Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banned Books Week: The Giver

Yesterday I wrote a post about one of the books I read for Banned Books Week:  And Tango Makes Three.  You can see the post here.

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The other book I read for BBW was The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  I can't believe I had never read it before!  Well, it was published in 1993, which was a part of my "reading isn't cool" phase.  So that makes sense.  

The Giver is a story about a boy, Jonas, who lives in a utopian society.  Let me add a little note - I think this story is more about a negative utopia than a dystopia, because with dystopias, the community is bad.  I mean really bad.  With this story, the community is overwhelmingly good, but it has bad elements, therefore a negative utopia.  Anyway, Jonas's community is very structured.  People apply for spouses, and once given one, can apply for a child after a few years.  Only two children per couple - one male and one female.  The children are lumped into groups by their age, or rather by their year of birth.  Each year they have a ceremony, where the children become a year older, and are given new responsibilities, like volunteer hours.  Jonas is an Eleven, and is about to be Assigned to a job during the ceremony when he becomes a Twelve.  But Jonas's Assignment is totally different than any of the others.  

I don't want to get into too much detail here, because I'm not a fan of spoilers.  But there are some interesting things going on in this story, and in Jonas's community.  Some really great things and some really awful things.  So I can kind of see why someone would want to ban this book.  Don't get me wrong - I think banning books is wrong, and I think you should decide for yourself and for your own kids what you should or shouldn't read.  But this book speaks about some things that I don't even know how I feel about.  I mean, I know how I feel about some of it, but other things I'm a bit undecided.  So I can see how someone might think this is unsuited to the age group.  Unlike with And Tango Makes Three, the American Library Association didn't have a list of reasons why The Giver was challenged.  But I'm assuming that "unsuited to age group" was one of them.  (I know what a couple of the other reasons probably were, but I won't discuss them because they'll be spoilery.)

However, let me just say that I think that books like this help to get children thinking about certain issues.  I think that as long as they think critically about them - and that the teachers who might include these kinds of books in their curriculum try to touch on all sides of the issues, rather than just touting their own beliefs, or the beliefs that are included in the book - that kids will get a lot out of them.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Giver.  I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.  I love dystopias/negative utopias/speculative fiction.  So the story had me right at the beginning.  I'm unsure of the ending, and I know there were lots of symbols in the story, but I'd have to go back and read it again to really understand all of them.  The only (kind of) bad thing about reading this book - I had "My Name is Jonas" by Weezer in my head for a couple of days.  Not a bad song to have in your head, but still.  (And now you guys have it in your heads, too.  Ha!) But I loved the story and I think that I'll definitely want my son to read it when he gets to be a teenager (or earlier, depending on his maturity level).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Books Week: And Tango Makes Three

I finished my two books for Banned Books Week earlier than I thought, so now I'll have more than one post in a day.  It's an Autumn miracle!

I read And Tango Makes Three and The Giver for Banned Books Week.  I'll start with And Tango Makes Three, and then I'll do a separate post on The Giver.

Photo courtesy of
And Tango Makes Three is a children's picture book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and is illustrated by Henry Cole.  It's a true story about two male penguins who loved each other and together they raised a baby penguin from egg to birth and beyond.  It was published in 2005 and has been on the American Library Association's Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books List for each year beginning with 2006, and every year it has been in the number one slot, except for 2009, when it fell to number two.  The reasons that this book has been challenged have been listed on ALA's website as "unsuited to age group," "sexism," "anti-ethnic," "religious viewpoint," "anti-family," and "homosexuality."  Let's take these one-by-one, shall we?  Oy, this is going to turn into one of my infamous soapbox rants.  

