Sunday, September 29, 2013

In A Dark, Dark Room

This is the last of our featured banned books for banned books week this year. I have enjoyed reviewing banned books, and making people aware that this still happens. In A Dark, Dark Room was banned as too scary and/or morbid for children. Reading it brought back some fond memories. On this reading I saw that the author notes where the tales come from, something I didn't notice when I was young.

This book is also the perfect transition into our holiday theme for next month. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, so October will be a scary story or monster type theme for my book reviews. I am also thrilled because Alejandro was awesome, and agreed to review this book for me. I am very happy to bring him back as a Guest Reviewer.

Q&A with Alejandro

Was the book easy to read?
Yes! It was just at my reading level.

Did you read the book with anyone?
I read it to my Mom, and my little brother listened to a couple of the stories with us. He liked the teeth story. He thought it was funny. He thought the guy should use the toothpaste on the poster in the drawing for his yellow teeth.

What was the book about? 
It was a bunch of short scary stories

Do you like scary stories?
I do like scary stories.

Was the book scary?
No, it was funny. I laughed when I read the story: A Dark Dark Room. I was curious because it talked about a box and I wanted to know what was inside. It was a GHOST! I thought it would be creepy but it was funny.

Do you think the book might be scary to other kids?
Some kids might get scared, but I think they will think it was funny.

Which story was the scariest?
The boy in the graveyard. A man gave the boy a ride home. It was raining so he borrowed the guy's sweater. When the man went to get it back, his mom said he was dead for a year. The man went to the grave yard, and the sweater was on the grave! I thought it wasn't real, but if it was real I wouldn't take the sweater. I would leave it there.

Did you like the book? 

Would you tell other people to read it?
I would tell my friends to read it.

What was your favorite story in it?
The Green Ribbon. Because the guy that liked her kept asking her to take it off, and she would say NO! Then they got married he asked again. NO! Dying, now? Yes. Her head fell off!

I didn't think this story was scary. It wasn't real. She couldn't really breathe or eat if a ribbon was holding her head on.

Did the book have pictures? If so, did you like them?
Yes I liked them. I thought the ghost in the story A Dark Dark Room would be scary, but he looked hilarious! I laughed at the drawing of the ghost.

What are banned books?
When the government or a group of people don't like a book because it has bad words or scary things. They take it away so people can't read them.

Do you think books should be banned?
I don't like it! Maybe people shouldn't read it if it has lots and lots of bad words or is very scary. But people should choose for themselves. Choosing is better than banning. If it is banned and they haven't read it yet, then they can't see the book and decide if they should read it, or if it really has bad things in it. Let people read it first than decide.

This book has been banned because it was too scary for kids, what do you think about that?
They should talk to kids and see if it really is scary to them. I couldn't believe it, this book isn't scary, its funny!

Is this a good book for Halloween?
Yes because the stories are suppose to be scary and they have ghosts.

A big thank you to Alejandro for helping me review this book.  I was excited to find out that we have the same favorite story. I was always very curious how a ribbon could keep the girl's head on. I was glad to collaborate with you and look forward to doing it again!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Invisible Man

The unnamed narrator begins his story by telling us he is invisible. He looks back on his life as a young black man in the early twentieth century, and the struggles he faces. Through his life story we learn how he comes to the realization he is invisible to the people around him. Even when he succeeds, there is something that happens to make him question his identity, and if people truly see him and his accomplishments. This fuels the growing disillusionment with the people that he is involved with, who are trying to improve society and conditions for people.

Ellison uses symbolism to explain many of the issues facing African Americans in the 1950's. He covers poverty, class issues, education, medical abuses, Marxism, identity, and black nationalism. All you have to do is turn on the news to realize Invisible Man is not just a story about an event in American history, but is still relevant today.

Reasons Invisible Man has been challenged or banned:

  • Profanity
  • Violent images
  • Sexually explicit

A school district about an hour away from where I live in North Carolina banned this book last week. The school board banned it with a vote 5-2. It had been one of three books students could choose to read for an assignment. If parents thought their child couldn't handle the material, they had other books to chose from. One board member who voted for banning the book claimed "it had no literary value", which I found to be an outrageous claim.

 Fortunately, after a lot of bad publicity and criticism of their choice, from the community and the media, the board held a special session, and voted 6-1 to lift the ban on the book. They claimed that "it was a hasty decision" and "after speaking to educators they realized the educational value of the book". I am very pleased that the book was returned to the shelves after the outrage that followed. I wish that every time a book was banned communities could unite against these decisions, and change such outcomes.

I would recommend Invisible Man for several reasons. The style it was written in was very different from the typical novel of the time, Ellison did great things for the way literary works were written. Sometimes there was a little too much symbolism, but the imagery contributes to the book's timeless quality, and makes it applicable to many people. Anyone that has ever felt invisible, manipulated, or despaired at the way the system works will find meaning in this book.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Hunger Games

It is time to decide the tributes for the 74th Hunger Games. There are two tributes from each of the twelve districts that fight in a special arena, while the rest of Panem watches. And there can only be one Victor. Katniss volunteers to go in her sister's place as a tribute, in payment to the Capitol, for the rebellion that occurred long before she was born. Numb with the knowledge she will almost certainly be dead within a couple of weeks, Katniss does whatever she has to do, to survive the odds that have never been in her favor.

