Banned Books #36 Saga: Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Welcome to the 36th Banned Books post which means we’ve been reading Banned Books for 3 years now! Awoohoo! Go us! Celebrations aside, this month we took on Saga: Volume 2 by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Saga, Vol. 2 (Saga, #2)

First published: 2013
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2014 (source)
Reasons: anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As a relatively recent release my answers for this and the next question are going to be pretty much the same. This month, like last month we’re looking at a book where the focus is mainly on illustrations with few words in comparison. UNLIKE last month, this graphic novel is very, very different. Let me get this straight. I don’t agree with banning or challenging books on any level. I love to get angry about why books are challenged/banned especially when the reasons for doing so are just damn stupid but you know when you read something and you can kind of see why some people might have had issues or been offended? This is the wonderful world of Saga. It doesn’t offend me at all (I’m not easily offended!) but I have been slightly taken aback at some of the images, although I must insist that the art is absolutely stunning and something I can look at for a long time (erm…perhaps unless it’s a very naked, quite terrifying giant monster).

CHRISSI: I actually laughed out loud at Beth’s comment about the naked, giant monster as I nearly took a picture of it to send to her as I was reading it. I agree that it’s easy to see why Saga is challenged. There’s some quite graphic pictures and some very strong language. I don’t think you’d expect that when you pick it up, if you go into it not knowing the controversy surrounding it. I’d totally agree that it has some beautiful images though. The illustrations are stunning… it’s just not for the easily offended (or children!)

How about now?

BETH: Most of the reasons for challenging Saga are completely correct, I hate to admit. Yes, it has explicit sexual content, nudity and offensive language. However, I don’t really agree with the anti-family message. Our two main characters have a small baby, Hazel and are very much together even though they are all “on the run.” Plus in this volume, the grandparents come into play which does show quite a strong family unit, especially when I consider the role of the grandfather in this volume. Also, unsuited for age group. Hmm. Well, it just depends where you make this graphic novel available to be perfectly honest! If it’s in the primary school library that’s a different kettle of fish entirely and completely inappropriate I agree. But if it’s in the local library adult section for teenagers to find for themselves I don’t think that’s too terrible.

CHRISSI: I understand why it’s challenged. I do. I don’t like admitting that, but I do understand why it is offensive to many. I think there should be the opportunity for it to be found in the right places. Like Beth said, a local library would be fine but in a education setting…not so much!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: We looked at the first volume of Saga in our Banned Books for 2016 – please find our post HERE. It had been a while since I read the first six chapters so I did re-read them before embarking on Volume Two and I remembered just why I enjoyed it the last time. As I mentioned before, the art is simply gorgeous and really intricate but the story is also intriguing and makes me want to keep on reading. I’ll certainly be continuing the series and am looking forward to Volume Three!

CHRISSI: Unlike Beth, I didn’t reread the first volume. I went into it cold and luckily remembered a lot from the previous volume. I really enjoyed this volume, possibly more than the first. The artwork is beautiful and I’m intrigued by the story. I can totally see why so many readers are lapping up this series of graphic novels.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Banned Books #35- Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

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Welcome to May’s edition of Banned Books. This month we read Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter.

Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

Synopsis:

Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared.

In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness?

First published: 2009
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This book was published about eight years ago now and I don’t think attitudes have changed that much in the past eight years so my thoughts on the book being challenged “then and now” are going to be the same. Unfortunately due to a number of terrorist attacks in the past fifteen years, religion has become one of those really tricky areas that some individuals tend to blame and rail against when these atrocities occur. Of course nowadays, it’s the terrors of ISIS but I remember so clearly when we used to be talking about the Taliban and their ideals. I did a little bit of background research on why this book was challenged/banned, especially in the USA and one opinion I came across (not entirely sure of its validity) is that Nasreen’s Secret School is a book which promotes Islam and that should be a reason for banning it. Never mind the truth behind this, these sorts of things just make my blood boil. Why should any book be banned for educating us all a bit about a particular religion? Personally, I find it interesting to learn about a different culture and belief system but hey…maybe that’s just me?

CHRISSI: It actually makes me cross that this book is challenged. It’s a children’s book! I’m pretty sure my face was of utter confusion when I finished this book. I always try and keep in my mind that I’m reading it for this challenge, so I can look out for things that might make it a challenged book. I couldn’t find any. It’s not explicitly violent. It does include a girl going to school in secret, but I thought it had such a sweet message. It was a message about the power of education and I really didn’t agree with the reasons for it being challenged. It was pretty inoffensive to me. It really was.

How about now?

