comics/graphic novels

bbw, comics, & personal musings…

a bit of levity from xkcd [w/ the line: “of course, with their cautionary tale was reported in a print newspaper, no one  read it.”] 

“Given their visual nature and the rampantly held misconception that comic books are for children, comics are among the most challenged and banned books in libraries and schools.”—Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF)

When you think Banned Books Week, do you think Comics/Graphic Novels as well? I do, and I think it should be noted that among this year’s top ten most challenged books Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color Trilogy is second on the list. Reasons cited are: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group. I’m guessing the “unsuitable age group” includes our adolescent population because goodness knows conversations on menstruating, masturbation, wet dreams, and/or perverted and abusive adults (to name a few topics mentioned in the series) have zero relevancy at all, right?! And it is awful that Kim Dong Hwa handles a female’s (and male’s) bildungsroman so insensitively and with an absolute absence of the kind of cautionary tales young (and old) people can appreciate. I hope you were reading sarcasm there because it was intended. I found The Color Trilogy to be quite beautifully done. I did note in my review that

Some parts of the story and some of the sequences may startle the more –er—sheltered reader. There is more than one depiction of masturbation, masturbation not only an occupation of males. The sexual awakenings in the Trilogy find different venues and company, even within the purview of a singular character. In some instances the awareness is less than ideal, and others sweetly unfolded. There are gorgeous examples of homoeroticism, if you’ve ever wondered how that was supposed to work successfully.

To each their own and I think certain cautions can be reasonable—obviously, I include them upon occasion; poor editing, dragging pace, violence, sexism, and other things I think my reader’s are sensitive to and/or I am sensitive to personally or culturally. Caution should be used as an evaluatory measure, an ingredient in decision-making; not an excuse for excuse to limit access/choice. What Kim Dong Hwa offers is of incredible value: a willingness to talk about many taboo subjects. He recreates fictional scenarios and characters that I think a large population of people are waiting to hear that they do, in fact, exist outside of their own individual or social experiences. That they exist across cultural lines and a massive expanse of water is marvelous to encounter. The author/artist is exquisite in his medium–and even if he wasn’t…

For a series that wonders whether certain things should be considered deviant or not, I suppose it is good to be called out in a greater forum where we are forced to discuss what is suitable to an age group on topics of sex, relationships, and sexuality. Of course, this begs the question as to whether those challenging the books are truly engaged in the reading and interested the greater cultural discourse. Which brings me to Jeff Smith’s Bone series.

Bone has been challenged for its “Promotion of smoking and drinking” (CBLDF). In his letter to the school committee review board, Jeff Smith acknowledges the complaints of “as I understand it from news reports, concerns the depiction of gambling, alcohol and tobacco use, and “sexual situations between characters.”” Smith goes onto address these complaints in ways that make sense to anyone who has actually read even one volume of Bone.

At no time in the entire series is anyone rewarded for bad behavior.

The main troublemaker, Phoney Bone does try to win bets, and he cheats, but his plans always, ALWAYS backfire. His moneymaking schemes make him look like a greedy loser. That’s the point of the whole series:  selfish, immoral behavior is wrong.

Beer and gambling are depicted in BONE, but only as props or as story devices (even Smiley Bone’s stogie is little more than a Vaudeville/Groucho character prop). These things play a very small role in the overall BONE story.  I will also point out that beer and gambling can be seen in many Bugs Bunny cartoons, Disney movies, and just about anywhere you look. The trick is portraying them correctly.  These characters are the bad ones, and kids know the difference. Phoney and Smiley scheme and gamble and get their comeuppance.  The story’s heroes do not participate in any of these behaviors.

As far as “sexual situations between characters” are concerned, I know of none.”

These challenges to books, illustrated or no, remind us of how essential it is that we need to encourage not only a freed mind, but better communication with our youth. The Bone series challenge is  evidence of an adult/child disconnect—to say nothing of gross comprehension skills and/or reading habits of some adults. The disconnect is akin to challenges to the Color Trilogy, which it signals a desire for ignorance to remain among adults at the expense of the youth. But neglect would look bad so we adults ask ourselves: What kind of hollow reflex can we exercise to avoid true exertion?

