BBW: “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

IMG_0316Like so many books (and so many books that are banned) “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie is an important look into the world of a marginalized people. It follows, in a semi-autobiographical pattern, the story of Arnold Spirit, a teenage Spokane Indian living on a reservation. He is plagued by all the disadvantages that too often come to, not only all people, but most especially those who live on reservations. His family, neighbors, and schoolmates are no strangers to the unfortunate trials of physical, mental, and sexual abuses; alcoholism; gambling; poverty. As a result, the very bright but under challenged Arnold is resigned to a subpar education. In fact, when he is handed a textbook at the beginning of the year, he sadly discovers that his own mother’s name is in it. The school has not been able to afford new textbooks in thirty years.

After some cajoling and hesitation on everyone’s part, Arnold transfers to a public school off the reservation where there is greater (academic/social) opportunity for him but also challenges he was unprepared for. While at the reservation school he stood out academically but also understood the delicate social balance familiar to his upbringing. Don’t mistake this as a quality childhood; his was rife with bullying and sorrow. By transferring to the public school though, his challenges multiplied. Not only was he bullied on the reservation for his own physical and medical differences, the general pressures caused by impoverished alcoholism, and outlandish fear. He was bullied on the reservation for having the audacity to leave it. This was added to his being bullied at the public school for being the only Indian (besides the mascot).

This book has a fairly decent trail of banning behind it despite only being published in 2009. This article from Marshall University does a fine job of outlining its history. Most predominately, this book finds itself on banned books lists because of its moderately graphic masturbation scene as well as racial and sexist language. There is also a great deal of negative publicity surrounding Alexie’s portrayal of life on the reservation citing that he is simply reinforcing negative stereotypes of “his people.” An April 2014 article from The Guardian comments on how, though this is a challenging read with its disruptive content, it also portrays young adulthood accurately, allowing the main character to evolve, to question, to wonder, and to exercise his absolute right to make mistakes. In fact, it was so poignant with teens in an Idaho school that they presented a student-led petition to allow the work to continue to be s part of the curriculum.

In accordance with its frequent challenges and bans, “Part-Time Indian” sits firmly at the top of the American Library Association’s most frequently banned list.

Happy Banned Books Week!

When I was an undergraduate student, there was a nation-wide project going on (the name escapes me) and the point of it was that you wrote a cause that you were passionate about on a scrap of fabric and tied it to your backpack.  That way you always had a conversation starter, something to discuss with total strangers.  I suspect I still have that little orange strip tied to my backpack with the phrase “don’t ban books” written on it.  Banned books have been a quiet cause of mine that has followed me throughout my career and has become all the more real while working in libraries.

I have had the pleasure in working in several libraries over my career thus far and as far as I know I haven’t had the displeasure of being presented with the desire to ban a book.  Two college libraries, five public libraries, and a school library and I haven’t had to present my long-established soapbox speech on the shifting role of librarians and libraries and the need to protect literature, especially that which challenges our views and sparks conversation.

For which I am grateful.

As I intend to explain to the youngsters at my school, we should celebrate banned books and use it as a learning opportunity. Our reading should entertain us, it should educate us, but it should also inspire conversation and challenge us. The blanket banning of literature is a hindrance to our societal growth. Yes, books have the power to inspire new ideas and new ways of thinking. But is that really such a terrible thing?

(I also took it as an opportunity to unleash my joy of construction paper.)

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Picture Book Wednesday

This is a great story about a giant kid dinosaur who accidentally wrecks a city searching for his teddy bear.  This would be a fun tale, parable even, for a child who is maybe a little more destructive in situations they should be gentle.

This is a great story about a giant kid dinosaur who accidentally wrecks a city searching for his teddy bear. This would be a fun tale, parable even, for a child who is maybe a little more destructive in situations they should be gentle.

A lovely little story about a cat and a dog who have trouble communicating with one another.  All the dog wants to do is tell the cat how much he loves her and all the cat hears are fearsome barks.  An excellent story on the importance of effective communication.

A lovely little story about a cat and a dog who have trouble communicating with one another. All the dog wants to do is tell the cat how much he loves her and all the cat hears are fearsome barks. An excellent story on the importance of effective communication.

The true(ish) tale of Annette Kellerman, an Australian woman who learned to swim and dive and become a noteworthy female athlete in a time when women were told to cover up (let's be honest, when hasn't there been such a time, but you know what I mean).  This follows her trials of putting female swimmers on the map and her attempt at swimming the English Channel.

