Tag: controversy


Module 14: Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

December 9th, 2012 — 11:52am

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is a free verse novel told through five teenaged narrators, all of whom are struggling with various sexual and drug related experiences. It was published in 2009.

SUMMARY

The book follows the experiences of five teenagers and is told through free verse poetry:

Eden — Eden has been raised in a religious family, Pentecostal, by extremely religious parents. She is in love with a boy named Andrew, but she knows that her parents will not approve; not only that, but her parents won’t allow her to date until she’s ready to be married. She dates him secretly — she’s sixteen and he’s nineteen, and she knows that her parents won’t hesitate to press statutory charges against him if they find out. Andrew and Eden go out one night and Eden tells Andrew that she loves him. Andrew tells her that he loves her as well, so much so that he wants “to take from you what I’ve no right to take.”

Eden’s parents find out about the relationship and assume that Eden is being possessed by the Devil. I mean, obviously. They send her to a camp called Tears of Zion for wayward youth. It’s not a very great place and she is mistreated through work and being kept in captivity. She begins having sex with a worker named Jerome in exchange for food and shampoo, and in hopes that he’ll eventually help her escape.

She manages to escape with Jerome and while at a gas station, she ditches him. She prostitutes herself to truckers for money and rides until she gets to a youth home that serves as a refuge for kids in similar situations. She emails Andrew’s mother and Andrew is glad to hear that she’s alive, as no one has told him anything about where she’s been.

Seth — Seth is a closeted homosexual; he has always known that he’s different, but he can’t come out since his mother died of cancer a year previously; his mother also had very conservative views of sex, having once said that his sixteen year old cousin who got pregnant was “a whore.” His father has said homophobic things in the past, so Seth lives with his secret: not only is he gay, but their priest had taken advantage of him as a child.

However, Seth is lonely and a hormonal teenager, so he posts on Internet personal ad and drives to Louisville and meets Loren; he wasn’t looking for a hookup, but gets to know Loren and falls in love with him. Loren introduces him to a cultural life that Seth doesn’t experience in Indiana.

However, Loren ends his relationship with Seth at around the time that Seth’s dad finds out that Seth is gay and kicks him out of the house. He ends up moving in with Carl, a man he’d met at a bar, and moves to Las Vegas with him. While in Vegas, Seth hooks up with a guy that he met in the gym; shortly after Carl reveals to Seth that it was a test — he paid the guy to act as bait to see if Seth would fall for him and he kicks Seth out. Seth resorts to escort sites on the internet to find new guys to live with.

Whitney — Whitney lives completely in the shadow of her sister, Kyra. She acknowledges that her mother loves her sister more and that Kyra does everything better. Needless to say, Whitney and her mother don’t get along. They live in Santa Cruz, California, and Whitney’s father works in San Francisco. Her family is mostly absent in her life, and she therefore seeks attention and affection from anyone who will give her the time of day.

Whitney is dating a boy, Lucas, who she’s in love with but has remained abstinent, due to the fear of venereal diseases and possible pregnancy. Whitney and Lucas meet at Kyra’s school choir concert and bond when he is the first person to ever tell Whitney that Kyra is a bitch. Lucas is three years older than Whitney — eighteen to her fifteen, and he introduces her to pot and kissing.

Whitney sleeps with Lucas and, in typical teenage boy fashion, he dumps her soon after. She moves with a friend, Bryn, to Las Vegas with his family, and soon starts sleeping with him. However, it’s soon revealed that he deceived her in order to get her to fall in love with him and starts using her for sex, forcing her to have sex with other people while he records it, and introduces her to harder drugs, to which she’s soon addicted. Whitney overdoses and lands in the hospital; her mother, father, and sister come to visit, but they’re still self-involved and don’t understand their roles in her problems.

Ginger — Ginger’s mother (though she insists on being called Iris) has had many boyfriends during Ginger’s life because of what she calls her “womanly needs” by what Ginger refers to as an “overinflated sex drive.” Iris has six kids by five different fathers and is addicted to all sorts of drugs — booze, pills, whatever. Iris supports her children through prostitution, which Ginger knows about. They’re living with Iris’s mother, Gram, for now, who is more of a mother to the kids than Iris.

One of Ginger’s brother is in a motorcycle accident and is in the hospital. While Gram goes to visit him, one of Iris’s boyfriends rapes Ginger — Ginger finds out that Iris is selling her to these men; not only is Iris prostituting herself, but her daughter now, too. This is the final straw for Ginger: she steals Iris’s money and runs away with her friend, Alex, to Las Vegas.

