Problematic Classics and Contemporary Solutions

 You ever go back to a book or a movie that you loved as a kid, and just as you’re getting into it again, suddenly you’re sideswiped by something that makes you cringe? I’m not talking about convoluted plots or lackluster acting. I’m talking about the moment you realize that this thing you loved so much is racist. Or contains any number of outdated and harmful perspectives towards people of different faith, ability, skin gender, sex, orientation, or level of income.
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Many of us have warm fuzzy feelings associated with classics that are deeply problematic. And listen: that is fine. Every reader has the right to read and enjoy the books of their choosing. And I’m certainly not advocating that we should ditch these items from our home collections or our public shelves. That would be censorship, and librarians aren’t cool with that.  However, once we as readers become aware that something is potentially harmful, we then have the responsibility to remove or mitigate that harm. That’s why we have big bold warnings on cigarette packaging, and why our normal lives ground to a halt a few months ago in the face of a deadly pandemic. So, how do we handle problematic books? To read, or not to read? There are strong arguments for both sides, and there’s no one right way.  It’s a challenge to provide an age-appropriate context to our kids when we adults are still trying to educate ourselves about our country’s history.
And  if we do want to include some of these books with outdated perspectives in our reading,  it might be helpful to choose additional books to read as a “counterbalance”, to better reflect the world in which our young readers currently live. To help with these decisions, here are some problematic classics and contemporary solutions.
One more note before we delve in: the idea of a Classic Book or any canon of literature, is a construct. We made it up. Classics were decided by people with loud voices: people with access to good education, good jobs, stable finances, and influential social circles. (And yes, this usually means white men, as well as folks who received the endorsement of white men.) Now, in 2020, we have the unprecedented ability to not only hear those voices that have been historically quiet, but also to amplify them to a level that they deserve. We get to determine for ourselves what books, movies, and other artifacts of culture are truly important enough to wear the label of “classic” and pass on to our children.
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The Classic: Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Problem: Wilder’s unsympathetic portrayal of Native Americans. A character says at one point, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” I’m not sure if that’s before or after Pa participates in a minstrel show, but oh yeah, that’s in there, too.
The Solution: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
The first book in the five-book series following Omakayas through her daily life as an Ojibwa girl near present-day Lake Superior in the 1840s. Voracious readers who love strong female leads, history, and slice-of-life stories will devour these books with enthusiasm.
Another Solution: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Park loved the Little House books as a child, and this story of a half-Chinese girl who settles with her family in the Dakota territory reflects the spirit of those pioneer tales while addressing their shortcomings.
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The Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Problem: While the story of Atticus Finch fighting against injustice and racism is a much-loved classic for adults and kids alike, it filters the story of a black man through a white lens. Black characters, who are often portrayed with negative stereotypes, don’t get to tell their own story.
The Solution: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A contemporary story of racism, violence, and injustice from the perspective of those who live it. Starr, a teenage girl with a strong family guiding her way, discovers her own power and her own voice. (Sound familiar?) With a story of police brutality and protests, it’s also a setting that will resonate with teens who are seeing it in their news feeds on a daily basis.
Another Solution: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
This Newbery Medal winner also centers on a young black female protagonist and explores racism and injustice, but like Mockingbird, it’s set in mid-1930s Jim Crow deep south.
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The Classic: If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss

The Problem: Stereotyped portrayals of African and Asian ethnicities, plus it includes the idea that a non-white person could be on display in a zoo. There are plenty of other subtle and not-so-subtle instances of racist caricatures in the Seuss lineup.
The Solution: Ada Twist, Scientist written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Ada Twist is a curious little girl bound to become a scientist, and this book takes readers slyly through the scientific process, leading them along with a strong rhyming structure and a distinctive illustration style. It’s fun and funny, and when you’re done with Ada, there’s Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect.
Another Solution: Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This picture book revolves around a boy, a grandmother, and a bus ride. It’s simply told and simply illustrated, but this winner of the Newbery Award, Caldecott Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor has already become a new classic. And don’t make this your last stop: also check out de la Peña’s tear-jerker Love, and Robinson’s wordless reality-bender Another.
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The Classic: The Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Problem: The Berenstain Bears mirror a stereotypical homogeneous nuclear family: one boy, one girl, one stay-at-home mom who rules the house with an iron claw and dispenses moral proclamations while wearing a housedress, and a bumbling dad who needs more parenting than the kids. All the same species/color, I might add. Maybe some families looked like this, once upon a time in a land far away, but this is not what they look like now. Women have jobs, men contribute more to housework and parenting, and families are more diverse than ever with blended families, single parents, same-sex parents, and mixed-race  families. Speaking of race, children’s publishing has a huge problem with diversity, and a sobering report from 2018 showed that bears, rabbits, and other anthropomorphized critters were depicted in children’s books more than all non-white races combined. The beloved bears aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re not really relevant, either.
The Solution: Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari is a little boy whose dad takes care of him and his sister, and Dad offers light but steady support as his son learns how to face his fears on his own. And keep your eye our for Jabari’s return in a second book slated for release this fall!
Another Solution: Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems
Okay, okay, so you want your beginning reader to sink their teeth into a massive series of books, and they’re a sucker for animals. Best friends Elephant and Piggie explore the nuances of patience, sharing, including friends of differing abilities, and generally being a good friend, but they’re more fun and way less heavy-handed than the bear family.