I wonder at how much censorship is an act of caring versus an act of selfishness. For instance, what might contribute to the argument for selfishness over caring? fear, laziness, an overdeveloped need for control? Expanding ones mind can hurt. Critically engaging in conversation can be exhausting. Caring takes time and effort and really it is very very messy. Eyes closed, mouth closed, ears closed—all shut up; all shut up is so much easier. And sometimes it might be worth fighting for—fear driving us to make it stop—make it all. shut. up. And this is just me thinking about me and the daughter whom I’ve a right and responsibility to mind–which makes me all the more mindful.


A list of banned/challenged books at And a list of “Banned and Challenged Comics” at CBLDF


{life} Banned Books Week!

Banned and Challenged Books Week starts Sunday September 30th and runs through October 6th. This year marks the 30th anniversary of our national book community’s celebration of the freedom to read and draw attention to the harm censorship causes (

Books usually are challenged with the best intentions—to protect others, frequently children, from difficult ideas and information. Censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful. (via


For some, reading a banned or challenged book is giving a censor the finger, an act of rebellion against an oppressor. It feels good. Another reason may be to satisfy a curiosity or indulge in a personal challenge to explore another’s ideas, after all “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” (Aristotle). One reason is to show an author support, as well as the writing community as a whole. We want to show them that value their form of expression, that we value ourselves. Having a choice is important. Having access is important. Censorship denies the individual these things. By reading a banned or challenged book, we are demanding our right to choose and our right to access. By not keeping the covers of these books closed, we are saying, too, that we are not going to close our eyes, we are not going to close our mouths and we are not going to close our minds.


I think N is hunting down a copy of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher. She was intrigued by the excerpts used in her Language Arts class this year, by Crutcher’s writing style. I’ve yet to decide what I am going to read, but there is hardly a shortage of options. The book of James in the Bible has been on my mind of late, both challenging me and encouraging me, and goodness knows the Bible qualifies as Challenged, Banned and Burned. There is little doubt I will read some Shel Silverstein, too–very likely N and I together as he makes us laugh and N reads Silverstein aloud in such an enjoyable way.

Do you have particular books in mind?


You can find lists of banned and challenged, as well as statistical data here; and a good list w/ explanations in this brochure “Books Challenged or Banned in 2010-2011

If you post a review, I would like to host a list of books reviewed this year (and maybe past years) on my wrap-up or on a single page (above) so I will be looking for links! I don’t expect everyone’s experience with their read will be a good one, so a negative yet critical review is most certainly welcome as well. If you would like to write about your experience(s) or review a book for Banned Book Week and need a venue, let me know and I will likely host you.


BBW-2011-close; RIP, and randomness.

2011 Banned Books Week is over. I meant to post a wrap-up this weekend but I was appropriately distracted. So here we are. I hope you fit a challenged/banned book in last week. If you’ve read enough, the likelihood is you did, whether intentionally or no; the daily Bible/Scripture readers the biggest supporters against challenging and banning books.

I read Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix; Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes; Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison; and am still reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I also read the recently published Shel Silverstein collection of poems and drawings called Every Thing On It, because we love Silverstein and it just showed up on our Library shelves, and because, let’s face it, it will likely be challenged in no time. Hopefully there will be a review to come, at least a post with a few peeks at a few of the poems.


I’ve told you a hundred tall stories,

I’ve sung you a thousand sweet songs,

I’ve wrote you a million ridiculous rhymes

(Though sometimes the grammar was wrong).

I’ve drawn you a zillion pictures,

So being as fair as can be,

After all that I’ve writtensungtolddrawn for you,

Won’t you writesingtelldraw one for me?

~Shel Silverstein (Every Thing On It)

Natalya read four books: Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume,  Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Monster by Walter Dean Myer (in which she was intrigued by the script format and responded vehemently against the authority figures in the novel) and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. She also read Every Thing On It, mostly aloud when one struck her especially clever, funny–which was the majority.

