Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Little Women Movie Review

Little Women

adapted from the novel by Greta Gerwig 

Louisa May Alcott has been my hero for as long as I can remember. Little Women has been one of my favorite books since I was about 11 and I reread it periodically. I've visited Orchard House numerous times and make an annual or semi-annual pilgrimage to the gift shop. I own a collection of antique, vintage and rare Louisa May Alcott books. So, read this review keeping that in mind.

My LMA rare book collection

This novel is so near and dear to my heart. I have yet to see a GOOD faithful adaptation of the novel and yes this includes the 1994 version. I was nervous when I read about this new movie. Greta Gerwig gives the story a feminist slant, incorporating aspects of the Alcotts lives and Louisa's other works. I wondered why she didn't just make a biopic of the Alcotts. This being said, I was eager to see the new move and have it do well at the box office. 

My dad and I went to see the movie on the 27th. He has never read the book before and claims he's never seen any of the film adaptations. I'm SURE he saw at least some of the 1994 version since I owned it on VHS. 

Greta Gerwig takes a very different approach to the novel. She cherry picked small sections she liked, mixed them up and added a dash of Louisa's life story for good measure to make a very modern feminist film. The movie opens with young adult Jo meeting with a publisher to sell a story and then flashes back in time 7 years earlier. Most of the story concentrates on the second half of the novel or Good Wives with the March sisters as young women coming of age after the Civil War. The flashback sequences give us brief glimpses into the lives of the March sisters as children. I was pleased to see some events included that normally get cut out, like their plays, the Pickwick Club and the post office. Amy's pickled limes were mentioned but for some weird reason, that scene isn't in the movie and instead Amy's "Valley of Humiliation" chapter is something that happens to another girl in the book. These sequences don't last long enough in my opinion and the non-linear storytelling style confused my dad. I felt the confusing timeline lacked the emotional punch needed when Beth dies but my dad claims he "bawled like a baby." 

My rare Louisa May Alcott books

From what I read about this movie it seemed like Greta Gerwig missed the heart of the novel and removed Marmee's wise counsel. This isn't quite the case. The girls do give away their breakfast to the poor family (although not cheerfully as they do in the book), Beth visits the Hummels when they're sick (but the baby doesn't die in her arms). Marmee counsels Jo about her anger. Yes Meg goes to the party ("Meg Goes to Vanity Fair" chapter) and enjoys herself but the scene still includes Laurie showing his disappointment and asking Meg what Jo would say. I was fine with that. It shows how he's drawn to the March sisters because they're unaffected. They're fresh and innocent and he likes that. There's no silly gossip about Mrs. March's "plans" to make Meg uncomfortable though. I didn't miss the spirituality and more moralizing. Greta Gerwig did understand Jo's reluctance to grow up and how the breaking up of her nuclear family affects Jo. I didn't agree with the loneliness and longing Jo feels at the end though. In the book it's Fritz she misses and fears she has lost forever, not Laurie. She knows Laurie and Amy are engaged and a much better couple.

I also disliked how Plumfield is going to be a school for boys and girls. Jo like Louisa always preferred boys. You can't just radically alter the education system as Bronson Alcott found out to his detriment in Boston. You have to change the way society treats girls and thinks of girls first. That wouldn't happen until long after Louisa's death.

My Madame Alexander Little Women dolls (I also have Louisa and an Orchard House somewhere)

The characters in the movie are more modern day versions of the characters in the book. They're feminine yet feisty. Jo is based on Louisa herself. She's full of energy and "boyish" spirits. Jo and Laurie dance wildly to the music at the New Year's dance out of sight of other party guests, she runs through town and is full of high spirits. Saorise Ronan makes a cute Jo, aside from her fair coloring. (Please, can we get a proper chestnut haired Jo? Her hair is dark brown with red not reddish blond. This is important because Louisa was dark like her mother and her father and sisters were fair. Bronson believed dark coloring was responsible for Abigail and Louisa's temperaments). Saorise Ronan is perky and energetic and can pull off deeper emotions credibly, if not all together convincingly. I was impressed with her ability to do an American accent but disappointed no one had a real New England accent, not even Hannah who clearly does in the book. The ending to Jo's "present" day story is slightly different from the book and completely not acceptable for the time but it is such a Jo scene that I enjoyed it even as I missed little Demi's candid conversation about love. 

