Librarians Read: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

An absolutely charming middle grade realistic fiction that hopefully gets some Newbery love in January. When Lucy was 8 years-old the metal fence that she was climbing on was struck by lightning and the jolt has left her with some OCD mannerisms but also with a very strongly developed sense of numbers and math. After the accident Lucy’s primary caregiver, her grandmother, home-schooled her for some time but at the beginning of the story she is determined to send her to middle school for some time with her peers. Lucy’s compulsions don’t go over very well with most of the other 7th graders but a couple of people are able to see past them. This is a story with a lot of heart about friendship, trust, family, the beauty of numbers and one very sweet shelter dog whose narrative caused some (slightly) tear-stained pages in this library book.

Librarians Read: Bob

Short and precious and so well-made down to the sepia-toned illustrations inside and the tiny golden stars on the book cover. When ten-year-old Livy returns to Australia to see her grandmother after a gap of five years, everyone is disappointed by how little she remembers from her previous visit. She is frustrated too especially as she has the sense that something very important has been left undone from her past. This all changes when she opens her closet door and is reunited with Bob, a special friend and mysterious creature who has been waiting all of these years for her return. The sense of the beauty, power and mystery of memory makes this tiny fantasy a real treat.

Banned Books Week, Day 5

Welcome to the AAS Celebration of Banned Books Week!
Day Five

Every day this week, we will be bringing news of book banning from across the divisions and around the world.  

Today’s topic: Provoked Thoughts and General Reflections

When Kris and I began planning this week, we asked our fellow educators if they had any books challenged or removed from other schools that they had worked in.  We heard a few stories, but not nearly the volume that we expected. Today, on Friday of a week where we have seen so many people, we have finally heard the stories we expected to hear.

We heard stories of books not being taught because they couldn’t make it through the approval process.  Stories of books removed from curriculum, never to be encountered again. We heard stories of teachers spoken to privately because of the content of the book in their class.

One senior remarked that a book from his class may have given him another perspective, but that it was hard to be certain; if it had been removed, perhaps some other books would have done the same or brought him a new idea.  

We heard stories of books vanished from libraries.  Two middle schoolers said that books had been taken from previous school libraries.  One teacher mentioned that a parent had “lost” several copies of a book because she disagreed with the content in a previous school.  One teacher mentioned how she would get secret books in paper bags from her librarian.

We heard students and teachers express a wide range of emotions at books being taken away from libraries: surprise, disbelief, outrage, confusion, humor and frustration.  We heard concern about books being removed from the AAS Library, both in the greater sense and with a particular pointed question. We heard students encourage the removal of some books from our library, feeling offended that certain body parts and words were available in print.

Most of all, we heard respect for the library, for the curriculum, and for the right to choose.  Students and teachers here have the freedom to read about any sort of topic, to explore books that scare them or make them silly, that explore gender and identity, that tackle human issues of addiction and mental health, of their culture and their ethnicity, with any history that it may include.

As librarians, we see this as both a great honor and a great responsibility.  Our collection must have books for everyone, for patrons of all ages, for patrons from every country we represent, for educators and students working towards higher education.  We appreciate that we are gatekeepers to information, that we have power over what comes into our space and gets removed. We appreciate that we need to be sensitive to different perspectives, both in terms of supporting our young patrons and honoring possibly concerned parents.

In a world where there is ample information available at the tips of your fingers, we appreciate the power of a book, no matter its form.  Each new challenge of a book reminds us that what we choose to focus on is a powerful influence. Each new story we hear lets us into a different perspective, one that is ours to form and express.  And each new perspective reminds us that we can’t necessarily force another person to hold the same views as we do.

Thank you all for your support of the library, of literature, and of our students.

We honor the books mentioned in these stories, all books that exist in our collection and throughout the school.

“The Diary of a Part Time Indian”

“Persepolis”

“The Handmaid’s Tale”

“Walter the Farting Dog”

“The Diary of Anne Frank”

“Captain Underpants”

“Why” (a book in Korean)

“Harry Potter”

“Sex is a Funny Word”

Banned Books Week: Day 4

Welcome to the AAS Celebration of Banned Books Week!

Day Four

Every day this week, we will be bringing news of book banning from across the divisions and around the world.  Banning Books Silences Stories, and our community has more than a few stories of censorship, either from a home country, a place we’ve lived, or from family and friends.

Take a moment today to appreciate your right to your personal story, and your ability to see it in literature and on film, and feel free to share this message with anyone you choose.

Today’s topic: the subtleties and the details.

It’s easy to be outraged at widespread book challenges and banning, but the majority of cases that librarians see are secret, subtle, and whispered to one another.  For every case that we see in the news, there are many times more that are unreported. Sometimes, teachers fear retribution. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth the fight.  Sometimes, it is a private affair, not even known through the school community.

One of our teachers had one sentence removed from a library book.  It doesn’t seem like a problem, unless you know that the sentence was the only reference in the story to the idea that a family could have “two mommies or two daddies.”  

