Tag Archive | CBC

Off the Shelf – Bookish Bits

Listen here.

I’ve had a very ‘bookish’ few day…my colleagues and I hosted the seventh annual Write Stuff at the Saint John Arts Centre last week. We hosted about 120 students from six different high schools and launched our sixth literary magazine. This is an event that always reaffirms for me the power of the written word and that students want to share their thoughts with others.

I also attended the Eclectic Reading Club’s soiree last Wednesday night as the guest of Dr. Stephen Willis. For those who don’t know, this club is the oldest of its kind in Canada – established in 1870. It’s not a book club per se, it’s more like a throwback to the time when entertainment consisted of gathering in the warmth of someone’s drawing room chatting, and listening to readings, perhaps sipping a cup of tea or a glass of sherry. On the night I attended, the theme was pirates and privateers and those of us gathered listened to some interesting historical true-life accounts of pirates both close to home and in seas far away. It was a lovely evening. Everyone dresses up, there was the promised hot chocolate at the end of the evening and I saw people I haven’t seen in many years and met new friends. Other than that, of course, what happens in the eclectic stays in the eclectic. Top secret.

We’re only about six weeks away from the end of the school year and I am already thinking about the fall. I am very lucky to be offering a new course at Harbour View called Young Adult Literature. Like how could I not be excited about that?

The rationale behind offering a course like this is to give students who love to read an opportunity to read outside of the traditional English class and to, perhaps, make the experience slightly more authentic. I don’t mean to imply that what happens in traditional English classes isn’t authentic learning because it is – but when I‘ve finished reading I don’t write an essay or make a poster. Mostly what I want to do is talk about the book with someone else, maybe write a review so I can try to articulate my thoughts on paper. YAL is really my go at encouraging students to read widely and to share their reading experiences with others and to hopefully set them on the path to becoming life long readers – because truthfully that is what I think is the most important part of my job.

It’s pretty exciting to be thinking about a course devoted to a genre that actually had a fairly rocky beginning. Where does YA start? Think back to your own beginnings as a reader – not the books that were read to you, but the first books you selected on your own. In 1971, librarian Mary Kingsbury commented that librarians were acting like “frightened ostriches” with regards to accepting the notion of books for a young adult audience. By the 80s though, the genre was staring to take hold and names like Robert Cormier and Judy Blume were more familiar.

sehinton

Photo of a young S.E. Hinton from Penguin

It would be impossible to offer a course like this without revisiting where the YA movement – arguably –  began: S.E. Hinton’s classic The Outsiders. Is there a person on the planet who has not read this book?

 

First of all – The Outsiders is 50 years old this year. Like – doesn’t that make you feel ancient? I really do remember reading it as a kid in the 70s. That’s a million years ago – so that’s the mark of a powerful book, a formative book.  S.E. Hinton was just 16 when she wrote The Outsiders because she said “there wasn’t anything realistic being written about teenage lives.”  It was published when she was 17.  Theoutsiders novel tells the story of rival gangs in Oklahoma the greasers and the socs – the socials. It’s a simple story, really, about Ponyboy Curtis and his best friend, Johnny, but something about those characters really resonates with young readers and when I recommend the book to students who haven’t read it – the reviews are unanimously favourable. S.E. Hinton said “Teenagers still feel like I felt when I wrote the book, that adults have no idea what’s really going on. And even today, that concept of the “in crowd” and the “out crowd” is universal. The names of the groups may change, but kids still see their own lives in what happens to Ponyboy and his friends.”

thatwasthenHinton wasn’t a one-trick pony(boy) haha either. Her second novel That Was Then, This is Now, is actually better than The Outsiders, in my humble opinion. If students have read The Outsiders – and a lot of them do in middle school, I always suggest That Was Then as a follow-up. Most of them have never heard of it and again – they always like it. It’s about two childhood friends, Bryon and Mark, whose lives diverge when one chooses to go down a different – more dangerous –  path than the other. I loved this book as a kid. Loved it. And for students who’ve loved The Outsiders, Ponyboy makes an appearance – although this novel is not a sequel.

So, I am going to spend my summer thinking about the course. There will be lots of room for self-selection, of course, the only time someone else chooses what I am going to read is for book club or when I am doing a review for a third party. That said – I have read so many amazing YA novels over the past few years, and btw, by 2014, 55% of YA novels were purchased by adults – and I am looking forward to sharing these titles and talking about them with my students.

Gearing up for another reading year

Listen here.

