This week, the national reading community celebrates “Banned Books Week.” Established in 1982 in response to a sudden increase in challenges to books in schools, Banned Books Week is a celebration of our freedom to read as well as the diverse writers who challenge, provoke and even offend us.
Here is a list of the most challenged books in libraries, schools and bookstores for the year 2014:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
This novel explores race and identity by focusing on a young cartoonist who leaves his reservation school to attend an all-white high school whose mascot happens to be an Indian. It’s been challenged for its explicit language, depictions of sexuality and bullying.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This autobiographical graphic novel has received much acclaim for humanizing Iran for western audiences, and was turned into an animated film in 2007. It is often challenged for its depictions of the torture of Iranian dissidents.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
This picture book tells the story of two penguins unable to conceive who raise a neglected egg as their own. Why the controversy? Roy and Silo are both dads!
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Morrison’s classic novel deals with internalized racism during the Great Depression. It is controversial for its exploration of racism as well as child abuse.
It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health by Robie Harris
A guide to puberty for children narrated by a cartoon bird and bee (get it?). Many people find the illustrations of naked bodies offensive, but if you’re on board it’s much less terrifying than those educational videos they show in gym class.
Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This graphic novel follows two alien soldiers who abandon their war to start a family together. It has been challenged for being “anti-family,” which is ironic because family is such a strong theme in the book. Maybe they’re just against people with horns marrying people with wings?
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This coming of age story set in Afghanistan has been challenged for “desensitizing students to violence.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Chbosky’s book has been challenged since its publication for its depictions of teenage depression, yet has still struck a chord with young readers and was turned into a film in 2012. Visit the Banned Books Week website to read testimonies from students who have literally had the book taken away from them while they were reading it!
A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard
Trigger warning: This book deals with the author’s experience of being kidnapped as a child. It is frequently challenged for the upsetting nature of this story.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Teenagers! Kissing! Unsupervised! Telgemeier’s light-hearted graphic novel has been challenged for its focus on teenage relationships as well as its homosexual themes.
Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes by Jules Moulin first introduces readers to Ally when she is 31 and struggling to balance her career as a professor with the demands of single motherhood. In addition to her 10-year-old daughter Lizzie, Ally also has to reckon with her interfering and frequently disapproving mother. Needless to say, there is no room for dating, romance or even a casual fling in her life.
But one weekend Ally has her house to herself and finds herself alone with Jake, a 21-year-old former student who has volunteered to make some needed repairs to her home. Their chemistry is palpable and Ally gives in to a steamy weekend of passion. As the weekend draws to a close, Jake wants to pursue a lasting relationship, but Ally sends him packing. Flash forward 10 years and Ally is still single, living in Brooklyn and coping with the recent death of her mother. Lizzie, an aspiring actress, brings home a co-worker for dinner who turns out to be Jake, now a Hollywood mega-star. Ally panics because she has never forgotten him or their magical weekend and Jake’s memories are equally vivid. Their attraction still sizzles and Ally must decide if she is willing to give their relationship a real chance.
Moulin effortlessly weaves between the two time lines and brings a real spark to this star-crossed couple. Jake and Ally are honest and relatable characters whose happily ever after is 10 years in the making. Supporting characters, zany plot lines and zippy dialogue are the perfect complements to this funny, romantic and sexy story.
It’s a fact that librarians are partial to cats, but so are picture book authors. There is no shortage of felines on the pages of children’s literature, including this trio of recently published titles. In How to Catch a Mouse, author-illustrator Philippa Leathers introduces an adorable green-eyed marmalade tabby named Clemmie. Although readers find out about Clemmie’s superb mousing skills on the first page, we quickly realize that she may be bragging a bit too much. Has she ever seen a mouse? What about the little gray master of disguise who has been walking around the house, almost in plain sight? This gentle story, humorously illustrated in pencil and watercolor, is perfect for young preschoolers.
Owners of timid felines come in droves to the newly established Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, also the title of this charming picture book by Alicia Potter. Their cats are failing at all things cats are known for, including pouncing, purring and chasing birds. Patient Miss Hazeltine runs her nervous charges through a daily roster of classes such as Climbing Up, Meeting New Friends and How Not to Fear the Broom. She lavishes special attention on the most bashful little kitty, Crumb. But what happens when Miss Hazeltine goes out to fetch some water and needs rescuing herself? Birgitta Sif’s pencil illustrations and muted palette perfectly capture the essence of such a fanciful boarding school in the woods, run by a sweet, calm and lithe young woman who loves her work. Sif is a master at depicting the many aspects of feline nature, with distinctly different kitties of all shapes and sizes napping, licking, hiding, lapping, perching and hanging on every page.
