Celebrating Freedom To Read

Because it's Freedom to Read Week, here are some of my favorite banned or challenged books.

As parents with small children I don’t know what we would have done without Maurice Sendak. My boys loved Where The Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. That meant that my partner and I read them over and over again. The first is the story of a boy who gets angry with his mother and imagines running away to land where the wild things are. In the Night Kitchen is the charming story of a boy visiting a bakery in the middle of the night.

Another glorious picture book is Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. All the Strega books are delightful tales of an Italian witch. In this one, Big Anthony, her assistant, gets into trouble with her magic pasta pot.

Crow Boy by Taro Yashima is the story of a boy who overcomes the prejudices of his classmates when they discover his special abilities.

A large number of what we now call classics continue to be challenged – titles like Charlotte’s Web by EB White. This story of friendship between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider, is truly exquisitely written. When I was in grade 5, my teacher read it to us at school. It is the first (and almost only) recollection I have of any teacher reading a book out loud.

Katherine Paterson, who isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects, has at least two books on the list.  Bridge to Terabithia is the story of two friends who create a magical world and then one of them dies in a tragic accident. The Great Gilly Hopkins is the powerful story of a girl in foster care. My nephew’s teacher read it to his class. He came home at the end of each day and told his mom all about it. It was the book that got him excited about reading novels.

Lois Lowry has quite a few books on the list as well. I love all the Anastasia books and managed to get a number of girls hooked on books with her adventures. Two of them, Anastasia Krupnik and Anastasia at Your Service are on the list. Anastasia is the kind of daughter I would have loved and been proud of. Another book by Lowry is The Giver, a dystopian novel about a young man who comes to realize the dark underbelly of his society.

Jerry Spinelli is another of my favorite writers who has some great reads on the list. Maniac Magee is the story of boy who becomes a legend in his own time. It reads like poetry. Frindle and Loser are also there.

One of my all time favorite books, The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis,is on the list. It is the story of a black family from Flint Michigan who go to visit their grandmother in Birmingham at a time when white people were bombing black churches. It is the story of how their lives are forever changed from the events of that summer.

Most of the characters in these novels cope with real issues and problems. They are the kinds of books that foster creative and critical thinking.They also happen to win awards

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker hooked me in the first paragraph. I remained horrifically spellbound throughout. Now that I am finished, it still won’t let me go.
It is dark, depressing, and desperate, forewarning an all too plausible future. Even more distressing, it is one that exists, even now, in places on our planet.
The futuristic world of the novel is set in the Gulf of Mexico, a landscape reconfigured by the ravages of global warming. It is a world run by feuding corporate clans, a world where the divide between rich and poor has become catastrophic. The 99% live in abject poverty across the globe. Oil tankers have been replaced with more efficient, environmentally friendly hydrogen powered clipper ships. It is a world where human beings have been modified using the genetics of other animals to create a breed of half men.
Nailer, the main character, lives with his abusive father, Richard Lopez, in a shack on the beach. Nailer and his crew work to salvage copper wires from the abandoned ships. They work in dirty, dangerous conditions for little pay. If their existence is bleak, their future is bleaker still.
Nailer survives a near fatal accident and betrayal by a fellow crew member. Then a ‘city killer storm’ hits the community. In its wake Nailer and his friend, Pima, discover their ‘lucky strike’ - the wreck of a clipper ship. In the process of removing enough wealth to keep them rich forever, they come upon a survivor, Nita. Nita is ‘swank’ - a member of the wealthy clan that controls their lives. Caught up in a power struggle between rival clans, her ship was chased into the ‘city killer storm’ to escape her father’s enemies. Pima and Nailer rescue her, but before the three young people manage to get themselves to safety, are discovered by a crew of scavengers led by Nailer’s evil, drug-addled father.
Pima’s mother, Sadna, and her crew, rescue them. In an attempt to escape from Richard Lopez and enemies of Nita's father; Nailer, Nita and the half man, Tool, jump a moving train and set out to ‘Orleans’ in search of a ship still loyal to Nita’s shipping clan.
Don’t fret, there is much more before the story comes to a realistic and satisfying conclusion.
Ship Breaker is written from a guy’s perspective, but it won’t deter girls from complete engagement. It is a fabulous adventure full of ample action and suspense. But it is so much more. It is a book that creates situations where the reader is forced to contemplate deeper existential dilemmas. It engages us in the struggle to do what is morally right in spite of great temptation. It examines what constitutes family and loyalty. It scrutinizes organ donation and environmental degradation. It seduces us into exploring what it means to be human.
Ultimately, it may well be a terrifying harbinger of what is on the way for much of humanity.
Fans of Little Brother, The Hunger Games and The Maze will surely enjoy it. Because of the violence, I wouldn’t recommend it for students younger than 11 or 12.
I'm ready for The Drowned Cities, the sequel to this one.