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Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012 Banned Books Week: Picture Books

Image courtesy of the
American Library Association

Today begins the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. According to Wikipedia, this annual event "not only encourages readers to examine challenged literary works, but also promotes intellectual freedom in libraries, schools, and bookstores."  Last year I shared some of my favorite banned/challenged picture books and books for older children.  I've spent the past few weeks reading (and re-reading) several more books that have been banned or challenged over the years.  I will share some middle grade and young adult novels later this week, but today I will focus on picture books:

The Giving Tree,
written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein, 1964

I wrote about this book, one of my favorites since I was a young girl, in a previous post.  This one has been challenged because some people consider it to be sexist.  I disagree.


The Amazing Bone,
written and illustrated by William Steig, 1976

Pearl the pig finds and befriends a talking bone.  When a fox captures her and takes Pearl home for his next meal, the crafty bone helps her to escape.

This book has been banned for "graphic and detailed violence".  At one point in the story, three highway robbers jump out at Pearl, brandishing pistols and daggers, and one of them points a gun at her head.  The fox also sharpens his knife, preparing to have Pearl for dinner.

I have vague memories of reading this story when I was a young girl.  It's a strange tale, true, but not any scarier than most fairy tales in my opinion.  It also contains quite a bit of humor.


Crow Boy,
written and illustrated by Taro Yashima, 1955

In his classroom in a small Japanese village, Chibi is an outcast.  He is quiet and shy; the other children tease him and call him names.  After several years of this treatment, a teacher, Mr. Isobe, takes an interest in Chibi and discovers the boy's special talent.  Soon everyone at school learns to appreciate and accept Chibi's differences.

This book has been challenged because it supposedly "denigrates white American culture, promotes racial separation, and discourages assimilation".

I found this to be a touching story, one that encourages kindness and acceptance.  I read it with Ben, my seven-year-old, and it prompted a discussion afterwards about how we should treat others.  He thought the beginning of the book was sad (it is), but he loved the ending, just as I did.


Strega Nona,
written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, 1975

Strega Nona, or "Grandma Witch", mixes up potions and cures for the people in her village.  Then one day Big Anthony discovers that she has a magical cooking pot that can instantly make pasta.  When Strega Nona leaves home to visit a friend, Big Anthony decides to use the pot and boils up some instant trouble instead.

Apparently, this picture book has been challenged in the past because it "contains supernatural content and presents magic as being good".  (To which I respond: It's a fairy tale, people!)

Ben and I both loved this book, the story and the pictures. Big Anthony's troubles left Ben giggling for several minutes after we finished reading it!


Uncle Bobby's Wedding,
written and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, 2008

Chloe loves to spend time with her Uncle Bobby; he is very special to her.  When Uncle Bobby and Jamie announce that they are getting married, Chloe is worried that her uncle won't have time for her any more.  Luckily, she soon discovers that their marriage only means that she will now have TWO special uncles who adore her.

People have challenged this book for being "specifically designed to normalize gay marriage".

I thought this was a very sweet story.  (So did Ben.)  It focuses on Chloe's relationship with her uncle, not on his same-sex marriage.  In fact, the first time we read through it, Ben didn't even realize that Jamie was male.  I had to point that out to him.  (And once I did, he was completely accepting of it.  As I've mentioned before, we have openly gay loved ones in our lives.  In our house, a book that "normalizes gay marriage" is a good thing.)  

I had talked with Ben earlier about Banned Books Week -- what it means to ban or challenge a book and why I disagree with banning books.  (I also explained that I believe parents have the right to decide if a book is appropriate for their child or not.)  When I told him, after reading it, that people had tried to ban this book, he was flabbergasted!


The Story of Little Black Sambo,
written by Helen Bannerman (1899)
and illustrated by Christopher Bing, 2003

A young boy outwits a group of voracious tigers, who end up turning themselves into butter (which Sambo's father collects for the family's pancakes).

This story has been challenged many times over the years since Bannerman wrote it.  Half a century after it was first published, "the word 'sambo' was deemed a racial slur". Additionally, in the original book, the illustrations (also by Bannerman) were seen as "hurtful, stereotypical caricatures".

When I was a little girl, we had a Sambo's restaurant in town.  The walls inside were painted with murals inspired by the story.  I loved going there for pancakes, and loved the fantastical tale, as well.  I had no idea at the time that there was such controversy over the name and the story.  This version of the book, illustrated by Bing, is filled with vivid, beautiful pictures.  The endpapers contain some history behind the story and the controversy.  I think it provides a great opportunity to talk about these things with our kids.


