Celebrate Reading With Banned Books Week

Happy Banned Books Week, everyone! It’s a great time to honor the librarians, educators, and authors who stand up for books and knowledge and against prejudice and hate. Censorship doesn’t help society. Books do.

Check out Bill Moyers’ video about the importance of Banned Books Week, and then watch other famous authors and literary advocates talk about censorship and how it relates to their own work.

Also loving this fantastic timeline, 30 Years of Liberating Literature, from the ALA. It contains some fantastic information about bans on classic books, such as:

The Giver, by Lois Lowry
In 2003, “The Giver” was challenged as suggested reading for eighth-grade students in Blue Springs, MO, where parents called the book “lewd” and “twisted” and pleaded for it to be tossed out of the district. The book was reviewed by two committees and recommended for retention, but the controversy continued for more than two years. Lowry’s novel for young readers has frequently attracted objections due to its “mature themes” including suicide, sexuality, and euthanasia. “The Giver” received the Newbery Medal in 1994.

I’ve mentioned here before how much I love this book and, as a middle-schooler, I was grateful to read about these mature themes. It was the first book that really got me thinking about the value of life (all of life) and how we should function as a society. It infuriates me to think that some people want to take that away from young readers.

It’s easy to feel complacent about our overall access to books, but Banned Books Week is a great reminder that we need to appreciate the access we have and work toward giving everyone that same access. Celebrate with your favorite banned book today and all week long!

(image: Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression 2011 Banned Books Week celebration, sponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund, via ALA)

The Printz Award: What Does It Mean to Be Excellent in YA?

The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (aka “the Printz”) is one of the top honors in the YA community. But what exactly is the Printz Award? How are books chosen and why? Who makes the decisions?

Someday My Printz Will Come, which takes a look at YA lit and the award throughout the year, has a great series going about what the award actually is. One of the big issues raised is “excellence” and what that actually means.

Another part I thought that interesting:

“No one on the committee is carried over from the previous year unless the AA goes on to become a committee member, which means that each committee operates in a vacuum. This in turn means that each committee must grapple with the hard questions anew. Which was, at times, incredibly annoying, but is also very freeing. It doesn’t matter what last year’s committee said about series titles, or how they felt, as an entity, about nonfiction. It only matters what you and the eight people on your committee think.”

So a book that could have dominated in one year could be completely left out the next. I think that ultimately levels the playing field (the award never goes to one kind of book), but I’m sure that’s frustrating when you consider that your book may have been nominated last year but not this year.

Make sure to check out both posts for a good insight into what makes the Printz happen.

Medals Aren’t Just For Olympians

Two things I love: children’s literature and trivia quizzes. And where better for the two to meet than in the Horn Book’s medalist matching game round up? Thanks, Horn Book!

Click through to test your knowledge of Newbery/Caldecott authors and their favorite Newbery/Caldecott books. And don’t worry about clicking on the wrong answer. Instead of shaming you, the Horn Book sends you to even more awesome book trivia. Best quiz ever!

I ended up guessing about 2/3 of the answers correctly, which I’m pretty happy with. Now to go back and make sure I know all the other trivia, too. Have fun!

Forever Tuck

My childhood copy of Tuck Everlasting.

Over vacation, I reread Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I read it a million times when I was in elementary/middle school, but I hadn’t read it in at least ten years. A little part of me was afraid it wouldn’t hold up. I mean, it was one of my favorites. I remembered it being so compelling. How could it stack up after so many years?

Guys, it was even better than I remembered.

The writing is stellar. I don’t think I really noticed that when I was a kid. It’s a beautifully written novel, and Babbitt is a master craftsman. For example:

“Mae’s husband, on his back beside her, did not stir. He was still asleep, and the melancholy creases that folded his daytime face were smoothed and slack. He snored gently, and for a moment the corners of his mouth turned upward in a smile. Tuck almost never smiled except in his sleep.”

Did I mention that it’s also signed? Squee!

What a gorgeous introduction to the patriarch of the Tuck family. You Tuck’s gentleness and sadness perfectly, and he’s not even awake yet. It’s brilliant writing. I’ve seen her speak on a couple of panels and both times she’s mentioned that children’s literature shouldn’t be dumbed down in any way. Children are savvy readers and deserve excellent literature. Her philosophy is obvious in her writing–the language is sharp, the characters are compelling, and the themes are moving.

Obviously, Tuck Everlasting is a children’s lit classic, and for good reason. Recently, I also came across Italian author Italo Calvino’s list of what makes a classic. A couple of points on the list struck me in relation to Tuck Everlasting:

  • The Classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.
  • A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
  • A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.