BETH: Let’s go into a couple of the other reasons for challenging/banning this book. Unsuited to age group. *silently seethes.* This is a PICTURE book recommended for children of six years and older and the illustrations and words are such that it can easily be understood and enjoyed by children of this age group in my opinion. As with the last reason – “violence,” I believe some people may be concerned that the Taliban taking Nasreen’s father away and then her mother also disappearing might be too brutal for some kids to take. Don’t get me wrong, that’s absolutely horrific, of course. BUT. The story is written and drawn in such a way, as I said, that it is never made explicit what exactly happens to Nasreen’s mother and father, the young reader is almost shielded from the reality of what has happened so I cannot see how this can be offensive. It is upsetting, Nasreen stops talking for quite a while and she is very distressed. Yet with the help of her courageous grandmother and by making a friend at the secret school she finally learns to be happy again and yes, to speak as well. 

CHRISSI: I get that Nasreen lost her mother and to not very nice circumstances, but surely that’s what we infer as adults? Would children get that from reading a picture book? I’m not sure. It certainly doesn’t explicitly tell the reader why. It just shows Nasreen’s obvious distress. Many children would be distressed if they lost their family under any circumstances, so I don’t see why this book was any different.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: As this is a picture book, I read it so quickly. The illustrations are simple but effective but it was the words that affected me more than anything. I fell in love with Nasreen, her grandmother and the bravery of the people that were risking their lives to educate girls once it had been forbidden by the Taliban regime. In just a few pages I felt like I learned so much and I think it’s a really important read for children so that they can be educated about how lucky they are to have free schooling, sadly a privilege not everyone is entitled to and something people should definitely be made more aware of.

CHRISSI: I thought it was incredibly adorable. I thought the characters were brilliant and the story was well told. The illustrations were simple and sweet. It’s an important and educative story, in my opinion!

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Banned Books #34 Habibi by Craig Thompson

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Welcome to April’s edition of Banned Books, where Beth and I read a banned book, once a month! This month was Habibi by Craig Thompson.

Habibi

Synopsis:

Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.
 
At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

Habibi by Craig Thompson
First published: 2011
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: nudity, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As a fairly recent release (2011), there aren’t going to be many differences in my opinions as I don’t really believe attitudes have changed that much in the past six years or so. I’m finding expressing my opinions about this graphic novel quite difficult and apologies if my words aren’t coherent! I have such mixed views on this book, you see. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. Can I see why it was challenged/banned? Well, er….yes I kind of can. This is NOT to say that I agree with banning books, not in the slightest! I can however see why this book may have been controversial. There are a LOT of adult themes in the books that may not be suitable for younger readers mainly involving rape and graphic sexuality. Of course the book should be available to read but perhaps not in settings where much younger children have access to it.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t agree with banning books as I don’t think people should be ‘told’ what they can and cannot read. However, this book is one of those books that it’s easy to see why it’s challenged. It’s certainly controversial and it deals with many contentious issues. There’s some quite graphic sexuality, nudity and rape which isn’t suitable for younger readers in my opinion. I’m not sure if this book is intended to be for adults, but that’s certainly what it came across to me. A work of adult literature!

How about now?

BETH: See previous answer! So the reasons for banning/challenging this graphic novel are nudity which there is an abundance of. Seriously, every other page seems to have a naked character on it (probably 95% of them are female, I have to say which I’m not going to even get into but which made me slightly uncomfortable for my own feminist sensibilities). Then there’s the fact it’s sexually explicit and that is certainly the case. Naked bodies are not a bad thing don’t get me wrong but some of the sexual scenes which mainly involve sex that is non-consensual are incredibly graphic. Finally, it states that it’s unsuited for the age group. Here’s where I have a bit of confusion. I don’t know what age group it’s actually meant to be aimed at? Yes, it’s a graphic novel which may make you automatically think of younger readers, however the themes are so adult that it cannot be anything but an adult read.

CHRISSI: I can see why it’s challenged. I read a wide range of literature, but this one made me feel particularly uncomfortable and that’s quite something!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: First of all, this book is absolutely beautiful. It’s a beast at about 700 pages long but don’t be intimidated by it’s size, I read it quite easily in two sittings in the space of a couple of hours. The illustrations are fantastic and some parts of the story I really enjoyed but other parts….I could just see why it may be offensive, especially to some cultures and religions. I didn’t really enjoy the stories within stories that talked about the similarities between Christianity and Islam as religions either which is strange as I normally like that sort of thing. In this novel however, it just made the narrative feel quite bumpy – if that’s the right word!

CHRISSI: Despite my uncomfortable feeling whilst reading this book, it didn’t take me long to read at all. I found it interesting in parts and offensive in others. It was a mixed bag for me, like Beth, but I’m leaning more towards not enjoying the reading experience.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: I’m going to say maybe as I think some people will love it, other people will not so much. It’s a Marmite kind of book!

