Monthly Archives: January 2015

Year of READING Dangerously: #5 Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck has been banned or challenged since its publication in 1937.

Of Mice and Men

Parents wishing to ban the book from the Community High School of Normal, Illinois in  2003  give a typical challenge:

the novel … contains “racial slurs, profanity, violence, and does not represent traditional values.” [120 Banned Books]

And it does, but this relatively short piece of fiction is also a terrific bit of lit.

Steinbeck wrote it as a ‘novel-play’ in three acts with two chapters (or scenes) in each act. So it isn’t surprising that the Of Mice and Men has been adapted for the stage, screen (large and small) and radio. It has even been turned into an opera. The dialog certainly reads like a dramatic stage play. It is gritty and hard scrabbled like the men to utter it.

On our matrix of why a book might be banned Of Mice and Men checks lots of boxes: Racism, Offensive Language, Alcohol, Sexually Explicit, Political Viewpoint, and Violence.

Steinbeck’s utopian dream for Lenny and George of one day owning their own little farm, of living off the land and not being beholding to a boss has been called out by some.

Censors claim that the novel contains crude heroes who speak vulgar language and whose experience exhibit a sadly deficient social system in the United States  [Ibid]

The book was challenged in Chattanooga, Tennessee, because “Steinbeck is known to have had an anti-buisness attitude.” [Ibid]


A Year of READING Dangerously: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

I’ve been slowly reading #6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou for a few weeks now, and a finished it yesterday. What a beautifully written book. Its prose but reads like poetry (no big surprise there). Oh, why haven’t I read this book before?

Caged Bird_

Bird is the first of Angelou’s five autobiographies. The story begins with her parent’s divorce when little Maya and brother Bailey travel, unattended, from California to Stamps Arkansas. There they live with “Momma”, their paternal grandmother, a loving, but very strict pillar of the black community. The children live in Stamps for most of their childhood. There is a year-long trip to St. Louis to live with “mother dearest” when Maya is 7, but they go back south for several more years before eventually heading to California to live with their mother again.

The book is full of hardships, like when Maya, at aged 7, is raped by her mother’s live-in lover in St. Louis. Or when it

recalls the despair often felt by the black cotton pickers as they filed into Momma’s general store, returning from the fields on bad days. [120 Banned Books pg 504]

But largely it is a book about defying the odds and  finding inner strength and small triumphs in unlikely places. Proving that education and attention opens the locks on any cage.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been banned and challenged frequently since its publication in 1969. The biggest objection is that it is Sexually Explicit (especially the rape scene and 16-year-old Maya’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy at the end of the book.)  Some called it “morally and religiously offensive smutt” because of its “sexually explicit language” [Ibid] while others warned that it was ” pornographic, contains profanity and encourages premarital sex and homosexuality.” [Ibid]

In 1983 The Alabama State Textbook Committee rejected the book because the believe that it  ‘preaches bitterness and hatred against whites.’ [Ibid]

Perhaps that would count as Cultural Insensitivity or Political Viewpoint on our matrix of challenges. The white people of Stamps are certainly not shown in a flattering light. Ditto, almost,  Momma’s zealous devotion to religion. And there is plenty of Alcohol and Violence.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Maggie for her contributions to this review.

A Year of READING Dangerously: # 3. The Chocolate War



The Chocolate War

The Chocolate War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My commute to work is a half an hour each way, so I’m always on the look out for a good book on tape to make the ride more enjoyable. When the library offered Robert Cormier‘s The Chocolate War as an audio book I snapped it up. I’d read The Chocolate War as a teenager, a few years after the book was published in 1974, and I’d seen the 1988 movie, but I’d forgotten how relentlessly tense and tightly written the story is.

The book was challenged because of its unflattering portrayal private Catholic high school, where the weaker boys are bullied not only by the brothers who run the school but by a shadow organization of students called the vigils.

