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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Book Week 2022 - And Complaints!

 It’s the last day of Children’s Book Week 2022, and I confess I haven’t read any of the books this year. I can remember when I at least read all the Older Readers books and organised activities and displays for the celebration. We didn’t have author visits because my tiny library budget didn’t allow for it. But we had displays and a lunchtime book themed trivia quiz and I encouraged kids to read the shortlisted books. One year, when the theme was “Chsmpions Read”, I got some of my Year 8 students to pose in their PE uniforms, reading books, and also photographed three on a dais with medals and books. Those photos were part of the display, and I did it because I couldn’t find photos of sporting heroes reading. It worked.

If you want to know this year’s winners, here is a link to the Reading’s bookshop site, where you can buy them if you want.

I am glad to see there is a Rebecca Lim book among the winners as I enjoy her work very much. I will get it in ebook. She lives in Melbourne! 

But this post is about something else. 

Book Week is about celebrating excellence in writing for young readers. It hosts about the only major award here for children’s writing - the only judged one, anyway, as there are some for kids to vote for, such as the YABBA Awards in Victoria. There used to be a similar award, the Inkys, run by the State Library’s Centre for Youth Literature, but that was closed down some time ago. 

So, this is it - and even this award was nearly closed down some years ago due to lack of funds. Fortunately, it was sorted out and the awards continued. 

It’s a week for celebration of all things book related. But this year I have read several whining articles and Twitter posts, by parents, about having to put themselves out once a year to make or buy a costume for that stupid costume parade. How dare the school ask them to get creative to help their children have fun! Thing is, even if you agree, it tends to have headings like “Why I’m over Book Week”. 

It’s not about Book Week, it’s about one aspect of Book Week. Personally I think it would be just as much fun, or even more, for bits and bobs to be put in a corner of classrooms for kids to make their own costumes in the weeks leading up to Book Week. I was involved with the children’s program at a Worldcon once and watched kids do just this. It was amazing how creative they got. I still remember helping a young dragon to make her tail. 

But it shouldn’t be about helping parents avoid encouraging their kids to read. And schools give plenty of notice. Waiting till the last  minute and then complaining about the whole thing because you forgot to do it, or your duties at the office kept you too busy is not on as far as I’m concerned. It shouldn’t be about you or your convenience. Even if you do forget, there are plenty of cheap items in discount shops that can be put together to make a basic costume. 

I have no doubt some of you reading this will have a horror story about your child’s school and how it messed up Book Week celebration and made your child cry. These things do happen, yes. It has to be done right or nobody will enjoy it.

Still - how hard is it for parents to support their kids in the one week a year which is about them? 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Some Banned Books In Florida Schools!

 There have been books banned in the US for quite some time. In fact, here is a link to a post I wrote ten years ago and that was the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week. That was the year I got my book clubbers to celebrate it.

This year there are quite a few bans in the school system in Florida, where there were even bans of some mathematics textbooks! 

Here are some of the Florida school book bans I found on Twitter. 

I have heard of nearly all of these books and have read eleven(17 if you count the Harry Potter series as seven books, which it is). I have taught several of those.

You might notice that the books are generally classics and have been on school text lists. 

I have read The Handmaid’s Tale, The Catcher In The Rye, Of Mice And Men, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harry Potter 1 to 7, The Hate U Give, The Grapes Of Wrath, The Lord Of The Flies, 1984 and The Lord Of The Rings. I studied The Catcher In The Rye and taught Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath

The Handmaid’s Tale has been much talked about recently and the red Handmaid’s costume worn in protests, and has been considered especially important with the overturn of Roe Vs Wade. 

The Catcher In The Rye, which I studied in both Year 11 and 12 at school, has been considered the first YA novel. Kids used to read it in bed, using a flashlight. These days, admittedly, the fact that it is taught at school has meant that kids don’t enjoy it as much any more, in fact complain about having to study it. It was written in the 1940s, so it doesn’t mean as much to this generation with their phones and Internet. Still - this doesn’t mean it should be banned, and I doubt it was banned for being boring and out of date! 