Alex’s aunt, Lydia, gets the two of them jobs as strippers, which soon turns to prostitution in order to make more money to survive. The Vegas police bust them and send them to a youth refuge home. Ginger calls Gram, who tells her that Iris is dying. Ginger goes home to care for her siblings while Alex stays in Vegas; when she gets home, she discovers that she’s pregnant, and she vows to be a better mother to her child and siblings than Iris or Alex’s mom were to them.

Cody — Cody doesn’t know who his real father is — he suspects that he might have raped his mother, since she’s such “a prude.” He, his mother, stepfather, and half-brother have moved from Witchita, Kansas, to Las Vegas. He lives a normal teenage life, going to school, working at GameStop, the usual. He’s always fooled around and partied under the radar, nothing too out of the ordinary for teenagers, right?

However, Cody’s stepfather, Jack, becomes sick and Cody’s brother starts getting into major trouble, and Cody’s drinking intensifies. It turns out that Jack has cancer — after he dies, it is up to Cody to help support the family. He begins online gambling and his drinking spirals into out of control territory.

Desperate for ways to make money, Cody meets Lydia, who helps set him up with men who will pay him for sex; he’s pretty sure he isn’t gay, but he’s also pretty sure that they have a lot of bills. Many of the “dates” involve Misty, as the men are interested in threesomes. During one of these nights, Misty’s boyfriend finds them naked with a client — the boyfriend is less than pleased, as he wasn’t aware of Misty’s job, and he attacks and beats them. When Cody wakes up, he’s in the hospital and is told that Misty and the client are dead. He hears his mother’s voice, begging him not to leave her, but he isn’t sure if it’s real.

IMPRESSIONS

Um. Wow. This book is nothing if not intense. It was difficult to read, for sure — I’ve been a teacher in two different schools with kids with less than desirable lives; many of the foster kids had stories similar to some of these children, especially Ginger’s.

In researching this book, I read an interview with Ellen Hopkins, who said that she wrote her books (including her prose novels about teenagers with drug addictions) to encourage teenagers to make good choices and seek help if they have problems out of their control. Many of my students saw this book on my desk and made sure to tell me how great Hopkins’ books are, so hopefully her message is working. I’m just not sure if the graphic nature and desperate circumstances are almost too unbelievable to seem real to some children.

The prose of the novel made it interesting and easy to read — at 640 pages, when I first got the book it seemed daunting, but it was a fast read. It also gave the narrators five distinct voices and poetic styles.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Five teenagers from all over the U.S.—three girls, two boys, some straight, some gay—end up as prostitutes in Las Vegas in this multiplevoiced novel in verse. Among the different stories are a preacher’s daughter breaking free from abuse, a closeted gay young man who hides his love life from his widowed and homophobic father, and the lesbian daughter of a prostitute. Hopkins has never shied away from tough subjects; descriptions of sex, while not overly graphic, are realistic and will likely provoke controversy. A master of storytelling through free verse, she uses multiple poetic devices to construct well-defined, distinctive voices for the five teens. Like E. R. Frank’s Life Is Funny (2000), the multiple protagonists are easy to identify and their stories compelling, especially when they begin to intersect. Teens will queue up for this one—some, admittedly, for the sensational subject matter—and find Hopkins’ trademark empathy for teens in rough situations.
Booklist

Five teens desperately seek to find their way through the darkness in Hopkins’s latest epic novel in verse. Eden flees an evangelical household; Cody blocks out a family illness with gambling and sex; Whitney gives up her body in exchange for the love she finds so elusive; Seth struggles to define himself as a homosexual; and Ginger comes to terms with an awful truth about her neglectful mother. Burden after burden piles on the teens’ shoulders until they resort to the unthinkable in order to survive. As they near rock bottom, their narratives begin to intersect. It is only when their paths converge that a glimmer of redemption appears out of the hopelessness. From the punch delivered by the title, to the teens’ raw voices, to the visual impact of the free verse, Hopkins once again produces a graphic, intense tale that will speak to mature teens.
School Library Journal

LIBRARY USES

This one is difficult. I don’t see myself using this as a booktalk, as the backlash from parents might be negative and overwhelming. However, it could be used in a display, perhaps for suicide prevention or another awareness campaign.

REFERENCES

Carton, D. (2009). Tricks. Booklist, 105(22), 62.