So we'll start off with "unsuited to age group."  I'm not sure what the exact target age is for this book, but it's a children's picture book, so we'll say, um, birth to 8 and be generous?  I mean, kids don't actually read until they're 4 or 5 (unless parents do that Baby Can Read thing, which is a topic for another post, I think), but parents read to them.  And although I don't really read anything other than board books to my two-year-old son (he tears up the pages otherwise), many parents read these books to kids at all early ages, even while they're in the womb.  And by the time kids are 7 or 8 they're on to chapter books, I think.  I'm not sure exactly how this goes.  Give me a few years and I'll see what happens with my own son.  But anyway, it's a book for kids.  And yes, I can see how sexuality is not a subject that you really want to teach your kids until they're older.  But you can teach them about love, right?  Kids are taught about boys and girls liking each other, and thinking the other is cute; all that stuff is taught without a thought at a young age.  All that simply has to be said to teach homosexuality at a young age is that some boys like boys and some girls like girls.  Lots of people talk about the horrors of children learning about homosexuality in schools at a young age, and they always seem to think that this kind of talk has to include information about sex itself.  Sex doesn't come into the teaching of heterosexuality at a young age, so why should it come into the conversation when talking about homosexuality?  Besides, this book says nothing about the reproductive cycle except that the male and female penguin couples had babies of their own and Roy and Silo (the two male penguins) didn't, so their keeper gave them an egg to care for when it couldn't be cared for by its own parents.  I don't think this book is unsuited for the age group at all.

Next, "sexism."  How in the world is this sexist?  No, really, someone read this book and tell me how it's sexist.  I really don't know how it could be considered sexist.

As for "anti-ethnic," I really don't know what they're going with here.  There were people of all colors illustrated in this book as going to the zoo to see the animals.  I mean, there was only one type of penguin in the book, chinstrap penguins, but surely these people aren't claiming that it was anti-ethnic because there was only one kind of penguin represented?  I really don't know what anti-ethnic means, either.  But I found a funny blog post while looking this up:  And Tango Makes Three: anti-ethnic penguins?  They don't seem to know what it means, either.

"Religious viewpoint" is the next reason that this book has been challenged.  Now, does that mean that the book has an offensive religious viewpoint, or that the person who is challenging the book is saying that it is offensive to their own religious viewpoint?  It has to be the latter, because this book has no mention of religion in it whatsoever.  So I guess this person is basically saying that it has homosexuality in it, which is against their religious viewpoint.  Newsflash, people.  It's a free country.  And freedom of religion is one of the major freedoms in America.  Freedom to be whichever religion you wish, or to have no religion at all.  Your religion does not make the rules of this country.  No religion does.  So therefore, a book that does not go along with your religious viewpoint isn't going to be banned for that reason.  Sorry.

Moving on to "anti-family."  I wrote a whole post on this a year ago, aptly called Soapbox Rant.  Basically I talked about how many politicians talk about "family values" as if their opponents, or people in the other political party (they're Republicans talking about Democrats, mostly) don't have any type of family values.  It's quite ridiculous.  Just because some people don't limit a "family" to a marriage of one man and one woman and their biological children doesn't mean they don't have a sense of what family is, and it definitely doesn't mean that they don't have morals.  And Tango Makes Three is all about family.  It's about a not-so-typical penguin family, but the overwhelming, blatant theme in the book is family.  So this reason for challenging the book does not make sense at all.

And finally, we have "homosexuality."  Yep.  They're homosexual penguins.  So this reason makes sense, but I still think it's wrong.  First of all, banning books is wrong.  Decide for yourself what you want to read to your children.  If you don't like it, don't read it, and don't let your kids read it.  Second of all, the fact that something contains homosexuality does not make it bad.  You disagree with homosexuality?  I think you're going to have to get over it, because it's not going away.

Deep breath, rant over.  And Tango Makes Three is a sweet story about family and love.  The illustrations are cute, and the story itself is warm and fuzzy.  The fact that it is a true story makes it all the more wonderful.  I, for one, think we need more books like this for children, and I will definitely be reading it to my son (once he gets over that whole tearing-book-pages thing).

Pottermore and Banned Books Week

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Now that all of the 1 million beta testers have been sent their Pottermore welcome emails, I thought I'd reveal what I can't believe I hadn't already posted on here:  I'm in Ravenclaw!!!  I was so excited, even though I thought that I would be in Hufflepuff.  I mean, most of the online tests that I've taken have given me the highest compatibility percentage in Hufflepuff, with Ravenclaw being the 2nd highest percentage.  But those tests weren't made by J.K. Rowling herself, so I consider the Pottermore sorting quiz to be official.

I mean, I knew I wasn't going to be in Slytherin.  And I was pretty darn sure that I was too much of a wuss to be in Gryffindor.  But I figured I'd be in Hufflepuff, and also hoped that either it or Ravenclaw would become my house.  But now that I've been sorted, my allegiance is to Ravenclaw all the way!  Now I want a Ravenclaw key chain, a scarf, a pin for my computer bag; basically anything that I can find in blue and bronze.