Now to return our focus to the R(eaders) I(mbibing) P(eril) challenge. We (as a family) have been watching films–re-watching mostly: Coraline (2009), Ghost Busters (1984), and Doctor Who, of course. Sean and I have been watching Luther and I think that television series certainly fits–bloody, grim, and properly horrifying. If I see someone with a Punch mask this halloween I am going to possibly pee my pants and then run.

Hope to be posting some RIP reviews, definitely will increase my RIP reads, and I also have snuck in some 2011 releases onto the reading pile. I finally finished Wildwood by Colin Meloy (juvenile fic), snuck in the latest Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosocszka (juvenile comic series), and am in the opening pages of The Brothers Sisters by Patrick deWitt (a western).

Hope your reading is going well.

Sean is finishing up Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield, and I feel I should really work this in. He has been reading excerpts as he goes, laughed out loud numerous times, and has slouched into a mild grieved depression as it is ending. Alan Wise wrote in his review for Esquire, “The inevitable problem is that songs rarely communicate the same emotion to every listener, and too often Sheffield assumes that he and his reader share the same rarified ear.” I think Sean and Sheffield do “share the same rarified ear.” He at least catches the references. Not sure if I will, but there is more to the memoir. And if I read this memoir before the end of the year, I will actually have read two memoirs, two non-fictions this year that were not “required reading.” –just thinking about goals and improving myself…


"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · series · series · young adult lit

angus, thongs, and full-frontal snogging (re: the novel)

112656Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging : Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (book one)

by Louise Rennison

I Read the Avon Books Mass Market Edition (yep, pink cover and thongs), 2003

First Published, England, Picadilly Press, 1999.

recommended ages 12-17.

Angus: I should have guessed all was not entirely well in the cat department when I picked him up and he began savaging my cardigan.

Thongs: What is the point of them? They just go up your bum, as far as I can tell.

Full-Frontal Snogging: Kissing with all the trimmings, lip to lip, open mouth, tongues … everything. (Apart from dribble, which is never acceptable.)


Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison was

“retained with limited access at the Maplewood Middle School Library in Menasha, Wis. (2008). The coming-of-age novel, which has sexual content, was found offensive by a parent. In addition to retaining the book, board members voted unanimously to adopt procedures intended to secure and record parental consent before limited access books are released to students.” (

There will be plenty of parents offended by Rennison’s first Georgia Nicolson book (and no doubt subsequent books) featuring the irrepressible 14-year-old and her amusing and highly “inappropriate” confessions. 14-year-old girls worried about their looks, their sexuality, their home-life, boys, and friends?! Okay, perhaps it is the way in which the subjectively drawn text expresses herself. Making ideal use the of diary trope, Rennison has created a singular character with both popular and unpopular views on things, recorded in the privacy of her journal. If you are Politically Correct in your Journals, you aren’t doing it right. Alright, maybe she is a bit of a scary adolescent for many (dare I say most?) parents even outside of journaled thoughts, after all, much of the entries are the recalling of events. I can laugh with and at Georgia, but she does scare me. N is 11, all discussion of maturing girls give me nightmares.

In Slim’s office today for a bit of a talking-to. Honestly, she has no sense of humor whatsoever.

The main difficulty is that she imagines we are at school to learn stuff and we know we are at school to fill in the idle hours before we go home and hang around with our mates doing important things. Life skills, like makeup and playing records and trapping boys. (85)

My understanding is that this is not a book being turned into classroom workbooks and required reading for 7th  or 8th graders, let alone 6th. That would be interesting. No, it is that people are not comfortable having this in the school library. I am curious to know what about the sexual content was worrisome. I am betting it isn’t Georgia’s fears of never having a boyfriend and becoming a Lesbian; or the comments regarding her Phys. Ed. teacher. If you don’t believe homosexuality to be a worry-inducing trajectory, than you may be offended–if you didn’t pick up on the exaggerative tones in the novel. Regardless, Georgia isn’t delicate, she can take the criticism. I am guessing, rather, it is to do with all the full-frontal snogging: [there could be quite a list here]; and suggestive talk of boys, one of whom referred to as “sex-god.”