Poor Cat. He’s lost a tooth, but he was asleep when the Tooth Fairy came and he really wanted to meet her. But when he tries to trick her by leaving the tooth of a comb, she turns the tables and insists he must help her out by picking up the teeth of various animals who have lost them. Although he’s excited to be the Tooth Fairy’s apprentice, Cat is none too thrilled to wear a tutu and wings, let alone to share duties with Mouse! Deborah Underwood’s Here Comes the Tooth Fairy Cat is a funny take on this childhood legend, complete with a few surprises along the way. Underwood, who previously featured Cat in two holiday offerings, Here Comes the Easter Cat and Here Comes Santa Cat, uses the technique of an off-page narrator who speaks directly to Cat, questioning him and offering advice. Cat himself communicates only through broad facial expressions and signs he holds. Claudia Rueda’s comical yet warm color pencil and ink drawings are integral to the story, which like its predecessors, would make an excellent classroom read aloud for the kindergarten set.
What appears to be the mundane investigation of a stolen farm tractor becomes a tangle of lies and a conspiracy of fools in Peter Robinson’s In the Dark Places. How is it possible for such a large piece of equipment to disappear so completely? An abandoned airplane hangar, the perfect location to transfer stolen goods, may be the answer, and there is ample evidence a murder has been committed at the site. This leads to the investigation of the sudden disappearance of two young men, one the son of a local farmer.
The missing boy's girlfriend may be the key to finding the missing men. While Detective Annie Cabbot guards the potential witness, Detective Winsome Jackman is working closely with Terry Gilchrist, the witness who found the bloody crime scene, but the recently returned veteran of Afghanistan is far more interested in Winsome than he is in solving the crime. The body count rises when a fateful auto accident high in the Yorkshire hills reaps a grim harvest.
Peter Robinson draws on the brooding atmosphere of the Yorkshire hills setting to examine the theme of isolation — in both the physical surroundings and in the lives of the characters. Taut, suspenseful, with a richly developed storyline and unforgettable characters, In the Dark Places is headed for award territory. Once you have read this novel, you’ll be sure to add Robinson to your must-read list. Readers of Ruth Rendell, Deborah Crombie and P.D. James will be delighted they discovered Robinson’s Inspector Banks.
The following titles will be released next week. Select any title to learn more or to request a copy. Be sure to visit our Hot Titles webpage for more exciting upcoming titles.
Bestselling author, architect and Westminster resident Charles Belfoure will join Baltimore County Public Library for a librarian-led group book discussion on Friday, September 25 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in The Ivy Bookshop tent at the Baltimore Book Festival. Mr. Belfoure will discuss his new historical novel, House of Thieves, as well as his well-regarded first novel The Paris Architect. Both stories feature an architect who ends up using his skills for precarious endeavors. In The Paris Architect, set during the Nazi's occupation of France, Lucien Bernard collaborates with a local industrialist to design hiding places for the Jews. In House of Thieves, architect John Cross is forced by gangsters to use his blueprints to expedite home burglaries to save his son from a gambling debt. Recently, Charles Belfoure answered questions for Between the Covers about House of Thieves.
Between the Covers: You do such a masterful job placing readers in late 19th century Manhattan. What made you choose New York’s Gilded Age for your setting and this lively time period?
Charles Belfoure: That was my favorite period in architectural history and I was also fascinated by the social history of the period. I spent a lot of time doing research on the worlds of the super-rich, the miserably poor and the underworld of the Gilded Age.
BTC: You introduce your readers to John Cross, an architect who gets drawn into the criminal underworld to protect his family. Did you have anyone from real life in mind when you created this character?
CB: I came across a real historical figure named George L. Leslie. He came from a wealthy family in the Midwest and had come to New York in the 1870s to practice as an architect, but gave it up because he preferred the life of a bank robber. When I was young, I had done a project for a Mafia boss who’s since been murdered. That was also an inspiration for doing a book about the underworld.
BTC: In many ways this story is a tale of societal contrasts. Was this deliberate on your part?
CB: Yes, there was an incredible contrast between rich high society and the miserably poor in New York City. The poor of that time had no social safety net like unemployment insurance or Medicaid to help them as they do today. The poverty was staggering. I wanted the lives of people in these two different worlds to intersect.
BTC: Both of your novels revolve around the world of an architect using his skills and training in ways never imagined. Can you talk a little about your own world as an architect?
CB: I still practice as an architect or as a historic preservation consultant. I help recycle historic buildings into new uses. As an architect, I’m doing three buildings on Eutaw St. on the block up from the Hippodrome and one on Howard St. As a preservation consultant and historic tax credit consultant, I’m currently working on a dozen buildings.
BTC: Tell us about your Baltimore roots?
CB: I grew up in Woodlawn in the 1960s and early 1970s. I graduated from Woodlawn Senior High. Woodlawn is right on the western city-county line so I went into Baltimore City quite a bit on the bus. I’d go down to Howard St. to go to the big department stores and movie theaters. It’s strange that I now work on projects on Howard St., which is this dangerous rundown deserted area so different from when I was a kid with crowds of shoppers. I think I do these historic rehab projects to try to bring back the city the way it used to be.
BTC: Baltimore has its share of noted local authors? Do you have a favorite?
CB: Anne Tyler, one of America’s finest novelists. No one has a finer insight into human nature than she does. She’s the only writer that I’ve read consistently.
BTC: Are you working on a third novel?
CB: Yes, it’s set in England in 1905 and about an architect who has hit rock bottom.
