Friday, 26 September 2014

Banned Books Quiz!

by Edge Author Katie Dale

This week is Banned Books Week in America, when libraries, bookshops and book-lovers unite to draw attention to the problem of censorship. It may seem surprising in this day and age but censorship is still rife around the world, with the USA “The Land of the Free” challenging over 300 titles in 2013 alone – and ironically one school in Texas chose this week to ban a further seven books.

Perhaps unsurprisingly “edgy” young adult books are among the usual targets of book-banning, and whilst there are more than a few complaints on religious or political grounds, often the complaints are raised in order to try to “protect” young adults from material the protesters deem “inappropriate”.

"Young adult is a big trend right now, and a high number of complaints are directed at those books," said Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association, which organises Banned Books Week. "There is a lot of pressure to keep teenagers safe and protected, especially in urban areas, and we are seeing many more complaints about alcohol, smoking, suicide and sexually explicit material."
Racism, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit scenes, gritty topics like suicide and drugs, and talking animals, are all listed as valid reasons for challenging books. I was baffled to find books as popular and famous as Anne Frank’s  “Diary of a Young Girl”, John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” and Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park” on this year’s list, with Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland previously in the firing line.

But young adult fiction often faces another accusation: that it is 'unsuited for age group'. Is this because younger readers are straying into the teen section? Or is it teens themselves protesters are trying to protect?

"Teenagers tell us that they like to read about what's going on," Stripling said. "They say 'what do they [adults] think we are?', as if teenagers remain naive and uneducated when facing these issues every day. The best way to protect them is to give them an array of things to read. If they are over-sheltered, they will enter the world without coping skills."

After all, what better way to first encounter such “edgy” issues than through the safety of a book, which has by its very nature in a way already been through a process of vetting, via agents, editors, and marketing teams before even reaching publication?

Ironically, of course it is often the very books that are banned that teens deliberately gravitate towards – after all, what’s more enticing than forbidden fruit? But if we succeed in banning teenagers from the books they enjoy, don’t we risk turning them off reading altogether?

I’d love to hear if any of you have encountered book censorship? Authors, have your books been censored either by editors or other gatekeepers?

Meanwhile, test your knowledge and see if you can guess the book that was banned or challenged from the complaint given in the Banned Books Quiz:

1) This parody of classic children's fairy tales replaces the traditional 'happy ever afters' with something else altogether... most of the characters meet gruesome endings. Unsurprisingly it regularly features on the American Library Association's list of banned and challenged books.

2) This 1975 novel tackles themes of teenage sexuality head on. One of the most frequently challenged books in the US because of the use of suggestive language, the detailed depiction of sex, and because her teenage character goes on the pill. "This is the first book I read simply because it had been 'banned'!" - Maarya, Newham Libraries.

3) With more than fifty million copies sold worldwide, this is one of the best-selling books of all time. It extols the virtues of kindness and respect. It was banned by the South African government during the Apartheid era because of the word 'Black' in the title.

4) This epic fantasy trilogy has been banned as 'satanic' in some areas and was even burned by members of a church in New Mexico in 2001. The controversy is ironic, though, as the author was a devout Christian and many scholars note Christian themes in his work.

5) The main character in this novel keeps a notebook containing scathing assessments of those around her, and her nanny tells her that “Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth". Objections were made to US schools on the grounds that the book encouraged children to lie, disobey authority, talk back and use foul language. 

6) This picture book was banned by schools and libraries in the US in 2009 yet based on a true story of two gay penguins hatching an egg in New York’s Central Park Zoo. School authorities in Charlotte, North Carolina, Shiloh, Illinois, Loudoun, Virginia and Chico, California all banned the book. The American Library Association reports that this was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008 and the single most banned book of 2009 in the US.

7) The narrator of this novel describes scenes from his life in a series of letters to an anonymous person. This book was banned in the USA for reasons of: homosexuality, sexually explicit, anti-family, offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, drugs and suicide. 

8) Translated into 60 languages, this diary has sold over 30 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1952. Yet the book is banned in Lebanon for depicting Jews positively; Schindler’s Ark and Sophie’s Choice are also banned.

9) In 1931 this classic children’s book was banned in Hunan province not for its allusion to mind-altering substances, but because it included talking animals. Governor Ho Chien said that it was “disastrous” to depict “animals and human beings on the same level”.

