NonFiction Monday: Banned Books, One School Librarian’s Experience

This week is Banned Book Week. It’s this time each year that fifth graders learn about the First Amendment.  The lesson I teach annually, comes from my first few years as the library media center.  I had three books challenges; one picture book (The Stupids Step Out by Harry Allard) and two nonfiction books, Where Do Babies Come From by Margaret Sheffield and Inside Mom by Sylvia Caveney).  Both nonfiction books are out of print, although Amazon does have uses copies for sale.

For Nonfiction Monday, I’ll focus on my experience with the nonfiction books. In the mid- 1980’s our district was a hot bed for book challenges. The challenges to these two books marked the sixth and seventh formal complaints in the district. 

New to the library, I analyzed the collection for its strengths and weaknesses.  One area, the human growth and development section, was lacking.  So I purchased the the Sheffield and Caveney book.

Perhaps if I had not spoken out by promoting the purchases in the Silver Star newsletter, the challenge may or may not have taken place.  I did wrestle with the promotion, the calling to attention to the books.  I felt, however, that based on the research of reviews and other selection tools, there was no need to hide the books within the stacks.

One parent felt differently.  He was “very offended” and wanted Where do Babies Come From completely removed as it lacked “any literary quality, showed a naked couple embracing and he knew what fourth, fifith and sixth grade boys would do with picture books like these.”  For Inside Mom, the parent wanted parental permission required to check it out.

When a parent or parents come to me with concerns about books, I listen.  I suggest that I can assist it monitoring their child’s choices as that’s their parental right (And certainly easier now with computers than in the mid-80’s.)  But some parents want to protect all  children.  After listening to this parent with the principal, the first step of the process, we handed the “Request for Reconsideration of Materials.” 

You hope that the parent will leave and think it through.  A lot of times they do and you don’t see them again. But with this parent, he returned the form. The next step was the hearing with the Instructional Materials Committee.

It was time to gather the forces and contact my library colleagues and the community (which due to the large amounts of books challenges there was a supportive community.) It meant reaching out to people with phone calls and notes as it was the pre-email, pre-twitter era.

So in May 1986, I went before the committee to advocate for these books.  I outlined the purpose of the library and my criteria for selection: accuracy, currency, author’s responsibility and competency, and the organization and scope of the book.  I ended the testimony reminding the committee that  “the library media center is a storehouse of information, books from the library are not required reading, and it’s a place where students gather to seek  knowledge in oder to cope with the complexity of daily life and have unanswered questions answered,”

In the  end, a restricted shelf for the human growth and development books was created in all elementary libraries. It was overturned the following year when another parent challenged it’s creation.

This experience, early in my career, created a deep appreciation for the First Amendment.  I am fortunate that my district has a strong selection and reconsideration policy in place.  I didn’t like the original outcome of the challenged nonfiction books, but the procedures worked and with a change in school board members, the restricted shelf  fell away.  Recently, I worked with the district to update the reconsideration policy and procedure.

I get riled up when I hear of good books being challenged as in the most recent case of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.  I have to speak out. I want fifth graders to know how important their right to read is. They are always stunned at the idea of challenging books.  I continue to create that storehouse of books and materials where students are able to wrestle with the complications of everyday life. 

This weekend I thought about the fourth grade student who said “I became a woman on Monday.”  What if she’d asked for a book on the topic and I had to say I have a book but you have to get permission to read it.  Thankfully, today, I can show her the section of the library w/ information.

I celebrate Banned Book Week this week and through out the year.  Having information for students is what the library media center is about. 

Wendie’s Wanderings is hosting Nonfiction Monday.

Happy Reading. Read a banned book today.



Poetry Friday: “Because of Poems”

Another Friday of the school year down.  I found this wonderful  poem by Naomi Shihab Nye in her collection A Maze Me: Poems for Girls.  This poem is for everyone though,

Because of Poems

Words have secret parties
Verbs, adjectives, and nouns
meet outside their usual boundaries,
wearing hats.