I really enjoy this story. Every time I read it, I have a hard time putting it down. Although the book maintains its momentum, Collins balances the action and violence with exploration of the relationships between the characters, their background, and their views of the government. It is a thought provoking and entertaining read. This book, and the whole series is on My Favorite Books list.

Why The Hunger Games has been banned or challenged:

  • Anti-family
  • Violence
  • Offensive language
  • Sexually explicit
  • Inappropriate for age group
  • Satanic and occult content
  • Anti-ethnic

I really don't understand, and perhaps someone can comment and enlighten me, what about these books is satanic, occult, sexually explicit, or anti-ethnic? Please share if you know what this is in reference to, because I have no idea. I do agree that it is a violent themed book. Some young people may not be ready to process this book, but I really think it is well done, and manageable for most people. 

Don't let the long list of some people's objections to the content of the book deter you from reading it. It is a gripping story that keeps you interested until the end. I also like the underlying themes of the role governments play, class and economic differences, and determining what you are willing to sacrifice for your own survival. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to immediately read the next book. It is a good series to introduce young people to the dystopian theme.

I highly recommend reading this book.

November 6, 2014 Update:
You can read my review of the film adaptation here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Adventures Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer is a mischievous boy, who is constantly searching for adventures. He often runs off with his friend Huck Finn to dig for treasure, visit the graveyard, become pirates, and many more exploits. Their actions often make them privy to dangerous information. They see a man murdered, see someone bury treasure, and hear threats against prominent citizens. Will they survive themselves?

Some of Tom's adventures are a little far fetched, but would have been any child's dream. Who wouldn't want to play at pirates and go swimming instead of being in school or church? I would have loved to persuade my friends to pay me, to finish my chores. We might all be tempted to hear what people had to say about us at our funeral.

Reasons Tom Sawyer has been banned:
  • racist comments
  • racial stereotypes
  • Tom Sawyer's questionable moral conduct

There are some racist comments and stereotypes in the book. These are an unfortunate reflection of society at the time the book was written, and of where the story takes place. Hopefully, this could be used to help readers understand why such comments are inappropriate, hurtful, and untrue. Banning the book, or editing those comments out, only allows us to pretend this never happened, which does not help anyone. Also, Mark Twain was actually an advocate for many minority groups, and was said to have acknowledged how his views changed as he got older and traveled, as most people's do. 

I thought it a harmless book. Some of Tom's adventures made me smile. I haven't read this book for many years. I remember liking it a lot. Perhaps, it is better suited to an audience Tom's age though. I can laugh at the terror and bravery Tom feels going into a graveyard at night, but would not feel the same about it as I would have at his age.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl

What would you do if you had to hide in an attic for two years? Anne Frank spent a lot of her time studying and writing in her diary. Her activities were limited because no one could know she was there. Anne was only thirteen years old when she went into hiding with eight other people in the Secret Annex. She had recently turned fifteen when their hiding place was betrayed to the Nazis. She died just before turning sixteen in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

First hand accounts are very important when reading about historical events. Many people do not intend for their diaries to be read by others. However, Anne had decided that she would publish portions of her diary after the war. While in hiding, she heard a broadcast on the radio asking for people to turn in their diaries and letters once the war ended, to document how people survived. She began making notes about what she wanted to publish from her diary. You can actually see her evaluate her actions and opinions with a more critical eye after making this decision. I wonder what would have been included if Anne had lived and published her diary, like she wanted to?

Reasons Anne's diary have been banned:
  • too depressing
  • sexuality
  • homosexuality

To this I would argue, it would be disturbing if people didn't find her diary depressing at times. Anne was a young girl hiding in an attic because she was born a Jew, and she was constantly afraid of being killed. Of course the reader is going to get depressed at times. Anne does write about discovering her sexuality, and is curious about her body. I think this is a normal part of growing up. Remember, she is age thirteen to fifteen when writing in her diary. Although she was very interested in love and relationships, this is not the only focus of her diary. Taking a few passages and obsessing about them does not do justice to her, or to her writing. We learn a lot about what was happening during the war, the availability of food, and public sentiment because of her. It is an important document of the Holocaust, and should be read, though I do think that her diary would appeal more to a younger audience.

This was one of the first books I read about the Holocaust, and I have read Anne's diary several times. I spent a lot of time studying the Holocaust, because I wanted to understand what happened to her. To read more about what happened to Anne, I would recommend Anne Frank Remembered: The Story Of The Woman Who Helped To Hide The Frank Family by: Miep Gies. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I am fairly certain most people are familiar with the plot of Harry Potter. I will provide a brief synopsis just in case. Harry is raised by his aunt and uncle, with whom he has an unhappy existence. When he turns eleven, he discovers he has magical powers, and is invited to a special school to learn to control his abilities. He makes friends, learns new sports, and discovers the wizard that killed his parents is trying to return to power.