So, a new year means a new year of reading and there’s nothing I like more than flipping my calendar over and anticipating all the great new books that might cross my path. A lot of my reading friends sign up for reading challenges and there are lots of them out there if you’re looking to expand your reading horizons.

Pop Sugar offers up a great list of suggestions for its reading challenge – everything from “a book set in a hotel” (The Shining, anyone?) and “a book with pictures” – here’s your opportunity to read a graphic novel. There’s also an advanced challenge which includes “a book over 800 pages” or “a book recommended by a librarian.”

Book Riot offers up the Read Harder Challenge  for people who want to challenge themselves to up their reading game.

Goodreads also offers a reading challenge. If you are already a member of GoodReads, you’ll know this one. There’s no list to follow, you just set a reading goal – I’ll read 50 books this year- and then track them. 50 Book Pledge offers the same sort of thing, if you’re just interested in tracking books read. It’s kind of cool to see them all on a shelf and you can give yourself a part on the back when you reach your reading goal. I didn’t actually set a goal last year – I didn’t want the pressure, but I managed to read 60 books in 2016. Yay me.

If you are at all interested in directing your reading a little bit, or try reading new genres, just Google Reading Challenges 2017 and everything from reading Austen to reading the alphabet will pop up.

Another thing I like about the new year is the buzz around new books…not that I need any new books, mind you, but I still enjoy the potential for new books.

Some particularly intriguing book titles include:

little-heaven-9781501104213_hrCanadian Nick Cutter aka Craig Davidson is the author of the very disturbing novels The Deep and one I read a couple years ago called The Troop. His latest horror novel Little Heaven is getting a lot of buzz. It’s about three hired guns who go to rescue a woman’s nephew from a remote New Mexico settlement called Little Heaven. Stephen King said it scared the hell out of him and that he couldn’t put it down. I almost chose this book for my book club, but I didn’t want to freak my reading friends out. I can definitely vouch for Cutter, though. The Troop is total squicky fun and I will definitely be adding this one to my tbr list.

Fans of Paula Hawkins novel The Girl on the Train will be delighted to know that her second novel Into the Water willintowater be hitting the shelves in May. All I can tell you about it is that it features a single mother and her daughter whose bodies are discovered at the bottom of a lake. I’m not sure that The Girl on the Train was the best of the bunch of thrillers that came out over the past couple years. If I were you, I’d add Claire Macintosh’s killer I Let You Go to my list…but since I’ve already read it, I’m looking forward to her second novel I See You.

Non fiction readers should be on the look-out for Sherman Alexie’s collection of essays and poems about his mother, with whom he had an emotionally fraught relationship. It’s called You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and it’s due out in June. Before you read that, though, I encourage you to read Alexie’s amazing YA novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian. Not only has it win lots of praise, it also has the distinction of being one of the most challenged books. It’s so good.

And most exciting of all, Celeste Ng’s follow up to Everything I Never Told You – my absolute favourite novel of 2016 – will be out at some point this year. There’s very little information about it other than the title, Little Fires Everywhere, but when it comes out it’s going straight to the top of my reading pile.

all-the-bright-places-jktAs for YA – because you know I am always on the lookout for the next YA book I can gush about to my students…I am going to cheat a little and suggest you add a book to your reading list that I have already read. That book is Jennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places. It is the story of high school seniors Finch and Violet who meet at the top of the school’s bell tower. They are both at dark places in their lives, but Finch manages to talk Violet down. The thing, though, is that Violet is beautiful and “cheerleader popular” and Finch is, well, kinda odd. Nevertheless, this shared experience and a school project throw them together and they become friends and then more than friends and OMG, this book will give you all. the. feels. It deals with mental health, grief, bullying, family dynamics…and it is so beautifully written. And it’s going to be a movie. So excited.

Niven started out writing general fiction and All the Bright Places was her first YA novel. Her second YA novel Holding Up The Universe also sounds terrific.

Finally, one more YA book you should add to your TBR list: A Step Toward Falling byastep Cammie McGovern. It’s the story of what happens after super smart Emily and a football player called Lucas fail to stop an attack on Belinda – a young adult with developmental delays – at a high school football game. Emily and Belinda take turns telling their story and the voices are pretty awesome. It’s  a ‘message’ novel without being preachy and would certainly be a welcome novel in any classroom library.

Good luck with your reading list. I’d love to hear how you make out.

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Listen here.

Okay, I admit it, with one exception, I haven’t even started Christmas shopping yet.  I think I must need a little bit of snow to get me in the holiday spirit.  That said, I thought I would offer up some gift suggestions for the book lovers out there.

