Posts tagged ‘children’s books’

September 27, 2010

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Censorship

by thiszine

BY URSULA K. RAPHAEL

If you’ve paid attention to recent news, you’ve probably heard about Terry Jones, the preacher who proposed burning the Qur’an. Alas, book censorship is still alive and well in the United States, the country that totes freedom of speech as our national mantra. Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s a shameful waste of millions of trees. Unfortunately, there are people who are so desperate to protect others from what they consider “harmful reading material,” they are probably recruiting computer hackers to create viruses to stop the downloading of “dangerous ideas” to Kindles everywhere.

Number one on the banned/challenged book list of 2000-2009, compiled by the American Library Association, is *drum roll please* the Harry Potter series. This series has been accused of promoting witchcraft/atheism, encouraging children to misbehave and make bad decisions, and being just plain frightening. (I’m not sure if trying to fly on a broom falls under “witchcraft” or “making a bad decision.”)

I personally thought the Harry Potter books were a fantastic collection of mythology and folklore interwoven into a story of an abused boy who makes something of himself despite not having a loving family environment and having to ward off attacks on his life every year. But, I was probably reading too far into the storyline and overlooked the details enticing children to the dark side with promises of owl-delivered invitations to a wizarding school.

I will be the first to admit that Harry and his friends do lie, break rules, and disrespect authority figures, but so do most school children (which is why I homeschool). I would also like to point out that if fictional characters always told the truth, followed the rules, and showed more respect for others, stories would be pretty boring, probably not go anywhere, and miss the point of creative writing.

The complaint that makes me laugh the most is the accusation that the Harry Potter series is too scary for children. Honestly, I think the news is the scariest thing I’ve read on any given date. At least when they read the books the kids can tell themselves “it’s just a story.” Of course, any sensible parent would read what their kids read, be aware of what is age-appropriate and realize that, in our world, children are no strangers to suffering and death.

My personal experience with the Harry Potter books includes reading the series, watching the movies, and collecting some of the memorabilia (which includes a sorting hat). I have thrown Harry Potter themed parties for organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. I had craft tables where the kids could make their own wands with unicorn hair, dragon scales, and phoenix feathers. We sorted participants in the four houses of Hogwarts (by drawing names out of my sorting hat), gave prizes for trivia questions about the books, and shared a Harry Potter birthday cake. In return, our guests were asked to bring new books (any children’s books) that were donated to children of families who could not afford the luxury of reading material.

Some people would say that a kid reading anything without discretion or standards is not an accomplishment, but I say that kids reading books and sharing that love of reading with less fortunate children is something to be proud of.

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August 12, 2010

Green Eggs and Ham Turns 50

by thiszine

Dr. Seuss’s quintessential book for children, Green Eggs and Ham, turns 50 today. The book was written after Suess’s editor bet him he couldn’t write a book containing only 50 words. Too bad Suess died before the advent of Twitter’s 140 character updates. He’d be in good company.

As an extra special treat, watch Jesse Jackson memorialize Green Eggs and Ham in the video below.

July 14, 2010

Awards: Neil Gaiman and Olufemi Terry

by thiszine

Neil Gaiman won the Carnegie medal for The Graveyard Book, about a boy named Nobody Owens who is raised by ghosts in a graveyard, an idea that initially came to him 25 years ago. Gaiman says, “It’s particularly fantastic for me because it was the first literary prize I was ever aware of as a kid…it’s like writing a letter to yourself aged seven.”

The Carnegie medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children.

Olufemi Terry won the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing, Africa’s leading literary award, for the short story “Stickfighting Days,” published in Chimurenga, volume 12/13.

Terry was born in Sierra Leone of African and Antillean parentage. He grew up in Nigeria, the U.K, and Cote d’Ivoire and pursued a university in New York. Since then Terry has lived in Kenya and worked as a journalist and analyst in Somalia and Uganda. He currently lives in Cape Town where he is writing his first novel.

The Economist’s literary editor, Fiammetta Rocco, called the story “ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative… The execution of this story is so tight and the presentation so cinematic, it confirms Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future.”

July 9, 2010

Book Review: Here There Be Monsters

by thiszine

HERE THERE BE MONSTERS:
THE LEGENDARY KRAKEN AND THE GIANT SQUID
by HP Newquist

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
(August 2010, $18, 80 pages)

If you were entertained by the kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and engaged by the huge find in Discovery Channel’s Colossal Squid special, you are sure to be interested in Here There Be Monsters: The Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid. Author HP Newquist takes the reader on a journey from the legendary monster that preys on unsuspecting sea vessels to the discoveries of the giant squid and, most recently, the colossal squid.

In the prologue, Newquist depicts a personal encounter with the mythological beast and continues on to describe the various tales of sea serpents from around the world. Newquist explains why cartographers marked the unexplored regions of their maps with the ominous warning, “Here Be Dragons,” or similar phrases. The author also describes the reasons most stories about the strange beasts were dismissed as the ramblings of men too long at sea.

As Newquist guides the reader through the history of these myths, he progresses from sailors’ accounts of demonic creatures attacking ships to the first attempts by scientists to officially name and classify the enormous organisms. Many naturalists believed that the source of the legend was based on oversized specimens found washed up on beaches. Scientists were determined to find evidence that there was such a thing as the giant squid. Eventually, researchers came to suspect that there was another, larger species of squid – deadlier than the giant squid.

In addition to the stories and scientific research, Newquist includes illustrations and photographs of everything that is discussed in the book, including still pictures of live giant squid, and the recovered body of a colossal squid featured on the Discovery Channel. There is also a bibliography and links listed for further information at the end of the book. Lastly, the author poses the question, “Could there be bigger ones that we have yet to discover?”

~Ursula K. Raphael