Wednesday, February 2, 2005

this year's reading list

to help you choose what to read this year, i'll offer this nugget: the american library association 100 most frequently challenged books, 1990 - 2000.

i've read some (but not nearly enough) of these. my comments are interspersed.

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

if any book should be read by middle (junior high) school students, it is this one. the central character, huck finn, comes to realize just how horrible slavery is, learning that nigger jim is a real person with real feelings, and that he deserves his freedom just as much as everybody else. omitting the word "nigger" renders the book meaningless; it's as much an important part of the story as remembering that the little rock nine were called niggers as they went to school in 1957.

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

a portrayal of the heart-rending choices that sometimes get made. without suggesting whether the outcome of this book is right or wrong, it's useful as food for thought. if your complaint is that it contains depictions of murder, i sure hope you don't watch television.

7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling

wizards and magic. okay, fine, it's got wizards and magic in it.

it's also a story about love, loyalty, courage, the triumph of right, the sacrifice of self for something higher. if that isn't something we should read about, what is? (book six comes out in may.)

8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

the complaint on this one is that it portrays the occult. having read it on a number of occasions, i don't see it. it's about coming to terms with loss, handling grief. what gives?

10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

"non-traditional families" are a reality. like it or not, they are here to stay. whether you like them or they're "best" or not is not really relevant to the discussion.

it therefore is wise to educate our children in what they will encounter in real life, because our "protecting them" now will not protect them later. i'd rather have my children learn about something i dislike in a safe, supportive context, so that i can explain and guide them, rather than have them run across something screwy and scary in a place where i can't help them understand what they see.

12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
14. The Giver by Lois Lowry
15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
19. Sex by Madonna
20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel

i would guess that people don't like this book because of it's graphic portrayal of sex scenes. i found the first couple sort of erotic; after that i found them boring and skipped them. i wouldn't give this book to a seven-year-old; but it might be appropriate for a 14- or 15-year-old with some explanation about sexuality.

the first book portrays brutal rape scenes, but the later books portray sexuality in a loving, healthy, sharing (if sometimes somewhat wanton) light. again, education and explanation is the key.

21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

i can't imagine a situation where someone would want to ban this.

23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard
27. The Witches by Roald Dahl
28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein

sorry, folks, but there are homosexuals in the world. this is another one of those things that banning books about it won't make go away. and children "exposed" to homosexuality don't magically turn gay, anyway. as much as i find homosexuality personally not interesting, i see absolutely no reason to attempt to suppress something that concenting adults might want.

29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
30. The Goats by Brock Cole
31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
32. Blubber by Judy Blume
33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry
37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras

okay. this one is really funky.

this is a book about physical, mental, and emotional changes that happen to girls during puberty. it explains the basic mechanics of sex, menstruation, impregnation, pregnancy, birth, all the ugly details of being female that someone of the female pursuasion needs to know about. it also contains a chapter about what happens to boys as they mature.

after the author wrote this one with her daughter, she wrote a companion book for boys with the help of a close family friend. i did the male book first, and later read the female book. while i was, at least theoretically, familiar with most of the material in it, i did find it enlightening.

i guess if biological fact bothers you, you won't want to read this. on the other hand, if you're, say, 11-14 and funny changes are happening to your body (and you've started bleeding from rude places) and you don't know why, this book is a pretty useful, objective resource.

41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

this isn't a book about rape. it's a book about fairness and common human decency. whether the bad guy did it or not really isn't relevant.

42. Beloved by Toni Morrison
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel
45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
46. Deenie by Judy Blume
47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

flowers for algernon is one of the most fascinating studies of human development i've ever read. it starts with a medical experiment that makes a retarded man extremely intelligent, and follows his development in the form of his personal journal.

i guess if reading misspelled words is a problem, you should avoid this. and you should also not read this book if you hate to think, or if you hate people who think.

48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

the first thing that came to mind when i saw this one on the list is "jesus h. motherfucking christ! what the fuck, over?"

it's a book of children's poems. they're about the trials of being a kid, written from a kid's point of view. perhaps people who want to remove this book from libraries think that silverstein is somehow unfit for public consumption because a large body of his work was originally published in playboy magazine.

a light in the attic, along with the rest of silverstien's children's poetry books (including "where the sidewalk ends") are on my kids' must-read lists. i read my copy of sidewalk and light in the attic so many times the bindings fell apart.

52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

certainly these are books for adults. but i suppose adults deserve the same trust in their ability to make their own reading choices as children do: none.

54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
55. Cujo by Stephen King
56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy

boys are interested in sex. boys want to have sex. boys will have sex, and if you don't give them a little education about it, they'll do it incorrectly. now get a life.

59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest
60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras

see my entry for the girls book, above.

62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
65. Fade by Robert Cormier
66. Guess What? by Mem Fox
67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

i wouldn't recommend this book for little kids; it's definately a teen reader at the earliest. but it provides an enlightening take on the world and is worth the effort it takes to read it. along with cat's cradle, it'll be on my kids early high school must read list.

70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

i've never read lord of the flies, but it was offered to me at age 9 or 10 by my parents. that tells me a lot about its suitability for children: perhaps a "normal" child might need to be a little older, but even so ... jeez.

71. Native Son by Richard Wright
72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
74. Jack by A.M. Homes
75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
77. Carrie by Stephen King
78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein
82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King
84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

more of the same from twain, a book commenting on a "way of life" that needs to be commented on. if nothing other than a historical study, this book is a great work.

85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
87. Private Parts by Howard Stern

i personally would rather not listen to or read stern. i guess that means i should prohibit others the opportunity, too.

88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford
89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

this book has actually been reincarnated in "the 20th century children's book treasury" as an indian children's picture book.

91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis

can't have any of that, now, can we?

94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy

girls have sex? really? where were they doing it when i was a kid? more importantly, where are they now?

96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

if you haven't picked one of these up, give them a shot. heaven forbid you might learn something.

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