reading contest, with the person who reads the most pages in a month getting to pick a book for the other student to buy her.

I pull a book for a student, and they say, "Oh yeah, I loved that one." So points for me for knowing their taste, but I've rarely had students who had already independently read, well, anything.

I brought in the newest Carl Hiasaan book, Squirm and a kid gasped. GASPED. "I didn't know he had a new book out! Can I borrow it, please, please, please?"

I still have kids re-reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the Amulet series, and that is okay. But I also have students reading They Both Die at the End, Every Day, No Choirboy, Graceling, Unwind, The Hate U Give, Ball Don't LieScythe, and Code Name Verity. The books I love are getting checked out, talked about, and passed around. When we go around the room and share what books we're reading and how we like them, so many kids are rating their books 4 or 5 (because Goodreads trained me to use a five point rating scale for books!), which makes my reader's heart happy. It also serves as a great example for my less confident and enthusiastic readers. If your book isn't keeping you engaged, then get a new book, because BOOKS ARE AWESOME, and READING SHOULD BE ENJOYABLE.

A lot of book blog readers were probably kids like that when we were young, but I know some came to the love of reading late. Book fans are my people, but the fact that some of you didn't love reading when you were young actually gives me great hope that I can help some kids make that switch. These eager readers don't actually need much from me. They offer me the joy of a shared love of reading, and they elevate the mood and tempo of my classes. My calling is turning non-readers into readers, but it sure is fun to meet students who already fully identify as readers.

When did you really start to identify as a reader? What books, authors, genres, or experiences shaped that?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Even More Authors

I love author events. Hearing details about their process, seeing how much taller or shorter they are than I imagined, finding out the story behind the story, learning what their laugh sounds like--it's a deeply satisfying blend of celebrity fandom and a master course in writing.

This past weekend I got a double dose of this treat. On Saturday I attended a workshop put on by my state's English teacher professional organization. As part of it, they presented the Oregon Spirit Award winners with their plaques, and then the winners did an author panel as one of our workshop options.

The winners and authors were:
Picture book: Giant Pants by Mark Fearing
Graphic novel: Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence
Middle Grade: Snow and Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
YA: This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada
Debut: The Tragically True Adventures of Kit Donovan by Patricia Bailey

Not all of the authors were Oregon natives (Suvada is Australian!), but they currently make their homes here. I was VERY interested in hearing Suvada speak, since her book was chosen over Strange the Dreamer, which I love.

She mentioned that her book is, on one hand, written for people who want their science fiction to contain REAL science, and who have the background to know when the author is making up crap. She studied theoretical astrophysics at university, so...yeah. She has one of THOSE kinds of brains. But her books are also written to be thrillers, un-put-downable, with a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.

THEN she said something so remarkable I'm giving it its own paragraph and going all caps on you guys:


Isn't that nuts?  In a very, very cool and fascinating way?!?

Lawrence thinks and outlines in pictures; Fearing thought the picture are the hard part. Lawrence and Bailey like to take walks while they think. Fearing wanted to create a graphic novel featuring an Indian protagonist for his half-Indian nieces and nephews. Bailey wanted to write a middle grade novel that was set in a rural area.

They talked about tenacity trumping being more important than talent and how being an author is a job that extends far beyond "write a book, get it published." They agreed that "pursuing vigorous critique" was vital, and pointed out that by working with a critique group, they could use the errors and issues they see in others' work to improve their own. Finally, both Bailey and Suvada said they take quizzes as their characters. If you know your character's Hogwarts House, Meyers-Briggs type, and what kind of donut they are, you can be sure that the decisions they make really come from who they are.

They also asked us, as a roomful of teachers, what we most wanted to see more of, especially for our struggling readers. Immediate drop into action, I told them. More sports, another woman suggested. First person POV  feed their voyeuristic tendencies, added another. Latino boys. Snappy chapters. More graphic novels, please, please, please.