The Harry Potter series is a fun read. You do have to read the entire series if you want to see the growth of the characters and appreciate all the plot points. When I was first told to read this book, the person recommending it said that it wasn't part of a series. The book is adequate as a beginning to a series, but not great as a stand alone volume. Most of the book is spent learning about the wizard world. We barely learn who Voldemort is, and the parts with him end quickly. Not what you would expect in a good vs. evil battle. So naturally, I was not very impressed. I have since realized the error, and do enjoy the series as a whole.

Reasons the Harry Potter series has been banned:

  • promotes witchcraft and the occult
  • main characters set bad examples
  • people won't take the issue of witchcraft seriously
  • too dark
  • promotes violence
  • promotes un-christian like values

I want to address some of these points. Harry Potter is not about teaching readers to use magic any more than Star Wars teaches people how to use the force. It is a story about a boy going away to school, yes a magic school, and the friendships he makes. There is also the classic good vs. evil plot. I think the story teaches kids to stand up for what they believe in, and to help each other accomplish their goals. I'll admit Harry is not a perfect person. I rather detest him at some points, but this is an excellent way to demonstrate character growth. Also, people don't identify with perfection. It is valuable for readers to realize that they, like the characters, will make mistakes, and they need to figure out how to deal with these errors. There are some violent parts throughout the story, and parents should use their own judgement whether or not their kids can process that.

The fact is, many children actually spent time reading, when they would not have, because of this series. I think it is great this series encouraged kids to read! Even if you think your kids can handle the violence or magical themes in the book, discuss it with them. Review the good points in the book too. Talk about what true friends are, studying for school, or the classic Hero's Journey themes. Books can be exciting and useful things when read and discussed.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brave New World

It is a world where everyone is conditioned to be happy in their caste, and their assigned jobs. If you experience momentary unhappiness, there is a pill for that. Diseases are taken care of during the gestation process, mother is a dirty word, and everyone is part of the all. The protagonist doesn't quite fit in. He recognizes all the trite phrases that people are conditioned to respond with. He doesn't like taking drugs to be happy, or the sports people participate in. He struggles to find his place in a uniform society when he is not the same.

Brave New World was about the idea of choosing what is more important to you. The freedom to live life how you choose, or safety. Removing all the problems has the negative consequence of removing true pleasure and happiness as well.

The characters were hard to like or get interested in because there wasn't much to them. I realize that was one of the points Huxley was making. There isn't much to interest you in a person if they are the same as everyone else. There are slight variances, but nothing really noteworthy in most of the characters' behavior.

There are only a few names the government assigns to people. I thought it was interesting that the names given are actually from famous figures. People that were involved with politics, economics, and technology. Some examples are: Lenin, Darwin, Ford, Rothschild, Marx, Napoleon, Diesel, and Helmholtz.

Some of the reasons this book has been banned or challenged are:

  •  anti-family
  •  offensive language
  •  anti-religion
  •  centers around negative activity
  •  sexually explicit scenes
  •  insensitivity
  •  racism
  •  making promiscuous sex look fun

I didn't care for the book. I didn't like the style of writing. Huxley took too long to get to his point. The way he wrote some of the chapters made it difficult to read, as they were broken up and choppy. I do think people should read it at least once, as a reminder of the need to periodically examine ourselves, and the society we live in.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Banned Books Week

*Some of the banned books I own

Banned Books Week is celebrated at the end of September, and this year will be September 22-28. In honor of this, I am going to have all the books I review on my blog this month be banned books. I hope this will highlight the variety of books that have been banned, and perhaps the absurdity of it.

Celebrated since the 1980's, this event is used to highlight censorship, and why we should have freedom to read different books. Typically books are banned in schools or libraries, although people have petitioned bookstores to ban them. The ALA(American Library Association) states that "when people are banning books they usually aren't trying to be malicious, they are trying to protect someone-- usually a child from the content of the book." My opinion is, unless you think your child cannot cope with the subject matter, have them read the book and discuss the content with them! I remember when I was a child, my parents would discuss with me the books I was reading. They would ask why I was reading the book, my opinion of it, and would have me analyze the content.

From my viewpoint, it is wrong for one person to censor what another is reading. I'm a staunch believer in personal liberties. You choose if you buy a book, or if you borrow a book from a library. You can choose not to buy or borrow the book. No one should be able to limit others' choices. Do not ban the book and prevent other people from reading it simply because it does not fit your world view.

I hope that the posts for this month will show the diversity of the books banned, and some of the reasons, when possible, why these books were banned. I appreciate when people tell me their opinion of a book, but not when they try to prevent me from reading it. Let me know what some of your favorite banned books are!

Some links for more reading about banned books:

*The books in the picture are: The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Tom SawyerBrave New World, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, The Diary of Anne Frank, Fahrenheit 451The GiverGone With The Wind, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, The Hunger GamesIn A Dark, Dark Room, Invisible Man, The Jungle, The Kite Runner, Lord of the Flies, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Upstairs Room, and Where The Wild Things Are.