September 23, 2018

Banned Books Week Starts Tomorrow: "Banning Books Silences Stories"

I want to live in a world that supports a diverse range of voices, where everyone can find that story that speaks to them and inspires them to amplify their own voice. That's why I am against censorship and support Banned Books Week and the fight to keep challenged books on the shelves and in libraries.

The Top Ten Challenged Books of 2017 are:
  1. Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
    Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
    Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
  3. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
  4. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. George written by Alex Gino
    Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  6. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas
    Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug use, profanity, and offensive language.
  9. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
  10. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.
For more information, see the Banned Books Week website.

August 25, 2018

Review: Black Klansman: A Memoir

Black Klansman By Ron Stallworth
Available now from Flatiron Books
Purchased copy

One day, a nineteen-year-old guy who wanted to be a PE teacher applied to be a police cadet so that he could get his education paid for. Little did young Ron Stallworth know he would become the first black detective in the Colorado Springs police department, lead a successful intelligence investigation against the Ku Klux Klan, and go on to have a storied career.

BLACK KLANSMAN is the story of Stallworth's investigation into the KKK and various organizations that counterprotested them, especially the local Communist group. Stallworth has an interesting perspective on race relations as a peace officer. He is well aware of racism and other issues within the police. He reports things said to his face that white officers didn't even realize were offensive, and describes what happened when one of his colleagues shot an unarmed kid. At the same time, he believes in the duties of a police officer and in making a difference from the inside.

While the KKK are the villains of the story, Stallworth does not approve of terrorist action against the KKK. His goal in his intelligence investigation is to keep the peace within the community and protect the innocent. This is not a police story where a bunch of people go to jail in the end; however, it is one where no crosses are burned and no gay bars are bombed because of the police who infiltrated the KKK.

It's a compulsively readable story. Stallworth is not an expert writer (he thanks his English teacher at the end for helping him polish his memoir), but he tells what happened in a straightforward fashion. The simplicity helps keep the pages turning. There's suspense, such as the mounting tension in anticipation of David Duke coming to town. There's humor, as KKK members speak to Stallworth on the phone and make it obvious just how clueless they are. There's the horror of how David Duke in his suit and with his good manners made the hate of the KKK more palatable to the masses. The resurgence of the KKK under Duke, during the time period of BLACK KLANSMAN, has a direct line to the explosion of racism and fascist ideals in the US today.

In 2014, BLACK KLANSMAN was released without much fanfare from the small publisher Police and Fire Publishing. In 2018, it has been re-released from a Big Six publisher to coincide with one of the movies of the summer, BlacKkKlansman. I am thankful to Jordan Peele and the other filmmakers who saw the potential in the story of this once buried investigation and brought it to the forefront of the public consciousness. It's a fascinating story, and a reminder that all of us can act against hate.

January 16, 2018

Props to Ny'shira Lundy!

The Hate U Give Ny'shira Lundy, 15, fought to get THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas back on the shelves of Katy ISD schools.

It was removed late last year for "pervasive vulgarity and racially insensitive language" after the parent of a junior high school student complained. Lundy decided to fight for the book, organizing an official petition and speaking before the school board on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

"Like Starr, I’m a black female who attended a predominantly white prep school. I struggled to feel as if I could be myself. After reading her story, and seeing how she went from feeling like to she had to adjust to the environment that she was in, to feeling as if she had a voice and that she should be bold enough to share it, it made me feel confident, and as if I shouldn’t be afraid to embrace who I am."

Thanks to her efforts, THE HATE U GIVE has been reinstated in Katy ISD high school libraries.

I paid more attention to this case than the many, many cases of censorship in school libraries because I attended Katy ISD schools for Kindergarten through sixth grade. They're amazing schools with excellent teachers, funding for incredible programs, and overall competitive in academics. I have that strong educational foundation to thank for many of the things I've achieved. But I also have books to thank for the person that I am.

Books are a window to other experiences. They make our world bigger. And sometimes they have to depict the worst parts of the world to tell their story.

Congratulations to Ny'shira Lundy, congratulations to Angie Thomas, and congratulations to the students of Katy ISD. I hope there's a wait list at the libraries for THE HATE U GIVE.

For the rest of us, remember to read banned & challenged books. You can also explore the Banned Books Week site for ideas on how to support the ALA, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, The American Society of Journalists and Authors, Project Censored, and other groups supporting the right to read.

November 4, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Relief at the Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival, started by Laura Bush in 1995, has always had a mission of literacy outreach. One of their programs is Reading Rock Stars, which currently serves schools in Austin, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley.

The Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars program is a hands-on literacy initiative that sends nationally recognized authors into Title I schools in Texas to inspire young readers with dynamic presentations and send them home with the most empowering experience of all – their very own book. The Texas Book Festival funds and coordinates the author visits and donates the books to the children as well as a set of books to each school’s library. 

This year you can make a $15 donation at a register in a BookPeople Book Sales Tent to buy a book for a Reading Rock Stars student in Houston. For each book you buy, TBF and the Tocker Foundation will match with a book for an affected library (up to 500 books each), turning one book into three. See more at #TXBookStrong.

If you're going to the festival this weekend (November 4 and 5th), think about making a donation to help out kids affected by Hurricane Harvey!

August 29, 2017

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction

Paperbacks from Hell I enjoyed Grady Hendrix's HORRORSTÖR, a haunted-house story with a touch of satire. I am totally unsurprised that Hendrix is a fan of cheesy 70's and 80's horror paperbacks.

I remember checking those books out from the library as a kid, fascinated by the covers.

PAPERBACKS FROM HELL looks like a fun, informative read, and I can't wait to pick up a copy when it comes out on September 19th.

Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of two iconic decades, complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles. You’ll find familiar authors, like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, and many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Plus recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.


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