Ah, but I mentioned a double dose. I'd been unsure if I'd have time on Sunday to see Kwame Alexander, but as it turned out, I did, and I got to bring my daughter.  She was highly skeptical--little Miss "I only read books that walk a fine line between horror and thriller" did NOT think she'd be interested in an author who has written novels in verse about boy athletes. But he's amazing, so she ended up happy I'd forced her to accompany me. I was astounded to see how small the audience was, nothing like the crowd that turned up for V. E. Schwab just over a week ago. I decided it's because Schwab fans can stalk her online and drive themselves to an event, whereas Alexander fans might not even know authors go on tour.  But Alexander puts on a SHOW. I mean, the man travels with a guitar player. He reads, tells stories, makes jokes, shares his philosophy, and encourages audience participation. It was incredible.

The Crossover was turned down by 18 editors before it sold. It was something like his 22nd book, too, so it's not like he was an unknown. I don't see how anybody could have read it and not been blown away, but apparently they felt that GIRLS don't read books about BOYS, and BOYS don't read books of POETRY, so there would be no audience.

Joke's on them.

I just wish my admin had gotten his act together in time to get me a bus. I would have LOVED to show up with 30 middle schoolers. We would have been the audience Alexander (and his guitar playing friend) deserved.

Here are the books he read to us from or quoted from (that I know of!). Read them all, please.

Monday, October 15, 2018

TTT: Best Loved Libraries and Bookstores

With the delightful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish moving on to other things, TTT is now hosted by just one of their contingent, That Artsy Reader Girl .  If you want to quadruple the size of your TBR AND find a bunch of great book blogs to follow head on over and check it out!

The topic this week is: bookstores and libraries you've always wanted to visit.

But I'm pretty content with the ones I've already been to. I guess I'd like to see the lions outside the New York Public Library, but that's about it. 

Here then, are ten libraries and bookstores that have been important in my life. Since I've written more than once about the glories of my current home library, I'm not including it here, but rest assured, it is my all time favorite. 

1. The Capitol Hill branch of the Multnomah County Library system was my first library. I've written about it extensively before. I definitely trace my love of libraries back to this branch.

2. Similarly, Annie Bloom's Books was "my" first bookstore. I could walk there too, although it was a longer trek, and often my friend and I would ride our bikes. It used to be located across the street from where it is now, a fact I cling to as proof of how long I've been a customer. My parents were acquainted with one of the owners (the Bloom part), and in high school I swam with the sons of the other owner (the Annie part). They have a store cat, a black one, and it seems to me they always have, which must mean they purposefully replace each cat with another mellow panther. It's *cough* not the cheapest store around, but they have a wonderful selection. My tattered, beloved copy of The River Why came from Annie Bloom's.

3. Riga's English Language Library was one of the many bonuses of living in the capital city for a year with my husband, after spending nearly five years in rural Latvia in my twenties, long before reading online was an option. I can't find mention of it online anymore, but I could walk you there right now. It had limited hours and limited selection, and my library card was handwritten. It was made up of donations, I'm sure. I got the biography of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' lead singer there, and The Dogs of Riga, which was a trip, given that I was living in the neighborhood Wallender visits. I also borrowed The Grapes of Wrath from this library, for which I will always be grateful. While I'm talking about Latvia, I have to give a shout-out to the wide windowsill in my Peace Corps apartment, where I housed my bilingual dictionaries and the handful of books I'd brought with me or borrowed from friends.

4. I worked in interlibrary loans all four year I was in college. Middlebury College's library is called the Starr Library, which I always thought was a lovely name, even if it's just named for a donor. This was still in the era of card catalogues and metal stacks, though we used computers to track down and request books our patrons were looking for. My bosses, two women slightly older than my parents, were lovely and provided several of us with moral support and a place to get occasional home cooked meals.  I researched papers in the study carrolls (but had to go over to the computer lab to actually write them) and tracked down fiction from time to time--Atwood, Tolkien, and le Guin.  