Concord Public Library's rare Louisa May Alcott books

Emma Watson was great as Hermione but I haven't been impressed with her adult roles. Meg doesn't give her a lot to do. Meg is supposed to be soft and feminine, longing for the finer things in life but accepting love where it comes unexpectedly. This Meg is a little more human. She's like a Meg/Jo cross. She gets snippy at times and frustrated at their lack of money. She doesn't complain about working as a governess though. Meg gives a speech to Jo about her choices being just as valid as Jo's even if Jo can't understand them. I feel this is anachronistic. Women in the 1860s didn't really have choices. Jo is the exception rather than the norm. It felt like a conversation modern day sisters would have if one chooses to be a wife and stay-at-home mom while the other chooses to be a child-free by choice career woman. 

Amy is the real star of this novel. Florence Pugh is way too old to play 13-year-old Amy. She sounded immature for her looks. I would have preferred a child actor. I missed Amy's malapropisms and her ladylike manners. The one scene I liked in flashback was where she got her foot stuck in the plaster. THAT comes from the book and from life. Adult Amy is a whole different woman from the Amy in the novel. We see more of Amy in Europe as she works hard to become an accomplished artist. Florence Pugh's Amy knows what she wants and isn't willing to settle. She works hard and knows her limitations. I especially liked her impassioned speech to Laurie about marriage being an economic proposition. Greta Gerwig took inspiration from other Louisa May Alcott works to give Amy an impassioned, feminist bent. Amy explores the difference between talent vs. genius in women and the double standard that allows talented men to dabble whereas women must exhibit genius to be taken seriously. That's actually my favorite scene in the movie.

I don't think Amy would actually give this speech. She only says talent isn't genius and she can't make a living painting so she'll polish up her manners and become an ornament to society. I always found Amy annoying because of this. Amy becomes more self-aware in this movie. Great Gerwig also made the love story between Laurie and Amy believable. There's an attraction on both parts and the actors have good chemistry. I always believed Laurie married Amy because he wanted to be part of the family and she married him because she loved him and wanted material comfort. The romance develops in the novel when Beth is sick and Laurie visits Amy at Aunt March's and takes Amy out but I never fully believed Amy and Laurie were ever really in love the way I do in the movie even though the driving scenes are not there. 

Concord Public Library's rare Louisa May Alcott books

Beth is a bit odd in this adaptation. She comes across as slightly creepy. Beth is afraid of everything, not just people. I didn't get shy so much as unusual. There's not enough time spent on her story. I also didn't understand why she was the youngest and not Amy. Timothée Chalamet is OK as Laurie. He didn't wow me. His performance was understated. I was not convinced that adult Laurie was a drunken lout making scenes in public. This young actor is a little too young looking to convincingly play adult Laurie. I liked him better as teenage Laurie, brother to the March sisters. Laura Dern lacks Marmee's cozy, comforting presence. I didn't really buy her as the wise, loving matron who counsels her girls. It didn't help that the scene where the girls use their money to buy Marmee Christmas gifts was cut. This Marmee is more brisk and take charge. She's effective working with the soldiers' aid society and when confronted with a sick or poor person to care for. What I especially liked about the recent PBS adaptation is that Marmee lost control when she realized Beth was going to die and how Jo had to comfort her. Laura Dern's Marmee can face down anything. She also doesn't look like she's angry all the time. Papa March is hardly in the story. I missed him. Jo becomes close to her father at the end of the novel after she returns home when Beth dies. This movie has a silly Papa March who apparently can't hold on to his money. He lacks sense. Papa March in the book is poor because he tried to help a friend in need. I suppose this is where the morality of the story is needed.

Madame Alexander Marmee doll on display at the Concord Public Library

Meryl Streep's Aunt March is a little less caustic and cranky than in the novel. She's a spinster and NOT a wealthy widowed great-aunt. That makes her character's actions and words completely different. Movie Aunt March feels a strong sense of family loyalty. She's tough on the girls, enforcing gender norms because they don't have any money. Only wealthy people can afford to be eccentric. Aunt March wants her nieces to marry well to save the family and keeps trying to impress their duty on them. I think she's softer and kinder than in the novel, more fit for a Jane Austen novel than an LMA story. I missed her parrot and I missed "Aunt March Settles the Question" the final chapter in the first edition of Little Women. 

Concord Public Library's rare Louisa May Alcott books

Mr. Laurence has a larger role here in this film. He plays a kindly, surrogate grandpa to the March girls, even being on hand when Beth becomes ill. In the book he is kindly towards them but more behind-the-scenes, knowing the family is proud and how they want to make it for themselves. Mr. Laurence's feelings about Laurie and his music are non-existent. While there are jokes about Laurie's Italian mother, there's nothing about CLASS. Class was important in the 19th-century. Mr. Laurence felt his son married beneath him. The performing arts were valued for entertainment but not considered a valuable profession and actors, singers and musicians were socially beneath the wealthy who employed them. I feel this is necessary to the story, to show why Laurie is so lonely. His grandfather doesn't understand him and pressures the lad to take over the family business. Laurie is badly in need of unconditional love and kindness and that's where the March women come in. 