My husband, by the way, who I assumed to be in Gryffindor, was sorted into Slytherin!  But I know that he's one of the good guys in green, and would never turn to dark magic!  ;)  (Yes, I realize how big of a dork I'm being right now...)

In other news, it's Banned Books Week!  In honor of BBW, I'm reading The Giver by Lois Lowry, and I hope to pick up And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson at my local library in the next couple of days.  I'll write a post on these books once I'm finished with them, which will hopefully be by Saturday, which is the last day of Banned Books Week.

So what house do you call home in Pottermore?  Are you happy with where you were sorted? And if you're participating in Banned Books Week, what are you reading?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Top 100 YA List

My friend Kate (a.k.a. Midnight Book Girl) did a post yesterday, where she stole a list of the top 100 YA books from this site: The Hopeless Bibliophile.  So I thought I'd steal it from her.  (I know, I know, it's a meme, it's not really stealing.)

Basically you've got this list (not sure exactly who made the list in the first place, or when it was made, because I think it's missing quite a few great YA books), and you indicate which of them you've read and which you'd like to read.  So I'll go with Kate's color-coding scheme:  those I've read will be in blue, those I haven't read but would like to read will be in purple italics, and those I don't really care to read will remain in black.  I'm pretty sure my list will be mostly made up of purple italics.  Oh, and my personal notes will be [bracketed in bold].  You can see Kate's list here:  Midnight Book Girl:  Top 100 YA List.

Here we go:

