My experience in the classroom and with online teacher forums has led me to question the recent pushback from families and stakeholders over curriculum. While it may seem like a new trend that has today’s educators hyper-vigilant about what they post and send home, it is far from a new experience in the profession.
In fact, censorship of reading material has been around for thousands of years. And it’s been in the classroom since the printing press brought us the ability to read mass-produced literature.
Covid and distance learning brought curriculum to more eyes than ever before. That, coupled with social media has led to a recent increase in public inquisitions. But, this is not a new battle for society. We’ve been banning books and censoring author’s voices since the written word began to exist. Although educators may feel under attack during this time, we also must remember that in order for an individual to grow they must question.
I’m all for healthy challenges that lead to growth and a better understanding of our world. I also see tremendous value in challenging the censorship and reading the material that others try to ban.
Today, as we observe national Banned Books Week, I wanted to celebrate some of my favorite books from the list. Many of these books have shaped our society and brought to the surface the problems plaguing our world. They’ve caused us to think critically or in some cases, just to escape reality for a while to a land of what if?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
For a more extensive list of Banned Books in the US, check out this Barnes and Noble list, and remember that when society questions printed material it often brings to light productive conversations about topics of controversey–and that’s where the growth happens.
Over the past two summers, I’ve been taking classes for my Master’s in English. So many of those courses required me to read works of literature selected by an instructor. While many of them were enjoyable reads like Station Eleven, there was a missing element to my reading life: Choice.
This is my first summer since 2020 where I have had the freedom to select my book choices and so I decided at the beginning of the summer that I would chase the reading fads–just because I can. I turned to TikTok and blogs that I follow for recommendations and so the three books that I read while in England came highly recommended by social media’s elite readers and all for great reasons.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Atria Books
Being an A-List celebrity came at a great price for the glamorous Evelyn Hugo. Not only did she abandon her heritage by bleaching her ebony locks, but she also abandoned the notion that love can be genuine through her long list of failed marriages.
For most of her life, marriage had been a tool she used to gain fame, but one love came in unexpected ways and changed Evelyn’s life for the better.
In her final days, Evelyn seeks out a young journalist to share her life story with, but is the world ready to learn about the real Evelyn Hugo?
Title: Book Lovers
Author: Emily Henry
Nora Stephens is the cutthroat agent of a book-turned-Hallmark movie set in Sunshine Falls, NC. When her pregnant sister, Libby, suggests a trip to the town that served as the backdrop for the famous novel, Nora is hesitant to leave her New York life behind for a few weeks. She decides to take her work with her to enjoy some quality time with Libby.
While immersed in the quiet setting and working in the local coffee shop, Nora runs into her editor nemisis from the city: Charlie Lastra.
As an avid reader, Nora is aware of the archetype she is playing and the tension that is being created with Charlie throughout the summer. Despite all of his advances, Nora refuses to fall for Charlie and tries to distract herself by going through the bucket list that Libby created for their summer.
Before the summer ends, Nora learns of the real reason behind the trip and must decide her own path moving forward. She must decide if the corporate life in the city is worth losing those people she cares about most. What Nora saw as a summer adventure before Libby’s labor turns into a crossroads that forces Nora to make the choices she’s been avoiding with her busy life.
Author: Colleen Hoover
Verity Crawford was a bestselling author. WAS. As a result of a terrible accident she was left unable to communicate or control much of her own body. Her publisher and husband sought out Lowen Ashleigh, a struggling writer, as the solution to the writing contract that was broken prematurely by the disabled author.
Lowen met Jeremy Crawford on her way to discuss the deal with her publisher. A man was struck by a car on a busy New York street spraying blood all over Lowen. Jeremy helped to clean her up and prepare for her meeting without knowing her identity. Still in shock, Lowen attends the meeting and agrees to take over Verity’s series as a ghost writer and to bring closure for Verity’s beloved readers.
In order to finish the series, Lowen must spend a few weeks in Verity’s home going through her notes and reading her earlier works. But when Lowen finds a journal written by Verity she can’t stop reading. Within those pages, Verity admits to horrific crimes and truths that chill Lowen to the core. Before long, Lowen notices some strange activity going on in Verity’s bedroom and realizes that someone is lying to her about why she is there.
The stranger that Verity gets the closer Lowen gets to Jeremy. Their relationship begins to flourish, but he is still married to the woman who can’t interact or love him back. Lowen realizes that if she would share the journal with Jeremy, that she could have him all to herself. If he can see the true Verity that Lowen had met in those pages, then he may find room in his heart for her.
All three of these books mastered the art of a good plot twist. They all caused me to think about my life and to measure it against the values that I hold dear. I’m so happy that I decided to listen to the recommendations on these books because each one was engaging and kept me invested until the end.
As my trip came to a close, I picked up The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. It’s a British bestseller. I love going to Waterstones and looking at the top fiction and non-fiction books in England. Every summer I try to read a top 5 book. The Thursday Murder Club has been a fun read and I’m nearing the end so look for a review in the next week or two. You can see what else I’m reading and my own reviews of books on Goodreads.