For the teenage boy on your list:

winger-smithWinger by Andrew Smith

Winger is the story of fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West, a super smart kid who attends a ritzy boarding school in Oregon. Now, although I am neither 14 nor a boy, I think I can say – based on my day-to-day dealings with them that Smith accurately captures the vernacular of the species.  Ryan Dean is so smart he’s already in Grade 11. He’s a good kid, but he’s been moved into Opportunity Hall, the residence where the kids who have gotten into trouble live. (He got caught hacking a teacher’s cell phone so he could make long distance calls.) He places rugby, thus his nickname) and is in love with his best friend, Annie. Smith’s book is filled with all sorts of cartoons that Ryan Dean draws as a way of sorting out all his feelings about just about everything. This book won loads of awards, but I should point out that there is loads of swearing (although Ryan Dean would never swear out loud, he’s writing so he can) and sex talk (although nothing super explicit.) More importantly, Ryan Dean is kind and sensitive and is just trying to do the right thing, even when he does exactly the wrong thing. Beautifully written, well-drawn characters. This is a winner.

For the teenage girl on your list:

Vanishing Girls – Lauren Oliver vanishing-girls-jacket

Lauren is a well-known YA author. She penned the Delirium series, but Vanishing Girls is my first book by her. This is the story of sisters Nick and Dara and the aftermath of a terrible accident. It’s told via dual first person narratives, police reports, diary entries, illustrations etc  so there’s a bit of a multi-genre approach.  Nick and Dara are super close, but they are also very different and the novel tracks their relationship which post-accident has hit a rather bumpy patch. Dara has actually disappeared. Then, with the disappearance of another young girl, Oliver takes us down a full-on thrill-ride. It’s got a little something for everyone, really: mystery, suspense, a love-interest, family drama. And it’s well-written to boot. No real caveats for this one although it’s definitely for older teens.

achildofbooksFor the young reader on your list:

I recently picked up a beautiful book at Indigo – not really as a gift, but I think I know who I will give it to. It’s called A Child of Books and it’s by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. It’s a whimsical book about the love of books – so you can see how it would appeal to me. A little girl  takes the hand of a little boy and they wander together through their imaginations which are fed, of course, by books and words. It’s so pretty and positive. Maybe it’s the gift I will give to myself this year.

 

For the reader who’d appreciate a book by a local author: riel

I would suggest picking up Riel Nason’s sophomore effort, All The Things We Leave Behind. Readers might remember Riel’s first novel The Town That Drowned and her second novel is also very evocative of small-town NB circa 1970s. In this novel 17-year-old Violet has been left to look after the family business – antiques sold out of a purple barn up past Fredericton. I actually met Riel before she became a novelist – she was actually in the antiques business and so I worked with her because of my job with The Canadian Antiques Roadshow. Anyway, in this story, Vi’s older brother Bliss is missing and her parents have gone looking for him. This novel is a little darker than The Town That Drowned, but it will be  wonderfully familiar to anyone who has spent any time upriver.  Older teens could certainly read it, too.

567For anyone who likes poetry:

I can’t claim to understand the poems, but if you like poetry and you want a challenge – check out Robert Moore’s latest collection, Based on Actual Events. You might need to read it with a dictionary close by – but even without one, you’ll probably get some of Bob’s dry wit. For those of you who don’t know, Bob is a prof at UNBSJ and I am guessing you can pick up a copy of Based on Actual Events at Tuck, the story his wife Judith Mackin owns.

 

 

For those who like a suspenseful read: lastsept

The Last September by Nina de Gramont

This would be a great gift to give to someone who likes suspense with a little meat on its bones because it’s not actually a suspense thriller – even though it sort of reads like one. It’s the story of Brett who falls in love with her best friend Eli’s older brother, Charlie.  When Charlie is murdered  – no a spoiler – we learn Charlie is dead by the end of the first sentence, Gramont spins the story back in time to let us discover how Brett’s love story unfold. Our book club had a great time debating this one – especially when there was some dissention over whodunit. I actually wrote to the author for clarification and she wrote me back, too. It’s a great little book for a stormy winter afternoon.

 

2016adventcalendar_3Finally, plan for next year and order:

The Short Story Advent Calendar – I ordered this for my son this year. It’s a box of short stories you open one at a time on the days leading up to Christmas. Really cool.  And Canadian!