5. After college, I spent some six months as a page for the Beaverton City Library, which was then housed in a former supermarket. It was a really pleasant job--fun coworkers, lots of books. I first heard the term "cyberpunk" while I was working there, and I learned about Sherman Alexie when a coworker and I saw Smoke Signals. I remember being amused by the whole hiring process--there was an alphabetizing test in which I had to organize a cart of books, and during the first week on the job I was loaned a car so I could go get my drug test done. I'm not sure how they would have handled having loaned me a car if I'd failed it, but it was probably pretty clear how unlikely that was.  

6. The Lion and the Crab was the name of a bookstore in the beach town we spent a lot of time in when I was growing up. I always remember the name because it was based on the owner's astrological signs, and my birthday lies at the cusp of Cancer and Leo. I usually just window shopped, but I do remember my big sister buying me a few books there for my eighth birthday--I want to say Understood Betsy and The Good Master.


7. Powell's City of Books is the main branch of Powell's, and still the best of all. I have spent hours and hours wandering the many diverse rooms before repairing to the coffee shop to make my choices. I've taken students there and watched their jaws drop, and I've taken foreign guests there and seen their awe. I feel like it's more expensive that it used to be, but honestly, that may just be because I'm more likely to be looking for current books, not focusing on finding those used books at amazing prices. I used to love their travel branch, housed under the stairs in Pioneer Courthouse Square, where you could get bilingual dictionaries, travel guides, and things like plug converters or luggage tags. But nowadays I'm more than happy with their suburban branch, a mere four miles from my house, with its spectacular YA section and frequent author guests.

8. The library at my elementary school was impressive to me not so much because of the books--the public library had a better selection--but for its design. There was a sort of terraced sunken living room area where we'd gather for the librarian to read to us, and there was a loft full of beanbags and pillows where we could read after checking out books. Lucky kids.

9. I'm all about supporting local, independent booksellers, but I have never turned up my nose at a big chain either. There was a Border's Books located just about halfway between the town where I first taught and the suburb where my sisters lived, and we used to meet there for coffee and a good browse. After I got married and also moved to that suburb, I would meet my friends from the town I worked in and we'd grade papers there. I also have to admit that I like my local Barnes and Noble, which is probably close enough to walk to were I less lazy. 

10. In fifth grade, I was in this class that gathered on Wednesdays, and several times we went downtown to the Multnomah County Main Library and did research. At the time, that meant learning how to use a card catalogue and how to request items from the stacks (although fiction was housed on the accessible shelves). It's a grand old building, and we loved both the old fashioned elevator and the wide, curving marble stairs. I haven't been in it for years, but I still feel a rush of affection every time I see it. 

BONUS: I really love my classroom library. I am super proud of it and how much I've done to make it responsive to my students' interest and reflective of who they are.  I spend way too much of my own money on it, which is a whole 'nother issue, but I'm willing and able to do so for now. 

CAVEAT: I know I am immensely privileged and fortunate to have always been surrounded by so many excellent bookstores and libraries, and that these are resources many don't have access to. Kate of A Backwards Bookshelf has an excellent post about this issue. I'm a big fan of First Books, which provides low-income schools deeply discounted a highly relevant materials, but even the many great programs that exist in the US to address "book deserts" do little to address this on a global scale.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon Prep

I've been doing the semiannual Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon for about three years now. I had to miss last spring's, which made me very sad, so I'm doubly excited for this fall's read-a-thon, which takes place on Saturday, October 20th. I'm also a bit nervous, because in the past 18 months or so, I've started to experience eye fatigue when I read too long. I'm hoping that by coming up with a good variety of texts I can break up my time into chunks and maximize how much reading I can get done in 24 hours.

That being said, here is my current not-so-short list of books to read:

Lily and Octopus
Muse of Nightmares

The Assassination of Brandwain Spunge
The Story of Owen

Green Card
The Poet X
Jazz Owls
Miles Morales
Getting Away with Murder

Hey Kiddo
(Muse of Nightmares qualifies here too)

Organized differently, this list of 11 books includes one graphic novel, two novels in verse, two nonfiction books, one adult novel, and five MG/YA novels. Which is a pretty good mix of material to keep me going even if I get tired. My usual strategy is to start the day with my longest book, so I will probably begin with Muse of Nightmares, then read a bunch of shorter pieces throughout the rest of the time.

