I devote a lot of blog space to artists and writers. But what this blog is really about is creating stories. And where would a story be without a reader? Every writer and illustrator I know cites a love of childhood books as the inspiration for their career path. So today's post features two opportunities for readers. Both have been mentioned in LikeWise before, but I felt they were worth a second look.
Are you the type who can't be without a good read? Do you stack books on your bedside table or in your Kindle? Would you like to be the first to read the latest books and best of all, get them for free?
Then check out Teenreads Teen Board. Teenreads.com provides books reviews, author interviews, previews of upcoming books, polls, a blog and newsletter. Their Teen Board consists of thirty volunteer teens who review books, write blog posts, provide feedback and answer a monthly "Teen Board Question." Volunteer hopefuls can apply this summer for the next session. Before you do, be sure you're willing to commit to a year of service, running from September 2016 through August 2017. Potential candidates should be avid readers and good writers. You have to live in the U.S to be eligible, but those outside the country are invited to apply as blog writers. It sounds like a great place to showcase your talents and meet other book lovers.
The second opportunity empowers readers. The Harry Potter Alliance connects readers and encourages them to make a positive difference in the world. They donate books to needy children, advocate for issues important to book fans and gather to share stories, motivate and inspire. There are chapters across the globe. If you can't find one near you, HPA gives you the tools to start one. And they do have a contest. Members are encouraged to join one of the Houses from the HP story: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin or Hufflepuff. The Houses accumulate points by completing tasks, like donating books. The current champion is Ravenclaw, whose members accumulated over 200,000 points in the 2015 Accio Books campaign. So what are you doing this summer? Got room in your schedule for a HP chapter?
September 30 through October 6 is Banned Book Week. Since the event's inception in 1982 over 11,300 books have been challenged, many of them children's books. Among the top one-hundred most challenged books are:
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Giver by Lois Lowry
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I've read these books. Some of them were hard to read. The Chocolate War was banned partly for unsuitability to age group. I was stunned by the cruelty in that book but I can't imagine it being more relevant than today when bullying has reached a whole new level through social media. Harry Potter was called evil. Yet the overriding message in that series is that love conquers evil. The Giver was accused of degrading motherhood and adolescence. Librarians drew diapers on the naked tot wandering through Sendak's In the Night Kitchen. There are books I'll never read, some I may find offensive. But I want the freedom to choose what I read and I believe school libraries should offer books that stimulate minds and foster conversation, books that children in all situations can relate to.
BannedBooksWeek.org offers a wealth of information for writers, artists, teachers and librarians, including an events page where you can click on your state to find celebrations of banned books. I was delighted to find two events in the Tampa Bay area. One of them led me to an unknown local resource, Bluebird Books, a mobile literary-themed project.
Every week is a good week to read a book. This week, why not choose one from the Top One-hundred Banned Books?
September's waning. Fall was officially announced last week. My sunflowers are done and the seeds gathered from the pods for planting next year. Fake pumpkins and scarecrows are popping up on porches. Real pumpkins are stacked in bins at the stores but Floridians know better than to buy them now. They quickly turn to mush in this heat. If you carve them, best to do it Halloween day and expect a wilted gourd the day after.
Despite our best efforts, we still haven't found homes for the feral kitties we found living in the yard behind us this summer. This week we captured them in a crate and carried them to the vet to be spayed and neutered. It was an emotional experience. The poor kits were terrified and obviously hurting when we picked them up. Even though I still hope to place them in loving homes, I felt the time had come to honor them with names. Naturally, we turned to literature for inspiration. The mama was easy: Minerva (McGonagall), the Hogwarts' professor who transforms to a cat.
So her sons must be wizards. We named the silvery-gray one Albus (Dumbledore) . . .
. . . and the bushy, darker boy, Rubeus (Hagrid). They grow friendlier and more trusting by the day, seeking affection as much as food. When we brought them home from the vet, I expected them to tear off and want nothing to do with us. Not so. They stuck close as if they sought comfort and the next day, Rubeus was rolling on his back, purring and patting at my husband to play. I'm hoping their names will somehow help them find the path to someone's heart. Afterall, in fictional worlds, names are powerful things.
I'm back from a mini blog vacation which was prompted by the death of my computer, a not so loved, but necessary companion. Forgive me if I'm a bit rusty. And cranky. To light a fire under my muse, I perused J.K. Rowling's site yesterday afternoon.
I'm a Potter freak and even though I admire literary fiction, I don't apologize for this digression. I'm married to a sci-fi/fantasy geek who read the Harry Potter books as soon as they hit library shelves. In between he plugged his ears and eyes, so previews wouldn't contaminate his experience. I enjoyed the movies with him but I had no interest in reading the books. Until the writing bug bit me and the first novel out of my head was a middle grade fantasy.
Then I studied Rowling's books cover to cover, all 4195 (U.S.) pages. I noted immediately the issues that critics scoffed at: Opening on a scene absent the protaganist or any character near the targeted reader's age (more than a century has passed since Dumbledore was a teen!), swerving point of views and all that telling/not showing. None of that mattered. By the end of page one, I was gripped by the story and remained so to the last page of book seven.
How did Rowling do it? What is it about her story that struck a chord with millions, young and old? For me it starts with her characters. Harry, Ron and Hermione are relatable, likable kids. They're not super good-looking or cool and they use ordinary assets to battle evil: Knowledge, courage, and determination. Rowling infuses their dialogue with wit and humor, even during the darkest moments. After Harry and his buds tackle a troll, Rowling delivers comic relief when a flustered Professor McGonagall awards their school house ten points for "sheer dumb luck."
Hogwarts' staff . . . Dumbledore, Hagrid, McGonagall and Snape are equally charming (yes, I called Snape charming!). Not only did I root for Harry and his pals, but I hoped for Snape's vindication. Because Rowling's characters are not one-sided. Snape is a complicated mixture of loyal Hogwarts' professor and former Deatheater. The wise and powerful Dumbledore puts Harry in danger and often leaves him to deal with it alone. Even the contemptuous Dudley Dursley is redeemed in the end when he shows respect and concern for Harry. Readers recognize themselves in these flawed characters and celebrate their victory over wrong.
Next week: The World Rowling Built
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist, and I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti at Open Book Literary.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor