Knowing When to Admit Defeat…

Though I continue to chip away at my 30 Banned Books Challenge, I have to admit defeat in meeting my thirty day time period. I fully intend to continue reading books from the list, and hope to be done by the end of the year. There was simply no way to read for the Awards that are my job and continue at the pace I was going. I still maintain if people were to read a week or even a month’s worth of Banned Books, we could overcome a lot of the prejudice towards these books. For that reason, I do want to complete my exploration.

Thanks, everyone, for your understanding.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: Banned Books Challenge #11

“I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll both be winning awards and being banned.” -Neil Gaiman

This book is the reason I think more people should read “banned books”. Alexie is honest. Brutally honest. Writers are often given the advice “write what you know”. His works have always shed light on a culture that few outside of it understand. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, he approaches his familiar subject matter from the perspective of a teenager caught between two worlds.

Arnold Spirit, or Junior, is a teenager living on the Spokane Reservation. All around him he sees despair. His father is a binge drinking alcoholic. His best friend is frequently beaten by his “mean drunk” of a father. His family is so poor he sometimes only eats once or twice a day. Born with brain damage, though smart, Junior’s entire appearance makes him standout and makes him a target for bullies, even the adult ones.

“The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up,” Junior’s math teacher, Mr. P., tells him one day. Mr. P tells him he needs to look for hope. He needs to leave the reservation. Junior tells his parents that night he wants to transfer to the nicer, white school twenty miles away from the rez. They agree without debate.

The rest of the book is a wonderful, funny, heartbreaking account of a young man split between two worlds. His decision makes him even more of an outcast on the rez. At his new school he is the poor “red” kid. A surprising talent for basketball helps to bridge the gap with whites, but creates a bigger problem back home and might even cost him his best friend. As well as clever and often humorous narration, the illustrations throughout really bring home the story.

From first crush/love to tragic losses, you want to be there with Junior through all of it. He is just that kind of character. He is honest though- about everything. He freely discusses drunkenness, masturbating, child abuse, violence, his issues with both the cultures he lives in, and a host of other topics that some might find offensive. The thing is, everything he says is true and it is worth reading. It is worth understanding.

Julie of the Wolves: Banned Books Challenge #10

I find myself at my first challenge with these posts in relation to my work. I have been reading steadier than my numbers would indicate, but it is book awards season. More specifically, it is Moonbeam Children’s Book Award season. I am reading and consulting with judges on some amazing books, from picture books to YA titles. As the official results have not fully been announced, I cannot share which ones I have had a chance to read over. Among all this work, I have not forgotten about the Banned Book Challenge, my reading is just a little more broken up because of my other books.

Now that is out of the way, onto Julie of the Wolves, a book I was very surprised to find on the list. This was assigned to me in elementary school.

As the story begins we find Miyax alone in the wilds of Alaska studying wolves. She has managed to survive using the training her father, a great hunter, taught her but she is struggling. After studying a particular pack of wolves led by an alpha dog she named Amaroq, she follows the lead of his son Kapu and is soon accepted as another cub in the pack.

Through flashbacks it is revealed that Miyax used to live with her father, Kapugen, but her mother died when she was young. Her father was then sent to war and she was forced to live with her Aunt Martha, a mainstreamed Eskimo, and take the English name Julie. Her attempts to fit into the new culture were awkward and uncomfortable. Her ray of hope came in the form of letters from a pen pal named Amy from San Francisco.

At thirteen, Aunt Martha arranged for Julie to marry Daniel, the son of her father’s friend. Daniel is clearly slow witted, but her father had approved. Life after marriage was somewhat tolerable for Julie, though her father-in-law is a mean drunk. One day, Daniel came home in a state, muttering about teasing by the other men, and raped Julie. Immediately after he left, Julie packed up some essential supplies and set off for San Francisco to find her friend Amy.

This is the scene most often cited in challenges. Until I reread it, I did not really think of it as a rape. It was a gross, violent act. Regardless, the actually rape is only a couple powerful, but vague sentences. George handles the subject matter quite well.

As her escape began, Miyax (she took back her name in the wild) got lost on the tundra and had to look to the wolves for help and the story is back in the present again.

She continues to live with them until she realizes it is hunting season for the humans. After a tragedy, Miyax knows she must leave the pack so they can survive. Her travels take her closer to land where humans are settled, so she builds what would be commonly called an igloo, though she never refers to it as such. Eventually, she is discovered by an Eskimo couple out hunting. After reconnecting with people again, she finds out her father is actually still alive. She is distraught to find out he has adopted the ways of the white men, even hunting from planes now.