Concord Public Library's rare Louisa May Alcott books

Professor Beher is basically a non-entity. He's there, he gives Jo advice about her writing, she gets mad and goes home. He returns and rush to the end. This adaptation lacks scenes with Fritz giving bear rides to the children, his nephews he's devoted to and the poor child and her mother he helps. He's such a good man and it's all gone from this adaptation. I really did not like that decision to remove all his good scenes. 

Rare Louisa May Alcott books at the Concord Public Library

Everyone is making a big deal about the changed ending but if anyone BOTHERED to read the rest of the series (they never do), they'd know Jo did not give up her writing career. She did write a bestselling novel and fans come flocking to her house to see her, which she hates. (Jo's Boys). I didn't like this blurring the lines between the novel and Louisa's life and I would have shown Jo later writing about her experiences growing up instead of the very end of the novel when she's still young.

I loved the scenery, the movie is filmed in Massachusetts, including Concord. I loved seeing Orchard House without the modern road, parking lot and throngs of tourists. It looked so cute! (It's actually a recreation).
The real Orchard House dressed up for Christmas

I LOVED that Jo and Beth share Louisa's room. I picked up on the owls and the painted walls. If you haven't been to Orchard House, you got a pretty good look at it through the movie. The locations used for Europe are stunning and the wealthy houses too. I need to do a staycation soon and visit some of these places. I also loved the quick glimpse at the engraving of Jane Austen on the wall of Plumfield school. That engraving would have been brand new at the time so I don't know if Jo would have known Jane Austen but it was there and I loved it.

Jane Austen, From a watercolour by James Andrews of Maidenhead based on an unfinished work by Cassandra Austen. Engraving by William Home Lizars, 1870.

The costumes were dreadful! I did like the heartwarmers (shawls) and the underwear. I understood Jo's mannish style of dressing but those waistcoats and pointed collars are not the styles of the 1860s. Meg's party dresses looked like mid-20th century prom dresses. I was not impressed and don't have a lot to say on the subject.

Overall, I did enjoy the movie in spite of my criticisms. I'll likely go see it again with my mom and possibly my nieces. 

Jane Austen fans will be excited to see the trailer for the new adaptation of Emma too!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week

Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark
September 22-September 28, 2019

Lightbulb holding a book. Text reads: Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the Light On.

This book is the most surprising book on the banned and challenged lists. I loved this book when I read it the first time shortly after it won the Newberry Honor. I thought it would make me cry and it didn't, fortunately. This is NOT one of those books where the dog dies! Surprisingly, this book was a gift from my 10-year-old niece who read it in school! Huzzah for her teacher for allowing kids to read this book!

Because of Winn-DixieBecause of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo--Middle Grades Fiction

I just adore this book about a lonely little girl and the ugly dog who works his way into her heart. He helps her make friends with other lonely people in town and connect with her emotionally distant Daddy. The story feels timeless- there's a brief mention of cars but it feels old-fashioned, like 1950s because of the rural Florida setting. That is what will make this book an enduring classic for generations.

I can certainly relate to India Opal and how much she loves Winn-Dixie. I fell in love with him too at the same moment Opal does when he smiles and sneezes and wags his tail. How could anyone NOT love Winn-Dixie? I like the moral message about befriending others who may be experiencing sorrow and loneliness but expressing it in negative ways. The characters are special and the adults stand out. Miss Franny Brock, the librarian who spends her days telling Opal about her past and encouraging Opal to read more. Her special candies are interesting and while I highly doubt the story could be true, the candies help bring Opal closer to the other children. Miss Gloria Dump is feared and labeled a witch because she's elderly and reclusive. She has demons in her past but certainly isn't a witch. Miss Gloria Dump is a wise and special woman. Otis, the musician who plays for animals only, is another lost soul befriended by Winn-Dixie and Opal. He's shy and sweet. I love his relationship with animals, especially Gertrude the parrot, who is the best character after Winn-Dixie!

The children are a little less memorable and more "types." Sweetie Pie, a younger girl, longs for a dog of her own. She latches on to Winn-Dixie and therefore Opal to be her friends. I sense loneliness for this little girl, hence her desire for a dog. The Dewbury brothers are stereotypical boys who taunt and tease Opal and fear Miss Gloria Dump and Amanda, the mean girl, all have their good points. This is the weak part of the story that puts it squarely in the middle-grades category.

