Tag Archives: challenged/banned books

James and the Giant Peach review

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl; illustrated by Quentin Blake

Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 978-0-375-81424-2

Reason for challenge/ban: Magic/witchcraft, communism advocacy, racism, drug/alcohol references, offensive language

Synopsis: After his parents are killed in a terrible rhinoceros accident, James Henry Trotter goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The two women feel no affection for James and make him do most of their chores and sleep in a tiny room with a very small window. One day in the garden, James is met by a peculiar stranger who hands him a bag of magic worms, telling him that if he eats them, wonderful things will happen to him. Unfortunately, James trips over the roots of the old peach tree on the way to the house, spilling the contents of the bag and causing extraordinary things to happen. A peach begins to grow from the tree that has never produced fruit, and when James ventures inside it the next night, he finds a grasshopper, a ladybug, a centipede, a glowworm, a silkworm, and a spider inside waiting for him so that they can being a fabulous adventure.

Why I picked it up: It was a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle when I was seven.

Why I finished it: Dahl’s story is quirky and imaginative, and the reader is instantly endeared to the characters. James’ adventure is one that reminds us about how much we wanted to run away from home and experience the world from a different perspective. While I am sure that no one has family that is quite as mean as Sponge and Spiker, the characters are entertaining to read about in a way that makes one glad that their family is, by comparison, much nicer. The premise of the story is highly illogical, but that is part of the magic of children’s stories – there is no rulebook as to how the story will go or what the characters will do in any given situation. Personally, if it happened to me, I would be horribly frightened of the giant insects regardless of how friendly they were, but I am also not between the ages of 9 and 12. There is also something very reminiscent of Doctor Doolittle in that James is talking to creatures that would otherwise have no voice (if it were not for the magic worms). I think this speaks to the fact that as children, we have such a different knowledge of the world around us – everything is new and wonderful and exciting, and I daresay we lose a little bit of this fascination as we grow older. James and his story remind us about how we used to see the world, how we should see the world, and of the power of unfailing kindness.

Other related materials: James and the Giant Peach (movie); The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Clearly; Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume; Stuart Little by E.B. White; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl; Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl; Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater; Matilda by Roald Dahl; The BFG by Roald Dahl; Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

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Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret review

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2001. 978-0-689-84158-3

Reasons for challenge/ban: Sexuality, religion

Synopsis: Eleven going on twelve Margaret Simon is anxious about a lot of things: her family moving from New York to New Jersey, making friends, starting at a new school, getting her first period, and the project her teacher assigned. She frequently communicates with God about her life, but she’s not very religious – her mother was a Christian and her father was a Jew, but when they got married, they decided they didn’t want to practice a religion. Margaret wants to learn more about religion and try to decide if she should join the Y or the Jewish Community Center, but with people on either side telling her what to do, she’s just so fed up! Why is being eleven so hard? Why doesn’t anyone understand her and what she’s going through? All she wants is to be normal, but everything (especially her bust and her period) is taking its time and it’s driving her nuts!

Why I picked it up: My aunt recommended it to me when I was eleven going on twelve.

Why I finished it: Margaret faces the same issues and fears of most girls her age, just on a different scale: not everyone is moving or going to a new school, but being a pre-teen is certainly a stressful time, full of anticipation. While the times have certainly changed since it was written (1970), the things we go through when we start to grow up stay pretty much the same. What I love about Margaret’s character is that she’s confused: confused about why her bust is so small, confused about whether or not she should like her best friend’s brother’s friend, confused about her first kiss and who it will be with, confused about why she hasn’t gotten her period, confused about religion, confused about some of the things her friends tell her, confused as to why her teacher is making them do individual projects, confused about why her parents won’t let her do what she wants. These same issues are what other pre-teen girls go through when they approach puberty, and reading about Margaret helps us because she is speaking our same language. Reading the book again as an older reader, I remember how it felt to be anticipating everything but still not fully prepared. Knowing that other people are feeling the same as me (even if they are fictional) helps get you through it because that someone is there for us and understands us in a way that few other people can.

Other related materials: Blubber by Judy Blume; Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume; Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume; Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume; Just as Long as We’re Together by Judy Blume; Forever…by Judy Blume; Deenie by Judy Blume; It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume; How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell; Jacob Have I Loved  by Katherine Paterson; Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements; Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClements; Amber Brown books by Paula Danzinger; Growing Up: It’s a Girl Thing by Mavis Jukes;  The Dork Diaries books by Rachel Renee Russell

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone review

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998. 978-0-590-35340-3

Reasons for ban/challenge: Anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, violence

Synopsis: Harry Potter knows there is something different about him, but living with an aunt, uncle, and cousin who despise anything abnormal certainly makes believing it harder. Then, he receives a mysterious letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and without a second thought, is taken into a world where everybody knows his name and regards him as a hero – but he doesn’t know why. Turns out an evil wizard killed his parents and he was the only one to survive, making him more special than he ever thought. Harry meets Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at Hogwarts, and after saving Hermione from a Mountain Troll, the three forge a friendship that Harry had only dreamed about. The three also uncover a mystery within the Hogwarts walls and it will take each of their own distinct abilities to solve the puzzle and save the school.

Why I picked it up: I had finished reading the third book (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and thought it would be good to go back and read the series from the beginning.