As librarians, we’ve noticed in several libraries that some books just go missing.  Perhaps a person is taking a book home in private to explore a topic, but sometimes that book is secreted away because someone disagrees with the content.  We’ve seen books returned with blackout marks, with pages glued together, or just never returned. Both Kris and K have found themselves in the stacks discovering a topic previously unknown, and believe that the library is a place to discover information about topics that are difficult to research online.

Every person has the right to their own choices, both for themselves and for their family.  One of our teachers is a relative of the author of “Amber Brown,” a popular series for younger readers.  The books are loosely based on reality, with Amber tackling some topics in the books that our teacher didn’t exactly experience.  Her brother chooses not to have those books in his home, for his own children, believing that the books are “too much” for his kids.  It is his right to do so, his parental decision.

In much the same way, we as professionals are choosing where to place the books so the “right” group has the “right” access.  Educators are deciding what to put in their classroom, how to find that just right balance of interesting and accessible for the kids that spend so much time in that room.  As librarians, we decide what to purchase, where in the library it goes, what books may have notes. Teachers make those choices as well.

One high school student this week mentioned that books don’t have a rating system like films do.  There are no systems of parental controls that influence our library either. We place a lot of trust in our patrons in knowing what they are interested in, what they are ready to experience, what they prefer for that moment.  Giving that trust can be very scary, but books are a safe place to explore topics that we struggle to make sense of in our real lives. They are a safe place to feel scared, to talk about grief, to think about choices, to develop empathy.  

Here at AAS, we are fortunate to have educators who trust the library.  And we would like to thank each and every person who has shared a story with us, spoken about a tough topic with a student, or just came up to enjoy the literature with us.

Banned Books Week: Day 3

Welcome to the AAS Celebration of Banned Books Week!

Day Three

Every day this week, we will be bringing news of book banning from across the divisions and around the world.  Banning Books Silences Stories, and our community has more than a few stories of censorship, either from a home country, a place we’ve lived, or from family and friends.

Take a moment today to appreciate your right to your personal story, and your ability to see it in literature and on film, and feel free to share this message with anyone you choose.

Today, the topic at hand is currency and community.

Yesterday, one teacher told me that while teaching in the middle east, he couldn’t touch even the idea of Persepolis in his school.  He told me that the parents at his school in Washington wouldn’t let him teach “Diary of a Part Time Indian.” Another teacher, though, wrote a grant for a class set while working on the reservation that made her teaching remarkably successful.  The students connected with that story beyond any “offensive” content that might be there.

Librarians are struggling with this book at the moment, though.  With the advent of the #metoo movement, accusations about the author of “Part Time Indian” came into the public sphere.  Kris and K both love the book, but struggle with the idea of splitting the artist and the art. While we won’t remove this particular book from the library, we did specifically re-evaluate the reader series “Young Bill Cosby,” based on the currency of books, circulation statistics and value to our collection, after his conviction. We chose to remove them.

One recent story connects with the #metoo movement.  A parent in the UK wanted to remove Sleeping Beauty from the curriculum and the libraries given the liberties that the prince takes by kissing Aurora while she is asleep.  This current news brings up issues in the stories that are being told and what they say about the culture.

Sometimes the community rebels against the idea that the issues in books could impact their children.  The book “Perks of Being a Wallflower” is currently behind the library desk (available only when you ask with parental permission) at the school where the book is set.  The author is from a school in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and it tackles child abuse, sexual identity, and teen drinking and drugs.

Other times, there is some benefit to being sensitive to different groups of people.  Books like “Babar” highlight the benefits of colonialism, often by showing discrimination in a positive light.  Other books, like Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” use racial slurs throughout the text. Perhaps changing politics and changing language warrants a change in story.

Of course, not every group has the same logic.  The Lorax was challenged by a group of parents who worked as lumberjacks, who didn’t want their children to see them unfavorably.  Many environmental books are challenged for a similar reason. Police officers didn’t like their portrayal as pigs in “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.”

Our AAS community has such a diverse group of people, and we want to honor that diversity and respect that all of us are coming from a different perspective.  We want our library to reflect a story for each and every one of our patrons.

Banned Books Week: Day Two

Welcome to the AAS Celebration of Banned Books Week!

Every day this week, we will be bringing news of book banning from across the divisions and around the world.  This year, we are focused on stories. Banning Books Silences Stories, and our community has more than a few stories of censorship, either from a home country, a place we’ve lived, or from family and friends.

Each day, we will focus on a theme of banning with the stories that accompany that theme.  Please feel welcome to share these stories. Take a moment today to appreciate your right to your personal story, and your ability to see it in literature and on film, and feel free to share this message with anyone you choose.

 Today, the topic at hand is curriculum. Books are often restricted at the curricular level, given the power that is in the hands of the teacher and the school.  Students are required or encouraged to read a certain text, a person or a group finds an issue with this, and the book is removed from suggested lists, classrooms, or curricula.

Two of our teachers have seen this in action.  In one example, a teacher expressed that a book that she wanted for her classroom, Plainsong, had a passage containing some sexual material.  The principal allowed her to purchase a class set of these books, but when they came in, he had her take out that page with an exact-o knife. One page removed from every single book in her new class set.  The teacher remarked that this was the worst moment in her teaching career.