Hopkins, E. (2009). Tricks. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Maza, J. (2009). Tricks. School Library Journal, 55(10), 128.

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Module 2: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

September 9th, 2012 — 6:41pm

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak is a children’s book published in 1970. As in Sendak’s previous children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, the book follows a child through a dreamlike world and adventure. It won the Caldecott Honor medal in 1971.

SUMMARY

Mickey is a young child who is in bed and hears a commotion downstairs. When he stands on his bed to shout “quiet down there!” to the noisemakers, he falls out of bed, out of his clothes, past his sleeping parents, and into the night kitchen, where three chefs (who have Hitler mustaches) are baking a cake for the morning. Mickey falls into the cake batter, and the bakers pour the Mickey batter into the cake pan and put it in the oven. Mickey bursts out of the oven during the baking. He escapes the oven and falls into bread dough, which he forms into an airplane and flies to a giant bottle of milk for the bakers, who are freaking out about Mickey’s escape from the cake. Mickey pours out milk for the morning cake and the bakers are satisfied and continue to bake the cake. Mickey wakes up, “cakefree and dried,” in his bed and we learn “that’s why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning.”

IMPRESSIONS

The controversy of In the Night Kitchen lies in the appearance of Mickey’s naked body, which does not give him the Ken doll treatment at all, and the chefs appearing unconcerned about baking a young boy. In an interview with NPR in 1986, Sendak said about the nudity issue:

Well, we live in a very strange society. I mean, I was outraged when that book came out and there was a such a hullabaloo over his genitals.

I mean, I assumed everybody knew little boys had that and that this wasn’t a breakthrough. The fact that people considered that outrageous: incredible. I mean, you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you go to the Frick, you go to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and there’s a Christ child with his penis. It’s accepted in fine art, but somehow in books for children there’s a taboo.

Well, the hell with that. I mean, I didn’t set out to cause a scandal. I set out to do a very particular work where he had to be naked in order to confront a particular dream he was in. You don’t go into a dream wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear or PJs. You go tutto. You go yourself, your being, and that’s why he was naked, and it was idiocy. It was incredible idiocy what went on over that book for many, many years about Mickey being naked.
Maurice Sendak, 1986

It was no coincidence that the chefs have Hitler-esque appearances. Sendak was Jewish and was deeply affected by the Holocaust; his parents were Polish immigrants and most of his extended family was killed in concentration camps. The oven and the bakers insistence in baking him are a reference to the Holocaust (Gross 2003).

The bakers of “In the Night Kitchen” baking a Mickey cake.

According to the American Library Association, In the Night Kitchen is one of the most frequently banned or challenged books due to Mickey’s nudity and the phallic suggestions of the milk bottle. Eyeroll.

At the end of the day, the book, like all of Sendak’s work, is full of vivid pictures and a fun story. Childhood can be scary and dangerous, but through Mickey’s ingenuity and leadership, he survives enough for cake in the morning. I really enjoyed the book and think that children would enjoy it as well. It’s fun!

And reading the book makes me want cake.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

This is Maurice Sendak’s comic strip apotheosis of the Thirties/ dusky dream of sensual bliss/ bim bam boom bombshell of a child-echoing picture book. Sometimes Mickey’s toss and turn from bed into the night kitchen and back keeps in time to internal rhyme, or sets up a rhythmic chant or a remembrance of things heard, or makes sport with words; while what’s doing in the kitchen is the concoction of a cake by three Oliver Hardy cooks who take Mickey for milk until “right in the middle of the steaming and the making and the smelling and the baking Mickey poked through and said I’M NOT THE MILK AND THE MILK’S NOT ME! I’M MICKEY!” But wait: in his bread dough plane with his milk-pitcher helmet, Mickey flies up and up and up “and over the top of the Milky Way,” then dives down into the bottle “singing ‘I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me. God Bless Milk and God Bless Me!'” God bless naked and naturally exposed, Mickey is pure joy. . . or as the cooks chorus “MILK IN THE BATTER! MILK IN THE BATTER! WE BAKE CAKE! AND NOTHING’S THE MATTER!” (Can it go without saying that the pictures are superb.)
Kirkus Reviews, 1970

In the Night Kitchen is perhaps the closest any children’s book has come to telling an authentic dream since the days of George MacDonald who, after all, lived in that pre-Freudian world where it was still possible that dreams were messages from Faerie. That Night Kitchen also works as a story is a measure of Sendak’s power and control. Sendak’s major concern is always the integrity and the individuality of a child, who will be neither civilized nor molded. Mickey creates the airplane of his escape from the dough that was to have molded him into shape. Max, in Wild Things, turns the wild things to his own will. Sendak’s heroes return home, but never entirely forsake the wild places of their journeys.
The New York Review of Books, 1970

LIBRARY USE

The most obvious use would be to use this book prominently in a Banned Books display. The fervor over Mickey’s nudity was overwhelming when the book was published, but upon Sendak’s death in May of 2012, libraries are re-examining the book to introduce in circulation. This book would be an easy way to discuss censorship with children.