1. Alex Finn – Beastly
2. Alice Sebold – The Lovely Bones
3. Ally Carter – Callagher Girls (1, 2, 3, 4)  [Not interested in this series, but I'm interested in the Heist Society series also by Ally Carter.]
4. Ally Condie – Matched (1, 2) [I added the numbers 1 and 2 in there, since the second book is going to come out soon.]
5. Alyson Noel – The Immortals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
6. Anastasia Hopcus – Shadow Hills
7. Angie Sage – Septimus Heap (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
8. Ann Brashares – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (1, 2, 3, 4)
9. Anna Godbersen – Luxe (1, 2, 3, 4)
10. Anthony Horowitz – Alex Rider (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) [I'm interested in trying the first one at least.  If I like that one, I'll read the others.]
11. Aprilynne Pike – Wings (1, 2, 3)
12. Becca Fitzpatrick – Hush, Hush (1, 2) [I was told that I SHOULD NOT read this by one of my best friends, Courtney, over at Abducted by Books.  I trust her judgement, and she gave a very persuasive argument as to why the first book, at least, wasn't worth my time.]
13. Brandon Mull – Fablehaven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) [Alright, I've seen these books all over the place and I guess I'm willing to give at least the first one a chance, seeing as they have such good ratings on Goodreads.]
14. Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret [Just looked this one up on Goodreads, and the description had me with the first two sentences.]
15. Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments (1, 2, 3, 4)
16. Carrie Jones – Need (1, 2, 3)
17. Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth (1, 2, 3)
18. Christopher Paolini – Inheritance (1, 2, 3, 4)
19. Cinda Williams Chima – The Heir Chronicles (1, 2, 3)
20. Colleen Houck – Tigers Saga (1, 2)
21. Cornelia Funke – Inkheart (1, 2, 3)
22. Ellen Hopkins – Impulse
23. Eoin Colfer – Artemis Fowl (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
24. Faraaz Kazi – Truly, Madly, Deeply
25. Frank Beddor – The Looking Glass Wars (1, 2, 3) [I'll try the first one.]
26. Gabrielle Zevin – Elsewhere
27. Gail Carson Levine – Fairest
28. Holly Black – Tithe (1, 2, 3)
29. J.K. Rowling – Harry Potter (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) [Haha!  Finally something on this list that I've read and it happens to be my favorite series of all time!  Harry Potter FTW!]
30. James Dashner – The Maze Runner (1, 2)
31. James Patterson – Maximum Ride (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
32. Jay Asher – Thirteen Reasons Why
33. Jeanne DuPrau – Books of Ember (1, 2, 3, 4)
34. Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
35. John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
36. John Green – An Abundance of Katherines
37. John Green – Looking for Alaska
38. John Green – Paper Towns [I'm also interested in reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and also The Fault in our Stars by John Green.  I'm such a Nerdfighter.]
39. Jonathan Stroud – Bartimaeus (1, 2, 3, 4)
40. Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl – Caster Chronicles (1, 2)
41. Kelley Armstrong – Darkest Powers (1, 2, 3)
42. Kristin Cashore – The Seven Kingdoms (1, 2)
43. Lauren Kate – Fallen (1, 2, 3)
44. Lemony Snicket – Series of Unfortunate Events (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)
45. Libba Bray – Gemma Doyle (1, 2, 3)
46. Lisa McMann – Dream Catcher (1, 2, 3) [I'll give the first one a try.]
47. Louise Rennison – Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) [I'll try the first one, since my aforementioned friend, Courtney, liked it a lot.]
48. M.T. Anderson – Feed
49. Maggie Stiefvater – The Wolves of Mercy Falls (1, 2, 3)
50. Margaret Peterson Haddix – Shadow Children (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
51. Maria V. Snyder – Study (1, 2, 3)
52. Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
53. Markus Zusak – I am the Messenger
54. Mark Haddon – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
55. Mary Ting – Crossroads
56. Maureen Johnson – Little Blue Envelope (1, 2)
57. Meg Cabot – All-American Girl (1, 2)
58. Meg Cabot – The Mediator (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
59. Meg Cabot – The Princess Diaries (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
60. Meg Rosoff – How I Live Now
61. Megan McCafferty – Jessica Darling (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) [I was given the first one to read and review, and I don't plan on reading the others.  Not my kind of books. But I would like to read her other book, Bumped.]
62. Megan Whalen Turner – The Queen’s Thief (1, 2, 3, 4) [My friend Holly, over at Traveling Due West, gave the first one 5 stars on Goodreads.  So I'll definitely check it out.]
63. Melina Marchetta – On the Jellicoe Road
64. Melissa de la Cruz – Blue Bloods (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
65. Melissa Marr – Wicked Lovely (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
66. Michael Grant – Gone (1, 2, 3, 4) [Sounds a lot like one of my favorite books of all time, The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson, which I read in sixth grade.  But I'll give the first book in this series a try.]
67. Nancy Farmer – The House of the Scorpion
68. Neal Shusterman – Unwind
69. Neil Gaiman – Coraline
70. Neil Gaiman – Stardust
71. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
72. P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast – House of Night (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
73. Philip Pullman – His Dark Materials (1, 2, 3)
74. Rachel Caine – The Morganville Vampires (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
75. Rachel Cohn & David Levithan – Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
76. Richelle Mead – Vampire Academy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
77. Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson and the Olympians (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
78. Rom LcO’Feer – Somewhere carnal over 40 winks
79. S.L. Naeole – Grace (1, 2, 3, 4)
80. Sabrina Bryan & Julia DeVillers – Princess of Gossip
81. Sarah Dessen – Along for the Ride
82. Sarah Dessen – Lock and Key
83. Sarah Dessen – The Truth about Forever
84. Sara Shepard – Pretty Little Liars (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
85. Scott Westerfeld – Leviathan (1, 2)
86. Scott Westerfeld – Uglies (1, 2, 3, 4) [I added the number 4 in there, because Extras is technically part of the series.]
87. Shannon Hale – Book of a Thousand Days
88. Shannon Hale – Princess Academy
89. Shannon Hale – The Books of Bayern (1, 2, 3, 4)
90. Sherman Alexie & Ellen Forney – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
91. Simone Elkeles – Perfect Chemistry (1, 2, 3)
92. Stephanie Meyer – The Host 
93. Stephanie Meyer – Twilight Saga (1, 2, 3, 4)
94. Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees
95. Susan Beth Pfeffer – Last Survivors (1, 2, 3)
96. Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games (1, 2, 3)
97. Suzanne Collins – Underland Chronicles (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
98. Terry Pratchett – Tiffany Aching (1, 2, 3, 4)
99. Tonya Hurley – Ghost Girl (1, 2, 3)
100. Wendelin Van Draanen – Flipped

Yeesh.  That took a bit.  Of course, I was looking at the descriptions on Goodreads before I decided if I wanted to put them in purple italics or not, so that took some time.  So, as I predicted, the majority of this list is in purple italics.  51 out of 100 were in purple italics (want to read), 39 were in black (not interested in), and only 10 were in blue (already read).  But I assure you, I've ready many more books, and definitely some of them have been YA. Also, just because I left a book in black doesn't mean I'll never read it.  It simply means that I'm not really interested in it right now, but if someone has a compelling argument, I might read that book.

