Ban This Book

Finally, it’s time for Amy Anne to check out her most favorite book in the whole world from the school library. Her school librarian, Mrs. Jones, has this rule where you can only renew a book twice before it has to be returned and sit on the shelf for five days to give other students the chance to check it out. After waiting those five looooong days, Amy Anne is ready to re-read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. But when she gets to the H-N shelves in the school library the book isn’t there waiting for her. Thinking maybe another student checked it out, Amy Anne asks Mrs. Jones who delivers unbelievable, devastating news: Amy Anne’s favorite book has been banned from the school library.

Thus begins Ban This Book by Alan Gratz.

As Amy Anne learns more about book banning and the potential fate of her most favorite book, she decides for once that she will stand up and use her voice. After all, at the school board meeting where the book banning will become official, someone has to speak up on behalf of the accused. The problem is in the heat of the moment her insecurities and fears about speaking in public and standing up to authority overpower her better judgement and she remains silent.

Her parents are pretty upset about this. They rearranged their entire family’s schedule in order to take her to the school board meeting, but when her father sees her crying in the car on the way home from the meeting he stops off at the bookstore and buys Amy Anne her very own copy of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Amy Anne is happy to have her very own copy, but she knows this is bigger than just one book for one kid. What about all the other kids at her school? Not all the kids know about the book and definitely not all kids have parents who will drive them to the bookstore and buy them their own copy. One single parent on the PTA is denying access to hundreds of kids just because she didn’t want her son to read a particular book!

As she contemplates the implications for her fellow students (and re-reads From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler again) she decides she’ll bring her copy of the book in to school to let her friend borrow it. Another student overhears their exchange and asks if he can borrow it after that. Amy Anne agrees, but that’s not where our story ends.

Soon the PTA parent who demanded From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler be removed from the school library demands another book be removed. And another. And then an entire shelf is missing from the school library and Amy Anne is both confused and upset because she can’t think of a single thing wrong with any of the books being removed from the library.

As the list of removed books grows, so does determination. Amy Anne’s friends have copies of some of the books and Amy Anne buys a few others with money she’d saved from her birthday. Soon she posts a list of the banned books on her locker which is immediately noticed by the school administration, who demands she remove the sign from her locker.

Amy Anne complies but only for appearances. She replaces the list with a school spirit poster that has the books on the reverse side. Here’s where people can see which books are checked out and which are available for them to read. Then they make arrangements with Amy Anne to read it and then pass it on to the next student.

Amy Anne has accidentally started the Banned Books Lending Library from her locker!

The list of banned books grows and Amy Anne gets bold. I won’t tell you what happens next–you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy this book. I highlighted so many passages! Amy Anne is my new favorite champion of the First Amendment.

My favorite part of the story was the banned books themselves. The titles are there for any kid to track down, a veritable bibliography hiding in plain sight. As the author’s note states, all the books that are banned in this book have actually been challenged or banned recently in America. I hope this information, coupled with Amy Anne and the other students’ enjoyment of reading these books in the story, will lead readers to check out these other books and explore perspectives and stories they might never have found on their own.

As libraries across the country celebrate Banned Books Week this week, we celebrate the freedom to read. And what better way than to read a banned book? Here’s the list from Amy Anne’s Banned Books Lending Library. Which one will you read?

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
All the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey
All the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine

Keep Watching the Skies!

When it comes to monsters in the movies I’ve got a rule for being able to suspend my disbelief and actually believe in the creature, if only for an hour or two. If said monster is a product of the supernatural realm I just can’t buy into it. Ghosts just aren’t scary to me and I would be the guy denying that demons exist, just as Damien makes my head explode. If you give me the thinnest shred of ‘scientific’ evidence, however, I am down with it. Giant ants produced by atomic testing in the Nevada desert? You bet. An ancient alien discovered frozen in the ice in Antarctica that can shape shift? It could happen man.

I first discovered this rule in my precocious youth on the rare occasions I was allowed to stay up late on a weekend night and watch a locally hosted TV show, TJ and the Ant, which played what were then considered ‘horror’ films. These films were rarely frightening, unless you were terrified of men in foam rubber monster suits, and consisted primarily of Science Fiction films from the 50s and 60s. That didn’t stop me from loving them though. It also made it impossible for me to resist ordering Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (The Twenty First Century Edition) by Bill Warren for the collection.