Of Mice And Men, by John Steinbeck, is very sad reading, but I think kids today, who have a lot more knowledge about mental illness, would get more out of it than when it first came out, but hey, it’s banned in schools! 

Huckleberry Finn has been banned for a long time as a racist book, which it absolutely isn’t. It’s a powerful piece of writing in which the hero starts off as a regular racist because that’s how it was in the American South of the time when the novel was written and, after travelling with escaped slave Jim comes to see him as a friend and decide that if helping him means he is going to hell, fine, he will go! There is a lot more than that, of course. If Mark Twain was around today he would be considered a left winger. I have read some of his other books and that’s what I concluded. 

I have no idea what the ban is for this time. At some stage I will visit the ALA web site to see if it has been updated.

The Harry Potter series has been banned, in the past, for supposedly promoting witchcraft. These days, there are former fans who have gone as far as to burn their Harry Potter books because they have been angry with the author. You have probably read about this, so I won’t go into detail. I don’t know why the Florida ban is happening, but probably the same reasons as before. 

I read The Lord Of The Flies in Year 9, on a friend’s recommendation. I remember discussing a section of it with my own class, and boys protesting they would never do that. I asked them if they wouldn’t do whatever they could get away with and, thinking about it, they admitted they probably would. Interestingly, there was a true story of a bunch of boys marooned for a while in the 1960s, and, far from killing each other, they looked after each other. 

I taught The Grapes Of Wrath to a Year 12 class in my first year out. It is a very powerful story of a poor family on the way to California during the Depression, in hopes of getting work picking fruit. It’s not going to happen, as all the families whose farms have been destroyed and taken over by the banks find out. Again - why is this banned now? It is a great classic. 

The Hate U Give is the most recent of the books I have read. I reviewed it here.

The heroine has to watch her childhood friend, Khalil, be murdered by a police officer and find the courage to bring his death to the public eye. Again - very powerful stuff and, for once, worth the hype. The film was strong too, and is available on streaming - Disney +, I think. 

And now it’s banned in Florida schools. Why? 

Finally, Lord Of The Rings? That classic novel? It’s not only an amazing fantasy, it was written as a mythology for England. It also has Catholic elements. Here is what I wrote about it.

I think I am going to have to visit the ALA website to find out why these books have been snatched from Florida schools, but one thing I know for sure: the sales will go up, as they did for Holocaust graphic novel Maus by Art Spigelman when that was banned in Tennessee recently. 

Maybe kids will even willingly read The Catcher In The Rye again? 

So, have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think? 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Just Finished Reading … The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2022


Vikki Petraitis is a Melbourne writer, best known for her true crime books, of which I own a few. This is her first novel.

Antigone Pollard is a police detective. She has returned to the small seaside town of Deception Bay, where she spent much of her childhood living with her grandmother, who is now in aged care and has left her the house. 

Antigone left Melbourne because of a rape case which ended with the death of the victim after she was disbelieved by the legal system. Now, she sees that not much is different in Deception Bay, where a couple of girls who have been raped after their drinks were spiked at the pub are unlikely to be believed either and the “good bloke” arrested for attempting the same with Antigone gets bail. She has come to the conclusion that rapists are believed over victims, wherever you live - something that is often true in real life.

Antigone and her police partner, Warren Harvey, better known as Wozza, must find proof of the rapist - and solve a murder that happened several years ago, though it was concluded to have been a murder suicide at the time. 

It’s a very readable story, if one that can’t be pinned down as a type - not a cosy and not a police procedural either, though the heroine is a police officer - one who doesn’t get on with her male  boss, for good reason. The small town, where everybody knows everyone else, is a good place for dreadful things to happen and be dismissed by those with power. 

As for Antigone, she won my heart when she used martial arts on the would-be rapist who attacked her in the pub carpark early in the novel after failing to spike her drink. 