11:30 p.m.

I am a facsimile of a sham of a fax of a person. And I have a date with a professional snogger.

Georgia Nicolson and all are well developed characters who rise up out of the pages and inhabit the show as an original cast. This is one novel that isn’t meant to take you anywhere but there–inside it. There is safety in the utter subjectivity of the characters, the circumstances, and the trope, no matter how universal an event/emotion. Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging should hardly prove to be an agent provocateur. Rennison is not reinventing adolescence; the novel has its spins on names/scenarios, but little should be unfamiliar–no matter how terrifying we find this.  There are painful moments, but even those own a sense of hilarity. The novel is Comedy, an outlet in which to laugh at one’s self/society in order to navigate anxieties. Given enough exaggeration amidst the ridiculous, the subject becomes an object of ridicule; i.e. fearing to become a lesbian as if it is the only recourse for being ugly and dateless, or that it’s a given that a lesbian is a pervert, portrayed in the venue of a comedienne’s antics will in turn ridicule the fear and the misconceptions. Popular Ideas can be undermined–and Ideologies can be solidified. Rennison is capable of both.

Rennison’s novel is actually a refreshing member of the Middle-School and Young Adult Shelves. She tackles many of the “inappropriate” subjects/scenarios in a coming-of-age, without all the intensity of the serious realists (and the vampiric); though I do say that the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson houses all, if not more, of the melodrama as the other books for this age. Rennison makes the reader laugh, a lot, and there are tears enough as it is.

Can’t say I would recommend Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging to just anyone. Likely girls are the readers here; no, boys will likely gain no insight into the female world other than a familiarity in a girl’s potential for coarse humor and indecipherable action. The comedic timing, the characterization, the writing and use of the diary trope is great. If you are looking for a tightly controlled plot, forget it, but it moves, change occurs, and there is an ending (which introduces a great beginning for book two). 12 is a good recommended earliest age, but listening to my 11 year old and her friends…Primarily, the humor depends on some adolescent angsts, so hormones kicking in (or having kicked in) is a bit of a necessity to really enjoy the ridiculousness found in the novel. Georgia is such a marvelous character–scary, yes, but brilliant. Her self-image is worrisome, as are her thoughts about her parents and school. And there is the casual interjections of “ending it.” But she is allowed to have these feelings, and though they sometimes get her into trouble, it is all a part of her subjective view-point. And just how seriously are we to take Miss Nicolson’s self-evaluation. Regardless, there is no mistaking that the novel is all about Georgia Nicolson–no one else. Any one else would be incidental. She is irreverent, and sometimes too selfish to be a perfect friend. But she has a spark. If a young person reader had to fall under any influence of the novel, no one should mind if they are inspired by Georgia’s irrepressibility. She can make an ass of herself, lament it, but you can count on her not staying down long.

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging takes care of its own audience in that the Reader can quickly decide if it is a bit too much or not up their alley reading-wise.  Rennison uses a time-honored venue for this coming-of-age novel/series. There is a definite need for her wit in every library. The confessions of Georgia Nicolson needn’t be agreeable or even likable. Offended can be a great position to be cast. Just mind what you do in that role.


Many liken the Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging reading experience to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, which I have yet to read. (Sean keeps recommending it, the book, not the film because he knows how I feel about Ms. Zellwegger.) The New York Times Book Review is quoted (on the book cover) as saying, “Suppose you combined two modern British diarists, Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones. Here’s what you get. A little raunchy and quite funny.”

"review" · juvenile lit · recommend · Uncategorized

olive’s ocean

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

A Greenwillow Book (HarperCollins), 2003.

Tradepaper, 217 pages. Juvenile/Teen Fiction*.