10) This family memoir told via three generations of women in her family gave many Western readers their first insight into life in China under the iron rule of Chairman Mao’s Communist party. With over 13 million copies sold, it is reportedly the biggest selling non-fiction paperback of all time, but has remained banned in China since its release in 1991.

How many did you get right? :)
1) Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl 2) Forever by Judy Blume 3) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell 4) The Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien 5)  Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh 6) And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson 7) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 8) Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 9) Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll 10) Wild Swans by Jung Chang

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Childhood literacy - let's all take responsibility by Bryony Pearce

Something that really shocks me is the number of kids leaving school in the UK with poor literacy skills.  In this new millennium, around one fifth of school leavers have the literacy skills of an 11-year-old, or younger, making them basically unemployable.  In fact 40% of employers complain about poor use of English from their youngest employees.  

How can this be?  My son has just finished Reception.  He now reads with confidence and expression.  Can his teacher really be one of a select few who can effectively teach reading to youngsters, or is the problem not, in fact, something that can be blamed on our schools?

At a recent school meeting teachers bemoaned the lack of support from parents.  They send reading books home with the children, but they come back a week later having not been touched.  
“Mum says I don’t have to read it.”  The children say.

On school visits I regularly encounter children who tell me sorry, they would buy my book, but there's no point as they simply do not read, they haven’t a single book in their house.

I am a writer, I live by my imagination and yet I cannot imagine a household that doesn’t have one single book in it.  Not a Bible, prayer book, or copy of the Koran, not a book in the toilet filled with useless facts, not a picture book for bedtime, not an atlas, or coffee table book, not a classic novel, or a work of contemporary fiction, not a reference book or dictionary, not a puzzle book, not a ‘beach’ book that came free with a magazine, not a comic, not a graphic novel, not even a dog eared copy of Calvin and Hobbes. 
A house without a bookshelf, to me, is a house without a heart.  It is heartbreaking to imagine all these houses, wordless. 

I understand that books cost money and that in this day and age some families need every single penny to put food on the table.  But aren’t books handed down any more (my kids have dozens of my own old childhood books, some of which belonged to my own mother when she was young)?  Can’t families join a library and fill their shelves that way (I can take 9 books home on each library card my family has.  That means I could have 27 new books for free every single time I visit), and in the areas where the libraries have been shut down, don’t the schools have libraries or library vans for the children to use? 

I imagine that these shelves are not empty.  I picture them filled instead with video games, iPads and DVDs, or even minimalist ornaments (books can, if I’m honest, make quite a messy display). 

And if books are banished from the house what message does that give to our children about the importance of reading?

As parents taking responsibility for our children’s future we should be supporting those who are teaching our children learn to read and write.

So we should let our children see us pick up a book and read, make sure they can find age appropriate books easily, make them feel like a trip to the library is a huge treat, have Santa bring them a book token for Christmas.  And we should tell them that it is actually important that they do their school reading. 

A teacher can be the best to ever walk through a class room and an author can write the most exciting books; books that make children want to devour every page, but if a child is taught at home that reading is pointless, unsociable or something to be hidden away, then nothing the teacher or author can do will reach them.  If a child does not practice their skills by reading for pleasure, there is the risk that they will leave school unable to read anything more complex than Disney Fairies and that would be a great shame.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Favourite Books by Savita Kalhan

Sara Grant’s blog last week was about her good reads and all-time favourites. Everyone who is passionate about reading has their list of good reads, their favourite books, and books that have stayed with them forever. But it’s not that easy to make a shortlist of them if you read a lot – even if you stick to looking at just teen or YA books! And sometimes it’s not that easy to say exactly why a certain book has stayed with you. But I am going to try...

All these books, for one reason or another, are my all-time favourite reads, ones that I would happily pick up and read again, and again, or are books that I feel are truly memorable.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. I read The Hobbit when I was about 10 or 11, but The Lord of the Rings was in the adult library, so out of my reach until I was allowed to join the adult library at 12. Since then, I think I must have reread the series possibly at least 12 times – and it always delivers on all counts each time.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I could write an essay on this book, actually I have! Here’s the link if you want to read it. This is simply a stunning read.

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly was on Sara’s list too. I have loved that book since I first read it several years ago. It’s beautifully written, multi-layered with a great central character and an absorbing story.