I believe adults will enjoy this book too, for the most part. It's a good bedtime read. My sweet 10 year old niece gifted this to me after reading it in school. She knows how much I love dogs and how much I miss my childhood best friend. I had read it before and loved it. Ironically, I was going to gift it to HER this year.

Parents may object to the following:
a few "stupids" uttered by Opal about the boys
a few "retards" which I STRONGLY suggest the publisher remove if this isn't a period piece. If it's period, leave it and state the decade it's set in when that word was commonly tossed around as an insult.
recovering alcoholics
a bottle tree to keep the ghosts of the past at bay

Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week

Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark
September 22-September 28, 2019

Lightbulb holding a book. Text reads: Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the Light On.

I have read and loved numerous books which have been challenged over the years. When I was a kid I read everything in my tiny school library. I want to thank my parents, teachers and librarians for never ever restricting what I read. 

This year I read one book that was new to me and one I had read and loved before. 

Better Nate Than Ever (Better Nate Than Ever, #1)Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle--Middle Grades/Young Adult Fiction

Nate Foster lives and breathes Broadway. He's dying to become a Broadway star but in his hometown of Jankburg, Pennsylvania (outside of Pittsburgh) thirteen-year-old boys do not sing and dance. His parents don't understand, his older brother is a jock who picks on Nate, the boys at school bully Nate for being a theater geek and a late bloomer. The only person who understands is his best friend Libby. While Nate would do anything to be on Broadway, Libby would do anything for Nate and help get Nate on Broadway is her biggest dream too. When Libby hears about an open casting call fro E.T. : The Broadway Musical, Nate feels this is his one chance to shine. It's quite simple. All he has to do is 1) wait for his parents to go out of town (check), 2)lie to his older brother (check), 3) steal his mom's ATM card (check) and get on a Greyhound bus to New York and return before his parents come home. No big deal, right? Nate discovers that New York is vastly different from his small town. The one thing that remains the same is that bullies are everywhere, but Nate persists in following his dream to become a better Nate than ever!

The premise of this story is really cute. I sure could relate to Nate. When I was 13 I wanted to be on the Mickey Mouse Club in the worst possible way. I would never have been brave enough or foolish enough to run away to Orlando, plus Orlando is much farther from my home than New York is from Nate's home. I really like all the Broadway references and how the biggest flops become Nathan and Libby's curse words. I love the depiction of the weird and wonderful things about New York City and the process of auditioning for a musical. Of course, as an adult, I expected certain things to happen and largely they did but the tone is very light. I did not expect the cliffhanger, possible fairy tale ending. I didn't love a lot of language used in this book.

The writing style is a unique and I didn't quite find it to my liking. I'm not the target age and not used to reading about modern tweens and teens. I was very confused about whether this was contemporary or based on the author's childhood or what. I know it's contemporary from the Harry Potter reference but the bullies constantly use the "f" word to bully Nate because they assume he's gay and the bullying is really horrendous. I would fully expect adults of today to crack down on that and NOT let kids get away with that behavior, including using that word. All the things that happen to Nate in school are too reminiscent of my own 90s youth. Yes it makes sense for Nate's small hometown for people to be homophobic bullies but it is also used once in New York at the end of the book. I wonder if Hamilton has changed perceptions of what male Broadway performers are like? (The school bully's name is James Madison!)

I'm not sure I'd want my my nieces and nephews reading this though. On one hand, Nate is a good hero for kids who are being bullied but on the other hand, he constantly lies and breaks rules to get what he wants. Not so great. I did like how he remains cheerful and optimistic despite everything he's going through. At 13, he hasn't gone through puberty yet. His voice is high, he's short and overweight. That alone is enough to get a kid bullied but add to that his passion for musical theater in a place where no one has seen a professional Broadway performance and that is pretty much social suicide. While the bullies assume Nate is gay, Nate says he's not interested in kissing ANYONE yet so he doesn't know if he would rather kiss boys than girls. He's focused on his immediate goal and kissing will come later once he's older. He does seem to have a brief moment of self-awareness while witnessing two men kissing. (Note to Nathan: Go see Fun Home if you're in New York in 2015.)

