by Helen McIver
bookpile2Last night we had a fun WWW (Wit, Wisdom and Wine) fundraiser event for the Library. I probably donated half of the books that went with the silent auction items as I am radically cleaning my bookshelves and downsizing. It hurts. But it has reacquainted me with so many books and authors and as always the desire to share the next good read. It’s a new book if you haven’t read it. I am also exploring my Kindle options, ebook reader (the library is a wonderful source for borrowing), and book reviewing online. As such, I am attempting to write a regular Sunday column on this blog.

Shadow of the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
This is her debut historical novel, in a planned Medieval trilogy about Queen Emma. At 400+ pages is it a richly detailed, well written account of a relatively unknown period of English history. The author has thoroughly researched Emma, although some of the characters are rather loosely involved in events in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (891 to 1154). (NB several of the unexpected events in this novel didn’t actually happen. Also, I was surprised by the love interest as well as the guilt/haunting episodes.) The author was intrigued by the silence of 15 years in the Queen’s autobiography (Encomium Emmae Reginae 1040) which triggered this novel. I did find it engaging reading, with accurate family history and political intrigue although the use of four voices often interrupted the flow. She includes glossary, map, and a chart of names which are quite useful to keep everyone straight. It is evident that Bracewell has done research on everything from swordplay to parchment, clothes to loos, and reveled in every minute of it (the detail, but also well written).
Emma was the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, essentially sold in a treaty to provide allies to protect the shores of England against the marauding Danes. She married King AEthelred II (the Unready) in 1002 when she was 16 and he was 35 (considered old, but he had been reigning for 20+years by then, in turbulent times.) His nickname was given 150 years after his death and is a pun on his name (noble counsel) which would have been better translated as “ill advised or evil counsel”, referring to his royal Council the Witan. History has accorded him a powerful king, one of the most forceful kings of the 10th century who created the Kingdom, ending individual control of all the magnate families. The author, however, depicts AEthelred as cruel, old, haunted, although most of the story is told from Emma’s viewpoint. She matures and becomes one of the most powerful women of the 11th century, 40 years behind the throne. Her story is fascinating, as she leaves the innocence of childhood, navigates court intrigue, falls in love, endures and creates political rivals and generally survives a rather brutal world. Given how little we know of women in history, she is a fascinating character.
Her son, Edward (who becomes King, the Confessor, d. Jan 1066) is born at the end of this book (1006). Her story will continue with additional portrayals of a life in which two of her sons (by each husband), two stepsons (by each husband) and a great nephew (William the Conqueror Oct 1066) became kings of England. Her life story as detailed here, is an enjoyable, interesting, historical read.

3 stars a lot of detail, but editing would help.
If you like Phillippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy or Elizabeth Chadwick you will enjoy these novels. I also recommend Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death series, and Edward Rutherford’s Sarum.
Shadow on the Crown is due to be published February 2013.
Read as an ARC

Book of the MomentCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Five Stars!
I read books for a variety of reasons. I could have read this because Nancy Pearl highly recommended it, because it was one of the top ten YA books of the year, or because it is an interesting historical genre that I like. But I started it because the author is a writer living in Scotland and a Pilot. And she has a Phd (in Folklore from UPenn). These days I am astonished that most of the authors I love have Phds. I love them for the sentence structure, the plot, the research, and the storytelling. And the experience upon closing the book that I must share it, immediately.
Quite simply, Code Name Verity is one of the best books of the year – this year, last year, whatever. Don’t be put off by the YA classification, this is a great book in any genre. It is stunning, breathtaking, horrifying, thrilling, terrifying, heartbreaking, and absolutely breathtaking. You can not remain unmoved during this story, and the last two chapter might rip out your heart (especially as an adult). It has several very important messages for teens too. It won’t hurt adults to remember the fragility of love, the meaning of hope, the power of courage, and the grace of true friendships.

Banned Books Week: “To Kill a Mockingbird”

By Catherine H. Armstrong

As I was preparing this weekend to celebrate Banned Books Week 2012 with this blog, I kept reflecting on my favorite book of all time –  To Kill a Mockingbird – and trying to understand why so many people continue to find it objectionable.  At its core, Harper Lee has written a beautiful book about growing up in the deep South, and overcoming the horrors of prejudice.  It’s about three children trying to understand why and how some people treat others as inferior, and learning to overcome the fear that eventually leads to that prejudice.

As a child reader, the lessons of To Kill a Mockingbird made an indelible impression upon me and have followed me my entire life.  I remember as though it were yesterday the words of Atticus Finch as he told Jem, “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”  He goes on to explain that mockingbirds do nothing to draw the wrath of people; they just fly around making beautiful music for people to enjoy.  Even as a child, I was able to connect the dots and understand that Atticus Finch wasn’t just referring to mockingbirds, he was talking about people, too.  Just as it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, it should also be a sin to hurt others for no better reason than the color of their skin, or because they’re different and that difference scares us.  Even then, it seemed clear to me that racism was about fear, and I’ve made a conscious decision not to be fearful in my life.

Why then, with so many important lessons, has To Kill a Mockingbird found itself challenged so many times?  What could really be wrong with challenging…wrong?  This question has bothered me for years and this time I couldn’t rest  until I got answers.

In the midst of my extensive internet search, I came upon the most wonderful article by Nicholas Patler on his weblog,  Patler had taken the time to answer the questions, long before I’d ever even begun my search.  In fact, Patler’s article was so well researched and written that I felt the need to share it on this blog.  With the author’s permission, I am reprinting his article in its entirety.  For the original article, you can follow this link.

Many thanks to Nicholas Patler for his gracious permission in the reprinting of this wonderfully researched article.