In the Night Kitchen,
written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, 1970

Young Mickey falls asleep and dreams that he falls down into "the night kitchen" where bakers, working on some cake for morning, mistake him for milk. (How, I'm not quite sure!) Mickey manages to escape, then helps the bakers by flying up to the Milky Way for a cup of milk.

"Nudity" is the reason cited for this picture book being challenged.  Yes, Mickey (a cartoonish-looking boy) is shown naked in a few of the scenes, facing both forwards and backwards.  He is not drawn in explicit detail.

This was my first time ever reading this book, even though it's almost as old as I am.  I found the story a bit odd, but I can understand why kids -- including Ben -- like it so much. Besides, dreams usually are a bit odd.   I also think all the fuss over the nudity is quite silly.


Where's Waldo?,
written and illustrated by Martin Handford, 1987

Waldo travels around the world, encountering crowds of people and objects.  Readers are invited to search for Waldo and the possessions he loses along the way.

The original version of this book was challenged because "in a beach scene, there is a woman who is topless."  The woman in question is less than one inch tall, is lying on her stomach, and seen from one side.  In the version I checked out from the library (a "special edition" from 1997), a bikini top has been added to the woman. 

This book doesn't have much of a story -- it is more of a game.  The very detailed pictures are fun to look through.  Ben was thrilled when I brought it home; he loves this kind of thing!


Halloween ABC,
written by Eve Merriam
and illustrated by Lane Smith, 1987

Twenty-six delightfully wicked poems by Merriam combine with Smith's spooktacular illustrations to create a Halloween book worth howling about.

Apparently, some people have challenged this book because they believe it "promotes satanism, murder, and suicide".  I think they read a different book than I did!  (Or, perhaps, they didn't read it at all.)

I do agree that some younger kids (and maybe some older ones) might find this book to be too creepy.  However, our family loves Halloween.  We have a tradition of watching the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas" every October 31st. Anyone who loves that movie is sure to love this book as well.  I know I do!  I've heard about this book for years, but our library doesn't carry it, so I had never read it.  I finally decided to order it for myself last month, and I'm so glad I did!  It is sure to become a classic at our house. :)


What are some of your favorite banned or challenged picture books?  I hope you'll join me this week in re-reading some old favorites or trying a new banned/challenged book... or both!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Feeding your spirit...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"He fed his spirit 
with the bread of books." 

 ~ Edwin Markham

I don't know about you, but my spirit is always hungry for more books!  I guess that's just the BookWyrm in me. :)

Friday, September 28, 2012

In Autumn

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

In Autumn

They're coming down in showers,
The leaves all gold and red;
They're covering the little flowers,
And tucking them in bed.
They've spread a fairy carpet
All up and down the street;
And when we skip along to school,
They rustle 'neath our feet.

~Winifred C. Marshall

This poem makes me smile.  I especially love its magical images -- autumn leaves tucking the flowers in their bed and the fairy carpet spread across the ground....

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A new window...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"…And now my poems are filled 
with people and animals and the magic 
I see in the real world around me. (…) 
Amazing things are all around me, 
appearing ordinary at first, 
until I really look at them closely.

"As I write about them, 
the real things become very new, 
more vivid and full of color.  
That's exciting to me, 
and I look at my own world 
through a new window, 
my poem, 
and see the marvels all around." 

~ Joanne Ryder, 
in The Place My Words are Looking For

The ordinary things around me always become extraordinary whenever I take the time to stop and really look at them, and then again when I try to write about what I've seen.  I love Ryder's idea of a poem being a new window through which I can view the world....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

This week's word is a color, another name for bright red: cinnabar [sin-uh-bahr].  Cinnabar is also the name of a mineral, the principal ore of mercury, which occurs in red crystals or masses.  I like the way the word sounds -- it's prettier, more exotic-sounding, than "red".  When I hear it, I think of the word "cinnamon" which reminds me of fall. (Mmmm... apple crisp!)  Cinnabar reminds me of fall as well, and the leaves changing color.

The forest leaves blazed with
gold, orange, copper, and cinnabar -- 
a kaleidoscope of autumn colors.

The cardinal perched on the tree branch, 
a spot of cinnabar among the green leaves.

The orchard trees stood in rows, 
their branches laden with plump cinnabar apples, 
just waiting to be plucked and turned into pies.

What do you think of when you hear the word cinnabar? What other interesting color names can you think of?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Lonely Scarecrow

Volkening Heritage Farm, June 2012

The Lonely Scarecrow

My poor old bones -- I've only two
A broomshank and a broken stave,
My ragged gloves are a disgrace
My one peg-foot is in the grave.