MOODY feels doubtful about attending
and pauses near the door, ready to escape.
But she’s fascinated by DAZZLE.
BEFRIEND throws a comforting arm
around her shoulder.

LOST and REMEMBER huddle
in the same corner,
trading phone numbers.

I serve punch.

I understand MOODY so well, at the door, ready to escape.   Which of those words describe you?

Poetry Friday is at Karen Edmiston’s blog.

Happy reading.


Non-Fiction Monday: Announcing the CYBILS Nonfiction Picture Book Team

It has been announced here but I want to extend a warm welcome to the 2010 CYBILS team for Nonfiction Picture Books.  AS the second year as organizer I found it tougher as there were more than forty people interested for eleven spots.   They represent writers, teachers, school librarians, public librarians, and all bloggers fond of Nonfiction Picture books.  The panelists are scattered near and far from the east coast, the south, midwest, southwest and northwest.

Panelists (Round I Judges):

Doret Canton, Happy Nappy Bookseller
Shirley Duke, Simply Science
Amanda Goldfuss, ACPL Mock Sibert
Abby Johnson, Abby (the) Librarian
Karen Terlecky, Literate Lives
Carol Wilcox, Carol’s Corner
Jone MacCulloch

Judges (Round II):

Kara Dean, Not Just for Kids
Roberta Gibson, Wrapped in Foil
Deb Nance, Readerbuzz
Carol Rasco, Rasco from RIF
Franki Sibberson, A Year of Reading


Be thinking of what you want to see on the nominations list. Nominations for all categories open on October 1.  (That’s a week from Friday.)

Happy Reading.


Non-Fiction Monday: Sonia Sotomayor; Supreme Court Justice

Sonia Sotomayor; Supreme Court Justice is the latest book by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. The journey of a young girl growing up  in the projects near Yankee Stadium to becoming the third woman as a Supreme Court Justice  is told in flowing free verse by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. (her interview HERE)

What I like in this biography is the role both parents, particularly Sotomayor’s mother  played in developing an “I Can Do It” attitude within her.  Readers are introduced to baby Sonia in a poem, “As American as Mango Pie”, followed by other poems that introduce her parents and life in the Bronx. 

Sonia discovers that her has juvenile diabetes in third grade but it doesn’t stop her from rising above this new challenge as well as the challenge of learning to read.

When her father dies unexpectantly from a heart attack,  Sonia’s mother takes on two jobs and begins school to become a nurse.  The importance of education and learning for the Sotomayor family is evident in several poems: “Working Weekends”, “Studying at Home” and “Studying with Mami”.   Her mother was such a guiding person for Sonia and is reflected many lines throughout the book:

 “I am half the woman she is.”
“I am all I am because of her.”
“…if it hadn’t been for Mami.”
and when presented as the nominee:
“I stand on the shoulders of countless people,
yet there’s an extraordinary person who is my life’s inspiration.
That person is my mother, Celine Sotomayor.”

Each poem in the book takes the reader one step closer to the arrival of her nomination for Supreme Court Justice.  She is as Grand writes
“Sonia Sotomayor,
as American as mango pie,
is the first Latina Justice
to be elected to the Supreme Court
of the United States.”

The book includes an appendix with detailed biographical notes, a glossary of the wonderful Puerto Rican/Spanish words, sources,and a timeline.  The illutrations by Thomas Gonzalez compliment the text.

This book can be used on many different levels, from telling the story of one of our Justices, a book to demonstrate free verse, or to be read around Mother’s Day in honor of all moms who support the dreams of their children.

Title: Sonia Sotomayor; Supreme Court Justice
Author: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand
Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
Date Published: 2010
Pages: 48
Reading Level: All Ages
Publisher: MarshallCavendish Children
ISBN: 978-0-7614-5795-4
Source of Book: Copy from the author.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Roberta at Wrapped in Foil

Poetry Friday: A Poem for Autumn

I found this wonderful poem by Lucy Maud Montgomery at the Poem Hunter.

An Autumn Evening

Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir.

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight,
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night,
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup,
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.