Killing the Mockingbird:
Historical and Contemporary Efforts
to Ban Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
by Nicholas Patler

To Kill A Mockingbird has certainly proven to be troublesome literature over the years. Ever since Harper Lee’s novel stormed the literary world in 1960, becoming an overnight success by selling in its first year alone more than 500,000 copies, there have been thousands of attempts to have the book banned from classroom or curriculum use and removed from public schools and libraries in towns and cities all across the U.S. and Canada. Indeed, To Kill A Mockingbird is generally listed in the top fifty—at times in the top five—of the most frequently challenged books of the twentieth century. Some of these challenges, spearheaded by opponents on both the political right and left, white and black, have been successful or temporarily successful in having the book removed or banned, while other attempts managed only to stir up controversy, make a flash in the news and then petered out.[1]

Harper Lee

Parents, organizations, groups and even students have given a variety of reasons for convincing us that killing the mockingbird would be in our children’s—and ultimately society’s—best interests. In one of these earliest attempts in 1966, for example, the Hanover County School Board in Richmond, Virginia ordered the book removed from all county libraries because, in their opinion, a novel about rape was “immoral literature.” So ludicrous was this rationale that the unpretentious Harper Lee herself jumped into the controversial fray and made it embarrassingly clear in an editorial in the Richmond News-Leader that the school board members had not even bothered to read or understand her book. And being the nice small-town girl from Monroeville, Alabama that she was, and emulating the socially conscious Atticus Finch, Lee figured the only excuse was that perhaps they couldn’t read, so she kindly sent a contribution out of her own pocket to help enroll the school board members in a literacy program.[2]

Other critics of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book have sought its removal because, like the Hanover Country School Board, they too felt it was immoral or obscene—or a threat to community and traditional values. In 1977, To Kill A Mockingbird was temporarily banned in Eden Valley, Minnesota because of objectionable words used in the novel, such as “damn” and “whore lady.” A few years later, the book was challenged in a New York school district because some people there considered it a “filthy, trashy novel.” In 2001, a Glynn County, Georgia school board member, energized by the protests of parents, worked to squelch the mockingbird and anything else—books, educational programs and activities—which managed to set off the profanity beepers of their moral radars. And as recently as 2004, the Charles County (Maryland) Board of Education seriously considered proposals to censor books deemed inappropriate for children, including To Kill A Mockingbird.[3]

In one interesting case study from the 1980s on efforts to censor To Kill A Mockingbird, researcher Jill May found that there had been at least ten common objections raised against the novel since in was first published, most falling under the category of threatening traditional values and societal norms. Some of these include:

“the portrayal of conflict between children and their elders … profanity and questionable language; ungrammatical speech by characters; depictions of violence; references to sex; negative statements about authority; the lack of portrayal of the  family unit as the basis of American life; and references tothe super-natural and witchcraft” (we know this one all too well with the swirl of controversy over the Harry Potter series).[4]

Richard and Mildred Loving
Challenged Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which banned interracial marriages.

Interestingly, while doing research for this paper, I found very little mainstream southern opposition of To Kill A Mockingbird, or overt challenges to the book in libraries and classrooms in the 1960s South—although the study I just cited claims that until the mid-sixties “complaints came from southern conservatives.” I have to admit that due to my own preconceived, stereotypical notions, I fully expected to find the South of the 1960s rising up more fervently to challenge the book—particularly a book of such magnitude and popularity, and one that was made into a movie—as an offense to southern sensibilities. And certainly the challenges that did arise over the novel’s perceived threat to traditional southern or family values, without mentioning race per se, such as when the Hanover County School Board criticized the story as immoral because it was about rape, nevertheless masked the racial prejudice of the day and the enduring sexual taboos between white females and black males. Interestingly, at the time To Kill A Mockingbird came under fire in Hanover County, a Virginia law forbidding interracial marriage was being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court—a challenge initiated by Richard and Mildred Loving after they were taken from their house in the middle of the night and hauled off to jail for miscegenation.[5]

But other than white supremacy groups, both then and now, which openly criticized the novel as anti-white, there does not appear to have been much explicit southern or white protest to Lee’s portrayal of the general state of race relations in the 1930s South. Perhaps that’s because To Kill A Mockingbird was probably not required reading in the southern classroom during this time—at least not as extensively as it is now with more than 70 percent of schools using the book as part of their standard literature curriculum—so there was little opportunity for breeding heated, public opposition.[6] I don’t know for sure. Maybe somebody here can shed more light on this. And by the time it was a classroom tool in southern schools, the once burning race issue had abated as an acceptable motivator for literary censorship and other issues such as profanity or threat to values—the nuts and bolts of literary censorship and, by the way, still often entangled with racism, sexism and xenophobia—became the rallying cries of a the day.

James Carville

Also, an important point that we should keep in mind is that To Kill A Mockingbird had an immeasurably positive impact on the lives of its readers—with white southerners as no exception. According to a 1991 survey by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress, To Kill A Mockingbird was second only to the Bible in being “most often cited as making a difference” in people’s lives.[7]  Indeed, Harper Lee’s emotionally riveting and disturbing portrayal of racism in the Deep South led many whites to confront and question their own inherited racial prejudices. For example, political commentator and Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign manager, James Carville, who had spent his formative years growing up in the 1960s South, experienced a personal transformation after reading the novel. “I just knew, the minute I read it, that she was right and that I had been wrong,” he revealed in an interview.[8]  And if the hot-headed Carville, known as the ragin’ Cajun, could change his thinking, then surely southerners of a milder temperament had seen the light. In short, Harper Lee may have very well succeeded in reaching the heart and thereby awakening the southern white conscience, both individually and perhaps collectively—giving pause for genuine introspection rather than fuel for opposition.

There were, however, what one might consider more thoughtful criticisms to the novel in the South, relatively speaking. Some historians and others have pointed out that fiction like To Kill A Mockingbird serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes of poor whites. In his book, Poor But Proud: Alabama’s Poor Whites, published by the University of Alabama Press, historian Wayne Flynt, for example, believes that the novel gives “poor whites no respite” and relies on “familiar stereotypes.” This is most vividly illustrated, explains Flynt, when Lee depicts the troublesome Ewells as “poor white trash,” giving a host of reasons to convince us of this beyond a shadow of a doubt.[9]  Indeed, most of the white characters in To Kill A Mockingbird, with the exception of the Finch family, and perhaps some of their open-minded neighbors and friends, such as Maudie Atkinson and Dolphus Raymond, are presented as poor, whether traditionally so or as a result of the depression, and blindly dominated by raw impulses, most notably their native prejudices against African Americans.

But therein lies the power of the story, in my opinion, to move white readers to question their inherited assumptions about race. As Scout Finch—the precocious nine-year-old narrator in To Kill A Mockingbird—is enveloped in the racism of the day, her developing mind is being impressed by the common negative stereotypes and racial expletives that she daily receives from her peers and some of the adults in her life. Yet her father Atticus intervenes and challenges those societal norms before she is conditioned to blindly accept the degradation of African Americans as an acceptable feature of the community in which she lives. So there is an interesting juxtaposition between the worlds in which this little girl moves—an external world dominated by the pressure to conform to the powerful, institutional racism of the day, and the other one, a personal, loving and safe world, where normative racist beliefs are challenged and rejected.

