Banned Books Week: Blog Party

It’s Banned Books Week!  Sponsored by the ALA and other groups, this annual event celebrates the “freedom to read.”  Come join in with the Banned Books Blog Party hosted by hannahgivens at Things Matter.


The most frequently challenged books of the past year (2013) were:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

I have actually only read one book on this list: The Hunger Games.  Looking at the list of top challenges from 2000-2009 (which includes my high school years), however, I have read many more.  I have written previously about how #23 The Giver by Lois Lowry affected me when I read it in the 6th grade.  One thing it did for me was open my imagination to worlds of science fiction, a gift I am grateful for today as a writer and scientist.

My Facebook cover image this week.
My Facebook cover image this week. Get yours at

It’s strange to me that anyone would want to put a blanket ban on a book, rather than individually assessing a students’s maturity and reading level, and using a book’s themes and concepts to start an open conversation about difficult ideas.  Exposure to these ideas is part of growing up.

Just last month I read a blog post by author Shannon Hale relating a note from a school librarian whose district wanted to remove Hale’s Books of Bayern series from elementary library shelves.  No one had complained about any of the books.  It seems that the fact that the Bayern series is typically reviewed as being for “Grade 6 and up” was construed by the district to mean that the books were therefore not appropriate for anyone younger.

The Bayern books are wonderful and have no objectionable content.  I would have loved them in upper elementary school.  Rather than limiting students, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to read more advanced books?  The idea that education is one-size-fits-all can’t be beneficial for our children.  It wasn’t for me.  I was lucky that my elementary teachers (and my parents) let me read books from higher grades’ summer reading lists.

Every book may not be appropriate for every child (or adult).  But that decision should be made on an individual basis and should involve the reader as well as his parents and the relevant teacher.  Blanket bans are not the answer.



AustenlandAustenland is a fun little book by Shannon Hale (one of my favorite authors) about a women obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, to the point that she take a trip to “Austenland,” a Regency-themed retreat at an English estate.

It was made into a movie last year, but had a limited release, so I only just saw it on DVD (my library actually has it!).

I thoroughly enjoyed it, but this is not a movie for everyone.  It stays firmly in the rom com category, and the “rom” part is a little thin, while the “com” part tends to the ridiculous, over-the-top variety.  I was dying through most of the movie, but my husband thought it was the kind of movie he was happy to see only once.

Austen fans will catch not only the obvious Colin Firth-as-Darcy cardboard cutout, but also the references to plot points from Persuasion (poor sailor suitor returns rich) and Mansfield Park (the play the group puts on).

Another thing I love about this movie is that it was headed by 3 women, a rarity in Hollywood: written by Shannon Hale and Jerusha Hess, directed by Hess, and produced by Stephanie Meyer, also a friend of Hale’s.

Jerusha Hess co-wrote Napoleon Dynamite with her husband, and that movie is an excellent litmus test–if you liked its absurd humor, as I did, Austenland will more likely be to your taste.

The casting is great:

  • Keri Russell: Always likable.  She’s a little bland here at times, but has some great moments.
  • JJ Feild: Has actually played an Austen leading man–Mr. Tilney in BBC’s Northanger Abbey
  • James Callis: Gaius Baltar. Enough said.
  • Jennifer Coolidge: Shannon Hale had her in mind for the role of Miss Charming from the beginning.  Her typical style of improv in on full display here, and she’s not even the most over-the-top in her performance.
  • Jane Seymour: And her sister plays her maid!
  • Rupert Vansittart: Played the wonderfully indolent Mr. Hurst in the 1995 P&P miniseries.   Currently in GoT as Bronze Yohn Royce.

If Austenland doesn’t sound appealing, but your gf/wife/otherwomanyoudon’twanttooffend has you captive, I propose the Austenland Drinking Game: Take a drink for every oddly-placed taxidermied animal you spy.  You will be so far from sober by the end that I’m sure the movie will be infinitely more enjoyable for you.