For example, in 1984 The Chocolate War along with another of Cormier’s books, I am Cheese was challenged in New York for being:

Humanistic and destructive of religious and moral beliefs and of national spirit. [120 Banned Books pg 85.]

It has also been banned for Violence, Offensive Language and Sexual Content.

Film poster for The Chocolate War - Copyright ...

Film poster for The Chocolate War – Copyright 1988, Management Company Entertainment Group (MCEG) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Year of READING Dangerously: #20 King and King

Cover art of King & King

Cover art of King & King


King & King is a children’s book  written and illustrated by Dutch collaborators, Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland. It was translated to English and saw its first US publication in 2002. On the brightly illustrated pages we find the story of an aging (and grumpy) queen who has ruled many years and wants to retire. Evidently the prince, her only heir needs to get married before he can take over ruling the country, and he has never met a girl who he loved enough to want to marry.


She made up her mind that the prince would marry and become king before the end of the summer. [– King & King]


Even the Royal Kitty gets in on the match making. Soon all the available princesses are assembled at the gate. But no one seems to fit …until the page announces “Princess Madeleine and her brother, Prince Lee.” The two princes take one look at each other and it is love at first sight.

The book has been translated into 8 languages, has spawned a sequel (King & King & Family) and has been made into a play.

The reason the book was banned / challenged: Homosexuality, Unsuited for age  group.

Groups such as Mass Resistance objected to having the book read in school. While Oklahoma limited access to the book (and other books containing homosexual content) to the Adult Section of libraries.


The last image in the book is of the two kings kissing.

The last image in the book is of the two kings kissing.

NOTE: I have a nice hard copy of this book and no little kids to read it to. If you are interested in adding it to your home library send me a message. It is yours for the price of shipping.

Day Twelve: 12 Days of Christmas PETS

Scanned DocumentAnd now we come to our final entry in 12 Days of Christmas PETS. Artist Jenny Sparks worked on this piece during her Christmas break. It features her adorable bunny, Peaches.


Jenny's bunny


Jenny Rachel Sparks is in her fifth and final year of the Brown/RISD Dual Degree Program, where she studies Sculpture and Geology.


Peaches is Jenny’s lovable 8.5 year old bunny who enjoys destroying anything in her reach.




Thank you to every one who contributed to this special Christmas series. It has been fun to meet your furry companions.  Happy 2015! Cheers, Rita


12 Days of Christmas PETS : Bonus — Kelly’s Kitty

Scanned DocumentHow cute is this pic? Kelly Kreamer Dowling sent in this pic of Bandit snoozing under Rudolph's watchful eyes.
Kelly's Kitty

Kelly say:

It’s important to note that at the top of the season Bandit (our 6 month old kitten) took a strong and immediate dislike to poor Rudolph. He pursued and beat him mercilessly all holiday. Now, in the dark of the night, Rudy rises for vengance!!!

Kelly is an actor, director, writer, designer, etc. A Jane of all trades, with a love of all aspects of theatre and a focus on classical works. She is the founder of the COW Theatre Company and a long time member of the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory.

You can learn more about Kelly at

Day Eleven: 12 Days of Christmas Pets

Scanned DocumentMeet Josh, a boarder collie rescue  who lives with his human Angie, and her two cats Roo and Tux in Winchester, Virginia.


Josh Xmas


Josh started life on a farm where he was fully neglected. Having developed a obsession for chasing cars, he was hit by one and sustained cracked teeth and a broken pelvis. He received no veterinary care. Josh was dropped off at a rural shelter which, due to lack of funds, wasn’t able to treat his injuries. His troubles included heart worm, which is fatal if not treated. Fortunately a border collie rescue was willing to take him out of the shelter, treat him, and find him a home.

Angie found him listed on Petfinder as a “special needs dog”. She fell in love and adopted him.

