Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Personal Experience with Speak and Other Challenged Books

Reading everyone's stories about how reading a banned or challenged book changed their lives has inspired me to share my own story.

This is not information I share often or lightly. In fact, not even my little brother has heard this story before, and I can count on one hand the number of friends who know what happened to me that summer. So know that in sharing this with you, I am giving voice to how desperately important it is to give children the freedom to read what they need, when they need it.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson wasn't published until I was a senior in high school, but I wish I had that book for myself the summer after eighth grade. I had gone on a trip with some friends, and while my experience pales in comparison to what Melinda faced in the book, I was violated by someone I trusted. I felt hurt and alone and afraid--feelings I had never felt before in my life. My parents weren't there, and I found myself not knowing what to do. Luckily, there was another friend on this trip who convinced me to tell an adult what happened. My friend hugged me and told me it would be all right and then held my hand as I told someone who could help. I got counseling, I received love and support, and I was able to face what happened to me.

Not all teenagers have that same support system. And even if they do have that support system, they don't realize it's there or how to access it or what might happen if they try. What they do have are champions like Laurie Halse Anderson and Chris Crutcher and Walter Dean Myers and Ellen Hopkins. They have books they can hold in their hands. Words that are spoken and written for them when they can't do it for themselves. When kids don't feel they have someone they can lean on for support, they can find support in books. They can know they are not alone. They have a hand to hold and a voice of reason when their world feels like it's falling apart. And if they can discover this support system before anything bad ever happens to them? All the better!

By banning books, we are not protecting children. We are removing their support system. We are cutting them off at the knees before they even have a chance to stand. So the next time your child comes home with a book you don't think is appropriate for them, maybe you should ask yourself what information you're missing.
Why is my child reading that book? What does my child need from me? How can I work with that author to teach my child?
 Authors don't write books to subvert a parent's authority. A publisher doesn't spend money to promote books just because they what to shock people with how far they can push the first amendment. Books are written because there is a story to tell and an audience who wants and needs to hear it.

I finally read Speak about five years ago. When I found the courage to pick it up, I cried myself to sleep. I cried for Melinda, and I cried for myself, and I cried for all the girls who go through the same thing we did. But I also felt hope. I felt hope that somewhere out there, a girl was reading that book and realizing she wasn't alone. I felt hope that a boy was reading it and deciding to treat his girlfriend with a little more respect. I felt hope that a parent was reading it and understanding why some things make a child fall silent. I felt hope that a teacher was reading it and finding a way to reach a student who had fallen silent.

I am currently reading ttyl by Lauren Myracle, one of the most frequently challenged books of 2009. In all honesty, I'm not expecting this novel to change me the way Speak did, but I read it in honor of those who cannot read it because it has been taken out of their libraries or classrooms or bookshelves. I read it because some children aren't silenced because of a horrible experience but because a misguided adult has chosen to silence them before they can #SpeakLoudly.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Friday Five Revisted

Here it is, Tuesday, and I've almost finished my Friday Five challenge. I'm about half-way done with Once Was Lost by Sarah Zarr, which I'll finish tonight. I did have to make one slight adjustment: Matched by Ally Condie didn't arrive when I expected it, so I read Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima instead. I'm totally okay with that as I've been meaning to read Cinda's book since it first came out. I'll just have to read Matched when I get it.

I've loved reading all these books, but this experiment reminded me why I hated reading assigned books in school. While it exposed me to great books, I resented having to read them on someone else's terms. I know this was just a self-imposed assignment, but I would have much preferred to read these books at my own pace. I guess I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I'm tempted to let my reading list go untouched for too long.

Now on to my Banned Book Week books. What are you reading this week?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Words of Wisdom from the National Book Festival

Couldn't travel to DC to attend the most amazing celebration of books in the world? Have no fear! I took some notes for you.
"You might be writing about what you know, but in a very alien context... It's more about the truth you know."
—M.T. Anderson
author of Feed and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing
"This is for all the boys out there: It doesn't matter how terrible you are, how gross you are. You'll meet a woman, and she'll fix you."
—Michael Buckley
author of NERDS and The Sisters Grimm
"It's odd for me to be considered a writer. In fact, people used to go the other way and think comics cause illiteracy."
—Jeff Smith
author of BONE and Little Mouse Gets Ready
"They're usually not reluctant to read but reluctant to read the books we push on them... Remember the mantra 'The right book for the right child at the right time.'"
—Anita Silvey
former editor of Horn Book and author of 100 Best Books for Children
"How long does it take me to write a book? I wrote a book in the shower once, and that was a record... It just came to me all at once."
—Katherine Paterson
author of Bridge to Terabithia and The Day of the Pelican
What a great way to spend the very first day of Banned Book Week. As Antia Silvey said, it truly was a "joie de livres."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Five: Five Books in Five Days

I've kind of fallen off the reading wagon lately. While I've been busy with travel and writing and other projects, it mostly just comes down to being lazy. I didn't want to think about the books I was reading, so I just didn't read anything. But now my brain has turned to mush from too much TV. Thus, the exercise process beings.