As for the other important element, reading snacks, I will alternate cups of coffee with glasses of sparkling water mixed with OJ, and I will stock up on rice crackers and dip, carrot sticks, caramels, cookies, and soup broth (so it can be drunk from a cup instead of requiring tricky spoon maneuvers that could result in splashed pages). I will request sandwiches from my daughter in exchange for the fact that she will most likely have unfettered screen time all day (though I hope to persuade her to spend some reading time with me too). 

As far as my strategy goes, my time zone begins at 5 am. It's less than an hour before my weekday wakeup time, so I should be able to get off to a good start. I anticipate taking a mid afternoon nap (or maybe a mid morning one, depending on how my eyes are doing), then staying up past midnight. In past years, I've had to stop reading from exhaustion, but then I come back the next day to finish whatever book I was in the middle of. My first year I had a whole spreadsheet set up and I tried to do each hourly challenge, but I've come to realize that all I really want to do on read-a-thon day is read. So I will only check in between books, not on an hourly basis.

Friday, October 12, 2018

September in Review (Late! Geez!)

My Reading

# of books read: 11, including a record-breaking 3 re-reads
Best(s):(In which I tell you all my five star reads and make up categories so they each win something)**

Library Love: +6, so 105/60.
Beat the Backlist: +7, so 109/100
Goodreads: 135/52
Popsugar: +2, so 30/52
Discussion Challenge: +1, so  7/12 I did keep my vow from last month to read a bunch of the discussion posts, which was a blast. My own discussion was on banned books, which has become sort of an annual thing here on Falconer's Library.

**Though this month, only Vicious actually got five stars. Plenty of four stars though!

Bookish Events and Happenings

Things picked up here this month! I got to see V. E. Schwab at Powell's Books, which was great fun. I posted about it here.

I celebrated Banned Books Week in my classes and made a hallway display that I'm actually going to leave up for awhile. My favorite library was giving away a banned book if you took a selfie with their display, and the let me take two books for my classroom: Among the Hidden and a Spanish language copy of Paper Towns (Ciudades de Papel). I have two non-English speaking students taking my reading class as an elective this semester, and I'm trying to stock my library with some options for them.

 In addition to my library and local bookstores, I got to visit an independent bookshop called Artifacts in Hood River, which advertises "good books and bad art."  And oh my word, are they correct on both points. I think it's a local tradition to dump terrible paintings on their doorstep. If they're bad enough they put them on the wall with ten dollar price tags. They had a bunch of sassy magnets and cards and so on in addition to a pretty complete used/new book mix. I was able to pick up a few used books for my classroom, and some great cards too.

I also got deliveries from my Donors Choose project; three big boxes of sets of 2-4 books for student book clubs. Some were books I'd been unable to track down copies of at all, so I was super excited about them.

On the Blog

I posted seven times, which is becoming the norm these days. I'm not sure what I'm doing that's getting in the way of me blogging more. Well, it really helped when my kids had weekly events where I had to wait for them. My TTT post about my fall TBR got the most pageviews and comments. (I've actually read 2.5 of the books on that list already, which is probably a record for me and prescribed reading lists I make myself.)


Another lovely month, really. We've had great weather for the most part--I wear gloves in the morning because the steering wheel is cold, but by afternoon I'm in short sleeves. Early in the month I spent a full day (7 am until midnight) on an outing with my sister. For various reasons, she didn't get much Summer in her summer this year, so we tried to cram a vacation into a day. We took a hike, had coffee at two different places, picnicked in our car with a gorgeous sunset view, and yeah, went to that bookstore. 

I was pretty social overall this month--went to a trivia night sponsored by the library with a co-worker and her friends, attended another work social hour, took my niece* out for dinner, enjoyed a birthday brunch with a group of old friends, and started attending Latvian choir once a week. For me, that's quite a bit. 