Mr. Belfoure will be signing copies of both novels, available for purchase, during the event.
Jackie Collins, the beloved best-selling novelist, died over the weekend following a six-year battle with breast cancer. She was 77. She published 30 books over four decades, selling more than 500 million copies in 40 countries and casting a strong influence in the worlds of publishing and Hollywood.
Born in London, Jackie was a rebellious child who was expelled from school as a teenager. Her options were reform school or Hollywood, so she chose to join her actress sister, Joan, in Hollywood. She tried acting, but eventually made the switch to novelist with the publication of her first novel in 1968. The World Is Full of Married Men which was so salacious it was banned in Australia and South Africa. Many of her novels focused on the scintillating lives of Hollywood’s rich and famous, including Hollywood Wives which was made into a successful miniseries. Her novels featuring Lucy Santangelo all hit the bestseller lists and The Santangelos was her last published novel.
Following her stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, Jackie chose to keep her illness almost entirely to herself. In an exclusive interview with People Magazine on September 14, she noted, "I did it my way, as Frank Sinatra would say. I've written five books since the diagnosis, I've lived my life, I've travelled all over the world, I have not turned down book tours and no one has ever known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it." A complete list of titles available from BCPL can be found here.
Private investigator Michael Kelly is used to the mean streets of Chicago. Even so, in The Governor’s Wife by Michael Harvey, Kelly finds himself embroiled in some nefarious dealings that even he finds troubling. The case starts out fairly straightforward for Kelly. Someone wants him to find former Illinois governor Ray Perry, who mysteriously disappeared after being sentenced to 38 years in prison for corruption. It doesn’t even bother Kelly that his client remains anonymous or that they've deposited a $200,000 retainer fee in his bank account. However, when the bodies start piling up and Kelly’s own life is threatened, he begins to wonder if he is being set up. Can he trust anyone to tell him the truth?
Michael Harvey obviously has a penchant for the hardboiled detective stories in the style of Mickey Spillane and Nero Wolfe. His fast-paced plot is filled with clichés of the tough–as-nails private eye who is one step ahead of the bad guys. There's plenty of action, rough language, plot twists, gun play and femme fatales, but Harvey has updated these elements for the 21st century. If you enjoy a throwback to a time when a P.I. lived by a code of honor and the bad guys were thoroughly evil, then The Governor’s Wife will appeal to you.
Fans and producers of graphic novels and comic art will converge in Bethesda this weekend, September 19 and 20, for Small Press Expo 2015. Many storytellers are slated to speak about their art, including three with recently released graphic novels.
Jessica Abel takes on a challenging topic to visually present in Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. Abel leads readers on an in-depth behind-the-scenes tour of a number of popular National Public Radio shows and podcasts, from the first conception of an idea to the final edit and broadcast. The seeds for Out on the Wire were sown back in the late 1990s, when This American Life host Ira Glass came across Abel’s work and suggested she try drawing “radio comics.” That led to her spending a week with his show’s staff as they were putting together an episode. The result, a pamphlet called Radio: An Illustrated Guide, which is excerpted in the book. Readers will note how much technology has changed since 1999 and appreciate the degree to which Abel’s craft has expanded. Literal representations of radio personalities and their narration give way to more imaginative depictions of stories and ideas. Fans of NPR will pore over the pages of this fascinating, highly detailed graphic novel. It’s highly recommended to anyone interested in the art of producing radio and podcasts.
Bill Griffith, known for his absurdist syndicated comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, makes his first foray into graphic memoir with Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist. His story begins with a letter from his mother’s brother, Uncle Al, who has come into possession of a box of family photos and memorabilia. Soon he’s off to North Carolina to explore his history. Griffith’s childhood in 1950s and ’60s Levittown, New York, was not one to be remembered fondly — his military father and aspiring writer mother had a cold, distant marriage. His father remained a mystery to him, as did the reasons he was physically abusive to both Griffith and his sister. His mother never intervened. But she had her own escape, in the form of a secretarial job in New York City that turned into a 16-year love affair with her boss, Lariar, a prolific writer and cartoonist. Griffith maintains an exquisitely realistic style throughout the exploration of his family history, choosing to depict only himself in cartoony manner, with a long pointy nose and two prominent front teeth. How would his life had been different had he been mentored by Lariar? Did his father know what was going on? Readers will lose themselves in the detailed panels as Griffith shares his discoveries. Fans of David Small’s Stitches and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home will appreciate this emotionally honest and graphic look back at growing up surrounded by secrets in an emotionally distant family.
Before it was a critically acclaimed independent film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was a hybrid graphic memoir/novel by artist and writer Phoebe Gloeckner. First published in 2002, Diary has been reissued with new material to coincide with the opening of the movie. Gloeckner’s alter ego Minnie Goetz is a 15-year-old year old coming of age in 1970s San Francisco with a liberal librarian mother and a pesky younger sister. Gloeckner has been both praised and criticized for her raw, honest portrayal of female sexuality, particularly because Minnie’s ongoing partner and object of lust is her mother’s 35 year old boyfriend. As much a celebration as a cautionary tale, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is unlike anything you’ve read before.