I will read five books in five days, and you're going to hold me accountable. All of these books are books I should have read months ago, so I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I haven't read them yet.

My reading list includes:

Once Was Lost by Sarah Zarr

Everything Is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

Swoon at Your Own Risk by Sydney Salter

Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams

Matched by Ally Condie

And by next Friday, maybe I'll read my Bonus Book:
The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby

But that's only if  I read my two Banned Book Week books. So really that's seven books in seven days with a bonus book next Friday. Think I can do it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Read Banned Books

Nothing gets me fired up like talking about censorship. Stifling freedom of speech in this manner is despicable. It thwarts creativity and  prohibits critical thinking. Instead of allowing people--especially young adults--to make their own decisions about what they want to be and who they are becoming, restricting access to books and media decreases cultural understanding and whitewashes history.
"Our teens need us to be honest with them about the harsh realities of life. Knowledge protects them. Truth gives them power."
I am 100% apposed to forced censorship, but that doesn't mean people of any age should be reading anything. It is a parent's job (and to a lesser extent, a teacher's job) to help children select age appropriate books that challenge their reading level and get them thinking beyond themselves. And if a reader is uncomfortable with the content of a book they're reading (e.g. sex, language, violence), it's okay to put it down. But to comprehensively dismiss a book for an entire community of readers because you don't agree with its message is inexcusable.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
There are several ways you can speak out against book banning:
  1. Join the #speakloudly trend on twitter.
  2. Select a frequently challenged book to read.
  3. Add a widget or change your profile picture to your favorite banned book.
  4. Talk to your kid/parent/teacher/friend about your feelings on banning books.
  5. Challenge yourself to speak out about something you believe in.
For more information about Banned Book Week (September 25-October 2) and to find out what more you can do to speak out against censorship, visit the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom banned book website.

This year I'll be reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and ttyl by Lauren Myracle. What will you be reading next week?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Two Different Faces

Only one more day, and then I get to be with my sister Gwen, one of my favorite people in the entire world. We talk on the phone almost every day and keep in touch through blogs and facebook and emails, but there is nothing like being able to having her right there next to me on our adventures. I love talking to her and laughing with her and just hanging out with her.

But things haven't always gone that smoothly between us. We're not even two years apart in age, so we often got thrown together when we were kids. Our parents would make her include me in many of her adolescent activities, and I felt as if I was trying to come out from under her shadow all through high school. We argued about who had more ice cream, stole each others clothes and spent a lot of time trying to outdistance each other. We were your typical sisters.

I'm really not sure when all that began to change, but somehow the unbelievable statement "you don't want to be around each other now, but you'll be best friends when you're older" became a reality. Maybe it was while I was away for a year and a half as a missionary for our church and she was my most faithful correspondent. Or maybe it was when we began talking about books and movies and found out how much we have in common. Or maybe it was in the six months I lived with her after graduating college when we had time to get to know each other, not as little girls, but as the unique adults we had become.

Living so far away from Gwen isn't easy. Although we see each other at least three times a year, it never seems like enough. I can't wait to pick her up at the airport and give her a huge hug. I want to stay up all night and find out about everything she hasn't been able to tell me about over the phone. I want to see her new hair cut. I want to hear her voice in person. I want to look into her eyes to see for myself that she is well and happy and still my big sister.

God really knew what he was doing when he gave me my sister. It might have taken me a few years to figure it out, but I wouldn't trade her for anyone (or anything) else.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sick of Dystopian Societies and Boys who Bite?

I'm not opposed to sci-fi or paranormal or fantasy (I've read all the Twilight books and am working my way through Hunger Games), but you can read about every-day girls and find a powerful story. I miss reading contemporary series without all the hocus-pocus and futuristic elements. Sometimes I just want to connect with people who don't have to save the world.

Also, you don't have to have poor little rich girls or private school drama to have a good series, although a couple of the series listed here have some of those elements as well. I have included a few books with sequels that might eventually become series. These books are all for older teen readers.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
I loved this series the first time I read it, and I continue to love it seven years later.

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
These girls are the Sisterhood of the South.

Jessica Darling by Megan McCafferty
I can't think of a girl more different than me, but somehow Jessica Darling managed to make me understand her.

Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
This is my poor little rich girl series, but the main character doesn't stay downtrodden (or filthy rich) for long.

Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter
This is my boarding school drama series, only there girls know how to kick some butt.

Scarlett Martin by Maureen Johnson
Two books thus far, but I believe at least one more is on its way.

Lulu Dark by Bennett Madison
I sure hope this Prada-wearing Nancy Drew has a couple more books in her future.

I'm also giving the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison an honorary mention.