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Season 3, Episode 11

Books are For Everyone

November 25, 2021

In this episode, Charity and Breea talk about their favorite banned middle grade and teen books. Book recommendations for Middle Grade and YA readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:01 Welcome to the Planet Book podcast. I'm your host Charity.

Breea 0:05 And I'm your host Breea.

Charity 0:07 And we're with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode, you'll hear us talking about our favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining us today.

Charity 0:16 On this episode, we are going to be talking about our favorite banned books.

Breea 0:21 Oh, boy. So controversial.

Charity 0:25 Yes, it can be. And so the American Library Association, they keep track of kind of the most popular banned book titles. So I had to go through that list and kind of remind myself what are the like middle grade and teen novels that are banned so frequently. But I picked out my favorites.

Breea 0:44 I feel like mine are gonna be so stereotypical. But I threw in one that I think is a little more out there. So--

Charity 0:52 Okay.

Breea 0:53 You know, shake things up.

Charity 0:54 Yes. Well, I love that we're having this conversation because what--you know, I don't understand why people ban books because as soon as you ban them everybody's gonna run out and read them. They become so much more popular.

Breea 1:07 Actually, one of the authors that I picked, I actually heard her in a conference, in a book conference, and talk about that very thing. It's like, as soon as her book was banned, there was this moment where she was like, oh, gosh. Like, when you're hearing this controversy come up, she's like, oh, gosh, what's gonna happen? And then she realized that she became all the more popular just because--and not only were people like curious. They're like, oh, what, what scandalous thing is happening in this book? But they were also ready for discourse. They wanted to discuss, like, what people might be potentially offended or worried about in this and how we can basically go about having an appropriate discussion about it. So--

Charity 1:52 Yeah, I think that's what these books prompt you. It's not like there's anything so terrible in them, but they do prompt good conversations.

Breea 1:59 Yeah.

Charity 2:00 It's almost like it's a good thing for an author to have their book banned because you know automatically everyone's gonna run out and read it. So I am going to throw my first one out there. And this one, I don't think it's banned as much anymore. But in the years after it came out, it was frequently on the banned list. And that's Lois Lowry's The Giver.

Breea 2:19 Oh, yeah, oh yeah. I forget why. It's been a minute since I've read that. Why was it banned again?

Charity 2:25 You know, I probably should have looked that up. Honestly, I'm not sure. I don't know. I honestly don't know why. I read it. It's the story of a boy who was selected to hold all the memories for his community. It's another dystopia. And the only way for his people to get their memories back is for him to leave the community, which he does. And I don't know why.

Breea 2:46 I'm wondering if it's because of the portrayal of what happens toward the end of life. I'm not going to try to give anything away. But I know that there is like a very morbid discovery that the protagonist makes there. And I'm wondering if that has anything to do with it.

Charity 3:05 I think that is probably it. But it is so wonderfully written.

Breea 3:10 It is.

Charity 3:11 And all of the other dystopian books, or a lot of them that have come after, you can tell are really inspired by The Giver. It's kind of like the godfather of all of these other books like Divergent and the Hunger Games. And so all those other kind of dystopian, something's wrong in the community type stories. They were inspired by this book. So I just love it so much.

Breea 3:32 The Giver gives us permission to like, have an open ended, like conclusion, I don't want to give anything away. And it's been a while so I'm not gonna try. But I feel like I think it's okay for me to say that it just doesn't wrap up all nice, neat and, like, nice little--tie it up with a pretty ribbon. You know, the dystopian world is saved sort of situation. It's not that simple. And it--I think it's a great springboard for a lot of conversations as to how different books can end different ways--

Charity 4:06 Absolutely.

Breea 4:07 And still be satisfying.

Charity 4:09 Well, what's one of yours?

Breea 4:10 Okay, so I've got to start with the stereotypical answer here and just talk about Harry Potter. Because--

Charity 4:16 Yes, that shows up on every banned list all the time every year.

Breea 4:21 It still baffles me because a lot of the banned books list, not necessarily that I don't read them, because I'm like, oh, that's so taboo, but they kind of some of them make sense. Like, you know, for where we progress in our society, like understanding that there is a certain tone that some of these novels take on that, you know, some people just aren't fans of, and that's okay. But with Harry Potter, it's still like, you read through this list, and it's like, oh, this one contains like spells and magic. And I'm like how many like young adult or children's books do the exact same thing? And it makes me wonder why Harry Potter was so targeted? Maybe it's because they use real, like not real spells, like I know, but like--I don't know it, they just targeted Harry Potter really hard on that one.

Charity 5:18 You know I think probably the fact that it was so popular and still is so popular, like really put a target on it more so than some lesser known titles. And it-- you know, and it's one that, like all kids want to read, it seems like, at some point.

Breea 5:33 It baffles me because it's like, so was Lord of the Rings like that involves magic and fantasy and creatures and so is Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has this same kind of magical elements. But if we, I don't know, Harry Potter had like a school of them and so it became part of that list. But that being said, I absolutely loved it. I remember when I was younger hearing that it was being banned from some libraries. My library did not ban it when I was in elementary school which I was very thankful for. But I remember like being in the third grade and actually being concerned that I was not going to be able to find the rest of the Harry Potter series. Like, I was like, I just got into this and now they're gonna take them all away. And not understanding what banned books really meant and how it was just like, there are some places that might, you know, limit checking them out, or like not have them on their shelves. But it didn't mean it was gonna be like completely canceled, like this year. But that's what I thought it was gonna mean, and I had like some sleepless nights going, my favorite series is going to be cancelled.

Charity 6:41 Yeah, that is such an interesting point to make. I've never thought about that. But yeah, for kids just hearing that a book is banned, yeah, they're probably gonna think like, oh my gosh, will I even be able to read this book ever?