Sometimes life can change in an instant

Martha Boyle and Olive Barstow could have been friends, but they weren’t. Weeks after a tragic accident, all that is left are eerie connections between the two girls, former classmates who both kept the same secret without knowing it. Now, even while on vacation at the ocean, Martha can’t stop thinking about Olive. Things only get more complicated when Martha begins to like Jimmy Manning, a neighbor boy she used to despise. What is going on? Can life for Martha be the same ever again? ~Publisher’s Comments


The reason Kevin Henkes Olive’s Ocean made the top ten list of most frequently challenged books of 2007? “Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language.”

I am with this 2008 review by Davenport Public Library’s Kid’s Blog, “The reason for Olive’s Ocean being challenged is a bit of a head-scratcher.” I also agree with their assumption that the “Sexually Explicit” likely references older brother Vince and 12-year-old Martha joking about their parents’ “MSB” (“Morning Sex Behavior”) on page 52. “”When they do it in the morning,” Vince had informed Martha earlier that summer during one of their nightly chats, “they’re all giggly and kissy and weird for at least an hour afterward. It’s unmistakable.” The family dynamic in Olive’s Ocean is one of affection and teasing. And apparently a family where s-e-x is a usable word, a topic of conversation. One that can cause Martha to blush in the direction of a loving relationship she might one day find herself. In the meantime, it is holding hands and first kisses that concern Martha most immediately. It is all rather sweet actually.

And/Or is it Martha acknowledging when thinking about love and a boy and holding hands “a current of excitement, and one of self-consciousness. […] There was a strange sensation in her belly, too” (106). Is it all too “sex ed?” Are there not enough words in the English language (or other) to use rather than “Explicit?”

As for “Offensive language”…I think the word ‘prick’ is used and quite appropriately. Olive’s Ocean is hardly coarse, even for 4th and 5th graders. And it is an older boy using the words, using the statements like a boy his age would. Henkes drawing of the older brother Vince is quite wonderful–one of the better (and more believable) elder brothers in literature. A family that is portrayed as being real with one another, even if that means helplessly irritating one another, fuels an expressive girl who observes and records–the narrator.

Not knowing what the actual accusation against Olive’s Ocean was, I thought it would have to do with whatever sinister secret the girls, Martha and Olive, share. The secret isn’t sinister, so there went that. The secret is innocent, sweet. The second stretching thought was the excerpt I’d read, “Chapter 54: Sea Creature,” where Olive sinks under the water and considers briefly of staying there, under the water. Within context, this is a baptismal moment of embracing nature, the natural progression of the things, the growing up, the becoming as others have before her, with her, and behind her. She lets go of a few important things that would hold her back, the kind that would steal from her (ie the preciousness that should be a first kiss, etc). Olive’s Ocean illustrates lives that can be awkward and scary, but also warm and reassuring.


I appreciate when juvenile fiction is creative in their storytelling. I am really taken with the novels in verse, even though, at times, they are intimidating. Olive’s Ocean is not told in verse, but the chapter tend to be short, as short as two paragraphs when necessary. Some are more prose like than others; and I wouldn’t say they could be independent (that might take a second read). Chapters could be linear, they could be looking back, but none of it confusing, nothing beyond the young reader’s grasp. Kevin Henkes has a wonderful sensibility when it comes to pace and portrait here, brevity and motion; natural segues.

What makes Olive’s Ocean beautiful are the relationships: some old, others changing into something new, and some that never would be, some never could be. Some relationships are cut short before they could really blossom, others hold promise of somewhere lovely. One of the greatest values of this read is the affection between Martha and her grandmother Godbee. They decide to tell each other something new-to-the-other-person every day of the vacation. It is a powerful pairing, a young woman discovering herself and an older woman losing herself; the younger creating memories, and the other resorting to those which are already created. The Martha/Olive pairing is nice–We see Olive through Martha at moments, one ghosting the other. I like the Jimmy/Tate juxtaposition, two paths, and then even a third in Vince.

Writers writing Writers is not unusual. In a way, a writerly protagonist (or even a readerly or artistic one) is a reliable one; they are observers–of other and self–and tend to harbor a better lexicon than most. I think Martha may be among the most brilliantly flawed yet, however, and this excites me. When Martha decides she wants to be a Writer: she begins–and struggles. She wants to write a poem.