In the end, Miyax/Julie stays in society and is forced to face the future the rest of her tribe must face- tradition vs. survival. It is a powerful and beautiful books.

ttyl: Banned Books Challenge #8

A young adult novel in text speak, especially since it was written in 2004, is clever. I am not a fan of the recent craze of Twitter novels told in 140 character increments , in my opinion, they are annoying. Lauren Myracle wrote a book for teens in their language. She does pretend she is writing the next Catcher in the Rye. She is writing a tween/teen book for girls who are going through what Angela, Maddie, and Zoe are experiencing.

The plot, as whole, was pretty good for teenagers. The constantly shifting crushes, social anxiety, and familial issues are pretty standard fare. There is the requisite heartbreak from a boy, teenage girl “BFF” fight, and other teenage drama. Those are very normal parts of life.

There is talk of the possibility of loosing virginity, kissing boys, underage drinking, and even religious discussion, the book deals with all these issues evenly. While one girl parties too hard and pays for it, another will not drink a drop. One girl might be always prowling for a boyfriend, while the other is into a new church. These three girls cover the basics. I would say junior high and high school students could read this book and not come across unfamiliar topics. From what I have read of the rest of the series, the issue and topics mature as the girls themselves do too. Parents might want to be aware.

The plot line involving the teacher seems to cause a lot of objections. Times have changed and sexual predators come in all shapes and sizes. It is part of the book many object to, but there is nothing wrong with showing examples in teen fiction of times when protecting yourself and blindly following an authority figure are not always the same thing. That is when they, especially girls, need to understand it. We have no trouble believing in plot lines as adults where characters struggle to overcome issues relating back to past abuse, but we think that adolescents and teens who might actually face these situations should remain oblivious to the fact such monsters exist?

In the end, what I found most telling about the controversy about this book was what book banning often comes down to- perception. I looked up reviews of this book online out of curiosity. All of the poor reviews came from parents who found it inappropriate and were appalled. Reviews from minors were all favorable with many commenting, “they sound just like me and my friends.” There has always been a generational gap between kids and parents, but books like this could actually help bridge it and be used as a forum for open discussion rather than automatic condemnation.

Kid’s Stuff: Banned Books Challenge #5, #6, and #7

Friday I went to the Children’s section of my favorite library to check out some of the controversial picture books and early reader books. I have always found it curious that people could actually find something in picture books that might necessitate banning.

#5 In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
First, when this was published in 1970, it was received a Caldecott honor. It also made most of the major children’s book lists that year, from the New York Times to the Library of Congress. Here we are, forty years later, while people talk about the moral bankruptcy of our times, and this classic is being banned? Where exactly does this magical “good old days” line begin and end?

I found the book to be amusing and certainly appreciated the dreamlike quality. Though I liked the more comic strip like illustrations, Where the Wild Things Are certainly remains one of my favorites from Sendak. So the kid is naked in it? He goes in and out of dough and milk, it is not entirely illogical. Read into the images what you will, but I highly doubt a four year old reading this will need Freudian therapy because he or she was read it.

#6 And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Though I had heard about the book for a few years, this was my first time reading it. Honestly, I thought it was going to be a clever little story for kids to introduce them to the idea of same-sex couples. And it was. What I did not realize, however, was the story is true. The events actually happened at the Central Park Zoo. Even better still was the fact the illustrations were adorable. I thought it was a very cute, sweet (and not at all heavy handed) children’s book.

People need to understand children take from a situation what someone wants them too. It is like the kid who cries, but only after his or her parent looks troubled or rushes in with sympathy. Even in traumatic situations that rattle adults, children can often cope and react more calmly if they are not first told how awful it is. Same can be said of children’s books like this. If your kid likes penguins and pulls it off the shelf and brings it home, all they know is it is a book about a family of penguins. An adult can either make it a learning experience about a family situation that might not resemble their own or they can read it once and take it back to the library with little or no comment.

#7 The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
I will say this for the book, it certainly is a tale for boys. Not to say that little girls might not enjoy it, but the underpants, fart jokes, and trouble making speak to most little boys I know now and would have been a hit with little boys like my brother when we were younger a couple decades ago. Personally, I thought it was very gross and highly absurd. I was reading the Polk Street School series as a beginning reader, a far cry from this. I will say that despite the gross humor and questionable actions of the boys, they did what was right in the end and even showed some ingenuity by creating and selling their Captain Underpants comics.

That said, I am not nor have I ever been a boy. Teachers and librarians see the proof all the time, if a boy stops reading between 1st and 3rd grade, they are significantly less likely to read for pleasure the rest of their lives. If a series like this keeps them reading and it is working for a kid, I say let the child read it and hope it is a phase. Every kid goes through all kinds of them, this one at least might lead to a lifetime of reading.