Celebrate the Freedom to Read During Banned Book Week

Next week, September 27 to October 4 is the American Library Association’s Banned Book Week. The ALA says this event “reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.”

I looked over the list of the most frequently challenged books from this century, and was surprised by some titles that made the list. It was no surprise that the Harry Potter series was there, because I’ve heard of many challenges to those books. But the Captain Underpants series? I read them all with my daughter when she was young, and they fit perfectly into the crude sense of humor so many kids have. She loved them, and I don’t think reading them has led to any long-term crass behavior on her part.

Looking at the list of most challenged books from the 20th century I was not surprised to find Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, two of my all-time favorites that do stir up controversy occasionally. But I couldn’t believe Lois Lowry’s The Giver made the list. Both of my daughters read that in their 6th grade lit classes, and then they went on a field trip to see it performed on stage. It’s a very powerful book with a message that lasts.

Celebrate your freedom to read by checking out the list of challenged books at the ALA’s website, then pick one to read. I think I’ll check out Huckleberry Finn again, and maybe read it to my daughter this time.


Book Review: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

Sarah's Key imageSet in both 1942 and modern times, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay is a mystery as well as a heartbreaking look at the round up and deportation of Jewish families from Paris to Auschwitz in what was known as the Vel d’Hiv for the place the families gathered—the Vélodrome d’hiver, or winter velodrome.

Ten-year-old Sarah Starzynski is sleeping when the Paris police bang on her apartment door.  Her family had heard of Jews being rounded up, but only the men. So Sarah’s father was hidden in the basement, thinking his family was safe. But the police this night came for everyone. Sarah’s four-year-old brother, Michel, stubbornly refused to go and insisted on hiding in a secret cupboard before the police saw him. Sarah locked Michel in and promised to come back when she returned.

Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist living in Paris, investigates the story of the Vel d’Hiv and uncovers Sarah’s story when she finds out that her husband’s family moved into Sarah’s apartment after her family left. She is determined to find what happened to Sarah, in the process uncovering family secrets that some think would be best to leave buried.

Gripping and emotional, this fast-paced book brings to life Paris in the 1940s and in modern times. It takes a frank look at a nation and a people who for so long would not come to grips with its complicity in sending its own citizens to die in Nazi concentration camps. It also follows Julia as she delves deeper into the story while confronting conflicts of her own with her husband and his family. I recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls in high school.

Book Review: Creepers by Joanne Dahme

Goosebumps author R. L. Stine says “Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? Creepers is a good one! Thrills and chills? You Bet. But it will also warm your heart.”

Here’s my review of Creepers by Joanne Dahme

Courtney O’Brien has just moved with her parents into the small New England town of Murmer where they’ve bought an old home next to a cemetery. The first thing she notices is the ivy, which covers everything from the house to the gravestones and seems to have a life of its own. Then she meets Margaret and her dad, who conducts historical tours of the cemetery. From them Courtney learns about a centuries-old mystery involving Margaret’s ancestors, the cemetery and Courtney’s house. Together they work to unlock the secrets hidden behind the ivy.

I had a hard time putting this book down once I got started. It’s easy to transport yourself to a small New England town of old where messages were carved into headstones and witches were burned at the stake. I also started noticing English Ivy everywhere: clawing its way up tree trunks, crawling across lawns, clinging to the sides of buildings. Creepers is fast-paced, and each chapter starts with a diary entry, newspaper story, community announcement or definition that keeps the book moving along and adds something to the mystery. Creepers is my kind of suspense novel: it’s wonderfully creepy and it gave me goosebumps without being gory or making me afraid to go to sleep at night. I think it would be a great book to read in a mother-daughter book club, particularly appropriate with Halloween coming up. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up.

Book Review: Ringside 1925 by Jen Bryant

Remember learning about the Scopes Monkey trial in history class? The trial pitted the state of Tennessee against a high school science teacher, J.T. Scopes, who challenged the legality of the state’s rule against teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Ringside 1925: Views from the Scopes Trial by Jen Bryant brings the event to life in a way that your history book never could.

The story is told through the voices of several characters, mainly three students from the high school where Mr. Scopes taught. You also hear from a reporter who’s in town covering the trial, the town’s constable, a member of the ladies’ Bible study group, and a preacher from out of town who comes in to see the event. Little Dayton, Tennessee, is transformed into a veritable circus of activity.

There are lots of characters in the book, but Bryant helps the reader keep them straight with a list of narrators at the front. I referred back to the list in the beginning, until I had gotten to know the characters well.

Because Ringside 1925 presents different sides of the story, it gives you lots to think about and discuss. Friendships are tested as the characters talk about their beliefs, and everyone steps out of their usual roles even if only for a few weeks.

It’s interesting to hear the perspective of a young black boy who works with his father as a handyman and dreams of rising beyond the limitations put on him. It’s also interesting to read actual quotes from the trial by lawyers and historical greats William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow.

I loved being transported back to small town life in 1925, and hearing stories of how the townspeople of Dayton benefitted financially from all the extra visitors.

We never really hear the voice of J.T. Scopes, and it seems appropriate that we see the trial from the perspectives of all those around him. The event was less about him than it was about teaching evolution in school—a conflict that continues on in some cases today.

The story is aimed at ages 12 and up, but I think some younger children will certainly be able to appreciate the very approachable story and learn about the historical case at the same time. I’ve also recommended it to my daughter who’s a senior in high school, because I think the writing is interesting to all ages. I’ve heard about the Scopes Trial for years, and occasionally hear it mentioned, but this book brought it to life for me. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs.

Keeping in Touch With Your Children Through Books

My daughter Madeleine comes home tonight after spending nearly a month in Paris on an exchange program. We’ve been trading messages about the things she’s seeing and what she’s eating…and what she’s reading. She took along several books that are previous favorites of mine, including Creation by Gore Vidal. She told me she’s been trying to describe it to her host family as she makes her way through it, and she can’t wait to talk to me about it when she gets home.