As I mentioned, I do not like how Nate does a million and one really bad things to get what he wants. My heart breaks for him that his family is not supportive. His dad is positively awful to both Nate and Nate's mom. His parents are Christians from a small town and there's a lot they don't allow or accept. I can accept Anthony being a typical older brother and beating up on his weird kid brother but the parents trying to force Nate to be something he's not is just terrible. Nate feels he doesn't have a choice but to run away. He learns a lot about his family on his journey. His last conversation with Libby is a bit too wise for a kid of his age. It doesn't sound like Nate.

While I empathize with Nate and I do like him (but wish he wouldn't lie and steal), I really can't stand Libby. I can relate to her passion for Broadway musicals and wanting to be Nate's manager. I can't help but feel she's a bully in her own way. It was Libby who introduced Nate to Broadway musicals. What would his passion be if Libby hadn't come along? It's Libby who coaches Nate and teaches him everything he needs to know about Broadway. She encourages him to accomplish his dream no matter what. Libby lies and covers up for Nate constantly and manipulates the adults. Unlike Nate, Libby is not a late bloomer. At 12 she seems a little too interested in boys and seeing "the male form." I do not want my nieces to be friends with this girl.

The Broadway casting agency is like a grown-up version of middle school. They humiliate and bully the kids. The show business parents are equally awful in their firm belief that their precious darling is the best at EVERYTHING and Nate is not fit to wipe their shoes. The child actors are a bit standoffish and snobby towards Nate but they're all competing for the same part so it's understandable.

There are really only two likable adults in this story. Nate's estranged Aunt Heidi arrives on the scene just when he needs the most support. I feel a bit sorry for her that she's over the hill in Broadway years and her career didn't pan out the way she planned. She seems a bit... sad and pathetic but yet content and confident at the same time. She's awkward around Nate at first but I think she shows a lot of compassion and warmth towards him that her own sister can't/won't show. Their story is rather sad. Freckles is the only other adult who helps Nathan. Freckles provides Nathan with a "cool" (gay) male role model and supportive friend. Nate needs a friend like Freckles. At 13 Nate isn't a little kid and he's been going through a tough time. He needs someone older who's been there done that and understands and who will listen.

This book has both won awards AND been banned and challenged! The author's visit to his own middle school was canceled for fear of parental backlash. I encourage people to read about kids like Nate or watch Glee and other similar shows. Do not avoid this book fearing "gay" content because there really isn't any and it's incidental to the story. Nate is who he is and who he will be remains to be seen. It's a book about a boy with a dream and a passion who will do anything to achieve his dream. If you're going to ban this book do it because of all the lies the kids tell and stealing Mom's ATM card!

Recommended for ages 13+ possibly more mature 11-12 year olds as well.

Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week

Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark
September 22-September 28, 2019

Lightbulb holding a book. Text reads: Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the Light On.

I have read and loved numerous books which have been challenged over the years. When I was a kid I read everything in my tiny school library. I want to thank my parents, teachers and librarians for never ever restricting what I read. 

This year I read not just books that are banned or challenged but started by reading a book about banning books. 

Property of the Rebel LibrarianProperty of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes-- Middle Grades Fiction

Seventh-Grader June Harper is more of a band geek than a rebel. She accepts her parents' strict rules: no dating, no cell phones, G-rated movies, early bedtimes, band practice after school. Mr. and Mrs. Harper have been extra hyper focused on June ever since her older sister Kate left for college. June looks forward to visiting the school library every day before school when the librarian, Ms. Bradshaw, helps June choose a new book. June loves reading more than anything. She loves being taken away to worlds that don't exist outside the imagination, meeting new people and learning new ideas. Which is why it comes as a horrible shock when her parents forbid her from reading a book they deem inappropriate. What's worse is when they learn June got the book from the school library! The Harpers take away June's books and force the school to confront their policies on reading material. Ms. Bradshaw is put on leave and the school enacts new rules about approved reading. June is miserable! As days goes by without the school returning books, June becomes more and more miserable, despite the coolest boy in 8th grade wanting to date her. Then she discovers a Little Free Library in her community and suddenly reading is fun again. It turns out June isn't the only middle schooler who misses the library and she becomes the Rebel Librarian, a superhero helping kids subvert the rules in the name of freedom to read. How long can she keep it up before she's caught and what happens then?

5 stars for the message about freedom to read! Minus a star for the boy drama and lack of authentic boy voice.

The plot is gripping. I could not put this book down. I was right there with June feeling everything she felt. I was appalled at the actions of the parents, administration and school board. You think that could never happen in real life but I'm certain the story is based on different schools around the country that have tried these draconian tactics. I wanted to stand up and cheer for Joan at the end. I did not like the boy drama at all. Middle School boys are a)not that cool, b)don't talk like these characters or act like these characters and c)don't like girls their own age (unless boys have changed a lot since I was a kid). I also don't think the boy drama was necessary to the plot. It teaches kids how to choose the right partner but it also skews the audience older.