This two volume (yes, two whole volumes) set is a lovingly crafted examination of nearly 300 science fiction films from 1950 to 1962. Each entry is an extended essay on each film touching on the plot, cast, production values, critical reception and much more for each title. An extensive collection of movie posters and film stills is also included. Even the appendices are fun with listings of films that didn’t make the cut and why, titles that have been remade and science fiction serials among others. All the classics of the genre are here including titles such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The real fun comes in with the films of, shall we say, dubious quality. I mean how can you resist learning about movies titled The Astounding She-Monster, The Brain from Planet Arous, Monster on the Campus, and, of course, Plan 9 From Outer Space?

Speaking of bad movies might I humbly suggest that you view some of these lovable but, let’s admit it, at times god awful films with the aid of professional comedians? You can do so by sampling the many excellent examples of riffing produced by the folks from Mystery Science Theater 3000. While there are now several different ways to experience MST3K (the original show on DVD, the excellent online service Rifftrax, and now a new reboot of the show on Netflix) they all have the same concept at their core: snarky commentary while watching bad movies. Also, they are freaking hilarious. I seriously can’t imagine trying to get through some of the films from Keep Watching the Skies (Eeegah, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Cat Women of the Moon and Reptilicus to name a few) without the comedic assistance of MST3K. The library has three volumes of the original show for you to cut your teeth on. But be warned, once started they are very addictive.

So remember to keep watching the skies. Also watch out for snakes.

Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. Several libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions nationwide use this month to pay tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans “who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.”

Northwest Washington is rich in Hispanic heritage dating back to 1774, when Spain claimed the Pacific Northwest. According to Historylink.org, Spanish captain Juan Perez led the Santiago from Mexico to the coast of what would eventually become Washington state. Early Spanish expeditions were typically led by Mexican crews. These Mexican explorers were the pioneers in the late 18th century settlements of Neah Bay and Vancouver Island, and they produced our earliest non-Native scientific and topographical studies of the region.  Think also of the familiar nearby place names like Fidalgo Island (home to the City of Anacortes), and the San Juan Islands. The Hispanic legacy of our region is abundantly evident.

EverettMap

In Everett, the overall Hispanic population is between 14 and 15 percent. Some neighborhoods have Hispanic populations exceeding 50 percent.  This City of Everett Planning Department  map illustrates Everett’s dense and robust Hispanic communities.

It seems only fitting, then, that the Northwest Room—the corner of the library dedicated to preserving and interpreting local history—acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month by sharing a highlight from our collection, as we recently did with Jewish Heritage Month and Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

In researching this blog post, we found some terrific books in the library collection, like Color: Latino Voices in the Pacific Northwest and We are Aztlán!: Chicanx Histories in the Northern BorderlandsColor is an anthology of intimate stories of Spanish-speaking immigrants in the Northwest, based on a Spanish medical interpreter’s clients and their lived colorexperiences. We are Aztlán! is a collection of scholarly articles on historical and contemporary issues faced by Chicanx (Hispanic) communities in the Pacific Northwest and Midwestern United States. For example, one chapter explores a recent history of Latino voter suppression in Yakima. Another tackles activism in the Yakima Valley and the Puget Sound regions. The library also has interesting books documenting early Spanish explorations—like Wagner’s Spanish Explorations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca—which provide useful historical context.

aztlanUnfortunately, though, we had trouble coming up with items in our Northwest Room archival and photographic collections that specifically document the history of Hispanic heritage and rapid growth in Everett and Snohomish County. We are concerned about this lack of representation in our local history collection. It is certainly an area of importance and increasing relevance to the communities we serve. Part of the Everett Public Library’s mission is to “embrace the future while preserving the past.” We can’t do that alone. Please reach out to us at libnw@everettwa.gov if you have knowledge and resources to help us better preserve and share the rich, diverse, and growing history of Hispanic communities in Everett—now and for future generations.

Did You Know? Unicorn Edition

That Narwhals may be the ‘original’ unicorns?