Despite being so poorly treated by humans as a puppy, Josh is a gentle, sweet dog and reaches out in a loving way by touching you with a paw. He’s now about 14 years old, he has some arthritis and his eyesight and hearing are in decline.

He loves to sit with you while you read or watch movies. He also loves sleeping in his warm, fuzzy bed and eating treats (even ones with vegetables.)

His very presence is a blessing to all in the house.



Year of READING Dangerously #13 Captain Underpants (Series)

Thank you Lynn Reynolds for tackling the Captain Underpants series. (#13 on the ALA’s banned book list).

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talki...

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember and LOVE Captain Underpants! My son (known to readers of my own blog as Dr. Sheldon Cooper) adored the early Captain Underpants books when he was little. The Captain is the alter ego of a school principal in a series of comic books created by a couple of unruly students at the school. Then the Captain accidentally becomes real – I forget how – and hijinks ensue. The books are definitely guilty of a fair amount of “toilet humor,” as evidenced by titles like Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. To be honest, though, most of the “toilet humor” is of a much better quality than the average Seth Rogen film. It’s all very slapsticky but not at all mean-spirited.

I think my little Dr. Cooper loved them because the boys in the stories were clearly boys with “issues” like himself. In fact, the author of the books, Dav Pilkey, was diagnosed as a child with ADHD and Dyslexia, so he was one of Dr. Cooper’s early figures on his Wall of Fame, a wall we have that’s filled with photos of successful people who have ADHD/ADD, Asperger’s and learning disabilities.

Pilkey’s teachers didn’t know what to do with him and found him too disruptive in the classroom, so they put a desk out in the hallway and just left him there for long periods of time. And that’s when he started drawing and writing stories. In addition to Captain Underpants, he has several other series. Some of my son’s favorite books when he was very little were the Dragon books, about a dragon who doesn’t quite “get” a lot of things going on around him socially but who always comes out on top.

The Captain Underpants books have been subject to censorship for as long as I can remember. Before I had a hyperactive son who needed entertaining, I was sure that books with titles like “Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets” were clear signs of the collapse of civilization as we know it. Then I had Dr. Cooper and I had to learn to adjust all of my thinking about the differences between what boy children and girl children find entertaining and what constitutes a good book (answer: any book a kid wants to read as long as it doesn’t involve violence and mistreatment of others).

I assume the Captain Underpants books are frequently censored because of the mild “potty humor” – at least officially. Unofficially, I suspect many people want the books to go away because they are really quite subversive and might encourage kids to disrespect authority figures and behave in disruptive ways. But I’ve always kind of liked people who question authority, and I think learning not to be a submissive cog in the corporate machine starts pretty early in life. And maybe it starts with reading books like this.

Please check out Lynn’s Blog,, to learn more about this wonderful writer and mother.

A Year of READING Dangerously — update

I redid the master list (here in three parts) so everyone could see what was read, what was being read, and what was available at the (local Hereford) library.  Check the list and see if you can help us out on our collective read. I really do not want to read Captain Underpants… so if some one could take that on I’d be very grateful.

The first Captain Underpants book.

The first Captain Underpants book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How to play along… read a book on the list (it counts if you have recently read the book). Send me a note at: telling me a little something about the book, why you chose it, what you liked or didn’t like. Then look at the matrix at the bottom of the blog post and see why the book might have been banned. If  you have a jpeg photo of the book send it along. I’ll happily link to your blog or other web page if you give me the address.


What if there is a book that has already been read that you REALLY want to do? Please feel free to write it up. I’d be interested in seeing your take.

What if I want to keep my review anonymous? No worries, I’ll keep your name off the review. Just let me know.

Banned books block title list

Banned books block title list

Banned books block title list

Books in black on the list are not in the local library and not on my shelf. So if you have them and are willing to loan them please let me know. That would also be most helpful.


This is the matrix I use in trying to determine why a book has been challenged or banned.

This is the matrix I use in trying to determine why a book has been challenged or banned.

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