7 Full-Cast Audiobooks that are like theater for your ears

Did you know that June is Audiobook Month? There’s no denying the increasing popularity of audiobooks. And within the format, there are many different styles of narration to be had. To use a food analogy,  while the author creates the original recipe, the narrator is responsible for presenting the finished meal in the most appetizing way possible. Most often, a single narrator takes on the task of bringing a story to life, but occasionally a story lends itself to a more theatrical telling, and that’s when a full cast narration can be so much fun.

Full cast recordings can often take on the feel of an old-fashioned radio show, and the best ones are like listening to a Broadway play. If you’re missing the experience of attending the theater,  try one of these full-cast audiobooks that are almost as good as a trip to the theater.  They’re available for Cheshire Library cardholders from RBdigital.

1. The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, starting with The Golden Compass. The author, himself an excellent narrator, anchors these stories, with a full cast assuming all the speaking roles. It’s outstanding, and the full cast makes it easy to distinguish between the many characters that populate this series.

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The original American full dramatization as broadcast on National Public Radio, this really is the recording of a radio show. Bilbo Baggins, a gentle hobbit who loves the comforts of home, reluctantly joins a company of dwarves on a journey to recover plundered gold from a fierce dragon.

3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.  The author acts as narrator, with an all-star supporting cast. Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, David Sedaris, Susan Sarandon, Bill Hader, and 160 more cast members breath life into the  story of President Lincoln spending a night of mourning at the crypt of his eleven-year-old son.

4. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Gallant. This sci-fi/thriller/fantasy/historical/mystery about a  shadowy government agency–the Department of Diachronic Operations – and the discovery that magic was once real and could be again, comes alive with a “magical’ cast of narrators.

5. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Fans of the true-crime genre will devour this fictional tale that explores the events and characters surrounding by the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley. The cast of characters are vividly portrayed by a terrific group of narrators.

6. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This audiobook chronicles the rise and fall of a fictional rock band in the 1970s, and boasts an impressive cast of narrators, including Jennifer Beals, Benjamin Bratt, and Judy Greer, among others.

7. Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce. Narrated by the author and fleshed out by a talented cast of character actors, the first book in Pierce’s wonderful Circle of Magic series introduces the listener to four young misfits with a talent for magic, and is a treat for all ages.

 

Books for Pride Month at CPL

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBTQ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

The library has an opportunity to be an advocate for library patrons in a number of ways, including the collections they offer. In celebration of Pride Month, we’re  highlighting four outstanding YA novels with LGTBQ themes, characters, and ideas.

First up is, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. The story follows Aristotle, an angry teen with a brother in prison.. and Dante, a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. Aristotle and Dante is relatable to all ages, and a breath of fresh air to the YA genre. Everyone can remember being a teen, and this book is fantastic, no matter your age, or experience.

Next up is Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli, the same author of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah is an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon. So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended. Albertalli’s voice as a writer shines strong, and her characters are beautifully written well-rounded characters.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is a book about loving yourself, and being loved for who you truly are. Meredith Russo was born, raised, and lives in Tennessee. She started living as her true self in late 2013 and never looked back. If I Was Your Girl was partially inspired by her experiences as a trans woman. Like Amanda, Meredith is a gigantic nerd who spends a lot of her time obsessing over video games and Star Wars. Amanda is the main character in the book, and a new girl at school. Like everyone, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is holding back. Even from Grant, the guy she’s falling in love with. Amanda has a secret. At her old school, she used to be called Andrew. And secrets always have a way of getting out. If I Was Your Girl is important, eye-opening, thought-provoking and emotional, and a book needed in this day and age. 