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- Others might enjoy it,  but it was too much for me.

Banned Books #33- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

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Welcome to March’s edition of Banned Books (a little late, sorry!) where Beth and I have read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
First published: 2006
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: violence and other (“graphic images”)

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  This is one of those books where I don’t necessarily agree with the reason for challenging/banning it but I can understand why someone may have had problems. I don’t think a book should ever be banned outright and people should always have access to it but in some cases, it might not be suitable for younger readers. There is however one reason I’d like to point out as I’m confused about it – the violence part. Now I’ve just finished this graphic novel/memoir and I really am racking my brain to remember any specific incidence of violence. There is a couple of slight incidents at the beginning where Alison’s father hits her or her brothers but it isn’t portrayed terribly graphically which I was a little relieved about as that would hit a bit too close to the bone for me.

CHRISSI: I can somewhat understand why this book has had some issues. There’s some er… rather risque moments that I can imagine would be a bit difficult to handle in the classroom. That’s not to say that I don’t think it should be challenged and banned completely, but from a teaching perspective… I wouldn’t dream of having this in the library unlike some of the other books that we’ve read for this feature.

How about now?

BETH: This book is now over ten years old and still reads as very contemporary so I don’t think attitudes would have changed too much in that short period of time. I was surprised at the graphic sexual imagery that there is, I wasn’t really expecting that and although I wasn’t personally offended by it it might be a bit too much for very young readers. It shows a lesbian scene and I was quite pleased that this kind of thing is being included in graphic novels. The other graphic image is of a naked male corpse which again I wasn’t perturbed by but might frighten those of a more sensitive disposition. 

CHRISSI: I’d have to agree with Beth, there are some images that might be a bit too much for some. I’m happy that it’s an LGBT graphic novel/memoir, but the male corpse was a little bit too much for me!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: Unfortunately I was really disappointed by this book. I thought Alison Bechdel certainly led an interesting life, being brought up in a funeral home with a gay father and coming out as homosexual herself later in life made for a fascinating read. However, I didn’t really get on with the story as a whole, the literary references to Proust and Fitzgerald seemed a bit over the top and unnecessary at times and I would have enjoyed it more if she had specifically focused on the relationship between herself and her late father.

CHRISSI: Beth asked me what I thought of it before she started it and I didn’t want to spoil her reading experience. However, I really didn’t like this book. I thought it was going to be really interesting, it certainly has potential to be a fantastic read but I felt the story as a whole didn’t gel well for me. I was bored at points which isn’t what you want from a book.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably not.
CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- This book didn’t capture my attention.

Banned Books #32- The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon

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Welcome to this month’s edition of Banned Books where Beth and I have read The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Synopsis:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger’s, a form of autism. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon
First published: 2003
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”)

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: First of all, I can’t believe that this book is now fourteen years old! That blows my mind. Chrissi and I read it not long after it had first come out and it’s one of those books that we’ve both kept on our favourite shelves, such was the impact it had on us. Things haven’t changed that much in the last fourteen years so my opinion is going to be the same for the first two questions. (We may be a little biased also because it is one of our favourite books!) Only one of the reasons I can accept as being an accurate reflection of what is in the book but that is not to say that I necessarily agree with it.

This is the offensive language reason which, although I don’t think it’s particularly over-used in the novel but I admit there are several instances of swearing and even one instance of the “c” word which may offend some people and fair enough. You are entitled to be offended by foul language – that is your prerogative. However, I don’t see bad language as a reason to ban/challenge a book outright as I don’t think you can shield children from things they are more than likely to hear in the playground/on television/in the streets if they don’t read it in books.

CHRISSI: Fourteen years old. That’s crazy! I still remember reading it for the first time and being really impressed. On my re-read I was just as impressed. To be honest, I can see why it might be challenged due to profanity, but that’s not to say I don’t agree with it. Some children are exposed to profanity in their every day lives and I don’t think challenging a book because of that is the right thing to do. I can almost guarantee that this book wouldn’t be the first time children had heard bad language. Would I read it in the classroom? No. But it still deserves to be in the library just waiting to be explored.

How about now?

BETH: Same answer – I don’t agree with the reasons for banning/challenging this book. Particularly those that wax on about a religious viewpoint/atheism. Personally, I love learning about beliefs from all over the globe from a variety of different people and I really can’t remember an instance in this book where I felt like the character’s religious views were shoved down my throat. I’ve read books before that fall into the “preachy” line and was immediately put off however this was unequivocally NOT this kind of book. As for it being inappropriate for the age group (young adult) – seriously what was so appalling that a well-adjusted or even not so well adjusted teenager should be protected from this book??