And now we're so far into October that I had to erase some of what I wrote because I'd forgotten it happened THIS month. I hope you're enjoying your autumn, if that's what is going on where you live. 

*Different nieces, both awesome.

My monthly summaries are always linked to the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up on Feed Your Fiction Addiction, along with many other terrific blogs' monthly reflections.  Nicole usually puts together a fun scavenger hunt giveaway too, so go check it out!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

An Evening With V. E. Schwab

 I am lucky enough to live in a city with a big name independent bookstore (Powell's), and lucky enough to live four miles from their second biggest branch. I "discovered" author visits there a couple of years ago. I've been able to see some of my favorites, and even got to bring groups of students out when Margaret Peterson Haddix and April Henry made appearances. Last year though, I didn't see as many names I was excited about, other than Neal Shusterman, of course.

This year though--wow. I checked their event calendar, which I often forget to do, and couldn't believe how many great authors they have coming to my suburban branch alone. The calendar only goes out two months, but when I checked in early September I saw Kwame Alexander, Laini Taylor, Colleen Houck, Sy Montgomery, Dana Simpson, and V. E. Schwab. I immediately started campaigning my principal to let me bring students to see Alexander, let my daughter know I'd take her to see Simpson, and put Taylor and Schwab on my own calendar. 

I kept meaning to re-read Vicious before the event, and on Tuesday, two days before the event,  I finally got an ebook version on Scribd. I had forgotten a lot, so I still got to be shocked several times, and the story had lost none of its power. I wrapped it up Wednesday night and was ready to dive into the new book the next day.

Thursday after school I got a large coffee on my way home from work, swung by the house to eat a quick dinner, then made it to Powell's by 6:10 for Schwab's 7:00 event. I ended up with ticket 78, and there were a lot of people sitting behind me. Luckily, there was no boredom while waiting for her to speak, since I picked up Vengeful on my way in. I made good headway while sitting in a less-than-idea folding chair in a crowd of strangers, many of whom were dressed in the red, black, and white of a Schwab cover.

Schwab herself was diminutive, confident, cheerful and open.  (I suppose I'm just assuming about the last three there, but it's how she appeared to me.) Her work is so fierce and dark that I was almost surprised. Still, one recurring message of her work is to not dismiss the small and cute. An early question in the evening had to do with the increased role of women in this new book, and with the rage they feel and express, and how that might possibly tie into current events (remember, this was the same day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified).  She gave us this quote, and I thrilled when I encountered it in the book the next day:

"'Never underestimate an angry woman.'
'Never underestimate a woman,' amended Rios."

She talked about her OTHER new book, a middle grade novel called CIty of Ghosts (which you better believe I had her sign for my classes) and upcoming comic, a prequel for the Darker Shades of Magic series, and joked that once she had a picture book whole out, she'd be creating Schwab readers from early childhood on. Wait, maybe it wasn't a joke. The middle grade series, she said, would "start out scary and then get scarier."

There were several questions about process. She always has the end planned out, and says if she knows where her characters will end up, and who they will be at the end, she can then back-plan to figure out where they came from and how the developed. She writes by creating quick summaries of scenes, then expanding into slightly longer summaries, and as she goes, if a great line of dialogue or perfect piece of description occurs to her, she jots it down. At the end, she has a bunch of puzzle pieces that may or may not fit into the scene, and then she starts assembling them. It sounds like she has a really interesting and personal blend of careful plotting and wildly spontaneous drafting.

She told us that when she first submitted Vengeful last winter, her agent told her look, this is a good book, and most of your readers will like it, and if you want us to sell it we will. But I think you've grown a lot as a writer since the first book, and I'd love to see you push yourself further with this.  So she rewrote the whole damn thing. Instead of telling us more of Victor's story, she centered the book around the stories of Marcella, June, and Sydney, three women who had been overlooked, infantilized, pushed aside, and who are now claiming their power, each in her own way. It's very satisfying, I must say.