I want to pause and say thank you to my parents and teachers for never ever censoring what I read! The only comment I've ever gotten "What are you reading?!" from my Dad came when I was in my 30s and reading an old CLEAN Regency romance because the lame publisher wanted to make the cover titillating and of course the dress styles of the day show lots of bosom. I'm proud to have read many of the books on June's list and many others that have been banned and challenged. I wasn't even aware some of these books had been banned. I will provide a list at the end.

June is my superhero! She's a great kid. I'm not sure I would be so brave. I would just go to the public library or decide that if the books are deemed inappropriate I won't like them. That us, until I learned her parents censored Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1) by L.M. Montgomery ! (yes, seriously! Why? Because Anne serves Diana red current wine at tea and gets Diana drunk.) Then it would be full on rebel! Like June, I don't understand banning books the kids have already read! While I do think it's up to each child's parents to determine what that child reads, I don't understand why the parents didn't pre-read books before giving them to her and why they chose to censor books they HAD read. Some of these books were written for their age group and are enormously popular. Other books are classics and considered "quality literature." I would be so proud of June if she were my daughter! She's smart, brave and a good kid. Ms. Bradshaw is also my hero. A newly minted librarian, she has made a huge difference in June's life and is a nurturing adult who can be a mentor and friend without the uncoolness of being a parent.

The principal is weak and caves in to ONE set of parents who are very involved in the school. The school then turns into a totalitarian regime, which is ironic because the Honors English class is reading The Crucible, which is in fact not about the Salem Witch Trials of 400 years ago but about events that happened only 60ish years ago. The principal doesn't seem to know what the play is about or it would not be allowed! The PTSA doesn't seem to include the S- the students but randomly makes decisions based on what June's dad says. The school board is completely awful. They're anonymous adults who are for the establishment. This is a weak part in the novel but the end shows that the adults are not ALL 2D drones working for the man.

The other kids are all either super awesome or really awful. Boys have come between June and her bff Emma. Emma is interested in Matt but she sure seems interested in Graham too and Graham is showing interest in June. Emma's behavior towards June is pretty awful, especially when the boys are around. I was surprised at the reason June listed for why she chose to hang out with Emma in the first place. Graham is a spoiled rich kid, a former bad boy who wants to reform because his parents have bribed him. I think he's interested in June because she's a good girl who will go a long way to rehabbing his image. Like June I think he comes across as too slick and his jokes aren't funny. Graham is not someone I would want to date. Matt, on the other hand, is a very nice boy. When he's older he'll be a swoony hero in his own romance someday but for now he does NOT sound like a middle school boy!

Minor characters include Abby Rodriguez, an older girl who would never look twice at June. Abby is really cool and I like her a lot. Madison, June's former bff, now frenemy, is justified in holding a grudge against June but she is apparently rude to everyone. I feel kind of sorry for her and feel she could be a cool, edgy character. Colby is another unrealistic cool boy who loves to read.

Overall, I find this book is a must read for tweens and adults. Read it together and figure out an understanding. Parents, you have to trust your kids and the adults who look after them at school.

I don't know why this town doesn't have a public library. They could have gotten all or most of these books at the public library unless their parents cut up their library cards.

June's Library

The Crossover
Six of Crows
Doll Bones
Blubber *
Poppy Mayberry, The Monday
Sticks & Stones
Matilda *
Because of Winn-Dixie *
Better Nate Than Ever *
The Graveyard Book
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library
The Outsiders
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
A Snicker of Magic
Number the Stars *
Bridge to Terabithia *
The Lightning Thief
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone *
Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
Goosebumps Boxed Set
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry *
Wolf Hollow
Brown Girl Dreaming


other titles mentioned

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Beezus and Ramona
Lily and Dunkin
Old Yeller
The Crucible
Anne of Green Gables
Junie B. Jones Boxed Set
The Little Prince
The Hobbit or There and Back Again
The Velveteen Rabbit

Banned Books Week 2019

Banned Books Week

Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark
September 22-September 28, 2019

Lightbulb holding a book. Text reads: Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the Light On.

