The Art of the Book Review

The Art of the Book Review: School Library Journal staff and reviewers discuss the review process

One of the main talking points you’ll see again and again when it comes to fighting book challenges is that you should be able to back up any purchase you make with your collection development policy. Many collection development policies cite professional review sources as one of the major ways library staff find quality materials to add to their collection. For library staff that work with youth, School Library Journal (SLJ) is a go-to professional review source. That’s why SLJ put together the webinar: From Book Submission to SLJ Star: Insight on the School Library Journal review process to explain what goes into their reviews. For this webinar Shelly Diaz, Reviews Editor for School Library Journal, is joined by Mahnaz Dar, Senior Editor, Professional Reading & Reference for SLJ, Ashley Leffel a middle school librarian and reviewer for SLJ, and Kiera Parrott, former Reviews Director for SLJ and LJ.

The words “Banned Book Reading Group” on a gray background. A image of Texas with the Prosper Independent School District logo on top of it is to the left of the text.

“Banned Book” Reading Group Among Parents in Prosper Texas in the Face of Book Challenges in Their School District

In January of this year the Prosper Citizen Group Political Action Committee (Prosper PAC), a conservative political action group operating in Prosper, Texas, asked the Prosper Independent School District (PISD) to remove a list of 82 books from their libraries on the grounds that they were sexually graphic, violent and inappropriate for children. A group of Prosper ISD parents have created a reading group so they can decide for themselves whether these titles should be removed from Prosper schools. One of those parents is Holly Lister Draper who in February posted a review of one of the books from the Prosper PAC’s list, The Pants Project by Cat Clarke, on her Facebook page.

The words “A Conversation about Book Challenges” on a light green background with the logo for Down Time with Cranston Public Library to the right of it. The logo is a pair of bright green headphones over a light blue stack of books.

A Conversation about Book Challenges

The Cranston Public Library in Cranston, RI hosts a weekly podcast titled Down Time with Cranston Public Library where they talk with librarians, library workers and community members about a variety of topics. On February 15th, 2022 they spoke with Martin Garnar, director of the Amherst College Library, and Marianne Mirando, the Librarian from Westerly High School in Westerly, RI to talk about the recent increase in book challenges across the country. They discussed what it means for a book to be challenged in a school or public library and what you can do to protect intellectual freedom in your community. This post is an excerpt from their conversation.

An image that says “Happy Birthday, Alex Sanchez!” with a photo of Alex Sanchez to the right of the text on a navy background.

Happy Birthday, Alex Sanchez

April 23, 2022 marks author Alex Sanchez’s 65th year on the planet. Happy Birthday, Alex Sanchez! Sanchez is a Mexican American author who has written the award winning young adult books Rainbows Boys and Getting It, as well as a middle grade novel So Hard to Say. Sanchez also collaborated with DC comics and illustrator Jul Maroh on You Brought Me the Ocean, which is a reimagining of the story of Aqualad for a modern teen audience. His most recent work The Greatest Superpower (2021) is about twin boys whose dad comes out as transgender. Thank you Alex Sanchez for writing books that affirm the experiences of young people and get them excited about reading!

The words “Problematic Author Q and A” on a light blue background with images of two pens and a piece of paper next to it.

Addressing Challenges to Books by Problematic Authors Q&A – A Summary

A common concern among librarians and other information professionals is how to handle materials written by individuals wrapped up in some type of controversy, whether that be political statements they have made publicly, crimes or misconduct that they have been accused of, or where they have donated or invested their money. This post will summarize a Q&A that provides guidance selecting, weeding and addressing challenges to these types of materials.

The cover of the book “Let’s Talk About Race in Storytime” on a light brown background. The book cover itself has simple art of children with different skin tones. Next to the cover image is the words “Book Review” in white.

Book Review: Let’s Talk About Race in Storytimes by Jessica Anne Bratt

In this book Bratt lays out how librarians can start talking about race as part of their regular storytime practice. She begins with an introduction explaining her reasons for committing to talking about race in her storytimes and how the Black Lives Matter movement’s tenant of starting your antiracist work where you are inspired her to work within libraries to move us as a society towards racial equity. This book is a great guide for any librarian who is looking to create more diverse and inclusive storytimes at their libraries but don’t know where to start. I highly encourage anyone who leads storytimes at their library to consider adding this (quick) read to their upcoming professional development plans.

“Report Censorship”

Did You Experience A Challenge In 2021? Report to the OIF!

With the increase in book challenges happening in schools and libraries around the country in recent months, it is more important than ever that challenges and other instances of censorship be reported to the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF). If you or someone you know has experienced any challenges to library or school materials, online resources (including databases), programs, speakers, displays, reading lists, and author visits in 2021, the OIF encourages everyone to report any instance of censorship they encounter.

The words “The Library and Sex Ed” appear on a light blue backgound with round abstract shape decorating the corners of the image.

How Your Library Can Support Comprehensive Sex Education (and Fight Censorship)

There is a long history in the U.S. of controlling, suppressing, and censoring information about sex, even if the information is meant to educate, not arouse. The Comstock Act of 1873 made it a criminal offense to, “send ‘obscene, lewd or lascivious,’ ‘immoral,’ or ‘indecent’ publications through the mail. Attempts to restricted sex education materials, under the guise of protecting children form obscene and inappropriate materials, are continuing to happen today in the form of challenges in K-12 schools and public libraries. A recent example comes from Gillette, Wyoming where Hugh and Susan Bennett filed a complaint with the county sheriff’s office over the inclusion of five books in the local library’s collection. In this post are some ways that you and your library can support quality sex education for young people in your community.

The words “Freedom to Read Foundation: Grants for Banned Books Week” in read on a gray background with the FTRF’s logo, a book with a torch on the cover, in front of the word freedom

Freedom to Read Foundation Banned Book Week Grant Recipients

Every year the Freedom to Read Foundation awards libraries with grants to facilitate programming, outreach, displays and other promotional work around Banned Books Week. These grants are funded out of the Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund. This year’s banned book week theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” and will take place at libraries, schools, and booksellers around the country on Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2021. This year four public libraries and one school library were awarded grants.

Author Alison Bechdel is pictured on a navy blue background with geometric shape next to her photo on the left side of the image. The right side of the image reads: Happy Birthday Alison Bechdel

Happy Birthday, Alison Bechdel!

Bechdel is most known for penning the graphic memoir Fun Home, which was later adapted into a Tony-winning Broadway Musical, and her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran for 25 year in print and was later published online. Bechdel’s debut graphic novel, Fun Home, was published in 2006 and is about her relationship with her closeted father and her own journey with her sexuality. This year Bechdel reenters the graphic novel scene after nearly a decade away with The Secret to Superhuman Strength.