CHRISSI: Again, I wouldn’t personally use it in the classroom with teenagers (if I taught teenagers!) but I’d highly recommend it to them to read as an independent choice. Yes, there’s bad language, but as I mentioned before they’ll hear it anyway. I teach a boy with Asperger’s and I could recognise so many qualities in our main protagonist. I believe that many people with autism could find something special in this book. Those that don’t, can get an insight into what life is like for those with ASD.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: Well, this is pretty obvious I guess….I loved it! I’m always worried when reading an old favourite that I won’t enjoy it as much as I did previously however this definitely wasn’t the case. In fact, I feel I got even more from the book than I did on the first reading and especially loved the additional illustrations and maths problems that broke up the text and gave us a real insight into the mind of Christopher. It is so important that conditions such as Asperger’s are highlighted and I think a book like this could really help anyone with it or those who know someone with it. For me, it was an education and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

CHRISSI: I really enjoyed rediscovering this book. As I mentioned, I have experience with children on both ends of the spectrum and it reminded me how difficult life can be for them. It made me feel super proud of their day-to-day achievements.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

Banned Books #31- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

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Welcome to the first Banned Books of 2017, where Beth and I read Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

Synopsis:

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
First published: 2014
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: This is a one of our most recently published “banned/challenged” books that we’ve chosen, only being published in 2014. Well, it sure seemed to cause a stir as it was immediately placed on the frequently challenged list for 2015! I don’t agree with any of the reasons for this book being challenged to be perfectly honest but I think I do know why the topic causes such a furore. I think the world of children who are transgender is relatively new (in the fact that we hear about it a hell of a lot more, not that the children never existed before). I think a lot of people either don’t understand or don’t believe that being transgender even exists and find it difficult to come to terms with, sometimes especially if it is their own child. I’m hoping with more publicity that people can educate themselves and the majority of ignorance surrounding it can be reduced.

CHRISSI:  This is one of the books that is banned/challenged that I want to roll my eyes at, because it really shouldn’t be. Like Beth, I understand why it has been challenged. It seems recently that transgender is much more publicised than it used to be. Of course, there’s always been transgender around, but it’s definitely more prevalent in the media. You would think that this means the book shouldn’t be banned, and I’d agree, but I can see why it is at challenged because it kicks off a whole debate and arguments about what gender really is. I hope that one day it won’t be such an issue and those that aren’t educated about transgender could be!

How about now?

BETH: See above answer. I will however, go into more depth about the reasons but will try to remain relatively calm. Offensive language – yep, I admit, it’s in there but as I’ve said about other banned books in our series, no worse than what children would hear in school, television, out and about etc. Then there are other reasons that make me want to do that little red angry emoji face. Like anti-family?! I mean, WHAT? Why would being a transgender teenager threaten or go against a loving family? Especially if they are supportive which is just all kinds of awesome if they are. And the last reason…oh my goodness, I just really wonder at the people who are complaining, to be honest. They really need some education.

CHRISSI: My answer is the same as the above although I would like to see the world in change in their attitude towards transgender. It seems ridiculous to me that we can’t be more accepting but perhaps that’s me being naive. As I read this book, I thought of a girl at my current school that still adamantly insists she’s a boy. I wonder what the future holds for her and hope it’s a more accepting one.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I enjoyed it! I felt I learned a lot more about what teenagers go through if they feel they have been born into the wrong body. I watched a Louis Theroux documentary here in the UK recently about transgender children and that was brilliant but I really wanted an informative, touching non-fiction book about the real experience as kids grow up. That was exactly what I got. The photographs were the icing on the cake and it was marvellous to see the children in their “wrong” and in their “right” body. I think this could be a hugely important book for any teenager struggling with this issue.

CHRISSI: I thought it was a great book! It was really interesting to read from their experience of how they felt in their ‘wrong’ body. It was fascinating to see the photographs too. I really thought that added to the reading experience.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars!

Banned Books 2017… REVEALED!

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JANUARY – Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak OutSusan Kuklin

FEBRUARY – The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night TimeMark Haddon

MARCH – Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

APRIL –  HabibiCraig Thompson

MAY – Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From AfghanistanJeanette Winter

JUNE – Saga – Volume 2Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

JULY – The Kite RunnerKhaled Hosseini

AUGUST – Thirteen Reasons WhyJay Asher

SEPTEMBER – Scary StoriesAlvin Schwartz

OCTOBER – ttylLauren Myracle

NOVEMBER – The Color Of EarthKim Dong Hwa

DECEMBER – The Agony Of AlicePhyllis Reynolds Naylor