During Banned Books Week, of all weeks, I received the first irate parent phone call of my library career. This involved father was already psyched up because his boy had taken a photo of a book on display at the library and sent it to his dad. That book - "Yay! You're Gay! Now what?". He had some very passionate concerns and an expectation for how our conversation was going to go. I hate to say it: he was angry. He was pushy. He had very strong feelings and very strong words. However, it is important to note that he was NOT disrespectful in any way.
I asked the basic questions: what book was it? What were his concerns?
And then I just listened. For about 20 minutes. Until he had everything out.
Then I acknowledged him, his concerns, and his involvement in his son's life. I explained our selection policy and what had lead to this particular book being selected. I made sure he knew his son wasn't required to read it, but it was available if he chose to. Then I told him about our challenge procedure. I offered to make the appropriate copies of paperwork and policies and leave them in the front office for him. I offered for him to read the book on school grounds - assuring him that it was very short and could be read in an hour or two. (Our policy says school copies of challenged materials cannot leave the grounds until the challenge is completed.) I made sure he knew that he wasn't obligated to go through the process if he read the material and no longer felt it should be removed from the shelves, but that the process would need to be adhered to if he truly wanted it removed.
An amazing thing happened. To this dad's credit, he calmed down. He really listened. He still didn't agree with it personally, but he ultimately decided the things we were discussing were a satisfying answer. The phone call ended amiably - with me offering to talk to him about it any time and to pull the necessary paperwork and material if he should ever choose to use them.
Then I hung up the phone and immediately began shaking. My aide, bless her heart, came over and let me pour some things out. I grabbed the book and the policies and paperwork and immediately headed for the principal's office. I briefed him, and he chose to keep and read the book in case the parent came to see him about it. My principal was impressed with the phone call and how I handled it.
I went back to the library and drafted an email to two of my best library buddies and former professors. Never would I have been able to handle that phone call without focusing on defending the actual book had they not drilled it into my head to make great selections with plenty of evidence why that book should be there AND don't defend the book - defend the process.
So, my library friends, it's going to happen at some point. It happened to me even in my small town! The best advice I can possibly give is: stay calm, be respectful, and defend the process. If you do not have your selection criteria or process in your library policy, make that happen! Also, if you do not have a challenge process in place, get it going. The ALA has a great webpage that I used to create ours. I also looked up school libraries that had those policies and borrowed their ideas and processes.
How long has it been since I was really, genuinely bursting with excitement over a YA book?
Let me tell you: it's been awhile.
I don't know what clicked SO MUCH with "A Danger to Herself and Others" by Alicia Sheinmel, but it did. Could it be that I was reading in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep? Sure. But it comes down to the fact that it gave me a lot of thoughts and feelings as a reader. Isn't that the whole point of reading?
I love the unreliable narrator aspect - and I've rarely seen it executed this well. Hannah is very easy for me to connect and sympathize with. She has a lot of anxiety and coping mechanisms in place throughout the book that honestly seem pretty reasonable. Counting steps? Sure. Not hurting anyone by counting steps. I think that's why I was so blown away by the book. We see everything through Hannah's perspective and she's a worthy narrator.
The masterful storytelling is something that has me really excited to share "A Danger to Herself and Others" with my readers. April Henry fans will devour this book. Heck, I would read it again! (And I'm known for NOT re-reading books.) It's suspenseful, nothing comes out of left field without justification, and just...beautiful. Beautifully written.
Finally, that ending... I wanted to pull Hannah to me and hug her myself. Her parents were so distant and aloof that I could barely stand it. The author doesn't cave to my need to know Hannah is going to be alright. She lets it dangle in front of me without succumbing to the trend to put a pretty bow on every ending - especially when dealing with mental illness. I am thrilled that this book is in my library's collection and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
"Born a Crime" had me laughing out loud, pausing to wonder, and voraciously listening - until I only had 90 minutes left. Then, I slowed down. I didn't want the book to end. I feel this is unique to the audiobook - this desire to savor what little storytelling is left. Some of the subject matter was really hard to listen to, not because it was graphic, but because I've never really experienced inequality. Trevor helped me understand a bit more what it's like to be "on the other side" of the issue by letting me hear about apartheid. These first hand accounts are irreplaceable. Soon enough, fiction will paint its magical dust over them. Readers will experience the events with a veil over their eyes.
The resounding message of perseverance - doing what it takes and not forgetting who you are - intermingled with a setting just similar enough to be relatable yet with intriguing differences make this a sure winner for people who enjoy autobiographies, Trevor Noah's performances, or are just interested in what it is like to grow up in another part of the world.
You know that feeling when you pick up a book that's about a truly underrepresented minority in YA (Young Adult) lit, and your hopes are SO HIGH but your expectations are SO LOW? That's how I went into listening to the audiobook of "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" by Tahereh Mafi.
From the get-go, I loved Shirin. She's a potty-mouth, withdrawn teenage girl who has BEEN THROUGH SOME STUFF. This survivor was assaulted in the wake of 9/11 for wearing a hijab, nearly killed. Dealing with the outside fear of her religion every day leads Shirin to the safety of solitude by the time high school hits.
Shirin is very interesting to me. As a high school teacher with a few Muslim students in my school, I sort of listened with the context of, "Is this what they go through?" Honestly, the book's events are very realistic without being over the top. Some crazy things happen, but they are not outside of the realm of possibility. For example, Shirin's love of breakdancing turns into a passion as she joins a breakdancing team. What an amazing catalyst for empowerment! (Side note: I remember the first time I saw women in hijabs playing roller derby. I cheered and may have shed a tear of intense pride.)
Conversations take place throughout AVLEOS that give the reader more information about what it's like to wear a hijab, why some girls wear them, and what the consequences are for not wearing one. Basically, any question you've secretly wanted to ask a woman wearing a hijab are addressed in the book in a natural way.
Overall, what I liked best about the book isn't the love story or the acceptance Shirin gains from her peers. It's simply an the authentic voice and experiences of Shirin. Anyone can read "A Very Large Expanse of Sea" and benefit from it. I have it in the high school library where I work and am committed to promoting it. My students have a lot of experience with Latino culture and Nebraska culture, but not with other cultures that are now being represented in our school. This book is a great way to acquire understanding both of what it's like to be a Muslim high school girl and to examine how the people around her react to her presence.
Mark my words:
YOU WILL SEE YOURSELF IN THIS BOOK.
Will you like what you see?