Fixed Navigation Bar

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read - Banned Books Week

Every year I create a “Celebrate Your Freedom to Read” display at the library for Banned Books Week, and every year I hear the same incredulous responses: “This book was banned? Why?” Many books we consider classics were at some point challenged and/or removed from public access. Content as seemingly innocuous as females in leadership roles (The Wizard of Oz) or talking animals (Winnie the Pooh) have been deemed offensive and occasionally resulted in popular books being withheld.

Libraries across the country see Banned Books Week as an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to providing free and open access to information. Public libraries strive to facilitate access to diverse viewpoints and ideas. Sometimes we are not beyond enticing reluctant readers to open a book by reminding them that we now have the privilege of choosing to read books which were once branded forbidden fruit.

My earliest memory of book censorship involves Maurice Sendak’s picture book In the Night Kitchen, which was challenged during my childhood, because the tyke in the story “falls out of his clothes” during his adventure. Hearing of this controversy made me want to check out the book; I was chagrinned to find that my local public library had “solved” the problem by painting diapers on the little boy, marring the Caldecott Honor illustrations.

While perusing lists of challenged books, I’m always freshly surprised to see so many personal favorites. I adored Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson as a tween because of the strong imaginative friendship between two main characters. The plot involves the death of a central character; this appears to be the content most often objected to. However, like many tween readers, I loved Paterson’s books precisely because the of “real life” problems that made the stories more realistic and meaningful.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom maintains a list of the most frequently challenged books for each year. Visit the ALA website for the 2014 list of frequently challenged books, including the reasons usually cited for objecting to the content. There is also a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books by decade. See how many of your favorites – or not-so-favorites – made the lists! Banned Books Week runs from September 27 through October 3 this year. 

-Suzanne LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Forgotten Classic: The Ginger Tree

Editor’s Note - The clash of cultures between East and West has been the subject of many award-winning novels, including last year’s winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Flanagan’s novel depicts the horrific experiences of prisoners tasked with building the Thai-Burma death railroad during the Second World War and the struggles of both prisoners and guards to make sense of those events later in life. Fans of the work may want to explore a gentler, kinder exploration of this theme in Oswald Wynd’s forgotten classic, The Ginger Tree. See the short-list for this year's Man Booker prize, announced last week, here. The winner will be named in October.

When the novel opens, Mary MacKenzie, a young Scottish girl, is aboard the ship SS Mooldera en route to China to marry a British foreign officer whom she barely knows. The world unfolds before her naïve eyes bit by bit. First she observes life on the ship with its panorama of human behaviors and opinions and later Peking, as she reaches her destination with husband-to-be waiting on the dock. As the months pass, she is left hollow and disillusioned by the social scene, her marriage and the birth of their first child. As the reality of her life sinks in, she sees that though her present situation has an exotic setting, the restrictions are just as real and numbing as the rigors of her Scottish upbringing.

One morning, when she and her infant daughter are on holiday away from her absent husband, she walks alone on a path above the sea. Coming into a clearing, her restlessness is suddenly stilled by the sight of a Japanese warrior in meditation at the edge of the cliff. The samurai and Mary's yearnings collide forcefully. Though her actions are deliberate, she doesn't contemplate the consequences of her passion. They are dire. Mary is expelled from China by her tyrannical husband, forcing her to leave her young daughter behind. Under the sponsorship of Kentaro, the Japanese warrior, she seeks a new life in Japan for herself.

The book is written in a format of letters and journal entries, depicting the life of Mary MacKenzie as she navigates the turbulent waters of being a woman, single mother and foreigner in a Far Eastern country in the early 1900s. Her adventures include tsunamis, social ostracism, business ventures, missionaries and activists and all play out with the ominous notes of World War I and II in the background. Above the clamor is the steady watchful eye of Kentaro, who keeps firm fingers on the pulse of her life, emerging from time to time like the mystery he is.

The novel is a love story first and foremost - love of a man and woman, love of country, love of tradition, love of independence. It is a lens of history through which we see fierce passion and a determination to persevere despite the resounding clash of cultures. Mary MacKenzie, with a low bow, gives us a poignant treatise of the heart.

-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What We're Reading: Behind the Scenes with TE

If you haven't yet noticed, we have a special What We're Reading section for you this month, brought to you by our very talented TE staff members. "TE?” You ask. “What branch is this?” Our Technical Operations department, located in the Chantilly Regional Library building, does all of the behind-the-scenes work to get Fairfax County Public Library’s books on branch shelves.

Fairfax County Public Library has nearly 500,000 registered cardholders with a variety of interests and needs. Yet this small department does all the ordering, cataloging, labeling, packaging, interlibrary loans and shipping work for all 23 of our branches. They order, catalog and process all formats of materials: printed books, books on CD, eBooks, eAudiobooks, Large Print books and coordinate all of the databases available through the Library. From online SAT study guides to the latest best-seller, from children's boardbooks to the latest Folger edition of Shakespeare, they do it all. Thousands of new books pass through their the Tech Ops office each year. So who better to ask for popular book recommendations? These are the titles that have currently caught their attention.

Check out their favorites at What We're Reading: Fall 2015

-Ginger Hawkins, PH