The author knows a lot about crime, and how investigations work, from all her true crime writing. I think she has a great future in fiction and am looking forward to reading her next novel.

The print book is available at all good bookshops and websites, and in ebook format. I bought mine on Apple Books, but it’s available on Kindle as well.

Monday, August 15, 2022

What I’m currently reading!

 As usual, I’m reading multiple books, both new and re-reads. So this isn’t a review, just sharing what I’m reading now.

I have a pile of books I got from my membership of Chicon, this year’s Worldcon. I’m too late to vote for most of them, but hsppy just to have them as part of the deal. A$75 for all those books plus the privilege of a virtual attendance at panels is very reasonable! 

The shortlisted book I am reading now is True Believer: The Rise And Fall Of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman, which is part of the “Related Works” short list. I am finding it a fascinating work, especially since I’m also reading a book about Jack Kirby, the artist who worked with him on comics, Jack Kirby: The Epic Life Of The King Of Comics. Kirby was not a great fan of Lee, claiming to have created a lot of the characters and stories for which Lee claimed credit. Riesman mentions all this, and that Lee was not quite the jolly, likeable character he appeared to the world as. However, he also says that the two of them were arguing over things that we can never be sure of. He gives detailed descriptions of what each of them said and when, and why this or that character might or might not have been created by each of them. Both of them told different stories at different times of their lives.

There is some sadness too, and mention of elder abuse in Lee’s later life, when he would believe all sorts of nonsense told to him.

I’m also reading Harry Turtledove’s newest book, Three Miles Down. It’s not his usual alternative universe, but a science fiction piece set in the 1970s, during the Nixon era. In it, an American FBI ship goes out to sea to raise, if possible, an alien spaceship on the sea bottom, next to a Soviet submarine. One of those aboard the American ship is a young scientist, Jerry, who is terribly excited to be invited to join the expedition.

I have to admit, not his best book so far, in my opinion. I love the idea, but I’m in Chapter 6 already and nothing has really happened. There is a Soviet ship hovering around, but not doing anything much. The characters eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, all described in loving detail, and consider what they might find, when not discussing books and films that were out at that time. I don’t mind the occasional mention of what Jerry is reading or has seen, but it goes on and on. 

Still, I will finish and hopefully the pace will pick up soon.

My audiobook of choice, right now, is Barbara Hambly’s Bride Of The Rat God, which I can’t find in ebook, for some reason. I have read the original print copy, many times, but can’t find it. Maybe it’s out of print, but the audiobook isn’t. It’s narrated by Marguerite Gavin, who is wonderful. She manages to voice all the characters so you are never unsure of who is speaking.

In case you haven’t read it, the novel is set in 1920s silent movie Hollywood and is seen from the viewpoint of Norah, the British widow of an American soldier killed during the Great War, living with her sister in law, a major silent film star. There is a cursed necklace and some gruesome murders. And in between there are some well described filming scenes of a movie called She Devil Of Babylon, when what the director really wants to film is Kafka’s Metamorphosis. And there are three cute little Pekingese dogs which can do more than they might seem to be able to, including protecting their mistress from evil.

Great fun, and well read by Marguerite Gavin.

I’ve recently bought and started reading Death and Hard Cider, Barbara Hambly’s latest Benjamin January murder mystery novel. She has written quite a few of these and they are every bit as good as the first. The quality has never waned.

I’ve also been reading some Marvel comics. The most recent is Loki: The God Who Fell To Earth, by Daniel Kibblesmith and others. It is hilarious! Loki is now the ruler of Jotunheim, while Thor rules Asgard. Everything is going fine, so he is utterly bored and leaves a living snowman, Frosti, in charge while he heads for New York. There, he asks millionaire genius Tony Stark if he can join the Avengers. Tony tells him to get lost. Thor has already rolled around laughing at the idea. So, he uses his brains to defeat a scary creature threatening New York and impresses his brother and Tony. And meanwhile … very funny! 

So…am I the only one who reads masses of books at once?