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Thank you, Donalyn (and the whole of Nerdy Book Club), for this terrific post on the reading of sad books (and for your list of sure-fire tear-jerkers!). You put it so well, there’s no reason to try and rewrite it. It does, as you say, all seem “to be in the heart of the beholder”:
“Like…many of my students over the years, I enjoy stories that make me cry—books that take me to heartbreaking places and bring me back again. As much as I love sad books, I often avoid reading them because I fear the overwhelming emotions that such books evoke. I am convinced this is why I didn’t read Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh until I was 45. There’s a dog on the cover—you have to know sadness sits inside, waiting for you. It should come with a Kleenex bookmark.
Last spring, one of my fifth-graders, Heavenly, spent all of recess sitting under a tree finishing the final chapters of Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys. Strolling around the playground, I gave Heavenly a wide berth when I walked near her reading spot. I knew where Heavenly was in the story and I didn’t want to intrude.
When Heavenly finished the book, she found me on the playground. I could see as she walked toward me that her eyes brimmed with tears. Remembering the ending and my own emotional response—and seeing Heavenly’s forlorn face—I began to sniffle a bit, too.
Heavenly wrapped me in a limp hug and cried. While I patted her shoulder, Heavenly and I whispered back and forth about the book’s conclusion and our hopes for the main character, Carley Conners’ future.
“Mrs. Miller, why do you always recommend sad books to me?” Heavenly asked.
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Admittedly, I was a little unsure of what I would write about when Nathalie suggested this for our theme this week. I sat at the desk in our basement office, hoping for inspiration but instead re-arranged the pens in their various glass holders and stared at the blank wall in front of me trying to decide which would be a better fit: a mirror or an oversized framed print.
When I am stressed or anxious I like to lose myself among my shelves of books. In comparison to most serious book lovers, say for instance Nathalie, my collection is modest but I find something soothing about running my fingers along the spines of books, some of which have been with me for nearly two decades.
In an effort to procrastinate, I pulled my favourite chapter books from my girlhood and arranged them on the floor at the foot of my…
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Reblogged from Angelo State University’s Navigating Higher Ed blog:
Back when I was young and still played sports, a baseball coach told us our goal each day was to “practice like we mean it.” The idea, and it’s a cliché we’ve all heard before, is that championships might be won on the playing field but winning foundations are built in the weight room and at practice every day.
I’ve often thought we would be well-served to apply some athletic principles to academic activities.
Of course, it’s possible I just want to blow a whistle really loud during class and wear shorts to work.
The reality, though, is that hard work and intentionality transcend the activity in which you are engaged. There aren’t many jobs or hobbies where being lazy and haphazard helps you gain mastery. You might be the best athlete on the field or the smartest student in…
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Book bannings are as old as books themselves, but the fact that they persist into today’s America—an America packed with screens of every kind, screens allowing for easy internet access and thus access to any number of challenging, unusual, and even obscene materials—is simply mystifying to me. Yet still books are banned from schools and formally challenged by parents on a shockingly regular basis. Only this past September, Highland Park ISD (Dallas, TX) Superintendent Dawson Orr approved the suspension of seven books: The Art of Racing in the Rain; The Glass Castle; The Working Poor: Invisible in America; Siddhartha; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; An Abundance of Katherines; and Song of Solomon.
To Orr’s credit, however (and after some impressive backlash from alumni, students, national media, and other parents), he canceled the suspension.
“I made the decision in an attempt to de-escalate the conflict, and I readily admit that it had the opposite effect,” he said in an email to parents. “I take full responsibility for the decision, and I apologize for the disruption it has caused.
(qtd. from Melissa Repko’s “Highland Park ISD reverses book suspensions at high school“)
And while it’s upsetting, baffling, and ludicrous to ban books from students (at least in my humble opinion) in any circumstance (after all, if a book is really that troubling to a student, then let the student decide for themselves and ask for a substitute—not the parents), it is still impressive to see a leader not only take responsibility for a poor decision, but also take swift action to correct the mistake. According to Orr, he originally agreed to suspend the books after receiving feedback from hundreds of parents. But why did these parents feel a need to object so powerfully to these texts? Considering that kids can now get their fill of violence, abuse, sexual content, and hard language from not only the internet but basic cable as well, why would parents take such issue with their children encountering these kinds of materials in the thoughtful, more personal world of a book—especially when it’s to be an experience shepherded by a teacher, an experience intended to provoke deeper thought and consideration of such issues rather than simple titillation?
By now, most of us have read and come to love certain books that were once banned or challenged in the States for their content, books like Mark Twain’s (1884) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (first banned in Concord, MA in 1885 for being “trash and suitable only for the slums”); Toni Morrison’s (1987) Beloved; Ray Bradbury’s (1954) Fahrenheit 451; Ernest Hemingway’s (1940) For Whom the Bell Tolls; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (1925) The Great Gatsby; Maurice Sendak’s (1963) Where the Wild Things Are; J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; and even Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series.(qtd. from Banned Books Week)
Dee Brown’s (1970) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, was also “banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 because the book might be polemical and they wanted to avoid controversy at all costs. ‘If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?’ the official stated.” (qtd. from Banned Books Week) This reasoning is, to me, one of the most disturbing of all. Not only is this thought process counter to all things educational, but it’s also one of the most despicable examples of “the easy way out” that I can think of, one of the most un-American, thoughtless, and cowardly.
And perhaps that’s the heart of the problem: cowardice. For what other reason could there be to attempt to ban information from kids? If material is truly that worrisome or potentially disturbing for particular children—perhaps kids who themselves have suffered abuses or traumas that would be too painful to relive through a book—then certainly there is cause to provide them with substitute options. But why should this mean banning certain books from all students of a certain school district? It’s fear—it’s the attempt to forcibly impose one’s beliefs and feelings upon others.
So, thank you to Superintendent Orr for taking responsibility and action to reverse a poor decision—thank you for agreeing to not impose the beliefs of some parents upon the children of all in your community. And thank you to all those school officials and parents who stand up regularly for their children and their children’s friends’ right to learn and explore without prejudice or fear. When we begin to fear information, education, and exploration, we become obstacles to progress—both our own and our society’s. We don’t have to like or approve of every book or be glad every book was written. But none of these feelings should give anyone the right to make such determinations for others.
Further Reading Suggestions:
- See Melissa Repko’s “Highland Park ISD reverses book suspensions at high school” with Dallas News for a breakdown of why each novel in particular was suspended
- “Banned Books That Shaped America”
- “Harry Potter Series – Selected Challenges”
- ACLU & Banned Books Week (2011): “Free People Read Freely”
- Lynn Neary, WYPR, “Too Graphic? 2014 Banned Books Week Celebrates Challenged Comics”