I found this information on page 31 in the book Whales and Dolphins by Robin Kerrod. This ‘Exploring Nature’ book is all about whales, porpoises, dolphins, and more and explains the differences between them. Long ago when narwhals were little known, their ‘horns,’ which are actually a large protruding canine tooth, were thought to be (and passed off as) unicorn horns. A unicorn’s horn is sometimes called an alicorn.

Narwhals by Todd McLeish describes how narwhal horns were sold for great amounts of money to royalty and others as unicorn horns. Narwhals are still being hunted for their horns, and conservation efforts are under way.

Another animal that has been mistaken for a unicorn is the saola, a relative of antelopes, goats, and cattle. The Last Unicorn by William DeBuys tells about the author’s journey to find a living saola. It sounds like it was quite an adventure through Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. While saolas do have 2 horns, from the side it looks like they have one.

Unicorns have many names and appearances. They are known as Ki-lin in China with a short curly horn and Karkaddan in Arabia and Persia with a long pointy horn. Behold the … the Unicorns! by Gail Gibbons lets us see the way unicorns are viewed around the world and the legends behind them. It is also well-known that ‘uni’ means one, as in unicorn = one horn, unicycle = one wheel etc. One is a book of colors and numbers by Kathryn Otoshi and helps teach kids to stand up for themselves. Kathryn has won 15 awards for her books and this ‘one’ won the E.B White read aloud honor.

It doesn’t matter if you believe they are real or not, there are many stories about unicorns. The Unicorn Treasury by Bruce Coville is a book that has unicorn stories and poems. Now if you have a unicorn, it will need to be properly trained! Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater is a must for the unicorn owner. Pip works at a magical creature clinic and has points and tips for caring for your unicorn, shadyhog, wimpleing or other magical beast. So, keep your eyes open, because you never know when you might see a unicorn!

Devo Was Their Name-O!

Q: I’ve got a rhyme that comes in a riddle. What’s round on the ends and high in the middle?
A: If you answered O-Hi-O, then you win a red energy dome (pictured below). Energy dome hat

 

Coming out of Akron, Ohio (where the rubber meets the road), Devo made a profound impact on the rock music world. Their first full-length album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, is a veritable smorgasbord of forays into the musical unknown. And while their later albums moved more towards the mainstream, the impact of Are We Not Men? continues to be immense.

But first, a little history. In 1924, B. H. Shadduck published a pamphlet on creationism called Jocko-Homo Heavenbound. This publication coined the term “D-Evolution”. It also contained text and ideas which turn up in the Devo canon. 50 years after its publication, a band of renegade youth in northern Ohio formed a band… Well, you can see where this is going.


Jocko

Starting in the late 1960s, rock music became increasingly slick and, in the minds of some, soulless. Rebellion against this aesthetic is largely what punk and its related genres were all about. Punk, post-punk, new wave, no wave… all looked for ways to take the music back to the people, to make creating music an activity open to one and all. Devo was one of the earliest groups to make the plunge into a new aesthetic.

Enter Are We Not Men?.

Are We

They tell us that we lost our tails
Evolving up from little snails
I say it’s all just wind in sails
Are we not men? We are Devo!

People who talk about music like to use the words tension and release to describe how tonal music moves forward. Tension is created, and then a resolution of that tension creates a moment of peace and relaxation. Devo, however, frequently leaves out the resolution part. Take for example the song Jocko Homo. Most popular music has four beats per measure, so of course Jocko Homo has seven.

Q: But surely the drums, those bastions of stability, provide a measure of comfort?
A: Well, no.

Q: How about if I focus on the vocals, something I can certainly relate to?
A: The lead vocals are hyper-dramatized and the background vocals are robotic, unemotional.

Q: What about those cute synthesizer sounds, seldom used in rock music pre-Devo?
A: The synthesizer brings an even higher level of disturbance to the listener’s comfort.

Q: Are you trying to tell me that there are no resting points, no moments of contentment?
A: Yes. This is what I’m telling you.

I’ll leave this song with my favorite lyric, from a passage that promotes evolution:

God made man but a monkey supplied the glue

Gut Feeling is another song that creates tension through odd numbers, in this case five-measure phrases (four-measure phrases are by far the most common in rock music). A five-chord sequence repeats over and over, each time feeling like it’s one chord too many. There is no respite from this brutal asymmetry.