I came across Tuck Everlasting when I was a fifth-grader in the mid-90s, twenty years after the book was first published, so I’m hopeful that kids today are still reading it. When I was reading it over vacation, I kept thinking I wish I had a fifth-grade class just so I could use this book on my syllabus.

After finishing it recently, I thought: This totally won a Newbery, right? It’s brilliant. Of course it won. Then I checked the Newbery Medals and Honors list.

Shock: it didn’t.

The 1976 winner was The Grey King by Susan Cooper, so I can understand that winning. But there were only two Honor books listed–The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Bell Mathis and Dragonwings by Laurence Yep. Considering the committee can include more than two Honor books, why didn’t they call out Tuck Everlasting?

I’m sure the committee had there reasons, but for me it’s a good reminder that even beautifully written, emotionally compelling books don’t win all the awards. Maybe your novel is absolutely amazing, but there will still be agents and editors who pass on it, critics who write bad reviews, and awards you won’t be nominated for. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or your book isn’t good. It just means that sometimes the literary world is tough.

Really glad I returned to this beloved classic. Are there any books that you loved as a kid and reread as an adult only to find they’re still fantastic?

Reading in the Near Future

I’m a little jealous that I didn’t get to take part in this ALA debate on YA titles we’ll still be reading in 45 years because OH MY LORD there are some awesome books on this list. Having to choose between The Book Thief, The Golden Compass, and The Hunger Games? Now that would lead to some awesome debates.

My choices in each round would have been:

  • Round 1: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Round 2: Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  • Round 3: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  • Round 4: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Round 5: The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Round 6: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

I’d probably narrow that down to The Golden Compass, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Giver. Since To Kill a Mockingbird has already proven itself to be a classic for generations, my inclination is to vote with Harper Lee. But damn, The Giver is one of my favorites as well, and The Golden Compass is a stunning novel and a start to a powerful series.

The ALA groups didn’t vote the same way I did, so make sure to check out the recap on The Hub. Feel free to share your own votes in the comments!

Tips for Writing Conference Success

Great post at YA Highway about how to enjoy and get the most out of your conference experience. They have very helpful suggestions like “bring snacks” (I’d also add “bring mints” because they’re perfect for sharing) and “talk to agents like they’re human beings.” My favorite:

Be cognizant of other attendees. During workshops, try to ask questions that apply to other attendees – not only your specific book. During group pitch sessions, don’t talk about your project the whole time – let everyone else have a chance, too.”

This is my biggest pet peeve from any kind of Q&A session. If you need to preface it with a very specific story from your very particular experience, it might not be a worthwhile question to ask during a group session. If you really want to go into something specific, wait until after the session and ask in private.

A couple of other suggestions I have for conferences:

  • Only going to conferences that have specific draws for you. If you want to talk to a particular agent or hear a particular writer talk, that’s a good reason to go. Attending a conference just because you like books in general might not be worthwhile. There are a lot of conferences out there, and they can be expensive.
  • Don’t get conference burn-out. It can feel like you need to see absolutely everything, but it’s okay to skip a session and take a walk, call a friend, or nap.
  • Get pumped on the writerly energy and actually write. Maybe wake up a little early and work on that outline that’s been frustrating you, or try a new writing exercise.
  • Don’t take more free materials and books than will fit in your bag. Seriously. You probably won’t read all of them right now anyway.

And remember, conferences should be fun and energizing. You want to act like a professional, but writing is also a really awesome profession filled with lots of awesome people. Take advantage of being around a bunch of cool writers and readers all in one place. Ride that wave of literary enthusiasm!

In a Word

At The Millions, Bill Morris takes a look at one word titles and when they work. As someone who stresses over titles, it’s interesting to see this collection of titles ranging from Hamlet to Swamplandia! to Salt. He also notes that “seven of the 32 books on the current New York Times hardcover fiction and non-fiction best-seller lists – a healthy 22 percent – have one word titles.” That’s a solid showing.

The focus in this list is on adult literature, so I was interested in single word titles for YA and children’s books. Looking at the Newbery and Printz lists, my first impression is that children’s books tend toward longer titles. In the last twelve years of Newbery winners and honors, only four have had single word titles (all honors, not winners).

Single words fair a little better for Printz titles–twelve total, with one winner and eleven honors. The inaugural year featured a one word title winner (Monster by Walter Dean Myers) and two one word title honors (Skellig by David Almond and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson).

One guess as to this divide: single word titles tend to suggest a higher level of intensity, which you’re more likely to find in a YA novel. (Monster and Speak aren’t exactly light books.) I think there’s a greater potential for whimsy in Newbery books, which probably works best with multi-word titles. (You can get a little more sass in there.) Obviously that’s not a hard and fast rule, but it was my first assumption. Any other guesses?