A second teacher saw this in a friend of hers, with a book (Stick, Andrew Winger)  being on a recommended reading list. The book deals with LGBT issues, bullying, and abuse.  One group of people pressured the superintendent to remove the book from the list and from the library after one parent complained about the content.  Against the recommendations of a committee formed to review the book, they decided to remove it anyway.

One of the more famed cases of curriculum removal is in the case of Persepolis, removed from the Chicago Public Schools curricula.  The district commanded the removal of Persepolis from both classrooms and libraries, citing that they were unsure the students had the maturity to appreciate and fully understand the book.  There were no formal complaints and no formal process for removing the book, just a sudden and urgent push from the administration. Removing the book from curriculum completely removed it from student hands given that the school libraries there are not nearly as well-developed as the library here is.

Another common reason for books to be banned from curriculum is that they “aren’t academic enough.”  Some books that touch on truths that don’t want to be believed, stories that some believe are too intense for kids to read.  Reading them as a class can provide context and clarity, and requires trust in the educator as well as the text. It’s unfortunate that not every school honors the experience of the educator to teach tough topics.

AAS is fortunate to have books in curriculum that tackle tough topics, as well as books in classrooms and book rooms that deal with real life, emotions, and true experiences.  We are also amazingly fortunate to have educators that teach books that some others have banned.

Librarians Read: Broken Things

Five years ago Brynn and Mia’s friend Summer was found dead in the woods with multiple stab wounds. In a whirlwind trial they quickly become the prime suspects though the case was thrown out of court without a verdict. When Brynn is sent home from rehab, her path crosses Mia’s again and they slowly begin to puzzle through some of the lingering mysteries around Summer’s death and the fairy tale world that tied them together.

You can find this book and similar ones in our very popular THRILLERS section. Ask any library staff member to point the way.

Librarians Read: Chains

Chains is the first book in Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Seeds of America” series though it works quite well as a stand-alone read too. The story begins in New England in the late 1700s when slavery was still legal through all of the English colonies though it was losing favor. Isabel and her little sister have been promised their freedom by their owner but after her death her nephew quickly disposes of the paperwork and sells them to a husband and wife who live in New York city and who are loyal to the English king. Isabel is a very industrious and clever character but for the most part she is trapped by societal rules for African Americans. Still one path of resistance presents itself – she can become a spy for the American revolutionaries. Isabel’s life makes an excellent lens to explore both slavery and the early years on the American revolution.

We look forward to hosting Laurie Halse Anderson at our school December 2019. She has written many excellent books for teens as well as this Middle Grade historical series.

Banned Books Week: Day One

Welcome to the AAS Celebration of Banned Books Week!

Every day this week, we will be bringing news of book banning from across the divisions and around the world.  This year, we are focused on stories. Banning Books Silences Stories, and our community has more than a few stories of censorship, either from a home country, a place we’ve lived, or from family and friends.

Each day, we will focus on a theme of banning with the stories that accompany that theme.  Please feel welcome to share these stories. Each story we hear of a banned book helps us to appreciate the freedom we have to read, both as international citizens and as members of the AAS community.  Our school is fortunate to have a robust library, full of books for a diverse school community, typically away from the claws of politics. Take a moment today to appreciate your right to your personal story, and your ability to see it in literature and on film, and feel free to share this message with anyone you choose.

Today, the topic at hand is widespread banning from countries, typically as a result of political or religious reasons.

At least three of our teachers in the high school have faced difficulty with textbooks in particular countries.  In two situations, passages were blacked out or redacted because of the politics of the region. In one more situation, all textbooks with the word “thinking” in the title were never received, having been stopped in customs and vanished by agents there.

One librarian (a friend of Ms. Kris) has trouble importing books into Saudi Arabia; each of his boxes is searched and if one of the books has any indication of alcohol, drugs, or pork, among other troublesome topics, the entire box is sent back.  If AAS was in Saudi, we would have immense trouble receiving boxes.

The idea of a country banning a book has happened through the ages. Books like “Animal Farm,” with government commentary and warning, have been banned in the Soviet Union, China, Saudi Arabia (pigs, right?), and a collection of other governments.

While some governments preempt these books, preventing them from ever entering the country, some governments rely on translation to restrict their topics.  Francoist Spain banned several books (“Ferdinand”) and used the translation in Spanish to scrub out the rest of the “offensive content.” You can find censored versions still today in stores.   

In Thailand, the film “Mockingjay” was pulled from the theatres after protesters began using the three finger salute in the “Hunger Games” trilogy.  Ms. K’s school, sensitive to the government’s wishes, then pulled them from the shelves and the Banned Books display.

In current news, both Kuwait and China are facing backlash for their book banning.  It’s becoming dangerous, though. Hong Kong has seen several booksellers go missing under mysterious circumstances after they sold contraband books to Chinese people.    

AAS is fortunate to have mail delivered through the diplomatic pouch, which means that even topics sensitive in our home country can be covered in the books that we own and enjoy.  You have the freedom to read about many topics that may be out of reach for some others.