Is this done at the expense of poor southern whites? The answer is probably yes. Does this accurately reflect the racial climate of the 1930s South? While certainly not every white person during this period approved of or blindly accepted Jim Crow and racial stereotypes—with some even working to improve race relations—and although “tensions between the races eased somewhat during the ‘thirties” as both whites and blacks grappled with the Great Depression,[10] anti-black racism was unfortunately a common and rarely challenged feature of southern life then, and would remain so for more than twenty years from the time of the fictional setting in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Growing up black in Selma, Alabama during the Depression Era, J.L Chestnut described poignantly this rarely questioned, entrenched feature of southern life when he wrote:

“If you were black, the significance of race wasn’t something you suddenly discovered. It wasn’t even something you had to be told. It was something you just grew up knowing, something almost instinctual…It was just the way things were, and folk accommodated themselves to it”[11]

And Harper Lee, I believe, vividly captured in her novel this seemingly instinctual understanding of race—“just the way things were”—that Chestnut experienced during his early childhood in 1930s Selma. Southern whites, inevitably, unfortunately, but realistically come out as the purveyors of this system of domination, even if it was only by the blind acquiescence of most white people—in both To Kill A Mockingbird and the real-life South of the 1930s—who simply accepted without question the unjust system of southern race relations passed on to them.

I want to point out, however, that African Americans did not always accommodate themselves to Jim Crow and racial injustice during the Depression Era. One of the criticisms of To Kill A Mockingbird is that Maycomb, Alabama blacks are presented as a faceless group and portrayed as simply passive victims of racial discrimination. But African Americans sometimes protested the racism of the day both overtly, as when they marched on Washington, DC to protest of the infamous Scottsboro case in which nine young black men were falsely charged with raping a white woman, and in more subtle ways, such as refusing to give deference to whites and by joining activist organizations such as the NAACP—including the NAACP in Alabama which during the 1920s and 30s experienced unprecedented growth.[12]

The most consistent and enduring as well as impassioned opposition to this controversial novel, however, has come from African American and African Canadian teachers, leaders, school board members, organizations, parents and students. Beginning in the 1970s and 80s, overt challenges grew with such frequency that by the 1990s and here in the first decade of the twenty-first century opposition can be found almost everywhere.

One of the earliest of these heated challenges came in 1981 when black parents fervently worked to ban To Kill A Mockingbird in the Warren, Indiana Township schools because they felt it did “psychological damage to the positive integration process” and “represent[ed] institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature.” Since then, the onslaught of challenges to the novel in the classroom and to its stage adaptation in high school drama departments emerged in school districts all over the U.S. and Canada, including in Normal, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; Santa Cruz, California; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Anchorage, Alaska; and Nova Scotia, Canada. These heated challenges revolved around racial expletives and themes, particularly the “N” word—used 48 times in the novel according to one protest survey—and other demeaning racial language and references deemed offensive.[13]

My initial response to all of these challenges and efforts to ban To Kill A Mockingbird was, firstly, utter shock that such a significant piece of ‘conscience awakening’ American literature could be the recipient of such individual and organized opposition and protest. And next, I felt disdain for any attempts to censor literature, or any information, along with pity for those who were so fearful of different ideas and experiences that they believed they had a right to tell the rest of us what was appropriate or inappropriate literature. I felt that what we was dealing with here were something akin to the “memory hole” from George Orwell’s 1984, where concepts, people and words are sent into oblivion.

After all, book banning and censoring were nothing new and seemed to always reveal ignorance, superstition and fear—indeed, were not book censors simply dogged reactionaries to truth and progress? The Catholic Church, for example, had made it their professional duty to officially censor books in their infamous List or Index of Prohibited Books, including groundbreaking scientific texts, sometimes with the penalty of ostracism, torture or death for those who violated Rome’s censorship edicts. These included Nicolaus Copernicus’s De revolutionibus, a then controversial book that proposed the kooky idea that the Earth moved around the Sun, rather than vice versa. Indeed, the church got so fed up with this unorthodox idea, that when one of its greatest proponents, the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, added to his defense of the revolving Earth theory his disagreement with sacred church doctrines, he was burned at the stake.[14]

Totalitarian and fascist regimes have also made it a common practice to ban and censor books and information, including holding book-burning celebrations. I found one interesting picture of impeccably dressed Nazi officers, for example, walking down the steps of a Gothic-style library, looking calm and friendly, with their arms full of books on the way to the fire. Ironically, it was a German-Jewish playwright and poet over a hundred years earlier, Heinrich Heine, whose fictional character responded to the burning of the Koran by warning, “The burning is but a prologue: where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too,” an eerily prophetic warning that played out as the Nazi’s went from burning books in 1930s Germany, including Heine’s books, to human beings during the dreadful Holocaust (incidentally, a century earlier, Heine’s books were also included on the Catholic church’s List of Prohibited Books). [15]

And democratic societies are not immune to censorship and the manipulation of information. American news, for example, revolves around a restricted discourse and narrow interpretation of ideas and world affairs, and is habitually quick to exclude or dismiss alternative opinions, yet still often parades under the universal banner of “fair and balanced” or “world coverage.” Advertisers, political commentators, new analysts and corporations feed us a daily diet—often fear-based—of their own interpretive analysis of what we are seeing and hearing on their carefully regulated and sponsored news, commercials and public affairs programs. So subtle is this form of information manipulation that most of us are not even aware that it is taking place. It certainly goes over my head sometimes.

While researching this talk, however, I was perhaps most surprised to discover that not only do books daily come under fire from those that feel their worldview is being threatened or challenged, such as the always troublesome Catcher in the Rye—the thorn of all thorns for the moral literary police—but that book burnings are today more common in the U.S. than I ever realized. The Harry Potter books, for example, have been burned in ceremonial purges all over the U.S. In Greenville, Michigan in 2003, several members of a church burned not only Harry Potter books, but also the Book of Mormon, non-King James version Bibles and strangely enough, a Shania Twain album.[16]

Yet despite all of this disturbing book censorship and bizarre burnings, I still had a nagging feeling that perhaps I should take a closer look at African American and Canadian opposition of To Kill A Mockingbird, particularly since black junior high and high school students have often expressed deep concerns over the novel’s racial themes and language. As one significant study points out, “Many students of African heritage finds the experience of taking up To Kill A Mockingbird in class a troubling one.”[17] Plus, it may be worthwhile, I thought, to take the advice of Atticus Finch seriously—advice that makes him one of the most endearing fictional characters of all time—when he famously said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.”[18] Excellent advice Atticus!