Our fourth book, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender is a brand new release, focusing on the story of Felix Love. Felix has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone.  As he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.  A quote from the book sums it up perfectly, stating ““I’m not flaunting anything. I’m just existing. This is me. I can’t hide myself. I can’t disappear. And even if I could, I don’t want to. I have the same right to be here. I have the same right to exist.”

 

Check out Sync Audiobooks for Teens – Now available through Cheshire Public Library

Sync Audiobooks are now available through the Cheshire Public Library for young adults and teens! SYNC is a free summer audiobook program for teens 13+. Returning April 30th and continuing 13 weeks until July 29,  SYNC gives participants two thematically paired audiobooks for free each week.   You can download these titles through Sora, the student reading app available through Overdrive, available on multiple different platforms, including Android, Apple, and tablets.

This is a great opportunity to keep teens reading during the summer, and to encourage a lifelong love of reading! Different free audiobooks are available every week, so if you’re not interested in what’s available for one week, just wait a week and try again. For the week of May 21st, there’s a mix of genres available to download. First up is Sister’s Matsumoto by Philip Kan Gotanda. Described as “Three Japanese-American sisters return to their California farm in 1945, after years in an internment camp. But the once prosperous family finds it’s not easy to pick up the pieces of their former lives.”  It’s a great title for those who are interested in historical fiction, and stories with strong female characters.

Next up is Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork, a mystery of criminal intrigue with  characters who are drawn up into a web of lies. The book description: “Four months ago… Sara Zapata’s best friend disappeared, kidnapped by the web of criminals who terrorize Juarez. Four hours ago… Sara received a death threat – and, with it, a clue to the place where her friend is locked away. Four weeks ago… Emiliano Zapata fell in love with Perla Rubi, who will never be his so long as he’s poor. Four minutes ago… Emiliano got the chance to make more money than he ever dreamed – just by joining the web. In the next four days, Sara and Emiliano will each face impossible choices, between life and justice, friends and family, truth and love.”

This is just a taste of the books that Sync offers, and if you’re not interested in any of these, just wait another week! This program will be going until July 29th, for a total of 26 titles. Each week has a different mood, one week mysteries, the next romance, so there’s plenty for everyone. Below is the full calendar of titles, so you can see what’s coming up next.

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If you’re worried about school ending and summer slide, this is a great way to combat the fear of learning ending when the school year ends. Encouraging a consistent love of reading and learning is a great way to keep your teens reading and discussing books throughout the summer months.

Need help downloading?  Our Librarians are working remotely to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We are still available by email or phone Monday through Friday between 9am and 5pm to answer your questions, help you download digital materials, or resolve issues with your library account.

Think eBooks are just for adults? Think again!

As we venture through weeks of social isolation, more people are turning to ebooks to get new reading material. With libraries and bookstores closed, physical books are a bit harder to come by these days.  Kids are feeling the pinch, too, but many parents are now realizing that their libraries offer more digital items for kids than they originally thought.

Here at Cheshire Library, we’ve been redirecting some of our physical book budget to buy more ebooks and downloadable audiobooks, for all age groups. This isn’t as simple as it sounds, since downloadable books cost up 4x the price of physical books, and come with many other restrictions (read more about that here), but we are proud of the wide selection of digital titles we can offer our cardholders.  Are you a Cheshire resident without a library card? You can register for a temporary card online to start using our digital platforms.

Our OverDrive/Libby platform has over 2000 juvenile titles, from simple picture books to more challenging chapter books. The OverDrive Kids Page is a good place to start exploring this collection.

 

There are hundreds more children’s ebook titles on RBdigital:

 

Not to mention audiobooks:

 

Tumblebooks has also provided free access to their streaming collection of children’s books through August 31. You’ll find tons of picture books, easy readers, and chapter books for all ages and interests:

  • Tumblebooks: Username: tumble735  Password: books (expires 8/31/20)
  • Tumblemath: Username: tumble2020  Password: A3b5c6 (expires 8/31/20)
  • Teen Book Cloud: Username: tumble2020  Password: A3b5c6 (expires 8/31/20)

If your kids are running out of new things to read, please take a look at our digital collections for kids to tide you over until the library is up and running again!