It was a great evening, and I didn't mind waiting over an hour for the signing afterwards because I still had that great book to keep reading. She was very generous about personalizing two books per person and then signing any others as well, and letting everyone take a picture with her. Celebrity culture is always so weird, but I can never resist getting books signed and author photos taken. In the picture I took it looks as if I'm a giant, or possibly as if we're in two slightly different dimensions, which of course is absolutely perfect.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just an Annotated List of Sixty of My Favorite Banned Books

I was inspired by Anne's TTT list of her favorite banned or challenged books, and went through all the links she provided of books banned or challenged most frequently in the past thirty years. Out of all of those, these books are personal favorites. There are plenty of others on those lists that I value (Dav Pilky has done more for literacy in this country than anyone), but today I'm just focusing on books I've loved.

I started out trying to explain why I liked each book, but quickly fell into snarky rebuttal of those who would ban it. I have to be so polite when I talk banned books in class, so I think some of my repressed spite about the topic leaked into this blog post. Sorry/not sorry.

A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck . Such heartbreak.
A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein  Silverstein's poems are always fun.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving Just read this in summer 2017--terrific book!
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle Dated, but I loved it so much as a kid.
Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez I've taught some gang kids, and this book was so educational for me.
And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole . This book is adorable and lovely and people who try to ban it are really revealing their inner soullessness. 
Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison So funny, and far less scandalous than that title sounds.
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume Classic. Judy tells it like it is.
Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher This isn't his strongest book, but it's still great.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison Yeah, dummies, it's bleak and awful because f*cking slavery was bleak and awful! (I don't mean YOU are the dummies; I mean people who'd ban this.)
Blubber, by Judy Blume This book disturbed the hell out of me as a kid because a) it made me feel guilty for relational bullying I did and b) it didn't tie everything up with a happy ending. And both of those are GOOD things for kids.
Deenie, by Judy Blume This might be TMI, but I learned that female masturbation was a thing from this book, and, well, yay. 
Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier This book is adorable, and people want to ban it because it doesn't pretend gay people don't exist. Idiots. 
Earth’s Children (series), by Jean M. Auel These books were 80% of my sex ed in middle school, plus I loved the story of plucky cave girl Ayla inventing fire and braids and domesticated animals.
Eleanor & Park written by Rainbow Rowell My love for this paean to mid 80s teen misfits in love knows no bounds. 
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury Wouldn't it be funny if a book about the evils of banning books got banned?  Actually no. It's not funny. Stop it.
Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going This has that hilarious/heartbreaking thing going for it. 
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes Maybe I hate this book. It sure is emotional.
George written by Alex Gino News flash: transgender people exist. Please don't ban this completely non-sexual, inoffensive book just because the protagonist is transgender. We don't need more trans kids killing themselves because society tretas them like garbage. 
Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen Who doesn't love a good "peeing on the electric fence" story? Book banners, I guess.
Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling Oh, come ON! 
His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman I do see why Catholics were kind of offended. But again, it's a fantasy. Don't take it personal.
I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas See what I said about George, and add to that the fact that Jazz is an actual person. 
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou Yes, this book is harrowing. It is also about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. I feel like that's a good message. 
In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak Cartoon toddler in bedtime story doesn't wear underpants. Um, have you met any toddlers? They are naked a lot. It's ok.
It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris. I think every kid should have access to kid friendly books about puberty. No awkward conversations, no unfortunate Google results, no playground misconceptions.
James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl Nobody has every claimed that Dahl is normal. That's why we love him.
Looking for Alaska written by John Green Green's debut is exquisitely Green-ish. 
Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich She gets minimum wage jobs and writes about trying to survive on them. Spoiler: It's f*cking hard to do so. I guess if you ban this book, nobody will ever realize that?