While my own biases prompt me to dismiss most of the opposition to Harper Lee’s novel as fear-based and reactionary—something I can live with—I think that there may be legitimate reasons on the part of African Americans and Canadians to have To Kill A Mockingbird removed from classroom use. The most often cited concern revolves around the use of the “N” word within the text, as mentioned a minute ago, usually associated with a further degrading and devaluing reference to blacks such as stupid, worthless, deserving of death by lynching or shooting, dogs and trash. For example, the cantankerous old Mrs. Dubose tells Jem Finch, “Your father’s no better than the “N” and trash he works for!”[19]

Now from a white perspective that may seem to be no big deal—it was the regional language of the time period and Lee is ultimately condemning such behavior. Moreover, it is easy for white readers to take comfort in the fact that the central characters disapprove of the way African Americans are treated and subsequently they are led to see an antiracist message in the novel. White students can moreover distance themselves from such language on a personal level. But try to imagine a young black freshman student in a mostly white classroom, surrounded by his or her peers, as To Kill A Mockingbird is being read and discussed out loud. For such a young student, this language has a powerfully and embarrassingly negative connotation, with attention, in most cases, inevitably drawn towards them when such racial expletives and negative references are read. For some, it becomes a heavy burden to bear. One real-life student named Bob, for example, recalled the discomfort he felt when the novel was read out loud in his freshman English class: “The reaction from kids, right, they look straight at you … they keep looking at you.” Another black female student remembered how she felt like “shrinking … like leaving the class.” Yet another student, Chris, explained how his teacher would become coy and peer at him every time a racial word or reference was mentioned. And one young lady, Jocelyn, recalled how certain racist and negative references in the novel made her cry in class.[20]

I was perhaps most inspired to “climb in the skin” of the novel’s opponents after reading the story of an African American eighth-grade student at Stanford Middle School in Durham, North Carolina named Garvey Jackson. After students took turns reading the book aloud in his class one day, Garvey felt very embarrassed and ultimately offended by the use of the “N” word, something he did not expect to hear. “Just to put it simple, I felt uncomfortable,” explained the thirteen-year-old.[21]

Garvey suppressed his displeasure over the novel until he happened to see a television documentary about the lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina that took place during the Civil Rights Era, incidentally just a few months before the original release of To Kill A Mockingbird. Immediately inspired by the students courage and determination, Garvey enlisted the help of his family to assist him in launching a protest campaign against the use of the novel in the classroom at Stanford Middle School. Supported by his parents, he went to school wearing a t-shirt created by his sister covered in racial phrases from the book to protest the usage of the language in the classroom readings.[22]

When he was told to cover up his shirt, Garvey responded, “If it’s good enough for the book, it’s good enough for the shirt.” The next week Garvey handed out a letter to his classmates “explaining that the book offends him, and why it shouldn’t be used.” A few days later, right before his class watched the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird, the young activist attempted to pass out armbands to his classmates in protest. Although Garvey was not successful in having the book banned, his parents later held a mock public funeral for the novel, burying it in a cemetery as a “form of nonviolent protest,” in the words of Garvey’s father.[23]

Garvey’s passionate protest seems to be more or less representative of the feelings many African Americans and Canadians share about the novel, including some NAACP branches around the country. One study found that “students of African heritage” in Ontario schools “were almost unanimous in their condemnation” of To Kill A Mockingbird. And a survey conducted by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education found that there were 691 references to the novel at eight Ivy League college websites, with 400 at the University of Pennsylvania alone, and just one reference to the book at the websites of two of the most prominent historically black colleges, Morehouse and Spelman.[24]

Indeed, there appears to be a striking difference between the way many whites and blacks perceive and interpret To Kill A Mockingbird. I make no bones about the fact that I enjoy this book and the movie adaptation. But I am white. I have not experienced racial discrimination, historically and today, with all of its personally degrading and hateful slurs, language, posturing, devaluation and hurtful behavior—all aspects of racism powerfully and explicitly portrayed in Harper Lee’s novel. Even black students who may not have experienced these things on a daily basis, or do not have a conscious awareness of the complete historical background of Jim Crow, are nevertheless suddenly thrust into assuming this weighty burden with little or no preparation as the novel is read out loud in class.

With all considered, how do we preserve this amazing work of literature in our schools and at the same time assure that the dignity of black students offended by its racial language and themes is respected? Perhaps you all have some ideas. I can only toss out a few suggestions that may or may not be feasible, or even wise. First, maybe To Kill A Mockingbird should be adapted to history rather than English curriculums in high schools. Then the book could be read, examined and discussed as not only a literary work but also as an historical text of the Jim Crow Era, along with other supplemental historical materials. This would place the book’s intense racial themes and language within a larger context that could possibly mitigate the singularly emotionally charged racial rhetoric that comes from reading the novel alone.[25] Another suggestion is that To Kill A Mockingbird should not even be required reading in 9th-grade English classes, but instead used only in the curriculums of 11th or 12th-grade English classes, or perhaps college freshman English. This would allow students to approach the novel with more maturity and confidence, along with a better understanding of the historical background.

And perhaps we should face up to the reality that this “conscience awakening” literature is directed at or speaks to the white conscience. In that regard, paradoxically, and as strange as this may sound, we may be able to view To Kill A Mockingbird as an indirect form of black protest written by a white writer—a coming of age novel during the turbulent Civil Rights Era—that enabled the white conscience to see and feel through its fictional characters and the world in which they move the naked injustice, shame and horror of racial prejudice. And as readers in the past have been inspired to examine their own racial prejudice, perhaps the novel can help us today to take a deep look at the fears that still separate us from each other—everything from efforts to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S., to the stereotyping of Muslims and fear of immigrants in the media, to all of the apocalyptic visions in pop culture that trumpet the end of the world simply because we cannot imagine recreating together something better in a world full of seemingly inevitable chaos.