Last week (September 22-28) was Banned Books Week. Banned Books Week: Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark September 22-September 28, 2019 Books have been banned since the beginning of the printing press and continue to be banned today. Why are books banned? Banned Books Week honors books which have been banned and challenged across the country. Many books have been challenged for various reasons, such as witchcraft (Harry Potter) or difficult topics (To Kill a Mockingbird). It's against the principles of the American Library Association Code of Ethics to physically prevent readers from access to information. Banned Books Week upholds the Code of Ethics all librarians agree to. Banning books challenges Americans first amendment rights. Only you (or your parents, if you are a minor) have the right to decide what you can read. ALA's List of Frequently Challenged Books 

 Facts on banned books from Yahoo: 

  •  1982: The year the ALA celebrated the first Banned Books Week.
  •  1990: The first year the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom began gathering statistics about banned books. 
  •   4,312: The number of challenges received by American libraries between 2001 and 2009. According to the American Library Association's definition, a challenge is a formal and written complaint requesting that a book be removed from shelves because of objectionable content
  • 1,502: The number of challenges tabulated between 2001 and 2009 that occurred in classroom settings.
  •  451: The temperature in degrees Fahrenheit that book paper catches fire and burns. Ray Bradbury used that scientific factoid to write "Fahrenheit 451," a novel about a futuristic society in which reading is discouraged. In today's world, some people who challenge books often stage book burnings in public places. 
  •  69: "Fahrenheit 451's" ranking on the ALA's "Top 100 Challenged/Banned Books: 2000-2009"  
  • 1979: The year that Katherine Patterson's young adult novel "The Great Gilly Hopkins" received both the Newberry Honor Award and the National Book Award. 
  •  20: "The Great Gilly Hopkins" ranking on the ALA's "Top 100 most frequently challenged books: 1990-1999." Most of the challenges are due to the character of Gilly Hopkins, a foster child who frequently uses the words "damn" and "hell".
  •  65 million: Estimated number of books sold by prolific author Judy Blume. In 2005, Dr. Rick Schneider banned Blume's ground-breaking young-adult novel "Forever" from the shelves of the Pasadena Independent School District. 
  •  4: The number of voyages taken by the title character in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (Gulliver's final voyage took him to a world of talking horses who ruled over humans called Yahoos). Swift's book was banned in Ireland in 1726 for obscenity and wickedness.
  •  In 2017 there was a 17% increase in book censorship complaints in 2016. The actual number is likely much higher because most challenges are not reported. 
While only 10% of the titles reported are normally removed from the institutions receiving the challenges. Half of the most frequently challenged books were actually banned last year
The official banned books site provides more information and lists events by state. To see lists of books which have been banned and challenged visit 

A Google search for "Surprisngly Banned Books" will bring up more 

Need more info? 

There are more lists and information at a American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Read Beyond Her Book Booksellers Urged to Participate in Banned Books Week 
Other resources to celebrate: Knowledge Quest 

What would you say to your favorite banned author? How has a banned book impacted your life? Have you ever been censored?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Graphic Classics Volume 18: Louisa May Alcott (Graphic Classics)
Graphic Classics Volume 18: Louisa May Alcott 

This book contains a very abridged version of Little Women (both parts). This volume also contains some of Louisa's gothic and horror stories as well as poems and moral tales for children. It's an odd mix but I suppose as a sampler of Louisa's writing it may be interesting to teens.This volume was not at all my thing. The best part that saves this from being a total dud is that it uses some of Louisa's actual prose!

"Little Women", adapted for comics by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Anne Timmons is pretty thin. It skips a LOT of the plot, including Jo's hasty temper and Marmee's wise counsel, in favor of the romance and drama. yuck. T I did like how the adaptor used Louisa's own words to tell the story. The illustrations are dreadful-more mid-20th century than 19th.

"The Rival Prima Donnas, by Rod Lott and Molly Crabapple, is one of my favorite of Louisa's lesser known tales. It's dark and twisted but oh so good. Being Louisa, there IS a moral to the tale hidden in there somewhere: beauty and fame fade and love lasts forever. Also - don't kill anyone. The illustrations are weird and make the people look like creepy dolls.

"Buzz" adapted by Tom Pomplun with art by Mary Fleener is an odd little story I've never read before about Louisa's friendship with a fly. It's strange but it fits Louisa. Is this part of a larger work? The illustrations don't look like Louisa but they're halfway decent except when her face is in shadows.

"The Piggy Girl" adapted by Tom Pomplun and illustrations by Shary Flenniken is my favorite story in this collection. It's very much a moral tale for the young but not as didactic as some of her other stories. It's fun and funny. Too bad about the lame ending. The illustrations are cute and appropriate for a children's story.