Ordinary People, by Judith Guest How I longed to see the Donald Sutherland/Mary Tyler Moore movie of this. Probably dated, but an honest look at tragedy, depression, and suicide.
Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi How dare she write of her own experience growing up in Iran during the fall of the Shah? Why, she might make us think of Iranians as actual people with inner lives, family ties, and general humanity!
Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett I gotta be honest; this book is kinda rapey, and it's not ever going in my middle school classroom. But it's also amazing. 
Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples Also never going into my classroom, because it's a full color graphic novel with sex scenes. Otherwise, this (yep) saga of an interspecies space family would be a great fit. It is SO COOL. 
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut My Vonnegut phase was about 25 years ago, so I don't remember this one well, but it's funny and anti-war and kind of wacky.
Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson I view this a bit differently today--it's very much centered around the white experience--but still love this very NW story that highlights anti-Japanese racism during and after WWII. 
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison I really, really, really need to re-read this. Toni Morrison is incredible, and I loved this book.
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson #MeToo, Laurie. Groundbreaking 20 years ago, and unfortunately still relevant.
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher Besides being one of the best titles ever, this is as great as all his work is. 
That Was Then, This is Now, by S.E. Hinton Oh, this book made me so SAD in 8th grade. 
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie Alexie, it turns out, has some major issues. This book, however, will always be one of the most tragic and humorous books around. 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain It's a classic for a reason, which is ironic since Twain made fun of classics.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain He attends his own funeral. He has zany adventures with Becky Thatcher and Huck. He is a rapscallion and self absorbed and manipulative and loving. He's a boy. 
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison I read this in college and was blown away.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker I've voted for about 20 different books in the Great American Read thing PBS is doing, but honestly? This one should win. 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon It was ground breaking in having an autistic narrator, and while it might feel a bit dated in its rep now, it was still a fun and fascinating read.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler Given how funny the title is, this is a surprisingly deep little book.
The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline Cooney Such a great premise. She sees herself on a missing persons notice on the milk carton. But she's not missing...or is she?
The Giver, by Lois Lowry A modern classic. I taught it to five classes one year, and ended up liking it better than before I started. THAT is a sign of a good book.
The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls A perfect example of how saying a book is inappropriate is such a slap in the face to people whose lives are portrayed in them.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood Hipster Wendy loved this book decades before any of y'all had heard of the show. 
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Let's deny racism and police brutality, because that will definitely solve the problem. I guess that's the thinking behind banning this?
The House of Spirits, by Isabel Allende What? Why? This list is starting to really get to me. I can only take so much magical realism, but this book is the gold standard.
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins Why yes, it IS violent and disturbing. It's about violence, exploitation, commercialization, and repression. That's kind of the point.
The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold Once again we have the "if we just don't read books about it, it will stop existing" school of thought. 
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton Stay gold, Ponyboy. Don't let people take away your right to be a greaser with an inner life and loving connections to others just because it messes with their elitist classist bullsh*t. 
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky  Nineties YA is not my strong point, since I was between teendom and teacherdom, but even I know and love this one.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien Yes, soldiers swear. And cry. And shoot people. War sucks, okay? 
Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume Romantic and honest.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee This book could be retired as The Book About Race for sure (maybe let some POC authors take the forefront?), but I love it for itself. 
Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher My favorite "vintage" Crutcher. He does such a good job with found families. 
What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones Novel in verse! Latina author! A teenager whose first crush doesn't end up being the Love Of Her Life! 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ban This Blog