Reading with your children is a great way to keep in touch, whether your kids live in the same house with you or have moved out on their own. In an interview with MotherDaughterBookClub.com last year, author Frank Cottrell Boyce talked about books bridging the distance between him and his son who was living far away.

This is what he had to say, “I think sharing books with someone can be really special. I’ve got a son who is living in rural Peru at the moment on a project for poor people. And I’ve decided to read all the books that he is reading – he took great big fat books with him because he has no phone, no tv, no radio and is living with a family. So once a week we email each other about where we’re up to. It’s hard to keep up with him but I’m loving trying. That’s why I’m reading War and Peace. I don’t think we’ll ever forget doing that together.”

Books have always been a bridge between me and my daughters, connecting us in ways that would be difficult to connect otherwise. Summer is a great time to read to or with your kids, or even parallel to what they’re reading. I’m reading Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain to Catherine now, and when Madeleine comes home, we’ll be reading Lincoln by Gore Vidal. It’s not too late to get started on a good book to read together this summer.


A List of Classic Books in Three Age Groups

If your mother-daughter book club doesn’t meet in the summer, this may be a good time for you to pick up a classic, either to read on your own or for a book club meeting scheduled for the fall. For most clubs, this is the one time of year you can devote to reading longer novels, and there may even be more time for moms and daughters to read a book together. This can be an advantage since many classics were written long ago and may not be as easy for young readers to grasp. Most titles will be readily available on the shelves of your library, where you’ll find yourself anyway if you’ve signed up for a summer reading program.

Here are some thoughts for classics in different age groups:

Younger readers

Caddie Woodlawn–Carol Ryrie Brink
Charlotte’s Web–E. B. White
Little House on the Prairie–Laura Ingalls Wilder
Matilda–Roald Dahl
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle–Betty MacDonald
The Boxcar Children–Edith Nesbitt
The Indian in the Cupboard–Lynne Reid Banks
The Secret Garden–Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Trumpet of the Swan–E. B. White
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz–L. Frank Baum

Middle Readers

A Wrinkle in Time–Madeleine L’Engle
Anne of Green Gables–L. M Montgomery
Little Women–Louisa May Alcott
Peter Pan–J. M. Barrie
The Call of the Wild–Jack London
The Hobbit–J. R. R. Tolkein
The Jungle Book–Rudyard Kipling
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe–C. S. Lewis
To Kill a Mockingbird–Harper Lee
Treasure Island–Robert Louis Stevenson

Older Readers

A Tale of Two Cities–Charles Dickens
David Copperfield
–Charles Dickens
Dracula–Bram Stoker
Huckleberry Finn–Mark Twain
Jane Eyre–Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice–Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility–Jane Austen
The Count of Monte Cristo–Alexandre Dumas
The Hunchback of Notre Dame–Victor Hugo
Wuthering Heights–Emily Bronte

Book Review: If I’d Known Then, Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves

Have you ever wished you could write a letter to yourself when you were younger to give yourself hope or encouragement to get through a difficult time? That’s what the 35 women did who appear in If I’d Know Then, Women in Their 20s and 30s Write Letters to Their Younger Selves by Ellyn Spragins.

Readers will recognize many of the writers as well as receive introductions to remarkable women they may not have heard of before. The letters are all heartfelt, with the authors talking directly to the young girls they once were. It’s a wonderful reminder that no matter how famous or wealthy or popular someone is, we all share many of the same insecurities, doubts, fears and self-imposed limitations.

This book is part of the What I Know Now series, and I think it’s a great addition for younger readers. I was particularly struck by the story of  Mindy Lam, who was labeled an unlucky child when she was born in China and treated harshly during her childhood. She overcame incredible hurdles to come this country, learn to speak English and find a way to support herself before stumbling upon an idea for creating jewelry that has made her successful beyond her imagining. All the stories are inspiring.

Moms in a mother-daughter book club can write letters to their younger selves as a meeting activity to inspire discussion. And girls could also think about issues they’re dealing with now that they may see differently in a few years.

I believe girls aged 13 and up would enjoy reading If I’d Known Then.

Book Review: The Curse of Addy McMahon by Katie Davis

Be sure you have plenty of time when you start to read The Curse of Addy McMahon by Katie Davis—you might not be able to stop turning pages to see what happens next. On the other hand, Davis’s clever use of graphic illustrations interspersed in the narrative provide clean breaks if you just have to put the book down now and then.

Mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 11 to 14 will find a lot to like here. Addy is convinced she suffers from a family curse, rendered against her great-granddad in Ireland by fairies. And she’s got mounting evidence to suggest she might be right. Her mom’s boyfriend is moving into the guest room “temporarily,” her worst enemy saw her shopping for a training bra, and her best friend, Jackie, is mad at her because she accidentally emailed a copy of a nasty fake interview with Jackie that got all around school.

But Addy does have a lot going for her. She helped create a school newspaper and she’s on the editorial staff. She interviews interesting people and creates graphic drawings to illustrate the stories she writes. People love her interviews, and they let her know it.  I found myself wishing I had experienced that kind of good luck when I was in middle school.

The illustrations punctuating the narrative should make The Curse of Addy McMahon attractive to reluctant readers as well as those who devour books. The presentation is unconventional, and so is some of the narrative. It was quite interesting to read Addy’s thoughts about her father, who died from cancer he got from smoking. And the subject of parents entering the dating/relationship world after the death of a spouse is also very thoughtfully written.

Here’s an activity idea to go with the book: have girls and moms both draw their own autobiograstrips like Addy’s. Share them at a meeting and see what discussion ensues.

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