I wear the labourer's old clothes;
Coat, shirt and trousers all undone.
I bear my cross upon a hill
In rain and shine, in snow and sun.

I cannot help the way I look.
My funny hat is full of hay.
--O, wild birds, come nest in me!
Why do you always fly away?

~ James Kirkup

I hadn't really thought about scarecrows being lonely until I read this poem sometime last year.  I've imagined them wanting to get down and walk around, like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, but other than that, I've always thought of them as the jolly creatures that I see around Halloween, with big painted smiles.  Kirkup's scarecrow is far from jolly, however.  When I spotted the scarecrow in the photo above this summer, all alone in a big garden, he, too, seemed more lonely than jolly.  I can just hear him calling to the wild birds, as in Kirkup's poem: Come back!  Come nest in me!

What do you think of when you see a scarecrow?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The big idea...

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

     It was there at the corner of Spring Street and South Grand Avenue, one block from home on a September afternoon.  That's when Nick got the big idea.

     And by the time he had run down the street and up the steps and through the door and upstairs to his room, it wasn't just a big idea.  It was a plan, a whole plan, just begging for Nick to put it into action.  And "action" was Nick's middle name.

~ from Frindle
written by Andrew Clements

Have you ever been just walking along, minding your own business,  when -- BAM! -- a big idea hits you?  Some of my story ideas have been like that.  Sometimes I'm thinking about what to cook for dinner or what my kids' schedule looks like for the week or a million other ordinary things when suddenly I see something or hear something that triggers an "aha!" moment in my head, and a new story idea is born....

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Just get it written...

Image courtesy of NYPL's Digital Gallery

"Don't get it right, 
just get it written." 

~ James Thurber

This is what I have to tell myself whenever I'm writing the first draft of a story.  So often I find myself wanting to stop, go back, and revise something I've just written.  What I need to do, though, is to keep on writing until I get the whole story out of my head and onto paper or a computer screen.  When it's all been written, then I can go back and start revising to get my story "right".

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Peace: A Recipe

Image courtesy of Clker.com

Peace: A Recipe

Open minds -- at least two.
Willing hearts -- the same.
Rinse well with compassion.
Stir in a fair amount of trust.
Season with forgiveness.
Simmer in a sauce of respect.
A dash of humor brightens the flavor.

Best served with hope.

~ Anna Grossnickle Hines, 
from Peaceful Pieces: 
Poems and Quilts About Peace

Yesterday was the International Day of Peace.  (I originally wrote the date down wrong and thought it was today until I happened to see it on my calendar late last night.)  Today is the first day of fall, however.  I love this poem by Hines that I found in her book, Peaceful Pieces, at the library over the summer, and thought it was appropriate for the Day of Peace.  This world needs all the peace it can get, today and every day.  Wishing you all a peaceful day and a beautiful, peaceful autumn!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fall Into a Good Book

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Tomorrow is the official beginning of autumn.  To celebrate, I thought I'd share some fun fall books for young kids and their parents or teachers.  My son Ben and I found them at our library and read through them earlier this month.  (For even more picture books about autumn, check out this post of mine from last year.)

First, some fiction:

I See Fall,
written by Charles Ghigna
and illustrated by Ag Jatkowska, 2012

With a poem about the joys of autumn as its text, this is a delightful book to read aloud.  Ben read it to me one day, and then I read it several times on my own, savoring each line. Ben and I loved the colorful, charming illustrations as well.


Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf,
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert, 1991

This is not strictly a seasonal book, though it does mention the brightly-colored leaves of fall.  Elhert follows the life of a sugar maple tree, from its seed landing on the forest floor to the seedling being taken to a nursery to the young tree being bought and planted in a yard.  A short section in the back of the book provides some scientific information about trees. Ehlert uses watercolor collage along with pieces of actual seeds, roots, fabric, and wire to create the vivid illustrations in this book.


Leaf Man,
written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert, 2005

In this book, Ehlert uses photocopies of real autumn leaves to create playful pictures of Leaf Man and all the critters he sees when the wind blows him away -- leaf cows, leaf turtles, leaf turkeys, and more.  The story and illustrations will inspire readers to take nature hikes, collect leaves, and make autumnal art projects of their own.