I just love the language that Montgomery used.  I BOLDED some of my favorite phrases. It’s why I love her books as well.  A poem like this makes one slow down for a moment and drink in the enchantment.

Elaine at Wild Rose Reader is round-up all the poems today.  Thank you.

The CYBILS panelists are being introduced over the next few days.  Stop by and see what we are up to.  I will announce my panelist on Monday.  Stay Tuned.

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: Interview with Carmen T. Bernier-Grand

Friday, September 17 is Constitution Day. Carmen T. Bernier-Grand has just published a book on Sonia Soto Mayor: Supreme Court Justice.  It’s a great tie-in to talking with K5 students about the Constitution and one  branch of government.  She has other  biographies for kids; Cesar:Si se puede!, Yes, We Can, Frida:!Viva La vida! Long Live Life!, and Diego Bigger Than Life  After I stopped by her house to pick up her latest book, I sent here questions to answer for this interview.

 JRM:  Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court Justice was just published. When did you decide that you wanted to do a book on Sonia Sotomayor?

CTG: When the media began to talk about Sotomayor as a possible justice, author Eric Kimmel told me to write about her. As soon as the rumors became reality, I approached my editor.  

JRM:  How did you go about researching for the book?

CTG: All I had was Internet and newspapers. 

JRM: Were you able to interview Justice Sotomayor? What was that like?

CTG: By the time I’d learned enough to know what to ask, the government had closed all doors to reach her or reach her family. But I interviewed her cousin in Puerto Rico, and Justice Sotomayor read the manuscript.

JRM: There is so much about Sotomayor’s life.  How did you determine what to use?

CTG: I always look for story arc. Justice Sotomayor’s life has had enough ups and downs with a main goal: To succeed.

JRM: Was there an aspect in her life you wished that you could have put in but didn’t?

CTG:  She put her ex-husband through college, and then they divorced. They remained friends, so I didn’t say anything about her sacrificing for him.  

JRM: What unexpected outcomes did you have writing this biography?

CTG: I was going to be in Washington DC, so I tried to meet her. They  finally said no because the end of the Supreme Court term is busy time.  But the CIA investigated me! 

JRM: You write in free verse (which I love).  Is the first draft in free verse or does that come with revision?

CTG:  Let’s get the record straight. I don’t consider myself a poet. The biographies are coming to me that way. It’s hard to control the brain of a writer.

JRM: You were a math major.   How did a math major end up as a writer?

CTGI was always a writer but didn’t know it. I stared (still do) at strangers to find out their point-of-view. I was always making up stories. I looked at the pictures in the comics and made up my own stories and dialogue before reading the bubbles.

JRM:   What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?

CTG: I grew up without a library or bookstore. The first story I remember reading was Caps for Sale. It was in a school anthology, in English or Spanish? I grew up among storytellers. It’s part of the TVless culture. As a teen, I read classics in Spanish such as Don Quijote.  As an adult, I read mostly children and young adult books. Realistic and historical fiction stand out.   

JRM:  What books are on your nightstand?

CTG: You saw my house. We have books everywhere! Right now I am reading Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.

JRM: Oh, I loved Bamboo People.  I read it in one sitting.  Where do you find inspiration?

CTG: Everywhere! I have too many stories to tell and too little time to write them. Reading poetry always inspires me.  

JRM: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

CTG: Revising. Putting down the story down is painful.

JRM:  Favorite time of the day to work?

CTG: All day, every day.

JRM: Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?

CTG: Dark. I am lactose intolerant.

JRM:   Dance: funky chicken or the tango?

CTG: Funky chicken. I am a Puerto Rican who doesn’t know how to dance salsa.

JRM: When you aren’t writing, what might we find you doing?

CTG: Reading. I also give presentations in schools, and work for Writers in the Schools and the Whidbey Island MFA program.

JRM:  What is up next for you?

CTG: Raúl Colón is illustrating Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina (Fall 2011) and Tonya Entrin is illustrating Virgen de Guadalupe (2012).Thanks to a fellowship from Portland Literary Arts, I’ll be going to France and Spain to research Picasso.