REFERENCES

Gross, Terry. (Producer). 2003, October 30. “Interview with Maurice Sendak.” Fresh Air with Terry Gross. NPR, National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=152248901

Hentoff, Margot. (1970). “Little private lives.” The New York Review of Books. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1970/dec/17/little-private-lives/?pagination=false

Kirkus’ Reviews. (1970). “In the night kitchen.” Kirkus Book Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/maurice-sendak/in-the-night-kitchen/#review

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Module 1: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

September 2nd, 2012 — 8:11pm

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, is a children’s book that was published in 1964. It tells the story of a tree and her boy, and the relationship between the two of them.

SUMMARY

The tree is, as the title says, giving — it begins with shade, apples to eat, and branches on which he swings. As the boy ages, he demands more and more of the tree; he takes the apples to sell when he wants money, cuts down the branches to build a house, and cuts down the trunk to build a boat. Every time the tree gives something to the boy, there is a refrain of “and the tree was happy.” Finally, the boy comes back as an old man, and uses the stump as a place to it and rest, as that is all he needs. And, once again, “the tree is happy” (Silverstein 1964).

IMPRESSIONS
Although The Giving Tree is considered a classic, it’s also often considered controversial. There are arguments about whether the tree and boy are in a loving relationship or an abusive one. After all, the boy demands everything of the tree and gives the tree nothing in return. In the New York Times book review, William Cole (1973) says that his impression is that “that was one dum-dum of a tree, giving everything and getting nothing in return. Once beyond boyhood, the boy is unpleasant and ungrateful, and I wouldn’t give him the time of day, much less my bole” (pg 1). I agree with this interpretation. I wouldn’t even say that the book details a typical parent/child relationship. Relationships are only functional if there is an even give and take, even with the parent/child relationship. Though I can understand why adults would choose to read this to their children and see it as a message of unconditional love, the boy taking everything from the tree, down to its very physical being, is indicative of an abusive relationship. The tree has some sort of Stockholm syndrome/masochist mentality in that it is only happy when it is sacrificing all that it has to the boy. Does the boy know anything about the tree? Does he ever ask? If it didn’t give apples, he probably wouldn’t know the type of tree it is. The tree should have clocked him in the head with an apple.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

The Giving Tree shares the story of a young boy and his lifetime relationship with a certain apple tree. But it is much more than that. It is also a story of giving (and taking or receiving), friendship, happiness, loyalty, sacrifice, gratitude, happiness, and most importantly - love. The tree ultimately gives everything for the boy without receiving much in return. The theme or message of the book has been interpreted in many different ways. It can be very simply understood by a second grader, or an adult can search for a deeper meaning.
School Library Monthly, 2009

LIBRARY USE
Integrating the use of The Giving Tree in a library setting would probably be best as a story time for children, preferably older. It would be necessary to highlight the giving nature of the tree and tie it in with a discussion about charity and philanthropy. If it was presented around the holidays, an actual tree could be displayed, like a Salvation Army Angel Tree, or to decorate a tree with handmade ornaments (made by the children) to donate to a needy family for the holidays.

REFERENCES

Brodie, C. (2009). The giving tree by Shel Silverstein - a forty-five year celebration. [Review of the book The Giving Tree, by S. Silverstein]. School Library Monthly 26(1), page 22. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/

Cole, W. (1973). “Excerpt from ABOUT ALICE, A RABBIT, A TREE… ” New York Times. Retrieved from http://shelsilverstein.tripod.com/Books/NYTBR-GT.html

Silverstein, Shel. (1964). The Giving Tree. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Shel Silverstein reading The Giving Tree

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4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

January 31st, 2011 — 12:31am

Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov was published in New York in 1958. It has been controversial and debated ever since.