Finally, I think we can imaginatively see this novel as reflective of the black moral commitment to nonviolence in the civil rights struggle. Besides the fact that Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout not to physically fight under any circumstance, and to put herself in the skin of others—even if they should happen to provoke her short temper—there is a vivid scene in the movie adaptation that captures Atticus’s passionate dedication to nonviolence. In this climatic scene near the end of the movie, a drunken Bob Ewell confronts Atticus, played by Gregory Peck, in Tom Robinson’s yard. As Peck walks up to Ewell, the camera films the scene in such a way that as he gets closer he gets bigger. Indeed, once he gets within a few feet of Ewell, Peck seems like a giant, with overly broad shoulders and an intense look on his face. We are immediately aware that with one swipe he could crush the bullying Ewell. And when Ewell spits in Peck’s face, everything stops, and we wait—and perhaps hope—to see if in this one instance he will violate his own ethics and strike back. After all, he not only has a physical advantage over Ewell, but he has more than enough justification to let the antagonist have it—Ewell had raped and abused his own daughter and then pinned the crime on an innocent man, Tom Robinson, which ultimately led to Robinson’s death. But Peck slowly pulls out a handkerchief, wipes the spit from his face, walks around Ewell, gets in his car and without a word, he drives away.[26] While Harper Lee was writing To Kill A Mockingbird, African Americans were being spit on by Bob Ewells, both literally and figuratively, all over the South, and they too chose not to physically strike back. Is it possible to see Atticus Finch as a composite of these brave souls who were engaging Jim Crow and the ugly racism of the day with the power of their hearts rather than their fists? I think so, but the reader or viewer must ultimately decide.

This all may not answer the question of how we preserve this novel and at the same time assure that the dignity of black students is respected, but if we take the novel’s central theme seriously—putting ourselves in the “skin” of others—then maybe we can genuinely find a way to make the text more universally meaningful.

Works Cited by the Author
[1]Claudia Durst Johnson, To Kill A Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994), 13, 15; American Library Association, Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (;

Alice Hackett and James Burke, Eighty Years of Best Sellers (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1977), 25-75.

[2]Charles J. Shields, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (New York: Henry Hold and Company, 2006), 254-55.

[3]American Library Association, Banned and/or Challenged Books: “To Kill A Mocking Bird, Harper Lee” ( reasonsbanned.htm); Joshua Partlow, “School Board Goals Draw Impassioned Opposition,” Washington Post, October 14, 2004.

[4]Jill P. May, “Censors as Critics: To Kill A Mockingbird as Case Study,” in Cross-Culturalism in Children’s Literature: Selected Papers from the Children’s Literature Association (New York: Pace University Press, 1988), 6. Also see, Johnson, 14-15.

[5]Dionne Walker, “Pioneer of interracial marriage looks back,” USA Today, unspecified date, 2007 (

[6]“To Kill A Mockingbird,” Wikipedia ( Kill_a_Mockingbird); Richard Beach and James Marshall, Teaching Literature in Secondary Schools (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991), 153.

[7]Survey quoted in Johnson, 14.

[8]Gary Wills, “From the Campaign Trail: Clinton’s Hell Raiser,” New Yorker (October 1992), 93.

[9]Wayne Flynt, Poor But Proud: Alabama’s Poor Whites (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 214-215.

[10]C, Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 118.

[11]J.L. Chestnut, Jr. and Julia Cass, Black in Selma: The Uncommon Life of J.L. Chestnut, Jr.—Politics and Power in a Small American Town (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990), 21, 22.

[12]Michael, V. Uschan, The Scottsboro Case (New York: Garth Stevens Publishing, Inc., 2004), 30-32; Kevern Verney, “Long is The Way and Hard: The NAACP in Alabama, 1913-1945,” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, NA, Atlanta, Georgia, September 26, 2006.

Also, during the period when NAACP branches were unfolding and growing in the South, Gunnar Myrdal observed, “If all the difficulties under which a Negro protest movement has to work in the South are remembered, it is rather remarkable, in the final analysis, that the NAACP has been able to keep up and slowly build out its network of branches in the region, and that several of the Southern branches have been so relatively active … the great majority … back its program,” An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1944), 825-26.

[13]American Library Association, Banned and/or Challenged Books: “To Kill A Mocking Bird, Harper Lee” ( reasonsbanned.htm)); “Huck Finn, Mockingbird Censored,” Education Reporter, December 2003: 215; “A proposal regarding the usage of the novel To Kill A Mockingbird,” Nova Scotia, quoted in Isaac Saney, “The Case Against To Kill a Mockingbird,” Race & Class: A Journal for Black and Third World Liberation 45:1 (July-September, 2003), 100; and Doris Betts, “The Mockingbird’s Throat: A Personal Reflection,” in Alice Hall Petry, ed., On Harper Lee: Essays and Reflections (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2007), 139.

[14] Owen Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 2; Kenneth J. Atchity, ed., The Renaissance Reader (New York: Harper Perennial, 1996) 253.

[15]“Book Banning,” May 27, 2007, The Alien Next Door, Musings of Nina Munteanu, SF writer and Ecologist (http://sfgirl-thealiennextdoor.blogspot. com/2007_05_01_archive.html). This is an interesting web site that highlights historical and contemporary efforts to ban and burn books. Also, see Philip Kossoff, Valiant Heart: A Biography of Heinrich Heine (New York: Cornwell Books, 1983).

[16]“Community responds to book burning,” The Detroit News, August 7, 2003.

[17]James Ryan, Race and Ethnicity in Multi-Ethnic Schools (Ontario: Multilingual Ltd., 1999), 134.

[18]Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird (New York: Warner Brothers Inc., 1982) 30. Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck in the movie adaptation, was named the greatest American hero in film of the twentieth century by the American Film Institute. See “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Heroes and Villains,”

[19]Lee, 102.

[20]These student testimonials are all taken from Ryan, 134.

[21]Durham Herald-Sun, February 15, 2007, Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, Censorship Debate, Schools (

[22]Ibid. For an excellent account and scholarly treatment of the Greensboro sit-ins, and other sit-ins throughout the South, see Aldon D. Morris, The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change (New York: The Free Press, 1984),188-228.

[23]Ibid. For other recent and active challenges of To Kill A Mockingbird, see Daniel de Vise, “Montgomery Finds Racial Slur Offends, No Matter the Context,” Washington Post, July 13, 2007; Brian Bauld, “Don’t Kill the Mockingbird,” Halifax Herald Limited, May 9, 2002; and Saney, 99-105.

[24]Ryan, 134; Kevin Uhrich, “Killing Mockingbirds: Parents, NAACP say racially insensitive language in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ send the wrong message to today’s children,” Pasadena Weekly, March 16, 2006; “The Staying Power of To Kill A Mockingbird,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Latest News, August 3, 2006.

[25]There have been some efforts to prepare students for books such as To Kill A Mockingbird in English classes by placing the racially charged themes and language within a “contextual period” before the classroom readings begin. But even these can stir up controversy. See “Montgomery Finds Racial Slur Offends, No Matter the Context,” Washington Post, July 13, 2007.