JRM: Lucky you to be traveling for research in France and Spain. Thank you, Carmen.

Carmen has a terrific website HERE. She is very active in the local Portland  area SCBWI happenings.  Last spring, I participated in her workshop at the annual SCBWI-Oregon conference.  Next week I will review her book on Sonia Sotomayor.

Carol from Reading is Fundamental (RIF) is hosting Nonfiction Monday. Thanks, Carol.

Happy Reading.


Poetry Friday: Thinking About Tomorrow

Tomorrow marks the 9 year anniversary of our greatest tragedy of the past decade as a nation; the destruction fo the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania.  Do you remember where you were? Do you remember seeing what played out on the television?

It’s a time of remembrance and reflection.  I thought about the collection of poems gathered by Naomi Shihab Nye in This Same Sky.  Poems from around the world. Broken up into the following sections, it’s one of my favorites that has been edited by Nye:

WORDS AND SILENCES  “Sawdust under the Sun”
DREAMS AND DREAMERS “Eyes the Color of Sky”
FAMILIES ” They First Typing
THIS EARTH AND SKY IN WHICH WE LIVE “Water That Used to Be a Cloud”
LOSSES “Kissed Trees”
HUMAN MYSTERIES “White Bracelets”

A reader can go to any section and find a poem appropriate for tomorrow’s solemn anniversary.

I found one on page 124, “Under This Sky” by Zia Hyder, Bangladesh, translated by Bhabani Sengupt and Naomis Shihab Nye.  It’s a small excerpt.

There’s an enormous comfort knowing
we all live under the same sky,
whether in New or Dhaka,
we see the same sun and same moon…

The rest of the poem can be found in the book and I urge you get a copy either by buying or seeing if your local library has it. 

I hope tomorrow will be a time of reflection for what we lost on September 11, 2001 and what has grown out of its ashes. 

Poetry Friday is hosted by none other than Anastasia at Picture Book of the Day. Thank you, Anastasia

Be thinking of which books you will nominated for this year’s CYBILS awards.  Nominations open on October 1st.

Happy Reading.


Who’s Reading What Wednesday

I’m back. Summer vacation is over. The new school year has begun and today is International Literacy Day.

Did you know?

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965.
Some 774 million adults lack minimum literacy skills

One in five adults is still not literate.
Two-thirds of them are women
72.1 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.

Information provided by UNESCO

And Susan of the Book Chook just came out with the 6th edition of Literacy Lava.  Download your free PDF HERE

I finished Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins last week in about three evenings. I probably could have stayed up all night but being back to work? I needed my sleep.  Of course, the second in the series is in hard back and no one has it to loan. ACK!

The start of school means that I am back to listening to kid books on cd for my drive to school. Currently in the cd drive is Seer of Shadows by AVI. I really like his historical fiction particularly Crispin.


The organizers are hard at work sorting out the huge list of volunteers for judging panels. The deadline is next Wednesday, September 15 to volunteer.  It’s also time to start thinking about your favorite books to nominate  this year’s CYBILS.  Nominations open on October 1 and close October 15.  For more information,visit the CYBILS SITE.

Follow me on twitter @JoneMac53.

What are you currently reading?

Happy Reading.


Poetry Friday: “Learning in the First Grade”

The school year has just begun and it always reminds me of such promise and hope. But last week, when I was searching for a poem I discovered this one in Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon and it gave me pause.

Learning in the First Grade 

“The cup is red. The drop of rain
is blue. The clam is brown.”

So said the sheet of exercises–
purple mimeos, still heady
from the fluid in the rolling
silver drum. But the cup was

not red. It was white,
or had no color of its own.

Oh, but my mind was finical.
It put the teacher perpetually
in the wrong. Called on, however,
I said aloud: “The cup is red.”

“But it’s not,” I thought,
like Galileo Galilei
muttering under his beard….

It reminded me how the words we say and the things we do with students has impact at an early age.  And I love the word “finical”.

Susan Taylor Brown has Poetry Friday round-up HERE.  I hope you have a fabulous weekend.

Happy Reading.