After the most embarrassing event of her life becomes a viral video and the death of her reputation, Ellie Nichols puts an ocean between herself and her school in DC by enrolling in a prestigious study abroad program in ENGLAND. Throwing herself into her studies at Emberton Manor helps Ellie to forget about the humiliating party where she threw herself at her crush only to find out that he was into her friend. Instead of parties and dating, the students of Emberton are focused on scholarships and early admissions to Ivy League colleges. It’s the perfect place for Ellie to spend half of her senior year–far from the American boy who broke her heart and the classmates who shattered her self esteem.
Academics were never Ellie’s passion though. She would rather be crafting her fairy gardens, watching British sitcoms with her mom, or wearing unicorn tees, but those are parts of herself that she knows can never be shared with anyone else.
One weekend, Ellie and some of her new friends from the program venture off the campus to visit an English market. While there, Ellie meets an older local boy and the two click immediately. His charm and sophistication make Ellie forget all about the boys back home and she finds herself forgetting about her academic studies and instead worried about becoming the perfect girl for her hot British boyfriend, Will.
Together, Ellie and Will take in the sights of England and they begin to fall in love. The problem is that Ellie hasn’t been honest with Will about many facets of herself. Guarded by her experience in America, Ellie decides to reinvent herself with Will. She enlists the help of one of her newest friends, Dev, to teach her about things like cricket to help win over Will.
Throughout her semester in England, Ellie dates Will, makes new friends, travels to Italy, improves her GPA, escapes the viral video, and secretly helps a groundskeeper implement some of her fairy gardening skills. She learns about herself in ways she never would have back home and the time away begins to heal the wounds inflicted by the classmates who hurt her most. Everything seems to be going well, until Ellie is caught up in Will so much that she forgets who she truly is.
This teen romance book is a special one to me. Not only is it about a young British romance, but it is also written by a woman that I have met and follow on social media. Kristy Boyce is a member of the same SCBWI as I am in Columbus, Ohio. I remember going to a meeting where she shared that she was going to get published. I remember hearing her “elevator pitch” and the story of how this book began as a contest entry. This book to me symbolized the fact that anything is possible for those who pursue their dreams. I followed Kristy’s journey and her social media has chronicled the process of her debut novel. Hot British Boyfriend was also well-written and engaging. Being married to an Englishman there are parts that I could really envision and that were even true to early parts of my relationship with my husband (sans all the lies and deceit.) This is a quick, light read and one that I enjoyed while on trains and planes traveling in England this summer. I highly recommend Hot British Boyfriend to any lovers of YA or YA Romance. It was so nice to take a rest from all the literature assigned through my masters program to enjoy a light-hearted, fun, nostalgic read like this one.
Check out my Goodreads account if you want to see what’s up next in my reading.
The school year is now in full swing and I am ready to get back into my personal reading habits. The first few weeks of school involve a lot of adjustment and resting once I finally get home. As I am beginning to settle into what will be my new routine I feel myself craving to be lost in a good book. Over the summer I was constantly reading. Some weeks I finished two or more books and now it’s been a while since I’ve been able to catch some solid reading time.
This week I’m going to get back into my Book Challenge mode and pick up where I left off. Currently, I’m about one-third of the way through The Crown, the last book in The Selection series by Kiera Cass. This has been one of the first series I’ve EVER finished. I am so bad about reading consecutive books with the same characters so I’m excited to say that probably by the end of the week I will have finished this series. I was able to read this series because I alternated between a book from the series and a book from my challenge. I didn’t read the whole series straight through.
Next on my TBR list is a new in 2016 book: Tru and Nelle by G.Neri. This book is about the real life friendship of Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee. I cannot tell you how pumped I am for this book! I was at a professional development session this summer where a librarian book-talked this book and I immediately tracked down a copy for me. I can’t wait to read it and review it for you!
Following those two reads I’m looking at Murder on the Orient Express as my mystery novel for the book challenge. I am in love with Agatha Christie’s books. I don’t mind that her books were written in the 1930’s. In my mind, she is still the Queen of Mystery and I don’t think that will ever change. My favorite mystery book of all time was And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and I’ve heard that Murder on the Orient Express is just as captivating.
So there is a quick update on my reading life and what I hope to accomplish by the end of September. I need to get back to reading constantly and not let my job interfere with something I love so much.
I was introduced to you at such a young age. The prospect of picking out books for myself was something I fell in love with instantly. You taught me that quality books don’t always have to come from the Best Sellers section at Barnes and Noble. And I learned from lingering in your aisle ways that I don’t ever have to spend more than ten dollars on a book. Looking back, my love for books was most likely born of my time in your shops with my family. I was young, and enthusiastic about reading and they fed into that excitement.