"Lost in a Pyramid" by Alex Burrows and Pedro Lopez is a gothic horror story. The moral is don't mess with mummy's. I've never read this one before or it didn't stick out in my memory. It doesn't stand out from the other tales at all. The illustrations are creepy.

"The Lay of the Golden Goose" illustrated by Lisa K. Weber is by far the most important piece in this volume. It seems like a straightforward fairy tale like "The Ugly Duckling" but on closer inspection it's actually about Louisa and her writing. "rare birds have always been evoked from transcendental nests" says a lot about Louisa's feelings about herself and her family. It reveals how Louisa felt about her writing and the fame that followed. This is a great poem for understanding Louisa better. The illustrations are not my favorite but look like 19th century people.

Back to the gothic with "A Whisper in the Dark" by Antonella Caputo and Arnold Arre. At first it seems like a romance with a very saucy, willful young heroine. Digging deeper the dark tale actually reveals Louisa's proto-feminist side! She reveals thoughts on marriage (love only) and tossing women into insane asylums (men do it to get their hands on the woman's money). The plucky heroine grew on me but the drama in between was too much for me to want to read the whole thing. The illustrations are nice enough to be an animated TV show.

Comic books aren't really my thing. I was expecting a graphic novel of Little Women for young adults. This is worth perusing for some of the more rare gems and an insight into Louisa's mind but not worth looking at for literary or artistic merit.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Louisa May Alcott Summer Reading Challenge Review

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still MattersMeg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux -- Non-fiction

Anne Boyd Rioux examines the life of Louisa May Alcott and her seminal classic novel Little Women and questions whether the story is still relevant for modern readers. (She argues that it is).

Section I, "The Making of a Classic", provides a brief biography of Louisa and how she came to write the novel. I didn't learn anything new there but when the discussion turned to the different editions of the novel and the illustrations featured within, I was more interested. It would be fun to collect each illustrated edition. Even though the author argues that later illustrators prettied up the Marches and turned them into fashion plates, my favorite illustrations are by Jessie Wilcox Smith.
Jessie Willcox Smith - Little Women
I missed the omission of Tasha Tudor's illustrated edition of the novel.

"The Life of a Classic," discusses the adaptations on stage and screen. It was interesting to see the parts of the novel that each direction chose to emphasize. I did not know about some of the very early productions and how many TV and movie adaptations there have been over the years. The author completed the book before the newest miniseries aired on PBS and before the Greta Gerwig movie was announced.

Chapter 5 of this section was my favorite. Rioux examines Little Women's literary and cultural influences. I think my TBR list is going to be increased exponentially! I do think the author stretches a bit with some of them. I don't think every work about women and female friendships is influenced by Little Women. What would Louisa make of Sex in the City?

The final section of the book, entitled "A Classic for Today" has chapters titled "A private book for girls: Can boys read Little Women?", "Being Someone: Growing Up Female with Little Women" and "Wanting to be Rory, but better. Little Women and Girls' Stories Today." These sections discuss how Little Women went from being a book for everyone to a book just for girls to one that isn't read much or taught in schools. I don't agree with Rioux's arguments. Rioux clearly finished her analysis before "The Great American Read" so people DO still read it and love it. I think the real issue here is timing. The book appeals most to children but the reading level is too advanced for the age group that would enjoy the novel. It also has to compete with a more kid-centric world: YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, video games all cater to children, not to mention kids have more required school work, homework, after school activities/daycare/camp and less emphasis on the arts and humanities. I do think kids should read the book on their own because the fastest way to get them to hate it is to make them read it in school! I also think readers need to understand the context behind the novel to truly appreciate it.

What surprised me was how the second wave feminists in the 1970s dismissed the book because it focused on marriage and the only feminist character, Jo, gives up her ideal career for marriage and motherhood. Not exactly and anyone who loves the novel will immediately want to read the sequels and Jo is way herself than Anne Shirley. Anne gives up writing all together and becomes a stranger to readers who loved her childhood mishaps and her dream of being a writer. Can boys read Little Women too? Sure why not. Laurie is bound to appeal to boys and I think they would like Jo too. I don't see my older nephew ever reading anything so slow or so much about girls but I could see my younger nephew enjoying it. He has a sister and cousins all close in age and can relate to the story about the importance of family.

I really disliked the author's assessment of Gilmore Girls. That section wasn't entirely necessary. The show is witty and filled with literary allusions and the parallel is a bit stretched in my opinion.

The writing style is accessible enough to be read by readers who don't read a lot of non-fiction. I think fans of the novel, Louisa May Alcott, Little Woman and women's fiction/stories would enjoy perusing this book.