Why I finished it: Fantasy literature had been laying dormant for a long time when Rowling came to the scene with her story about a boy wizard pieced together from notes written on coffee shop napkins and airplane sick bags. Harry hung about in bookstores, unassuming at first, and then suddenly exploded as readers of all ages discovered the wizarding world. The writing is simple, but the world it creates is fantastic, unique, and imaginative in a way that many writers still hope to achieve. Though the book’s primary focus is in the wizard world, the values of friendship and love are what drive the story. It also doesn’t hurt that Harry and his pals have a knack for getting in trouble and finding themselves at the center of conspiracies that threaten their lives and their world. While the reader’s world is not so perilous, they are drawn into this place where magic happens, where there are games centered around flying on a broomstick, where one can transform from cat to woman, where there are jelly beans of every flavor that promise to delight and disgust at the same time, where unicorns and centaurs are part of the natural wildlife. What makes it the most fun to read over and over again is that there is something new to be drawn from the text each time, some new clue to discover, which as the series goes on, add up to the climactic end. Harry originally got on the map by drawing in readers of any age, both avid and reluctant, and will no doubt continue to be discovered by future generations eager to know the Boy Who Lived.

Other related materials: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (movie); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling; Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan; The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan; Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor;  The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens; Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher; Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins; Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks; The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart;  The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima; Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage; Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

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Bridge to Terabithia review

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

HarperCollins, 1977. 978-0-690-04635-9

Reason for challenge/ban: Occult/Satanism, offensive language

Synopsis: Jess Aarons wants to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade, maybe even the whole school. He’s practiced and practiced all summer and can’t wait for school to begin so he can run in the races. On the first day of school, Jess is paired up with new girl Leslie Burke, who has moved into the farmhouse not far from Jess, to race. She beats him and all the other boys in the class, and running no longer becomes fun. Jess and Leslie gradually warm up to each other after Jess saves her from school bully Janice Avery on the bus ride home. While exploring the woods near the farm, the two find a rope hanging from a crab apple tree used to swing across the river. Jess and Leslie then create the magical world of Terabithia, where they are the king and queen. Then, Jess’s world is shattered by tragedy and Leslie’s friendship and love might be the only thing that holds him together.

Why I picked it up: It was a book for a cereal box book report I did when I was in sixth grade.

Why I finished it: This book is reflective of the friendships created by people who seem to have nothing in common. The fact that the friendship is a platonic relationship between a boy and a girl at an age where the two start to notice each other is what allows the story to connect with the reader. Every reader can remember their first best friend in school and how that relationship shaped them and the gift of strength and courage that comes from having someone you know will stick by you in all things in all circumstances. It is a story about the power of imagination and the certain magic of everyday things that create an escape from school and family. It makes us realize that even the simplest things are not simple, that people are not who they first appear to be, and that love comes in all forms. Jess and Leslie’s friendship helps them grow in a sense of self-reliance and interdependence that makes them able to deal with whatever comes their way. It’s a moving portrait of what it is like to grow up, to learn, and to remember the little things that make life so precious.

Other related materials: Bridge to Terabithia (movie); Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli; Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli; Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli; The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman; The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson; M.C. Higgins, The Great by Virginia Hamilton; Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh; Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia McLachlan; The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reed Banks; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech; A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; The Misfits by James Howe; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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The Golden Compass review

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. 978-0-679-87924-4

Reasons for challenge/ban: Religious viewpoint

Synopsis: Eleven year-old Lyra Belacqua has lived at Jordan College in Oxford since she can remember, having no family except for her formidable uncle, Lord Asriel. While eavesdropping during a closed meeting, she hears mention of a magical element called Dust and its proposed link to a lighted city in the Aurora Borealis. Soon after, children are kidnapped from all over England by Gobblers, who are said to eat them, including Lyra’s friend Roger. She moves to London with the mysterious and beautiful Mrs. Coulter, who promises to take Lyra to the North to find the lost children. At a cocktail party, Lyra hears more talk of Dust and Gobblers, leading her to set out on her own to rescue Roger with the help of an alethiometer, her daemon, gyptians, and an armored bear.

Why I picked it up: It was sitting in my ‘to be read’ pile and since it has a reputation as a challenged/banned book, I thought it was an appropriate choice for Banned Books Week.

Why I finished it: I was surprised that this was published as a children’s/young adult book when I started it, since the writing style is very precise and descriptive in a way that is normally reserved for adult books. Though the narrative is centered around a pre-adolescent girl, the reader instantly perceives a prim and proper tone, as though the story were being told by a group of adults sitting around drinking coffee and contemplating the meaning of life. Pullman has definitely captured the essence of his eleven-year-old narrator, it lacks the feel of having been written for an eleven-year-old, perhaps proving the point of many reviewers who believe that the story gets better with the age of the reader. The Golden Compass is thoroughly imaginative, thrilling, and thought-provoking in its dealings with worldly matters, politics, religion, and status. There were few moments where I was bored, but a great many left me confused: for instance, I did not feel the Pullman fully explained the essence and purpose of a daemon, other than to say it is a reflection of a person’s soul and sense of self. I don’t know what else he might have pulled into that, but I feel like there should be more there. I was also somewhat disappointed in the exhibitionist ending. I know it’s a series and that there are two more books, but rather than having the final scene be a cumulative explanation for character motives, I was still more or less confused as to what was going on with the Dust/child and daemon connection.

Other related materials: The Golden Compass (movie); The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman; The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials, Book 3) by Philip Pullman; Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman; Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman; The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle; Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie; The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. LeGuin; The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud; The Stoneheart Trilogy by Charlie Fletcher; The Tapestry series by Henry H. Neff; The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas

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