(Not really.)

I kicked off Banned Books Week by reading Alan Gratz's Ban This Book. I've mentioned earlier on Falconer's Library how having Eleanor and Park yanked from our classroom libraries sent me in pursuit of more information about how to resist book challenges and got me all fired up about Banned Books in general. Since I am in awe of Gratz's Refugee, when I caught sight of this title at my local library, I couldn't resist.

Ban This Book is, ironically, squeaky clean. It's not even a middle grade novel, but is firmly in the children's book category, with a painfully shy fourth grade narrator who has dilemmas such as "My sisters are annoying!" and "The librarian makes me wait a week between renewals on my favorite book so other kids get a chance to read it too!" Still, you gotta love a protagonist whose response to a concentrated effort to "clean up" the elementary school library is to start circulating banned books out of her locker.

The main book banner, a bossy PTA mom in a pink tracksuit, seemed cartoonish in her prudery and self officiousness. The books that are challenged seemed for the most part to be older books that would no longer raise many eyebrows. And yet...there is something very frightening about the idea of someone coming in and enforcing their personal opinions on a public school library. One of my favorite moments is when Amy Anne's dad buys her a copy of her favorite book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, thinking that he's solved the problem. AA thinks about how she discovered this beloved book on the library shelf, and that while she's glad to have her own copy, now no other kid will be able to find it and make it their favorite.

The day after reading this book, I pulled a bunch of banned and challenged books off the shelves of my classroom library and talked about them with each class. I knew they'd be shocked when I held up Captain Underpants, confused when I held up Harry Potter, and giggle when I held up It's Perfectly Normal and Forever.

Last year my big message was that if you say a book is inappropriate because a character in it is transgender/has an alcoholic parent/uses profane language, what kind of message does that send to a child who is transgender, has an alcoholic parent, and is constantly inundated by swearing? This year my big themes were that while any parent can make choices for their own child, no parent should make choices for the community as a whole, and that if a book is offensive, or frightening, or goes against your values, than you have the choice of not reading it.

I also talked about that whole E&P incident, how parents cherrypicked the vulgar language in the book to "prove" to our principal why it didn't belong in a middle school. And how now that I've educated myself more about that, what I wish I could have articulated then--that the hateful language in the book is used by characters who are either abusive, or who are unaware of the whole story and heedless of the impact their words have. That the book shows that we don't always know what other people are going through, so we should give them grace and kindness, not ugliness and mockery. That if those words offend you, then they are doing their job. They were used cruelly in the book, not as something to emulate. I also talked about the need to read a book before clamoring for its removal. Anyone who's actually read Eleanor and Park knows what I just said. Anyone who's read Harry Potter knows it's about love and sacrifice and friendship, not devil worship.

My experience with E&P also led me to information about the correct way a book challenge is supposed to be handled. Amy Anne's school librarian, resplendent in polka dots throughout the story, attempts to remind her boss about the district policy, only to lose her job. This part was highly improbable--while a principal might want to move quickly to placate an angry parent, being told that they are violating board policy would slow them right down. And you can't just fire a librarian--she seemed to be a licensed media specialist, which means she'd have the support of the teachers' union. At any rate, I've since researched my own district's policy and am much better equipped to push back if there's a next time.

My students, as ever, grabbed the challenged and banned books as quickly as they could. Both copies of Forever and both copies of Eleanor and Park were checked out. Someone checked out This One Summer and someone borrowed George. One boy asked, red faced and smirking, if he could actually check out It's Perfectly Normal. He was still reading it during silent reading time today, giggling and showing bits to his friends at times, but also focused and serious at times.  (Side note: I loved books about puberty when I was that age. You don't want to have to ask adults, you don't even know what you don't know, you don't want to reveal ignorance to peers, and well, online sex ed quickly gets overwhelming and non-factual. A no-nonsense book is so helpful.)

Touting banned books makes me feel like a rebel, I must admit.  Banning a book is no proof of literary quality, but hey, neither is NOT banning a book. If there is merit in a book, if it can serve as a window or mirror, as a safe way to learn about hard things, if it can answer questions a reader is afraid to ask, if it can help a young person to find value in reading, then that book has a place in my classroom library. As I told one class yesterday, there is no place for 50 Shades of Grey, because it does none of those things. (Not that I would prevent any adults from reading it, or even prohibit young people from reading it on their own--just that it's not defendable in a classroom.)

I started my day with two "I read banned books" buttons on my lanyard, but handed them to students, one reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and one reading Speak. We read banned books.

image from here; buttons provided in many Oregon libraries

My Banned Books Week posts over the years:
Talking Banned Books with Middle Schoolers 2015
I Read Banned Books; Can I Let My Students Do the Same? 2015
Banned Books Week 2016
Flotsam and Jetsam 2017

Today's post was inspired by Anne of My Head is Full Of Books writing her TTT this week about challenged and banned books. She has a great list!