Breea 6:54 I thought I was gonna get in trouble. Like, I was like, if this goes through, is it gonna be like illegal to read this?

Charity 7:00 Oh, see, people, this is why we don't ban books. Kids should not feel that way about reading books.

Breea 7:06 It got better. I was like, I thought I was gonna be so rebellious though. I was like, I'm gonna read it anyway. Let the coppers take me.

Charity 7:14 I can totally picture like a young, you know, rebellious Breea like reading Harry Potter.

Breea 7:22 Under my sheets with my little flashlights like no one's gonna know.

Charity 7:28 Yes. Well, one of my other favorites, and really it's just an author, Judy Blume. Several of her books have often ended up on a banned list. Blubber ends up on those lists a lot. Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret.

Breea 7:44 Yep.

Charity 7:45 And those aren't as popular as they used to be. But she always wrote so well about that kind of tween angsty experience where you're, you know, your body is changing, and you're trying to figure out life and where you fit in, at school and with friends and relationships. And they always felt so real and relatable. But those are the very reasons why those books get banned, I think. Some people find those things like offensive. Like in Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret, I think she talks about the main character is Margaret, and she's a tween girl. And we know what happens to tween girls when they get to a certain point. And she talks about that a little bit. And so that's one of the reasons that one, it gets banned. I think that she talks about some of those body issues. And I remember reading those as a kid and just feeling like, oh my gosh, I totally relate to this character. And I feel like here's a book that can kind of help me make sense of my own experiences. So I appreciated having that book.

Breea 8:48 I feel like those kind of like discussions and situations do make the characters all the more real to us. Make them less like this nice cookie cutter, like two dimensional protagonist that we follow that has this coming of age journey that we just are so separated from, that we can't imagine like being in their position or being in their shoes. And so when details like that are kind of like maybe a little rough around the edges, are just more taboo to discuss, like, we ourselves are embarrassed to discuss them with friends or family or whoever we need to. When our favorite characters do it makes it a little more open. It makes it a little more like, maybe I shouldn't be as ashamed of this as I originally thought I should. It makes that process a little bit easier to swallow. You know?

Charity 9:38 I mean, I feel like what better place to kind of, I don't know, I guess be exposed to those ideas and learn about those things than through books?

Breea 9:46 Right?

Charity 9:47 Like I was grateful to have the chance to read about some of those things in books. So, all right, what's your next one?

Breea 9:55 Okay, so this is the one that I was mentioning earlier that I went and I heard this author talk about her series. It's actually a children's picture book, and it's the Skippyjon Jones series.

Charity 10:09 Oh, that's so funny because I almost thought about using a picture book and I looked at that one. So--

Breea 10:15 I remember just having such a good time. And so if you guys haven't read Skippyjon Jones, it's basically this little Siamese cat and he's got these giant ears and he's just so cute. And he thinks he's a Chihuahua. And it's so cute. And he's got his family that he goes on adventures with. And he has, you know, he is a cat that thinks he's a dog, and I think it's adorable. And I never thought, like--when I heard that people were treating it as a banned book I didn't even know. Like, it didn't even process. I was like, why? Like, there's nothing wrong with this book. But apparently, there was some issue with how Skippyjon Jones' character took on a stereotype of Mexican culture. And it's hard for me to be like, no, it doesn't; like I love this book. Because I'm not from that culture so I don't know. I know that it has definitely prompted discussions in classrooms already about the way we depict certain cultures that are different from our own. But yeah, it's hard for me to be like, say one way or another, whether that's correct, whether that's incorrect. Because once again, I don't claim that identity. So it's tough because I just think it's cute. And I don't think the author ever meant to do anything that was going to offend anyone, or to trample on anyone's culture or disrespect anyone. Like, she just seems really down to earth and really sweet. And I think she just thought it was a funny idea that the Siamese cat thought they were Chihuahua, because like, there's those similar appearances between you know, the two. And I think she just ran with it and didn't realize it was going to potentially, you know, just be something that people were gonna have a discussion about whether it was offensive or not.

Charity 12:09 Yeah, we've seen that conversation happen about other books too, as the culture--the conversation in the culture has kind of changed around books depicting other cultures and communities of color. And, you know, so that one, it was so incredibly popular when it came out. And in light of, kind of, I guess, more modern thinking, it's sort of, you know, kind of gotten caught up in that. But it is still a cute story. You know, a Siamese cat wants to be a Chihuahua.

Breea 12:44 It makes me wonder how many--I think a lot of classrooms, like I said, are still using it for discourse. But I just-- it makes me wonder, once that issue came up, how many teachers are still currently using it just as regular classroom material? Or how many people even, like, this even crosses their mind? You know, I just feel like it's so it's very much something that seems like it's disguised if that's a certain case, because it is about an animal that's like taking on a different or thinking that they are different identities. So--

Charity 13:18 I think for me, one of the takeaways when it comes to banned books is that you really have to just read those books for yourself.

Breea 13:25 Yeah.

Charity 13:26 And decide and what someone might find a book offensive and that's okay. You don't have to read it. Other people might read it and love it. And that's also okay. So, you know, don't be afraid, listeners, to read those banned books. Judge for yourself whether it's good or not. You get to decide. And those are still really good stories, even if a few people didn't think so.

Breea 13:50 Yeah, absolutely.

Charity 13:52 Well, Breea, thanks for joining me on this conversation. This was a good one as well.

Breea 13:56 It was a little intense there. I mean, not intense, but like, more serious in parts than like--

Charity 14:01 It was. I think it was our most serious conversation. Breea 14:04 I think it was very much different than like our quiz.

Charity 14:08 You never know what we're gonna do. Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at the for these and other great book recommendations, and follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

Breea 14:24 Thanks.

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