Something about the way you taste
Makes me want to clear my throat
There’s a method to your movements
That really gets my goat
I looked for silver linings
But you’re rotten to the core
I’ve had just about all I can take
You know I can’t take it no more
I’ve got a gut feeling

At least the guitar and drums behave normally in this song. However, the five-chord pattern goes on forever (so it seems) before vocals enter. And when they do enter, they are once again rather weird. And as the song progresses it becomes more and more chaotic until it breaks into the next song.

Tension.

gut-feeling

Coming in at #442 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, this one is worth checking out. Oh yes. So throw away your preconceptions and postconceptions, relax, and whatever you do, do not Shrivel Up.

Real Friends

Some things in life come easy to me. I’m excellent at pattern recognition, reading way past my bedtime, functioning on very little sleep (could these two things be related?) falling up the stairs instead of down (always fall up), and having reflexes that work way faster than my brain. I didn’t have to work too hard at honing these skills and I’ve probably always taken it for granted that I don’t have to think about the process when I’m using them. There’s no concentration involved and things just seem to magically fall into place.

That’s never been the case with making friends. That’s always been something I’ve struggled with. If you met me today you probably wouldn’t guess that I was an extremely shy child. I didn’t approach strangers, would sometimes not even approach extended family members, and preferred to hide in my older brother’s shadow while he made things happen for me. However, he was never able to make friends for me; that was definitely a solo-Carol job, so when I did stumble into a friendship I held fast even if, in hindsight, it was unhealthy.

Reading Real Friends by Shannon Hale slammed me right back to that playground where I made my first friend who also later turned out to be the most unhealthy thing for me.

Real Friends is the story of a young Shannon, who recounts the series of friendships she had growing up and the impacts each made on her life. I was surprised to open the book and discover it’s not a graphic novel but actually a graphic memoir. As Shannon recounts her early school years through a series of friends she had, I was thrown back in time to the mid-late 80s when I was going through the same things Shannon did in the late 70s/early 80s. Some things are just universal. While this book is aimed at middle-grade readers I think anyone can find relatable moments.

I found myself in different friend roles growing up. Sometimes I was an Adrienne. My family would move or I would change schools and I would lose touch with my friends and have to start over again. Sometimes I was a Jen, although I never made people line up and be ranked in the order of who I liked the best (what a cruel thing to do!). Once or twice I’m sure I was a Wendy. I was the only girl in my family and sometimes I just couldn’t take the nonsense and would totally snap and lash out at my brothers. Then there was exactly one time I was a Jenny. To this day I regret acting the way I did, but nothing can change what’s in the past. We can only move forward and learn to choose kind.

But for the majority of my childhood I was a Shannon: shy, quiet, not sure how to make friends but knowing that I really, truly wanted someone to talk to and experience life with. I also made up games and was sometimes bossy or just oblivious when others were bored or left out completely when I became self-absorbed in the creative process.

I realize the name-dropping I’m doing here isn’t very helpful if you haven’t yet read the book, but it does illustrate the vastly different characters, aka real friends from Shannon’s past, that leap off the pages of this book. It’s amazing to me that within just a few panels the reader can get a deep sense of what kind of friend each girl was and the reader has a chance to see a bit of herself (or not) in each, too.

You’re gonna get the feels and if you’re lucky enough to still have a bestie from childhood you’re gonna want to call them as soon as you’ve finished reading.

School is Coming

I’m hoping somebody can tell me where the summer went. Between visits from family, the Summer Reading crush, Eclipse excitement and (SURPRISE!) two weeks of Jury Duty, the summer has been a whirlwind and a half. With kids out of school looking for entertainment and excited to do some pleasure reading this is my favorite season in the Library. It is also by far the most exhausting.

So while it is bittersweet to see all of our young patrons head back to school this week, I will confess that I am looking forward to the structured schedule of the school year. It also happens that a lot of books I love are steeped in the petty grievances and serious identity crises that come with starting at a new school. Here are a few of my favorites:

25701463Whitney Gardner’s You’re Welcome, Universe centers on a young woman named Julia. Julia is deaf, and has always been surrounded by the deaf community: her best friend is deaf, as are both of her parents, and she attends a high school for the deaf. When Julia is betrayed by a friend, however, she is expelled from her school and faces the daunting task of attending a public school where the vast majority of students and teachers struggle to communicate with her, where she has to use a (really annoying) translator, and where no one knows her or seems terribly interested in getting to know her.