This weekend I revisited a Half-Price Bookstore in Upper Arlington, Ohio. Why I ever purchased books elsewhere puzzled me. There were so many great titles offered at unbeatable prices. If I hadn’t been on a double date I could easily have spent my entire Saturday in the shop browsing title after title. Sure, many of the books have a crease or two in the binding, but all of them are still in great condition. The folds of the pages give each book character. The smell of a slightly used book is also addicting. That may be weird, but a used book smells even sweeter than one straight off the press. Its words have been experienced. They have existed to someone else before me. It’s a pretty cool thought. As long as printing presses are in operation, I will never trade in the experience of cracking a book open for a digital experience.
Thank you for feeding my literary addiction, Half Price Books. I am forever indebted to you for all that you have taught me.
The following is a book review by The Ameri Brit Mom. This post expresses the genuine opinion and experiences of The Ameri Brit Mom and is in no way endorsed by authors, publishers, and outside influences.
Title: I Am the Messenger
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright Date: 2005
One of my favorite books of all time is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’ve read the book three or four times on my own and have actually taught it in my classroom before as well. Aside from a great plot and character development that book stands out to me because of the literary style of Zusak. He is known for his short sentences which create a sense of urgency and fast pace for the reader. His sentences may be short, but he can pack so much into so few words.
My love for Zusak’s work has put I Am Messenger on my to-read list for years. I’ve told myself I’d eventually get to reading this stand alone novel of Zusak’s. I’d read many reviews ahead of time giving this book mixed reviews, and so my fear was that by reading this book it may change my mind about Zusak. I’m here to tell you that I am so glad that I finally bit the bullet and gave this dust-gatherer on my shelf a read.
I Am the Messenger is a book about Ed Kennedy.
Ed is average in every sense of the word. He is a young cab driver who lives alone with his dog, Doorman. Ed’s circle of friends enjoy gathering to drink and play cards, but he is terrible at the game and attends mostly for the company. Additionally, one of the friends is Audrey, a girl that Ed is in love with, but who has rejected him a number of times. Everything about Ed is common until he witnesses a bank robbery and by chance helps to apprehend the culprits.
From that moment on things really begin to change in Ed’s life.
One at a time, Ed receives Aces in the mail. First the diamonds, then clubs, spades, and finally hearts. On each of the cards Ed finds the names of complete strangers or locations. At first Ed has no clue what is going on and nearly throws the first card in the trash. Time passes and with the names on his mind Ed begins to investigate these people. He is led to places where help is needed desperately.
From abusive husbands to a priest with a waning congregation Ed is led through a series of tasks and fulfills his role in helping those he was assigned to by the cards. Some of the jobs are easier than others. But in the end Ed follows the commands of the cards.
All is going well in Ed’s quest to help the world as prescribed by the aces until the instructions lead him to problems much closer to home. In the process Ed learns that the people around him are not as ordinary as he thought.
Ed begins to see the world differently and recognize his purpose.
Ed is not average. No one is. We all have the power to be the Messenger.
Publisher: William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
Copyright Date: 2013
The Orphan Train highlights the lives of two major characters: Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly, and troubled teenager, Molly Ayer. The setting varies between the midwest in the 1920’s and 30’s and Maine in 2011. Vivian lived through the depression of Ireland and joined her family in pursuit of a better life in America. Once they reached America tragedy struck her family and through a series of circumstances Vivian ended up on the historic orphan trains which transplanted orphans from New York City to the midwest. As Vivian’s journey begins as an orphan she is beyond the ideal age of adoption and she faces some hard situations and failed placements as a result.
Molly is a troubled teenager who has bounced around through the foster system for years. She is forced into serving community service due to theft charges. Through her community service her path collides with the now elderly Vivian. Vivian seeks out Molly’s help to sift through her attic of memories. During this process Molly learns about Vivian’s past and comes to realize that they are not so different. In the end, Molly helps Vivian to gain the courage to face her past.
This novel is a beautifully crafted piece of historical fiction. As I read this story I felt as though I was a fly on the wall in Vivian’s stuffy attic. With each new item revealed in the novel Vivian divulges a story from her past. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what else Vivian could possibly have endured in her long life. There are some extremely emotional scenes in this novel as both Vivian and Molly bond over their rough pasts, but that is part of the beauty of this book. The author takes two seemingly dissimilar lives and unites them through their pain and nightmares. Not only does Christina Baker Kline unite these characters in a painful way, but she brings them both to healing because of one another.
I love when an author can bring a story full circle the way that this author so brilliantly does. When lives collide and the result is positive I am always a fan. The characterization is detailed and thorough with back stories provided for each of the main characters that help you to understand their actions and motivations. My husband can pinpoint exactly when I got to the climax of this book because I startled him when I audibly gasped and my heart began racing. This novel is packed with twists and turns and was never a disappointment. The more I read the more evident it became to me that this author did her research when writing this novel. The historical accuracy of this unspoken time in American history is phenomenal. I even read in the interview at the end of the book about how much detail and research went into creating a genuine setting for the book. She even attended a reunion of orphan train riders and conducted interviews to maintain accuracy.
This was the first book I’ve read by this author, but I am looking forward to reading some more of her novels in the future. Other novels from this author include: Bird in Hand, The Way Life Should Be, Desire Line, and Sweet Water.