Order early, though

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Off the Shelf

Listen here.

litsy_logo_horiz

I’ve discovered Litsy. It started as an app for Apple but is now available for android and if any of you are book nerds (and, really, if you aren’t what are you doing here?)  it’s awesome…except for the whole it’s on your phone thing. Basically, it’s a community of passionate readers who talk about books – they share short reviews, or just general comments about what they are reading. Lots of pictures of cats and books because we readers love our cats – but basically a nice place to hang out. It’s very user friendly and the site tracks your reading – pages and books read, offers virtual shelves to store books and has a simple thumbs up/down review system. You also gain Litfluence points when people interact to your comments.

This is where I heard about a cool thing they do in Halifax and I would LOVE it if some local establishment would consider a similar thing. Good Robot, a local brewery in Halifax offers a silent reading night once a month. Patrons come with their books and at the appointed time the bar is silent and they just read – no conversation, no cell phones, just your beer and your book. Reading is such a solitary activity – but how cool would it be to share your reading with fellow bibliophiles before and after the reading period.

So I am back at Harbour View which means that I am reading a lot more YA again – I generally take a little break in the summer. So this morning I am going to share one terrific YA title and one general title, but both of these books were un-put-down-able.

let you goFirst up is Claire McIntosh’s novel I Let You Go. A mother is walking home in the pouring rain with her young son. Just at the road across the street from their home, he lets go of her hand and runs across the street. Out of nowhere, a car comes barreling down the street and hits the boy. From this point on, I Let You Go is a grab-you-by-the-throat suspense thriller that follows Jenna Gray as she goes to the Welsh coast to escape the tragic death and the police detectives, Ray and Kate, who are trying to find the driver behind the wheel.

Lots of these types of books out there these days, many of them being compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I guess is just a way to sell more books, really. I guess it’s a helpful comparison if you are a fan of suspense thrillers, but, really, not everything is going to be Gone Girl – nor should it. Anyway. I Let You Go works really well as both a police procedural and as a meditation on grief and then, the whole narrative turns on its ear and you’re left there going, hold on, what just happened. But in a good way. Nail-biting fun.

My YA title is All the Rage by Courtney Summers. I am a fan of Summers, who is a courtney-summers-all-the-rageCanadian writer and a while back I spoke about her zombie apocalypse title This is Not a Test. All the Rage is an important book because it tackles the issue of consent and victim-shaming. It’s about a girl called Romy who is raped by the sheriff’s son, but she doesn’t report it because she lives in a small town where most everyone is beholden to the sheriff and his wife, who owns a business that employs a lot of people. Romy is trying to sort through this horrible event, when she wakes up on the side of the road with absolutely no memory of what has happened to her and, of course, this causes tremendous anxiety, but it also further distances her from her family ( a very sympathetic mother and her equally lovely boyfriend) and a potential new boyfriend. I won’t be able to adequately express how important this book is because it tackles a lot of issues that young women cope with every day: the right to say no. The right to dress the way they want and still say no. Bullying. It’s just hot-button topic galore. It’s won just about every prize known to the world of YA, if you care about that sort of thing. It’s timely and gut-wrenching, but I think it has a place on library shelves.

 

 

The Dog Days of Summer

Listen Here.

Want to live longer? Apparently all you have to do is read. According to a study that will be published in  the Sept issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine  “reading doesn’t only help us to tolerate existence, but actually prolongs it,”  and that “that people who read books for 30 minutes a day lived longer than those who didn’t read at all.” The study looked at the reading habits of about 3500 people aged 50 and older and discovered that readers lived, on average, two years longer than non-readers.

Of course this is great news for people like me because I read every day – clearly in a bid to prolong my life, but also because I stubbornly refuse to leave this earth until all the books on my tbr shelf have been read. I figure I’m good until at least 140.

So there’s no time like the present to make reading a part of your regular routine – like yoga for the brain. Read the entire article from The Guardian here.

At the start of the summer I talked all about the books that I was going to try to read this summer, including the entire Harry Potter series. Yeah, not so much. I did read The Chamber of Secrets and I am currently reading Prisoner of Azkaban and there is no question of the appeal of these books but I am, for obvious reasons, finding them young. I know that as the characters get older, the themes will get darker and I will read them all as promised…but I am never getting through them all this summer.

I also said I was going to read Martin Short’s memoir I Must Say and I did read that. If you20604377 are at all a fan of Canada’s funny man, it’s worth a look. Apparently the audiobook is narrated by Short and although I don’t listen to audiobooks, I might have made an exception in this case because he does all his characters. In any case, I enjoyed reading about Short’s early life in Hamilton and his start in show business.  It’s a namedropping extravaganza.