Some great YA books that I think deserve to be on this list:  Glow, by Amy Kathleen Ryan; Hourglass, by Myra McEntire; and Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins.  I'm sure there are several more that I've read that I would include on a YA best list, but I can't think of any at the moment.

In other news, I have finally caught up with the Vlogbrothers videos!  Now I've watched them all!  Hoo Ha Nerdfighters!  Now I'm going to go make a profile on their Nerdfighters website.  DFTBA to all you fellow Nerdfighters out there!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book 10/15, "Off the Shelf" Challenge

Yesterday I was looking at my book shelves and my husband came up to me and asked me what I was doing.  I told him that I was trying to figure out which book I should read next for my "Off the Shelf" Challenge, since I only have 4 months left to finish and I still needed to read 6 more books.  I told him that I wanted it to be kind of small, because I have a lot of other books that I want to read soon.  He randomly grabbed a book from the shelf and held it out.  It was small (120 pages), and it happened to be a book that qualifies for the challenge.

It was Night, by Elie Wiesel.  I grimaced and said, "But that's just depressing."  Handing it to me, my husband said, "Oh, just get it over with."  So I did.  I started it last night and finished it today, which isn't something that happens very often with me.  I have gotten faster with my reading in the past few years, but it still takes me a few days to read even the smallest of books, or even the quickest-paced, most engulfing reads (like Glow). 

For those of you who don't know, Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he, along with his family, was forced into concentration camps during the Holocaust.  Night is his first-hand account of all that he went through during that time.  Not the happiest of stories.  I knew that it was a true story going in, thus the "But that's just depressing" comment above.  But since I read so much fiction, I realized once I was a few pages into this book that I was treating it like it was fiction.  My subconscious was taking in these characters, scenes, and events and making me think that they were part of a fictional tale.  I knew it was a true story, but I flew through it, almost pretending that it wasn't true.  

I'm not sure if I'm articulating this well.  Let me just say that, while this book is not explicitly graphic, there are a lot of horrendous (and I mean horrendous) events mentioned throughout.  Some of which dealt with small children.  Actually, the first horrible event that is told in this story has to do with atrocious things happening to small children.  And my brain just kind of clicked, tricking myself into temporarily pretending that this was all a tale of fiction.  Occasionally something would happen and I would stop and think, "Whoa, that person was actually real.  And he actually did and said that."  But my mind would kind of shake away the thought and go back into novel-mode.

I'm sure my psychologist friends would say this was a kind of coping mechanism or something.  Something to keep me from thinking too hard about such a depressing subject.  I agree.  That's totally what happened.  I couldn't think too deeply about these things that he described, because I would unravel and then I wouldn't have been able to finish this wonderful book.

Now, here, I want to clarify something.  The fact that I couldn't think too hard about the events in this book in no way means that I think that this book was fiction.  I know it was what actually happened to the author.  I know that all of these horrible things (and countless others) actually happened to millions of people.  I think the people who deny the Holocaust or say that it was a hoax have got to be the most ignorant people in the entire world.  And obviously, it goes without saying that Hitler, and the Nazis, were some of the most evil, messed-up people in the entire history of the human race.

I also want to say that, although I am not Jewish and I do not have any direct link to people who were killed or persecuted during the Holocaust, the way I read this book was in no way trying to belittle what happened to them.  I will never know their pain, but I feel for them as strongly as anyone else.  I also do not wish to go against Mr. Wiesel's impetus for writing this book:  so that we don't forget, and so that it never happens again.  The fact that I couldn't think too deeply about the events in this book as I read it does not mean that I will forget what happened, or that I will ever tolerate anything similar.  The Holocaust goes against everything that I stand for as a person.  

And even though I couldn't bring myself to think about the events in the book too deeply, I always knew that it was a true story, and that it was a story that needed to be told, and one that I needed to read.  One that everyone needs to read.