But Julia has even bigger problems. A budding graffiti artist, Julia is chagrined to find that another painter is changing her works, adding to them but also improving upon them. Julia feels humiliated and violated by this challenge to her art and sets out to best this mysterious new tagger all while navigating her new school, making new friends, and confronting old ones. Gardner does something very clever to help the reader understand Julia’s communication frustrations. When people try to talk to her and she struggles to read their lips, dialog will have some words missing, replaced with “——-.” This decision ingeniously drops the reader into Julia’s shoes, forced to decipher meaning based on surrounding context.

y648Like Julia, Riley Cavanaugh, the narrator of Jeff Garvin’s Symptoms of Being Human, has a lot going on. Starting at a new high school is bad enough for Riley who is already prone to anxiety attacks. But on top of that are the expectations of Riley’s father who is running for reelection in a hotly contested congressional race. Between the pressure to make friends, blend in, “act normal” and not screw up, it’s no wonder Riley is feeling stressed. But Riley is also dealing with something else – a secret that only Riley’s therapist knows. Riley identifies as gender fluid. A far-too-simple explanation would be that sometimes Riley wakes up feeling male, and sometimes Riley wakes up feeling female. But as Riley says “…it’s not that simple. The world isn’t binary. Everything isn’t black or white, yes or no. Sometimes it’s not a switch, it’s a dial. And it’s not even a dial you can get your hands on; it turns without your permission or approval.

To try to cope, Riley starts a blog and is shocked when posts start going viral. Riley begins to settle in, make a few friends, discover a potential romantic interest, and find some respite from all of life’s external pressure. But good things never last. A blog commenter seems to have uncovered Riley’s identity and is threatening to out Riley. Now Riley must decide whether to shutter the blog and betray those who have come to depend on Riley’s posts or to stand proud and risk the judgment of friends and family as well as possibly ruining Riley’s father’s political career.

30256109In American Street, by Ibi Zoboi, Fabiola Toussaint is a young Haitian immigrant who lands in Detroit ready to embrace the American dream. From the start, however, things do not go as planned. Her mother, who was supposed to accompany her, is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone, meeting her aunt and cousins for the first time. American culture and expectations to assimilate immediately overwhelm Fabiola, but her resilience and determination ensure that this is not a derivative fish-out-of-water story.

Fabiola’s fierce cousins, known as the three Bees (brains, brawn and beauty), are respected and feared affording her a measure of protection in the neighborhood while also helping her find her place in school. Fab quickly begins to settle in, but is torn between her desire to conform and her devotion to her Haitian identity. She also begins to realize that her aunt and cousins might be involved in some unsavory dealings and that in order to help her mother, she may need to betray the family that welcomed her in Detroit. Though her mother is far away Fab is never alone. All around Detroit Fab sees lwas, Vodou spirits, who help guide her and warn her of impending danger. These visions give American Street a surreal mysticism that edges towards magic realism while also lending authenticity and depth to Fabiola’s immigrant experience.

One of the reasons I love YA fiction is the way its talented writers impart empathy in their work. I’m fortunate to have decent hearing, I’m not an immigrant, and until I read the Symptoms of Being Human my understanding of gender fluidity was rudimentary at best. All three of these works do a masterful job of weaving diverse perspectives into their work, helping the reader to understand the lives of others without overpowering their works’ compelling narratives.

deadlyAnd now for something completely different! In the ongoing series, Deadly Class, Marcus is a homeless teenager simply trying to survive. Sure he has some demons in his past and the police would like to speak with him, but otherwise he seems like a decent guy.  A new world is opened to him when he is invited to attend King’s Dominion High School for the Deadly Arts, a school dedicated to training young assassins. Suddenly Marcus finds himself thrust into a world of precocious young killers, the children of gang leaders, mob bosses, drug kingpins, and genocidal dictators. Marcus must learn to carefully navigate the halls of this school unsure of who to trust because he is certain that if he can survive he can take revenge on the people who destroyed his own family.  This beautifully illustrated comic is profane, thrilling, hilarious, and incredibly difficult to put down.