But of the books I spoke about back at the beginning of July, that’s as far as I got. I got distracted by shiny new books and so I thought I’d offer some suggestions for the dog days of summer.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain ReidIm+Thinking+of+Ending+Things

So, Reid is a Canadian writer and this is his first book of fiction although he’s written a couple memoirs. This book is a total mind-you-know-what. An unnamed narrator is on her way to meet her boyfriend’s parents. In a snowstorm. As they drive, she catalogues their relationship and contemplates ending things. When they arrive at Jake’s parent’s house – which is in the middle of nowhere – things take a turn for the what-the-hell. It’s compulsively readable and totally strange. If you read this book, I’d love for you to tell me what you think happens.

The Crooked House – Christobel Kent

If you are a fan of the BBC miniseries Broadchurch, this is the book for you. It’s about a girl named Alison who, until she was 14, lived in a small British town called Saltleigh. Her life is irrevocably changed when her entire family, with the exception of her father,  is murdered. The police determine that it was  her dad that committed the crime. Fast forward several years later and Alison finds herself back in Saltleigh with her boyfriend to attend a wedding.  She has no choice but to start to examine the past and try to figure out what really happened. This is a slow burn, but it’s well-written and perfect for a rainy day because it can (and should ) be read in one go.

the-girls-in-the-garden-9781476792217_hrThe Girls in the Garden – Lisa Jewell

This book is about a woman who moves to a small community in London after her husband has a psychotic break and burns their house down. Which, would probably be enough fodder for a book on all its own, but that’s not really what the book is about. When the book starts the eldest daughter, soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old Grace,  is found bloody and unconscious in the community garden behind the house. Then the book sort of unspools the story of the residents that live around the garden…and the children…and what really happened to Grace. It’s a domestic drama that reads like a thriller.

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading 2016

Listen here.

So – it’s summer. I’ve got all this free time stretching out in front of me and all I can think about is – what am I going to read? It’s the perfect time to make a dent in my tbr pile and yet I keep buying more books. Ridiculous. I do have a reading plan and an anti-gravity deck chair…and an awesome new deck, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about what’s on tap for  my summer reading.

First of all, I promised my daughter, Mallory,  I’d read the complete Harry Potter series, which is 4224 pages. Yikes. I’ve actually read the first book and I’ve seen all the movies multiple times.

9780545162074_p0_v2_s1200x630Here’s a funny thing. The first Harry Potter book came out the year Mal was born and probably when she was about two I started to read it to her and I just couldn’t finish it. I just didn’t like it and she was too young. She was probably in middle school when she started reading the books on her own and I think she’s read the series a half dozen times or so. I subsequently fell in love with J.K. Rowling’s adult books, The Casual Vacancy and the Cormoran Strike books which she wrote as Robert Galbraith. (I’ve only read the first, The Cuckoo’s Calling.) I also think Rowling is an amazing human being – she gives away scads of  money, crazy amounts. Anyway, I will definitely be tackling Harry Potter this summer.

Here’s another book I should have read, but haven’t – A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of the time he spent living in Paris in the 1920s. I would say, generally speaking, that I am not a fan of Hemingway. I understand his place in the literary canon, but just not my cup of tea. Then I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It’s a fictional account of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their time spent in Paris surrounded by the literati of the day: Gertude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound. I mean, you can’t really call yourself a literature lover and not be a little bit intrigued by those people. I highly recommend The Paris Wife and after I finished it,  I bought A Moveable Feast and my friend Karen has chosen Hemingay’s novel For Whom The Bell Tolls as our summer book club on FB. So, looks like I’ll be reading two Hemingways this summer.

Then – on top of all this, I am going to try to make some room to read some fun stuff. I started Martin Short’s memoir I Must Say a couple nights ago. I’ve been a life-long fan and I can hear all his voices – Ed Grimley and Jiminy Glick –  in my head.

I also have a couple thrillers on my bedside table, Christobel Kent’s The Crooked House, for example.

Speaking of thrillers, if anyone out there is looking to read a highly unusual thriller I can recommend M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts. It’s a zombie apocalypse novel – not normally my cup of tea, but definitely worth checking out, especially if you like to read the book before you see the movie. Carey is quite a well-known writer of comic books, The X Men and Lucifer. The book takes place in the U.K. and concerns a heavily guarded compound where ten-year-old Melanie and other “hungries” are studied in the hopes of finding a cure for the world’s zombie problem. It’s quite a big problem, actually. Melanie is a wonderful character and the novel is action-packed, smart and kinda sad, too.