The Scarecrow's Hat,
written and illustrated by Ken Brown, 2001

This is another story that's not necessarily about fall, but scarecrows always seem to be an icon of autumn, at least to me. Chicken really likes Scarecrow's hat.  Scarecrow says he would gladly trade the hat for a walking stick.  Chicken doesn't have a walking stick... but she knows someone who does!  Soon Chicken is busy swapping items back and forth between her friends, all in an effort to finally get her hands (er... feet?) on Scarecrow's hat.  This is a clever, amusing tale that Ben and I both enjoyed quite a bit.


Hello, Harvest Moon,
written by Ralph Fletcher
and illustrated by Kate Kiesler, 2003

Fletcher uses lyrical prose to tell this story about the moon, climbing high into the sky.  It is nighttime, yes, but not everyone is asleep.  The nocturnal world comes to life under the shining moon, and Fletcher is there to tell us about it. Ben and I especially liked all of the sensory details and metaphors in this book.


The Stranger,
written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, 1986

Who is the stranger that Farmer Bailey accidentally hit with his truck, this man (with very cold breath) who can't speak and doesn't seem to remember anything from his past?  He is friendly and helpful, but when he stays with the Baileys for a few weeks, an odd thing happens -- while all the trees to the north have changed color, the trees around the farm and to the south remain green.  When the stranger sees geese flying south, he realizes that he, too, must be moving on. Once he leaves, fall finally arrives at the farm. Van Allsberg never says for sure, but leaves his readers wondering: Could the stranger be Jack Frost?

Ben and I really liked this mysterious, haunting story.  I was surprised that this picture book was shelved with the middle grade novels at our library, and after reading it, I still don't understand why.  According to Amazon, this book is rated for readers 4 and up.


Here are a few nonfiction books that I recommend for autumn:

Leaves Fall Down: 
Learning About Autumn Leaves,
written by Lisa Bullard
and illustrated by Nadine Takvorian, 2011

The first thing I think of whenever I hear the word "autumn" is the way that leaves turn different colors and fall to the ground.  This book uses simple language to explain to young readers how leaves change color and why they fall.  It also includes instructions for a craft, using -- what else? -- leaves.


Apples for Everyone,
written by Jill Esbaum,
with photographs by many, 2009

Autumn also reminds me of apples and going apple-picking, something our whole family looks forward to doing each October.  This Early Reader book introduces children to apples -- how they grow, how they are used, and more. Esbaum's descriptive, mouth-watering text is paired with brilliant photographs.  Warning:  Reading this book may cause your stomach to growl!


written and photographed by Ken Robbins, 2006

Of course, autumn also means pumpkins.  With his gorgeous photographs and poetic, informative text, Robbins tells about the life cycle of a pumpkin, and how varieties can differ in color and size.  He includes instructions for carving a jack-o-lantern as well.

What do you think of when you hear the word autumn?  Do you have any favorite books about this season?  I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Goodbye, Six -- Hello, Seven

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Goodbye Six -- Hello, Seven 

I'm getting a higher bunk bed. 
And I'm getting a bigger bike. 
And I'm getting to cross Connecticut Avenue 
   all by myself, if I like. 
And I'm getting to help do dishes. 
And I'm getting to weed the yard. 
And I'm getting to think that seven could be hard. 

~ Judith Viorst

My Benjamin is seven years old today.  I can't believe it.  He's getting so big and learning so many new things and, like this poem says, we've been giving him more responsibilities, too.  Growing up can be hard -- but it's also exciting, starting a new phase of life.  Ben has been beyond excited all week, waiting for this day to get here.  Happy birthday, Ben!  Hope you will love being seven! :)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


According to my Webster's New World Dictionary, equinox [ee-kwuh-noks] is a noun that means "the time when the sun crosses the equator, making night and day of equal length in all parts of the earth: the vernal (or spring) equinox occurs about March 20, the autumnal equinox about September 22."  Yes, that means that the autumnal equinox is coming up soon, and then it will officially be fall! Here are a few sentences I came up with using our word of the week:

My daughter was born on the vernal equinox.  
(True story.)

I love most things about autumn, 
but I don't like how it starts 
getting dark earlier after the equinox.

Some people hold religious celebrations 
or festivals on the equinox.

How would you use equinox in a sentence?  Are you looking forward to the upcoming equinox and the start of autumn?  I am. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


"Everyone knows 
what 911 means. 
Everyone should know 
what 811 means--
that’s the poetry section 
of the library. 
Visit as often as you can." 

~ J. Patrick Lewis

The poetry section -- one of my favorite parts of the library!  I first saw this quote several months ago, and ever since then I've been able to remember where to look for poetry without having to check the library computer first. :) What's your favorite part of the library?