She had abandoned her story about Olive, convinced that it was not very good, nor worthy of Olive. But she knew that she wanted to be a writer more than ever. She held on to this feeling without trying to start a new novel just yet. She decided she would try a poem instead–the best poem ever–reasoning that it would be easier to write and to finish, only to discover that this was difficult as well. She ended up with a page of first lines. […] After rereading her hours worth of work, she thought she wouldn’t try to write anything else until she was back home in Wisconsin. (174-76)

There are some great first lines, but Martha illustrates that wanting doesn’t mean having, or having it easy. Being/becoming someone doesn’t come without work or struggle, and even some amount of deciding. So some things work out; some do not. Henkes gives us a protagonist who is capable, but also one with potential–and determination.

Olive’s Ocean is an easy recommendation for budding young artists/writers. It is a good one for those grieving a loss while still having to live. It honors memory and expression and daring, as well as growing up and adjusting and clinging to the family you have. The Boyle family’s love for one another is built into everything, even the arguing and snide and stupid sounding remarks. So, if you are looking for a book with positive family dynamics in an already pleasurably unusual coming-of-age novel… This is a good novel to promote getting to know that shy person, the overlooked, the new, and to not waste our opportunities.

There are so many points of great discussion from a book that is just a pleasure to read. If some of the questions are uncomfortable, consider this good practice and hope for more uncomfortable questions in the future, because that at least means they are still sharing.


*My Library has Olive’s Ocean in the Teen section, I think to catch the Middle School crowd. Powell’s lists ages 10-14. A mature reader of 9 could easily tackle this one.

note: You should recognize Kevin Henkes name from picture books like: Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, Wemberly Worried, and our family’s favorite and constant companion with Natalya growing up Chrysanthemum. If you haven’t a 10 year-old-or up to read with, there is a catalog of Henkes’ picture books to try to exhaust.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · young adult lit

do dare to read this

336828Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I read The Simon Pulse [Mass Market] Edition, 2004. First published 1996.

small slim hardcover, 125 pages. Teen Fiction.

“Things are so bad, I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t do something…”

Everyone has to keep a journal in Mrs. Dunphrey’s English class, but the teacher has promised she won’t read any entry marked “Do not read this.” It’s the kind of assignment Tish Bonner, one of the girls with big hair who sit in the back row, usually wouldn’t take very seriously. But right now, Tish desperately needs someone to talk to, even if it’s only a notebook she doesn’t dare let anyone read.

As Tish’s life spins out of control, the entries in her journal become more and more private…and dangerous. Is she risking everything that matters to her by putting the truth on paper? And is she risking more by keeping silent? ~jacket copy


Natalya picked Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey for her Banned Books Week read. (It is a small book so naturally I picked it up as well.)  The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (abffe) hosts a page, “The Stories Behind Some Past Book Bans and Challenges,” upon which they share this about Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey:

The Galt Joint Union Elementary School board in California decided to ban this novel that explores the life of a troubled teen after a parent complained of its risqué themes and language. It was removed from classrooms and can only be checked out of the library with parental permission.

Risqué. adjective.
slightly indecent or liable to shock, especially by being sexually suggestive.
(Oxford English Dictionary)

abffe provides this link to this kidSPEAK! article about the Galt ban. Much of the argument towards the banning of the novel is age-appropriateness : The Young Adult Novel was an assigned read in a 7th grade English class.  “Superintendent Jeffrey Jennings said he did not feel the book was appropriate for seventh-graders.”We should be able to have some discretion as to what our kids have to read,” he said.”


The format of the novel is an exciting one. I rarely care for the diary trope but Haddix is brilliant; naturally she is a marvelous choice for the classroom where such varied forms of creative writing are shared. The appeal, besides it being a short (manageable) read? Was it all those headings that read “don’t read this,” that insists that you must? Or is it that Tish is quite compelling. The developing characters finding depth and breadth in the course of the novel via an Haddix/Tish’s strength of voice. The setting is created with a deft hand, the entries not hinting at the least contrivance. I think much of the success is that Haddix doesn’t have Tish replicating long conversations or improbable scenery or waxing poetic. Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey holds a focus without overdoing it and without oversimplifying.