[26]Alan J. Pakula, prod., Robert Mulligan, dir., To Kill A Mockingbird (Hollywood, CA: Universal Pictures, 1962).


Banned Book Review: The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian

A Note from the Blog Editor
by Catherine H. Armstrong

As we continue our Celebration of Banned Books Week 2012, we bring you the following review of  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.  *This book was originally challenged in Crook County, Oregon when a parent copied several pages from the book and presented them to the school board.  The pages depicted masturbation.  Upon reading the content out of context, the school board immediately took steps to remove the book from the school district’s library shelves.

Upon receiving this decision, the Crook County High School Principal responded by stating the following:

“I’ve been directed by the board to pull the book, and I will comply with their directive, but I respectfully disagree with what they are doing. It’s a slippery slope if you take one or two pages out of context; I mean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is about two teenagers who are having a relationship. It’s a dangerous precedent”.

For more information about this book and the attempts to challenge and ban it from bookshelves, you can use this link.

*Information cited was obtained from the website.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
A Review by Gail Manahan

Okay. So imagine this. You are born with hydrocephalus – water on the brain – and a really HUGE head. At six months old, you survive surgery that vacuums the excess water out of your brain, but leaves you with seizures, one eye that’s near-sighted, one that’s far sighted, and ten extra teeth. Yes, TEN. You grow into a very short, skinny body with a HUGE head, feet, and hands; you stutter and lisp. Are you in for trouble? Yes, you are. It gets worse. You are an Indian. A reservation Indian. On the Spokane Indian reservation. An Indian born into generations of poverty, alcoholism, violence, and despair. As a kid, you belong to the Black Eye of the Month Club because the other kids see you as a “retard” that needs to be put in his place. You have exactly one friend; well, two – one is your dog, Oscar, and the other is Rowdy – a kid born in the same hospital and on the same day as you and who is so angry and mean that everyone else is afraid of him. Thank god for Rowdy. You’d be dead by now if he didn’t protect you and smash up every kid that picks on you. Even so, you spend a lot of time in your bedroom drawing cartoons because it’s safer. Pictures speak a thousand words and you want to be heard.

Thus begins the first person narrative of our protagonist, Arnold Spirit Jr. aka Junior – a moniker so common locally that if you step into a rez bar and holler “Hey, Junior,” fifteen guys would turn around.  Junior is fourteen and beginning his freshman year of high school in his hometown Wellpinit, Washington. His only claim to fame is his belief that he’d be the top draft pick of the Professional Masturbators League, if there were one; he’s ambidextrous.  His older sister, Mary Runs Away, bright and beloved by her family, has been holed up in the basement for the past seven years since she graduated from high school, unable, it seems, to make a move. Junior’s father is a kind, mostly decent alcoholic who dreamed of being a jazz musician. His mother aspired to college and teaching.  He calls her a “human tape recorder” – a voracious reader with an expansive memory. And his grandmother, tolerant and well-loved by the thousands of Indians that she has met in her years of attending powwows across the country, asks forgiveness of the person responsible for her death. But… no one ever leaves the reservation – not for education or another life.

Like all the other reservation Indians, the Spirit’s are poor. There often isn’t enough food in the house and gas for the car. But the worst part about being poor, according to Arnold aka Junior, isn’t the lack of food or gas, the occasional parental neglect, or the Safeway tennis shoes and the Kmart jeans; it’s the lack of hope. Spurred on by his guilt-ridden Anglo geometry teacher who recognizes Arnold’s talents and beseeches him to leave the reservation, Arnold asks to transfer to Reardon, a town off the rez where he’ll be the only Indian in school. Because if he doesn’t go now, he knows he never will.

So begins Arnold’s new life – one foot in the Indian world by night and the other in the white world by day. The rez Indians see him as a traitor to the tribe – an apple – red on the outside, white on the inside. He’s no longer welcome. And how can he make inroads in the all-white school when, after the first day or two, he is pretty much ignored?  Although the deck seems stacked against Arnold Spirit Jr., he has moxie to spare. Surprising things happen. The novel is a roller-coaster ride of angst, grief, hilarity, Anglo-bashing, and a keen take on racism of various forms. If you tend toward the empathic, keep the tissues close by. But be prepared to snort with laughter before you finish drying your eyes.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library.

A Case of Mistaken Identities (A Retraction)

Will the Correct Michael Reisman Please Step Forward? 

On our July 20th blog, Meet our Authors (Part 4 of 4), we inadvertently identified the wrong Michael Reisman as one of the participating authors in our First Annual Celebration of Rochester Authors Event.  Our blog should have identified Michael Reisman, author of Wanakijiji The Villagers, as our participating author.  Instead, we identified Michael Reisman, author of the Simon Bloom series of YA books, as our participating author.

The Friends of the Library and this blog which to express our most sincere apologies to both Michael Reismans and to our readers for this error.

Michael Reisman
Author of Wanakijiji The Villagers

Michael Reisman of Rochester, MN
Author of Wanakijiji The Villager

Mr. Reisman of Rochester has written a wonderful children’s picture book with beautiful illustrations and translations in Swahili.  This book is sure to appeal to children and their parents, and the same-page translations into Swahili are fascinating.

Michael Reisman
Author of the Simon Bloom Series

Michael Reisman
Author of the Simon Bloom Series

Mr. Resiman of the Simon Bloom series is the author of a series of YA books about 11-year old Simon Bloom who discovers a book that allows him to control the Laws of Physics.  These books are sure to capture the imaginations of middle school students and adults. 

For more information about the Simon Bloom series, you can visit the author’s website at


Book Review – The Steps Across the Water

The Steps Across the Water
A Review by Helen McIver

Young adult fiction is definitely for grownups! They’re also perfect to share with your grandchildren – no matter how old they get, they will ask you for recommendations!

Sales of fiction for 14-20 year-olds have increased dramatically in the last few years. Last year alone, there were 10,000 different YA books published. The Hunger Games alone sold 23 million copies and that was before the movie came out.  I still find it difficult to recommend it due to the premise of children killing children, but I read the books because they remain in the top 10 banned books since publication. And I have had great discussions with friends, children, librarians and strangers about those books.

Choosing among the many YA titles available is difficult; but it is great fun for most adults to lose themselves in the imaginary worlds and  innocence of childhood, all the while finding a great book to share with children. Adam Gopnik’s The Steps Across the Water (superbly illustrated by Bruce McCall) is a creative and imaginative masterpiece by a fabulous journalist and author.

