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?
Today, I'm continuing my summer book review with a historical middle-grade novel. Lois Lowry's The Silent Boy opens with a prologue of aged protagonist, Katy Thatcher, looking back on her life; then returns to 1908 in Chapter One when Katy is nearly six. Katy is the daughter of the town doctor and herself a doctor in the making. Her father takes her on calls to the farming community and introduces her to thirteen-year-old Jacob, a boy people call "simple" or "touched in the head." Jacob never talks but he's a keen imitator of noises and animals adore him. When Katy finds Jacob in her family's stables humming to the horses, she hums with him and a bond forms between them.
The majority of the book spans three years in Katy's life. She's deeply affected by the 1911 garment factory fire in New York where girls jumped to flaming deaths and when WWI begins, she longs to be a doctor to heal the wounded. Closer to home, she's disturbed by a visit with her father to the local asylum and tries to understand when he tells her he can only help the patients' bodies but some day he hopes there will be cures for the minds. Her compassion for Jacob grows as she sees how others view him. When Jacob unwittingly commits an unthinkable act, Katy alone deciphers his reasoning.
Lowry accents each chapter with old, sepia-tinted photos from the early twentieth century. In the book's acknowledgments she writes, "All of the people in these photographs are real people. Some of them were people I knew and loved. One is my own mother." She goes on to say that she found some of the photos in an antique store and wondered about them. I have read several of Lowry's many books, including her Newberry winners, Number the Stars and The Giver. She continues to amaze me with her creative dexterity and commitment to children's literature. Visit her site here; you'll see what I mean. I heard Lowry speak and read at a local book shop a couple years ago. She's a charming reader and equally engaging speaker. If you have the opportunity, get out to see her while she's still touring.
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