November 18

DON’T read this, Mrs. Dunphrey.

So you’d appreciate the chance to get to read one of my entries, Mrs. Dunphrey? Oh gerat, wonderful. I’m sure they’d make you very happy. Oh, isn’t this precious, you could say, how well Tish writes about her parents’ fights. “Tish,” you’d ask, “would you mind if The Lodestar reprinted that wonderful description of you and your brother cowering in his room while your father throws flowerpots at your mother? It’s so exquisitely done.


Mrs. Dunphrey, I don’t really dislike you. I’ts just, your problem is that you’re too innocent. You’re even worse than Matt. You look out at us in the classroom and you think we’re all there ready and eager to learn about literature and grammar. I don’t know, maybe we would be, if we weren’t too busy thinking about our real lives. It’s not just me, either. I’m not the only one whose parents fight all the time. There are other kids who can’t think about Julius Caesar because they’re worrying about their parents being out of work. Or they’re afraid they’re pregnant. Or they’re on drugs. (45)

I adore the fact that Margaret Peterson Haddix’s novel told in entries by a girl who doesn’t want them read by her teacher is a book people do not want their children to read. The entries are dangerous, increasingly so. At first Tish is embarrassed by her situation. She feels isolated, passed over. She’s driven to write about it. But continuing to share begins to involve greater risks if Mrs. Dunphrey were to dare read the journal entries. What happens to Tish Bonner and her younger brother is indecent; it should be shocking. But not in the sense we should look away. Rather, Tish’s story is one we should be staring at straight in the face. “Is she risking everything that matters to her by putting the truth on paper? And is she risking more by keeping silent?” What is at risk by keeping silent? A question a concerned 7th grade teacher (among others) is bound to ask. A question 7th graders (among others) should be thinking about.

January 27

DON’T read this, Mrs. Dunphrey.

Yes, ma’am, I will try to begin writing so “wonderfully extensively” again. I’m so sorry I lost my journal-keeping commitment for a while there. I should have remembered that that was supposed to be the most important thing in my life.

Do you know how dumb this is? What good is this journal, anyway? It’s not like I’m ever going to be a writer or anything. And it’s not like anybody would ever care about my life, that they’d ever read this (or that I’d ever let anyone read this.) If any adult really cared about me, my life would be totally different, let me tell you. That’s why I’m trying so hard to make things better for Matt. Not that I’m doing too great a job at it.

But about school–it’s just silly, the stupid little assignments all you teachers make up. And then Mrs. Rachethead takes five points off anything if we forget to tear off the scraggly edges of our paper where ti comes out of wire notebooks. And Mr. Tremont won’t accept our homework unless we’ve got out name, the date, the class, and the page numbers, in that order, in the upper right-hand corner of every page. Do you all make up these rules just to amuse yourselves? Just to jerk our chains? (67)

Tish is in her Sophmore year of High School and it doesn’t look like she will make to the next grade. She admits she doesn’t care about excelling in her classes, she just needs her diploma.  She already knows she doesn’t have the financial capabilities to go to college. She knows a lot. She knows what many kids her age know. She knows what feels real to her right now, and remembers quite clearly what the past felt like, too.

Tish’s anger is apparent, but not all of it stems from ‘typical teen angst or attitude.’ And despite the questionable social circles, she is a good girl. And truly, not even her best friends come across as ‘no good’ as much as they seem confused, alone, and wanting of attention as well.  She is not belligerent or anti-establishment without cause. There is a lot going on in her life, much of it outside her control–and it is hardly expressed in explicit terms, without explanation, or without consequence.