I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti. Set in a small village in Italy, it’s a gripping portrait of a nine year old boy who uncovers a terrible secret, and with that knowledge his life begins to fall apart.

The Bartimeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. The characters are brilliant, the djinni is inspired, and the story hooks you instantly and you fly with it. I think it’s due a reread...

Narnia series by CS Lewis. I know another series! But an all-time favourite.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. The isolation and pain of the central character and her inability to deal with the crime that has been done to her is truly poignant. You really want her to speak.

Dr. Seuss books – yes, pretty much every Dr. Seuss book!

There are lots of other books that I have absolutely loved, but time and space restrict me to the above - for now. I think I may have to do a Part 2 post in this series though...

Savita's Website



Friday, 5 September 2014

Book Mania

EDGE Author Sara Grant Ponders Why Certain Books Become Obsessions

Every reader has a list of books that they adore. But certain books become part of your life story. When I was young, these were the books I read over and over. I lost count of the number of times I read The Boxcar Children and The Secret Garden when I was in elementary school.
I have these types of book obsessions from nearly every part of my life. It’s sort of my life history in literature. (I wonder how a book psychologist would analyse this list – or maybe better not!)
I was speaking to a group of teen readers at Balham library recently. We shared our 'must reads' for the summer, but we also discussed what shifts a book from good to favourite. It wasn’t easy for us to articulate exactly why a book got under our skin.
When I returned home, I began to analyse the books that I’ve LOVED in the past few years to understand why they became obsessions. It wasn’t like dissecting a gadget to see how it works. I isolated well-written characters, but that wasn’t enough. Plots with twists and turns always capture my attention, but they weren’t necessarily favourites. My book obsessions seemed to hook my head and my heart.
I came up with five reasons why I love the books I love. I’ve tried to limit myself to only one example to illustrate each reason, but there are more and some books fit in more than one category.

I identify with the flawed main character.
A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly
I care deeply what happens to the main character – usually because I see myself reflected on the page. I desperately want her to achieve her goal – whatever it is. Her struggle becomes my struggle. Her victory, my victory.

The book challenges my thinking and changes the way I look at the world.
Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin
These books illuminate an issue and demand I examine what I believe. When I read the final line of this type of book, I usually sit, book in hand, for ages. I also lament that I’m not doing enough to change the world, which usually sparks action and life changes.

I’m awed by a wildly original story.
Every Day by David Levithan and Nothing by Janne Teller
Just when you think you’ve read it all…along comes a book that blows your bobby socks clean off. Every Day challenges your ideas of life and love while Nothing is this disturbing modern fairy tale that questions the meaning of life.

Books that give me hope – personally or globally.
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
When I was a teenager, these were books about finding love or how geeks would inherit the Earth. Reading Beauty Queens would have comforted my teen self. It’s a quirky story that celebrates what it means to be a girl – not a stereotypical girl but a real, live girl with secrets, hopes, dreams and fears. Too bad it was published about thirty years too late.

A masterfully plotted book infused with heart and surprise.

We Were Liars by E Lockhart
I love a good page-turner with carefully planned twists, turns and surprises. When reading, I usually can’t turn off the author part of my brain. I don’t mean to, but I’m always guessing what happens next. I see a gun in the desk drawer and I wonder who will pull the trigger. A character is terrified of snakes and I start looking for the rattler under every rock. I love books that are intricate puzzles that show you all the pieces and yet you are shocked and awed at how perfectly they all fit together in the end.

A book can meet one or more of the above criteria, but if it doesn’t have a satisfying ending, it won’t make the list. I don’t necessary want a happy ending but I want an ending that remains true to the story and demands that I consider it for days and years to come. I want an ending that sparks and lingers.
I just finished a book that I immediately added to my list of all-time favourites. I picked it up when I was on vacation in Canada. I read the first half of the novel in one gulp on the plane then I stopped reading. I was devouring the book too quickly. I wanted to savour it. When I returned home, it beckoned from my nightstand for a few days until I broke down and read the rest of the novel. I loved it from the first page to the last. It was one of those rare books that you are desperate to find out how it ends and yet you never want to finish reading it.
The book?
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (In the UK, I believe the title is The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry. I prefer the Canadian title.) This book sums up perfectly why we love the books we love:
“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.”

What are your book obsessions and why?

For more about Sara and her books, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @AuthorSara Grant