The true(ish) tale of Annette Kellerman, an Australian woman who learned to swim and dive and become a noteworthy female athlete in a time when women were told to cover up (let’s be honest, when hasn’t there been such a time, but you know what I mean). This follows her trials of putting female swimmers on the map and her attempt at swimming the English Channel.

Local Writer and Illustrator

UntitledI work with a lot of talented people.  Specifically I work with a lot of artistic people, including many proficient home crafters.  But in a few cases, their talent is on a whole other scale in that they are published authors and illustrators or creating commissioned art pieces.  It’s truly boggling but in the best way possible.  “Norwegian Folk Tales of Anthon and Gurina Johnson” by Jean Russell Larson and illustrated by Penny Follows Frischkorn is one such example.  Larson is a noted folklorist whose writing has been illustrated by other artists such as Mercer Mayer, Uri Shulevitz, and Michael C. Larson. This is Frischkorn’s first illustrated work and she does a lovely job bringing Larson’s whimsical tales to life.  She (and C. Larson) happen to be some of my exceedingly talented coworkers. :)

You can get more information on this work through our local newspaper as well as purchase the item through a local independent bookstore, Newbo Books.  It is also available through Amazon.com and the publisher, Ingebretsen’s.

Picture Book Wednesday

Working in an elementary school library has already been a valuable experience.  I’ve been learning so much – new technologies, interacting with children, and becoming more familiar with children’s literature.  I am boggled by how many exciting and talented authors and illustrators are creating fantastic worlds for children.  Some of these are older which is just fine.  I’ve never been on top of the newest releases anyway, plus some of the best books are as old as I am (read: “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes)!  This weeks picks are:

Day the Crayons Quit

This is perfect! I would recommend it for independent readers if they want to read it themselves but otherwise it would be great for parents to read to their child, especially if they are still working on learning their colors.

This is a fun little book that would be easy for beginner readers.  I think the best part about it is how bright the colors are.  Very visually appealing.

This is a fun little book that would be easy for beginner readers. I think the best part about it is how bright the colors are. Very visually appealing.

I know John Wayne already recommended this but it really is fantastic.  It is engaging and interesting for parents as well as children and assumes that the child is a wee bit more advanced than some little books do.  It's lovely.

I know John Wayne already recommended this but it really is fantastic. It is engaging and interesting for parents as well as children and assumes that the child is a wee bit more advanced than some little books do. It’s lovely.

John Wayne Recommends

So the story here is that I’ve started working in an elementary school library and there is a knee-high statue of John Wayne. We can’t display John Wayne because he has a gun. But I also don’t want to get rid of John Wayne because, well, you know. So now he sits on the floor behind my desk. He doesn’t get a free-ride so I’m putting him to work:

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I grabbed this book because of its awesome title and I was not disappointed. The story follows two children who are going to be eaten by monsters because they wouldn’t stop whining. The problem is that they don’t know how best to prepare them. As a salad? Burgers? Lighter fare? I mean, really, how does one go about preparing a delicious whiny-child feast to appease the masses?

Review: “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

peculiarThe cover work for this book is lovely.  I’ve always enjoyed the slightly dark tones mixed with innocence and yet, never found myself the time to pick it up.  Just like everything else I tend to read, it was years after a great book came out that I finally got to it.  If you enjoyed “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” by Catherynne M. Valente, I would suggest that you would enjoy this book.  If you did not enjoy “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” I would suggest you give it a try anyway.  It had the magical components that Fairyland has but, despite their magic, the characters were far more believable.  Riggs’ writing made me want to be their friends, to help them on their adventure.

Jacob Portman, a rather uninterested and uncommitted average teenager in Florida, is, well, bored.  He’s bored of his life as it is and as it is destined to be – the heir to Smart-Aid, a chain of drug stores.  He wants nothing to do with it and does all he can to mess up his job stocking shelves.  All of his life, he listened to his grandfather’s fantastical stories of children with special abilities and of monsters with gnashing teeth.  Eventually Jacob grew out of these stories while his grandfather was increasingly haunted by them.  It isn’t until the night Jacob finds his grandfather’s body as a demon runs away that the nightmares become his own.  Afraid of the night and all of it’s mysteries, Jacob sets out to Wales in search of the home of incredible children of his grandfather’s stories with the hope that he can end the nightmares.

He finds more than he bargains for with invisible children, people who float or create fire, who smash houses or create nature.  Their very existence is threatened by the wights and hallowgastss and our blase hero, Jacob, just might be the nervous fellow for the task.