Rose is a young child living in New York City with her adopted parents and brother, Oliver (Oliver was the subject of an earlier book and another must read!).  She knows she has a lovely family, but she is lonely and wonders who she really is. She desperately wants a dog and she loves snow globes. One day she sees a crystal staircase arching like a rainbow over the Central Park Lake (no one else believes her of course), and soon discovers another world called UNork populated with fascinating, intriguing and some scary characters!

Gopnik has a great deal of fun with names in the alternative universe (Times Square Squared), unique situations (food being shot at you with cannons, just open your mouth) and everyday parental quotes you’ve said (“If it weren’t for the coffee and email, I wouldn’t know I was alive,” and “…progressive school, which means they’re progressively draining my bank account…”).

This book deals with themes of identity and the meaning of home.  It is a charming story that will warm your heart and will be read many times for generations, and it is available in standard format in the Rochester Public Library in the children’s section.

Great Quotes From This Book
“Medusa Books? You mean your father’s never taken you there? Well, that’s a long overdue polka on your dance card, Miss Rose.”

“Where was it published? Do you remember that?” Alexandra frowned.  “London? Hong Kong? Maybe Mars?” … it if would be the most normal thing in the world….to be published on Mars.”

Rose :  “You’re only as big as the last brave thing you’ve done.”

For more information about this book, check out the YouTube video featuring author Adam Gopnik as he discusses this book.

YouTube Video with Author Adam Gopnik

Contest Reminder – Deadline is Friday Night at Midnight!


Don’t Forget!  You have until midnight this Friday night to register to win the FREE gently-used copies of the first two books in Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly series!  This is a fantastic series written for the YA audience, but equally as enjoyable for adults!  Just follow the link below to our book review, enter and then watch to see if you’ve won!  Winners will be announced on Monday morning via this blog.  Please remember that this contest is open only to Rochester-area residents.  You must be available to pick up your winning books from the Friends’  Bookstore adjacent to the Rochester Public Library.  No copies will be mailed.

Follow this link to read the review and enter our contest!  Good luck!

Book Review – It Worked for Me (In Life and Leadership)

It Worked for Me (In Life and Leadership)
A Review by Helen McIver

Since retiring, Colin Powell has made another career as a professional speaker.  In his most recent book, It worked for Me,  Powell breaks the principles of life and leadership into seven parts, most of which were taken from his leadership presentations over the years. He collects stories (that happened to him or his friends) and uses them to illustrate his principles and ideas, which many people would benefit from reading and learning!

The first chapter concerns his 13 rules, which were previously published in Parade magazine over 20 years ago.  They were actually an “ad-on” column, that came from snippets of paper that he had shoved under the glass of his desktop.  I can remember reading that article and wrote most of them out.  Among those thirteen are:

  • Get mad, then get over it.
  • Share credit.
  • It ain’t as bad as you think (though I now prefer to think of his line “Fast Eddie, let’s play some pool.” )
  • Have a vision.
  • Be Demanding.
  • Remain Calm, Be Kind.

The remaining chapters focus on knowing who you are, taking care of others, the importance of mentoring, and how to be a great manager/leader.  The last chapter is saved for reflections.

It is worth remembering that Powell was the first black army officer to have a four-star troop command.  He served in the Army from age 17 to 56.  In those years, he served under four presidential administrations and has received numerous awards. His Jamaican immigrant parents instilled the value of hard work, and he took advice from Lincoln: “I can replace a brigadier general in five minutes, but it is not easy to replace 100 horses.”

Throughout his career, Powell had some exceptional mentors: Capt. Tom Miller, Maj.  Gen. Charles Gettys, Lt.  Gen. Hark Emerson, Capt. William Lovisell, and Col. Frank Henry. His writing feels more like a chat between friends than name-dropping. I am glad he was a restless soul and went walkabout often (getting to know people, staff, intel on the ground, not necessarily what was on paper.).

I hope more people read this book when they look to vote in the coming election for the Leader of the USA.  I find it hard to believe how many of the book reviews are already political and even racist.  Although the content is not entirely new, Powell’s book is a thoughtful, well-written and an interesting portrayal of an honest man in difficult times. It includes interesting anecdotes, easy humor, and engaging prose coupled with the resilience he has displayed throughout his life.

I have always had a great deal of respect for Colin Powell and valued the face that he provided to American foreign policy, as well as the common sense that he presented throughout his career. I trusted him, even on the WMD question, and often felt that if the intel was that bad, we needed to have much better security forces and intel operations. His job was to present the information that the CIA and President certified to the UN to determine a world response.

Powell is a Republican who endorsed Obama in 2008, but only after careful consideration.  He has noted that many of the changes Obama wanted to make have been stopped by Congress. He is also not endorsing anyone at present, still assessing both candidates.

This book will make an excellent graduation present and a wonderful fathers day gift. Don’t hesitate to buy it. His autobiography An American Journey is also worth reading, as is a biography by Karen de Young  entitled Soldier: Life of Colin Powell.

Great quotes to consider:

“A life is about its events – it is about challenges met and overcome. It’s all about people.”

“I try to be optimistic, but I try not to be stupid.”

“I set high not not impossible standards. Mine are achievable with maximum effort.”

“Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you ever know.”

“The US is the necessary nation. Despite our own problems…the world continues to look at us to solve or help with problems and crises….”

“We have to give every kid in America the access to public education that I received. We need to place public education at the top of our priorities and at the center of our national life.”

“If you take the pay, earn it. Don’t disappoint yourself.”

“Do your best- we’ll accept your best, but nothing less.” (Powell’s parents to him when he was not particularly good in sports or school).

Book Review and Contest Announcement – The Unearthly Series


“I’ve learned that a storm isn’t always just bad weather, and a fire can be the start of something. I’ve found out that there are a lot more shades of gray in this world than I ever knew about. I’ve learned that sometimes, when you´re afraid but you keep on moving forward, that’s the biggest kind of courage there is. And finally, I’ve learned that life isn’t really about failure and success. It’s about being present, in the moment when big things happen, when everything changes, including myself.” ~ Clara

(Excerpt from the Unearthly series by Cynthia Hand)

Being 16 and navigating through high school is hard enough, but can you imagine learning that you’re only “part human” and that you are put on this earth to complete a mission or a “purpose”?  Such is the premise of the Unearthly series of books by Cynthia Hand.