What are you planning to read this summer?

 

 

Off the Shelf – Should we let kids read what they want?

Listen here.

Um. Yeah. That’s the short answer. The long answer is a lot more complicated.

This is a topic we’ve tackled before, but it’s endlessly fascinating, isn’t it?  Just the thought of someone telling me what I can and can’t read gets my hackles up – but it’s an even pricklier subject when you start to consider younger readers. I deal with young adult readers every day and have a classroom library of more than 1000 books, several of which have been on a banned book list at some point, I’m sure.

According to an article in The Guardian, books are banned for all sorts of reasons including “Racism, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit scenes, gritty topics like suicide and drugs, and talking animals.”  C’mon, you’re going to tell me Winnie the Pooh is objectionable – some of my fondest childhood memories of are of my mom reading me Winnie the Pooh.

“According to the American Library Association, the most common initiators of book challenges are parents, and the most common settings for book challenges are schools, school libraries, and public libraries. In other words, we can assume that books are most frequently challenged by concerned parents, who believe materials are unsuitable for children or teens.”

Okay, we’re going to head down the rabbit hole now.

TwilightbookObjecting to reading material is subjective. I object to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series all the time – loudly – in my classroom, but I have the whole series in my library. My students know I think Meyer is a hack, but that’s about the quality of her writing, not about the subject matter and it’s a personal opinion.  If students want to read her books, they should read them. And then they should read other, better vampire books like Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Cold Town or the granddaddy of them all Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Young adult novels have definitely changed – but as much as things change they stay the same. So let’s have a quick primer.

Seventeenth Summer released by Maureen Daly in 1942 is widely considered the first ever YA novel. Fairly benign, certainly by today’s standards.

The first golden age of YA books happened in the 70s with novels by Judy Blume, Robert Cormier and Lois Duncan

Judy Blume’s novel Forever was an absolute a right of passage for anyone who grew up in the 70’s. The book has been on many, many challenged/banned lists since it was published in 1975, but as Ms. Blume says “How are young people supposed to make thoughtful decisions if they don’t have information and no one is willing to talk with them?”

Then there was a little lull before the baby boomers came of age in 2000. This second golden age in YA introduced readers to J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins and, yes, Stephanie Meyer.

If  you ask me whether or not we should allow young people to make decisions about what they read my answer has to be yes. Because let’s face they have access to way more potentially contentious stuff than what they’ll find in my classroom library, or the school library and they’ve got the power right in the palms of their hands.

And that’s really the crux of the matter. Books that are potentially controversial (and the range is crazy, Who Has Seen the Wind? for goodness sake)  are the exact books that are worth talking about because those are the books that will help young readers learn about their own limits and tastes and viewpoints and by deciding for them what those things should be we are taking away their right to develop into discerning and well-read humans.

I have been at Harbour View since 2009 and I haven’t had any issues with parents objecting to the books in my classroom. I post an introductory letter at the start of each academic year telling parents about my library and that some of the books might be considered ‘objectionable’ and I would certainly respect any parent’s right to prevent their teen from reading a book from my library – but why? It makes more sense to let them read the book and then, you read the book and then talk about the book together. That’s what I do in class. Talk about the books.

I read an article titled “The Not So Horrible Consequence of Reading Banned Books” where  psychologist Christopher Ferguson was quoted from the journal  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. He noted that “Reading banned books did not predict nonviolent or violent crime, or contribute to school GPA.” However, it was “positively associated with civic and volunteering behaviors.”  Ferguson’s research went on to report that “Such works can prompt readers to ponder ethical dilemmas, or — better yet — to discuss them with parents or teachers. In this way the books may foster higher-level thinking about these issues and promote more civic mindedness, even if the material is dark.”

And yes, there are some dark books out there. It’s a dark world. Burying our heads in the sand doesn’t make it any less dark. But I will say this – a book could save a life and Ferguson found that “It may be possible that youth with higher levels of mental health symptoms may select books that speak to them, offer them a chance for introspection, or a release from their symptoms.”

161426Allowing students to self-select reading material is important, but it is a skill and it starts at a young age. Read to your kids when they are young, take them to the library, talk about what they’re reading and read it, too. I know that when my daughter Mallory was about twelve she read a book called How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff…a book that I also read…quite an adult YA book and we actually did a mother/daughter review for my blog. Fantastic book and a powerful book for her and a book and conversation that we got to share. To me, that’s way better than any social media interaction I have with my kids.

Alice Munro talks about banning books, including her book Lives of Girls and Women here.