The book is about a man, Humbert Humbert (a pseudonym he has chosen for himself), who is obsessed with nymphets, or sexually precocious girls. He blames this obsession on the death of his childhood sweetheart, Annabel Leigh. Because he was in love with her and she died at a young age, he subconciously searches for her to love again, and instead finds young girls who remind him of her. Humbert rents a house from Charlotte Haze, who just happens to have a 12 year old daughter named Dolores. Humbert immediately becomes infatuated with Dolores (who is also called also known as Dolly, Lolita, Lola, Lo, and L throughout the novel, try to keep up), and remains in the house to be near her.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, Lolita’s mother, begins to fall in love with Humbert. While Lolita is away at summer camp, she tells him that he has to either marry her or move out of the house. He agrees to marry Charlotte, even though he does not care for her and actually sort of pities her, so that he can remain close to Lolita. Charlotte remains unaware of Humbert’s creeper tendencies until she discovers his diary, in which he waxes poetic about his feelings for Lolita. Needless to say, she is horrified and makes plans to get her and her daughter as far away from Humbert as possible. Unfortunately, before she can do that or tell anyone what she’s discovered about Humbert, she’s hit by a car and killed.

Humbert picks up Lolita at camp; he tells the counselors that Charlotte is ill and is in the hospital. Once he has Lolita, he takes her to a hotel and attempts to give her sleeping pills in order to molest her more easily. The pills fail to work on her, but it’s okay! Because Lolita actually initiates sex with Humbert. It turns out that Lolita is already sexually active, as she had sex with a boy at her summer camp. And she’s still 12, by the way. Just saying.

Ignore the sunglasses and the lollipop. She is still 12.

Humbert finally tells Lolita that her mother is dead, and she realizes that there’s not really much else to do other than to accept her new life with her “stepfather” (EW). While at the hotel, they meet a strange man who seems to know them. Humbert is nervous about this, and decides that they need to take their show on the road.

Humbert and Lolita create a new life as nomads; they travel around from motel to motel with Humbert keeping Lolita disciplined by equally threatening to send her away to reform school and bribing her with sexual favors, even though he knows that she doesn’t love him like she does. Gee, I wonder why. They finally settle down in New England and Lolita is enrolled in school with Humbert assuming the role of the overbearing strict parent; Lolita is not allowed to participate in extracurriculars at school or associate with boys. The neighbors see his rules as the sign of a strict and loving parent. If only they knew how loving.

Lolita convinces Humbert to allow her to be in a school play by granting him more sexual favors. The play is by a man named Clare Quilty, who says that he saw Lolita’s acting and was inspired to write the play. However, on opening night, Humbert and Lolita have a fight and Lolita says that she wants to leave town again. When they leave, Humbert feels like someone is following them; he’s suspicious that Lolita is conspiring against him to leave him. She claims that she’s ill and is taken to a hospital while Humbert stays in a nearby hotel. When he goes to visit her, the hospital staff tells him that Lolita’s uncle has checked her out.

Uh oh.

Years pass, and one day Humbert receives a letter from the now 17 year old Lolita. She writes that she’s married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. He meets with her, and she tells him that Clare Quilty was an acquaintance of Charlotte’s, and he checked her out of the hospital and attempted to make her star in one of his pornographic films; when she refused, he threw her out. She worked odd jobs before meeting and marrying her husband. She claims that her new husband knows nothing about her past and she intends to keep it that way.

Humbert, always the lecher, asks Lolita to leave her husband and return to him. He promises that it’ll be different this time! We’ll have a good life together! She refuses, because she has at least half a brain. Humbert leaves Lolita and finds and kills Quilty at his mansion. He then is arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road and swerving.

The narrative closes with Humbert’s final words to Lolita in which he wishes her well, and reveals the novel has been the memoirs of his life, only to be published after he and Lolita have both died.

Lolita gets a bad rap. If you can look past the pedophilia (which most people can’t), it is a very good book, at least in a literary sense. Nabokov was fond of wordplay and intricate details, and he uses many double entendres, puns, anagrams, and invents words throughout this book (nymphet is one example). He uses allusions to other authors, specifically Edgar Allan Poe (the name of Humbert’s childhood love, the use of doppleganger that occurs with Humbert and Clare Quilty). Many literary critics and scholars have found deeper meanings in the work, including interpretations that the book represents totalitarianism from Nabokov’s native Russia or the idea that the novel is about discovering your own identity when it has been taken over by someone else.

Nabokov was also a synesthete. That has nothing to do with the book, but it’s interesting anyway.

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