Clara Gardiner thinks she’s a typical teenager until the day her mother reveals to her that she’s part angel, complete with wings that can be summoned on command and the ability to fly.  Furthermore, she’s been put on this earth to fulfill a purpose which will be sent to her in the form of visions or dreams, and her one goal in life – the reason she was born – is to fulfill that purpose.

Shortly after her 16th birthday, Clara’s visions begin.  In a recurring daydream, Clara is transported to a forest fire where she sees in the distance a boy she feels destined to save.  The visions continue until she and her mother are able to conclude that her purpose is connected to this boy and  the forest fire, and the family uproots and leaves everything they’ve known to begin the quest to fulfill Clara’s purpose.

What happens, however, when Clara gets thrown a curve ball and the purpose she feels meant to fulfill seems less important than the direction that her own free-will wants her to go?  Will she follow her purpose, or will she choose a different path?  And what happens if she doesn’t fulfill her purpose?

Cynthia Hand has created wonderful page-turners in her first two books in the Unearthly Series, Unearthly and Hallowed.  In Unearthly, we’re introduced to Clara and her family, and Clara’s friends in her new school.  Strangely, this new town where her family has moved to seems to be a hotspot for “angel-bloods” – those who are part human and part angel.  For the first time, Clara can freely discuss with her close friends her visions and challenges, and she quickly learns that her new friends and their own purposes are deeply intertwined with her own.

Unearthly and Hallowed are an outstanding beginning to a new series of books target toward young adult readers, but the storyline is interesting and mature enough to appeal to even adult readers.  And, they’re this week’s FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY!  This week, we are giving away gently-used copies of BOTH BOOKS to one lucky winner.  Simply complete the entry form below and click “submit” to enter.

This contest begins today and will end on midnight on Friday, June 15th.  The contest winner will be announced on Monday, June 18th.  Please remember that this contest is open only to Rochester-area residents, and you must be able to pick up your winning copies within 10 business days of winning notification.  Please note that no copies will be mailed.

For more information about this series of books, visit the author’s website at


Book Review – BitterBlue

A Review by Helen McIver

Kristin Cashore’s first two YA novels,  Graceling and Fire, were wonderful books and I was eagerly anticipating this third novel in the series. Although reviewers say you don’t need to read the first two to love this book, I highly recommend doing so as there is good character development and interesting plot interactions. The cast remains exceptional.

This is the story of BitterBlue, whose mother was killed trying to save her from her evil, sociopath father. He in turn was killed by Katsa in Graceling to save the Kingdom. BitterBlue takes place in Monsea, one of the Seven Kingdoms, with magic and nonstop action. In these books a few people have extreme skills known as “Graces” that develop as they mature. Some of the more interesting ones are assassin, herbalist, fearlessness, mind reading, and telling lies which are perceived as true.

At the end of the previous book, Graceling, BitterBlue becomes Queen at the age of 10. As BitterBlue opens, she has matured to the age of 18 and is becoming unsettled in her rule. She has begun to question her advisors and rebel at the mounds of paperwork (we can relate!); and she is intent on unraveling and uncovering her father’s horrific legacy.

BitterBlue is a strong female heroine: curious and extremely intelligent, though extremely sheltered (and at times seeming far younger than 18). In her restlessness she sneaks outside the castle and discovers an entirely different world.

BitterBlue was classified as YA science fiction, but it could equally qualify as adult fiction, romance and political thriller. It is a detailed book of vivid descriptions, though some are horrific and gritty and include details of abuse, corrupt power and betrayal. These are tough issues and difficult questions, but we live in a world with Serbia, Rwanda, Bosnia, North Korea and Iraq. While the characters deal with pain, sorrow, loneliness, depression and heartache, they also experience joy, love and developing friendships.

I sincerely hope the Graceling books continue with these developing characters, especially Bitterblue, Katsa, Po and Sky. My favorite character in this book was Death (pronounced Deeth), the Royal Librarian who is graced with speed reading and possesses a photographic memory for everything he reads.

This book is filled with interesting illustrations which serve to clarify locations.  The romance is perhaps “young and scared,” but it is not the focus of the plot and I, personally, like that her characters don’t fit the “happily ever after” mode.

The first two novels in this series won several awards and were selected for a variety of reading lists, including the ALA Best Book for Young Adults and SLJ Best Book of the Year. I have no doubt this story will follow its predecessors.

To learn more about Kristin Cashore or her series of wonderful books, visit the author’s blog at or

Book Review – The River Between Us

The River Between Us
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

It’s the eve of the American Civil War, and tensions are high in the sleepy town of Grand Tower, Illinois, as the country comes to terms with the fact that the world as they know it is about to change.  Families are preparing to send their husbands and sons off to war, and sometimes to fight against each other or their own neighbors.  Then one day, a beautiful young southern woman and her companion arrive by steamboat in the small town, en route to St. Louis.  They decide to travel no further, and instead request lodging within the town.  With no “appropriate” hotel, they soon find lodging as boarders with the Pruitt family – Tilly, Noah, Cass and their mother.

Who is this young woman and her companion?  Is her companion a slave?  The town is abuzz with the notion that the  young woman, Delphine, and her companion, Calinda, are southern spies sent to Grand Tower to gather information and send it to the enemy.  Much intrigue and mystery surround the arrival of these woman, and discovering the truth behind their many stories is at the heart of this spellbinding story.

Richard Peck has written a riveting young-adult novel about the early days of the American Civil War and the young men and women caught in the crossfire.   Young Noah Pruitt will hear the call to battle and feel compelled to don the blue uniform of the North, leaving behind his mother and sisters, together with their two house guests, to survive on their own.  But can he survive without them?

The River Between Us is the YA selection for Rochester Reads 2012.  It is a novel written for YA readers, but with enough history, suspense and mystery to attract older readers.  It was a truly enjoyable read on every level.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library; however as part of this blog’s FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY, you can win a FREE, gently used, paperback copy of The River Between Us just for having read this review.  Simply enter your name, address, e-mail address and phone number in the entry form below and your name may be chosen at random to receive this free gift.  This contest is open until this Friday, May 18th, at midnight.  Contest winner will be announced on Monday morning, May 21st.

Please note:  This contest is open to Rochester, MN-area residents only.  Winners must be available to pick up your prize at the Friends of the Library Bookstore, located next door to the Rochester Public Library, within 10 days of your winning notification.  Please note that no copies will be mailed.

Good luck!

Contest Entry