Challenged Books of the 1990s

Recently, I came across the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the 1990s. The list is worth perusing, even if you’re only scanning for the kids’ books.
Here’s a few challenged books I find noteworthy, all of which I’ve read and many of which I’ve taught:
• Katherine Paterson—one of my favourite young adult authors—has two spots: Bridge to Terabithia at #8, and The Great Gilly Hopkins at #20.
• Lois Lowry’s the Giver—not a great surprise—sits at #11.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George appears at #32—this one I find particularly mystifying.
Harry Potter—no real surprise—sits at #48.
Judy Blume has four spots on the list and Mark Twain has two, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
And in case you don’t look through the entire list, these children’s and young adult books share a spot on the same list with books such as Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies, by Nancy Friday, and The Dead Zone, by Stephen King. This isn’t a comment on either Friday or King—just some additional perspective.
The point, people challenge books for many reasons, many of which are petty, unthinking, homophobic, or racist. If anything, a list of challenge books will provide you with some interesting summer reading.

Encounters with Nature

I’m fortunate to live in a neighbourhood where I can experience nature close up. Between the abundance of birdlife all around to the coyotes that live on the University farm, I encounter nature every day. Here are two such encounters—one with coyotes and one with geese—that were closer than I usually expect.

Years ago, when I still lived in University housing with my kids, my youngest daughter came running home one day to tell me she was almost attacked by a peregrine falcon. I explained, patiently, that peregrine falcons didn’t live in the neighbourhood, and they certainly didn’t attack people.
“But I saw it,” she said, “I saw its prey-bird beak and everything!”
She was adamant, and I had to let that one go. Much to my chagrin, I learned later my daughter did see a type of falcon that day—a Merlin, a small hawk that feeds on songbirds and lives all over the neighbourhood. This species has made a recovery in recent decades, especially in urban areas, thanks to the ban on the use of DDT.
These birds, like so many other species of bird and small mammals, make their homes in urban areas. I’m grateful every day to meet those birds and animals who still share my neighbourhood, and happy to know that an urban setting can’t keep out the natural world.

National Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale day. If you aren’t prepared to tell a story, then read a fairy tale to anyone who will listen—your kids, your mom, your dog. Or just curl up with a copy of Hans Andersen or the Brothers Grimm and get lost in the magic. There’s no better way to keep the frigid weather at bay.
If you want something more adult, check out my apocalyptic version of “Hansel and Gretel,” published in July, 2018, in Feast Journal. My story is called, “Hansel and Greta.”

If you want something to listen to, check out this 2014 recording from the TALES Festival, Daughters of Destiny. I was telling stories in the beautiful St Michael’s Church in Ft. Edmonton Park. Enjoy!

Halloween, Scarey Books, and Something from the Blog Archive

It’s Halloween. No snow is in the forecast, and that’s a win for where I live.
Here’s something from the blog archive to get you in the mood for the day. And here are three young adult series with enough ghosts and monsters to satisfy any pallet. Enjoy! By the way, my favourite would have to be Jonathan Stroud.

1. Lockwood and Co., by Jonathan Stroud
2. Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull
And
3. The Last Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney.

An Anniversary for Narnia

October 16 saw the sixty-eighth anniversary of the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis published the Narnia books once a year, until The Last Battle appeared in September of 1956. Lewis was also writing his spiritual biography at the time, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life—not to mention whatever else he was writing, as well as performing all the duties and responsibilities of an Oxford tutor.
But why a children’s story? Lewis was a scholar. He wrote about books, he wrote Christian apologetics, and he wrote fiction, but all this was for adults. Lewis had nothing to do with children. So again, why a children’s story?
There are enough books about Lewis around to keep you busily reading for years. Writers of every kind have opinions about Lewis and his life—about Lewis as a child, about his time in the war, about his more than thirty-year relationship with Mrs. Moore, which, interestingly, some writers are unwilling to explore.
Lewis is something of a puzzle. He was gregarious and fond of argument, a man who valued openness and friendship; he also flatly refused to talk about his relationship with Janie Moore with anyone, including his brother, Warnie Lewis.
Why Lewis wrote the Narnia books is perhaps less of a puzzle. He valued myth and story, and he wrote about both. Lewis claimed that he was writing a fairy tale because that was the best expression for what he had to say about Narnia and about Aslan. I’m sure it’s true—for the most part.
Lewis carried with him the memories of living at Little Lee, the house his father had built on the outskirts of Belfast. Lewis’ mother, Flora Hamilton, died in that house when he was nine-years-old. Two weeks after her death, a young Jack was shipped off to a boarding school in Hertfordshire, England.
Such events as the death of a parent have a profound effect on the mind of a child. Lewis had the company of his brother for the first year at boarding school, which he calls Belsen in Surprised by Joy. But his school-life was shadowed by the death of his mother, and the relationship with his father deteriorated until Albert Lewis’ death in 1929.
Something was speaking across the years to Lewis as he created Narnia. It’s no surprise Lewis was writing about his own boyhood as he wrote the Narnia books. There is more of the child-like in Narnia than there is childishness. And in Lewis’ own words: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty” (Lewis, “On Stories”).

Mr. Fox and the Geese, A Story for Autumn

Author’s note: this story is a retelling of the Grimms’ tale, “The Fox and the Geese.” It first appeared in OfOtherWorlds in 2015, and was subsequently published in Fractured and Other Fairy Tales, 2015.

Mr. Fox liked to walk along the edge of the old city. One spring evening, he was strolling along, and he happened upon a field where a flock of geese were gathered, gabbling away and walking through the stubble.
“What do we have here?” he said, eyeing the fat geese, as he leaned on his walking cane. “Looks like dinner.”
The geese were terrified, and they honked and cried for mercy.
“Mercy,” laughed Mr. Fox. “You will find no mercy here. I’m interested in some dinner. Now you just line yourselves up in a row, and I will wring your pretty necks one by one, and then I’ll take your carcasses back to my house in the city.”
But there was one old goose who was at least as cunning as Mr. Fox. She was a grandam of the flock, and she peered up at Mr. Fox.
“Mr. Fox,” she said, bobbing her head, “since you are going to eat us anyway, I don’t suppose you would mind if I told my children and grandchildren one more story?”
Now, if Mr. Fox had a weakness, besides a greedy desire for fresh goose, it was for a good story. “Oh, very well,” he said, petulantly. “Tell your story. But when you are done, I expect you to line up like good little geese so I can pick out the fattest for my table.”
The old goose began her story. She gabbled and honked, telling of faraway places, of all the things she had seen on her travels, of the lives of people and animals, of strange and secret things only seen by moonlight and starlight. And before she was finished, she was joined by one of her children, and together, they gabbled and grumbled and honked of the places they had seen together. They were joined by the others, one by one, until soon the whole flock was gabbling the story of their travels, from the hot countries of the south to the wide spaces of the north.
The sun slowly set, and Mr. Fox listened, forgetting about everything else as he was swept away to places he had never known.
Did Mr. Fox ever get his dinner? Who can say?—for the geese are still telling their story to this day. And if you stop to listen, in the spring and the fall, you can hear it too—the gabbling of travelers’ tales upon the air.