An uncomfortable and unpopular (among some) part of the story where Tish is asked out by her boss, the assistant manager at Burger Boy. She refuses and he cuts her hours, which is corrected by the Manager, but the enmity remains. One of her best friends thought she should have just gone out with him at least once, for the sake of a good schedule. While Tish, at times, questions her refusal, or its potential harshness, the novel supports her decision. Indeed, Tish, though still flawed, comes across as the wiser of the females in the story.

Another dilemma is the shoplifting. Her friend does it in, what Tish speculates, an attempt to get a parent’s attention. When Tish shoplifts, it is a desperate attempt at survival–and it still haunts. Corners are created and backed into, and Tish has choices; she also has strong emotions: Fear and Anger and Love being the most prevalent. She needs a guide, someone with a promising vision of her future, a sounding board, and this assigned journal.

Another difficulty, besides the abusive father (not to downplay this) is the mother–and the other adults. Images of neglectful abusive parents, the perception that all other adults are naive, dumb, or unavailable is hard. The mother has issues that effect the children and she essentially abandons them in various and progressive forms until she is physically miles away. Tish is stronger and older and cares for her brother Matt as best she can, but she is alone and ultimately unprepared and without enough means. She doesn’t trust anyone, afraid of what she and her peers believe to be true about the Adult world and their systems; and, again, not without reason. The coping skills her late Granma (maternal grandmother) had to offer diminishes under the strain of circumstance and self-realization.  What is vital to know is that Tish’s situation and perceptions do not remain as they have begun or worsened. Mrs. Dunphrey does prove her wrong. She does prove to be caring and trustworthy. The teacher shows embarrassment over the misconception of her and does come through. And there are more parental figures, not perfect either, but suddenly available and capable. The future all along had yet to be properly forecasted.

It is a marvelous aspect that Haddix does not undermine the novel or her protagonist by redeeming any adult action; and that she can do it without perpetuating  the idea that everyone in the world is cold and caught up in their own structures! Not all children are bad, even if they might physically appear so, nor are all grown-ups. Children are vulnerable, and they know it. But they are also powerful and they should know this too. And every child whether cute or barbed should have someone to love them, someone to trust. In Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey, it is abundantly clear that children need someone to acknowledge the harshness of their realities; namely, their teachers and schoolmates, the people with whom they spend the most time. Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey would tell children that there are teachers and administrators and peers who really do care. That they should dare those people to read their journals, to help them escape abusive situations, to advise them into making good choices.

And what does the decision by the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District board tells their children in the banning of this book from the classroom? Those with lives involving “risqué themes and language” should continue writing “don’t you dare read this” on the heading of all their papers. The censors evidently do not believe 7th graders can experience even an inkling of Tish’s or Matt’s indecent or shocking lives; evidently the classroom (and questionably the library) is not a venue for discussion, education, or compassion. Margaret Peterson Haddix’s novel Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey is not perpetuating the belief that Schools and their Adults don’t care about them, those like the censors found in Galt, California are. How age-inappropriate is that?!


Note: The use of the word risqué may have been melodramatic. The “especially by being sexually suggestive,” nuance to the definition is underwhelming in the circumstance.



Often challenges are motivated by a desire to protect children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:

  1. the material was considered to be “sexually explicit”
  2. the material contained “offensive language”
  3. the materials was “unsuited to any age group”

Although this is a commendable motivation, Free Access to Libraries for Minors, an interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (ALA’s basic policy concerning access to information) states that, “Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that parents—and only parents—have the right and the responsibility to restrict the access of their children—and only their children—to library resources.” Censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.

As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson , said most eloquently:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

If we are to continue to protect our First Amendment, we would do well to keep in mind these words of Noam Chomsky:

If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.

Or these words of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (” The One Un-American Act.” Nieman Reports , vol. 7, no. 1, Jan. 1953, p. 20):

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

~American Library Association website.

ALA is hosting a Virtual Readout : check it out and here


The lovely Margot at “Joyfully Retired” is supporting BBW, and posted today on Judy Blume who has 5 titles on the 100 most challenged/banned books list.

Even if you are not necessarily a Kurt Vonnegut fan, I think this is a particularly good BBW video.