Archive for the ‘Book Challenge (Informal)’ Category

Defending Holes by Louis Sachar

August 6, 2009

One of my favorite books to defend is Holes by Louis Sachar.

In my six years as Intellectual Freedom Chair for the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL), I have found myself twice in the position of having to defend Holes as quality literature for young people and it is such an easy book to defend against this charge, having won three of the major youth literature awards for the year it was published (i.e. National Book Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and the Newbery Medal), not to mention the 1999-2000 Maine Student Book Award.  Holes is one of those rare books that is both appreciated and honored by adults and loved by young people.

In January 2004, a parent objected to Holes being read aloud to a fourth grade class at the C.K. Burns School in Saco.  The complaint had to do with the book’s morality, i.e. that the book was more violent than the movie and that the book was not quality literature.

In March 2009, a family challenged Holes as a read aloud in a fifth grade class at Connors Emerson School in Bar Harbor.  Again, the parents thought the book was inappropriate for fifth graders and was not quality literature.

Below is the Book Rationale that I prepared for (the more recent challenge to) Holes:

Book Rationale for Holes by Louis Sacharimages-1

Prepared by Kelley McDaniel

Intellectual Freedom Chair

Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL)

March 3, 2009 

Title: Holes

Author: Louis Sachar

Publisher: FSG / Frances Foster Books

Date: 1998

Location: Connors Emerson School, Bar Harbor

Use: read aloud in fifth grade class to be followed by watching the movie, based on the book

Parents do not think that book is appropriate for fifth grade class read aloud

Summary (from the publisher)

Stanley Yelnat’s family has a history of bad luck, so he isn’t too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys’ juvenile detention center, Camp Green Lake. There is no lake – it has been dry for over a hundred years – and it’s hardly a camp. As punishment, the boys must each dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the hard earth of the dried-up lake bed. The warden claims that this pointless labor builds character, but she is really using the boys to dig for loot buried by the Wild West outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow. The story of Kissin’ Kate, and of a curse put on Stanley’s great-great-grandfather by a one-legged gypsy, weaves a narrative puzzle that tangles and untangles, until it becomes clear that the hand of fate has been at work in the lives of the characters – and their forebears – for generations.

Honors & Awards

1998 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year

1999 ALA/ALSC Notable Books for Children

1999 ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults

1999 ALA/YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

1999 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Fiction – acceptance speech included 

1998 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature acceptance speech included

1999 Newbery Medal for Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Childrenacceptance speech included

1999 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

1999-2000 Maine Student Book Award Winner

Fanfare: The Horn Book Honor List Selected from the Books of 1998

Instructor Best Books of the 90s

Reviews –  included

Book Report, May/une 1999.  pp.66-67 – highly recommended

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 1998.  p.29

Cricket Readers Recommend.  Cricket, July 2003.  p.16

Horn Book, September/October 1998.  pp.593-594 – starred review

New York Times Book Review, November 15, 1998.  p.52

Publishers Weekly, July 27, 1998.  p.78. – starred review

 School Library Journal, September 1998.  p.210. – starred review

Alternative Readings

The following books are similar to Holes in that the stories involve a young person (or young people) who have adventures through which they encounter unusually quirky characters and that lead to the redemption of self (selves) and the rescue or salvation of others, i.e. friends, family, society.  All of the books listed below have been adapted into feature-length films.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (The movie is titled The Seeker.)

On his eleventh birthday Will Stanton discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones, destined to seek the six magical Signs that will enable the Old Ones to triumph over the evil forces of the Dark.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Rescued from the outrageous neglect of his aunt and uncle, a young boy with a great destiny proves his worth while attending Hogwarts School for Wizards and Witches

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Four English school children find their way through the back of a wardrobe into the magic land of Narnia and assist Aslan, the golden lion, to triumph over the White Witch who has cursed the land with eternal winter

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

The first three books in the series–The Bad BeginningThe Reptile Room and The Wide Window–begin to chronicle the catastrophes and misfortunes of the resourceful Baudelaire children, as they become wealthy orphans and must elude a distant relative, the greedy and dastardly Count Olaf.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony diTerlizzi

The moment the Grace family moves into the dilapidated Spiderwick Estate, strange things begin to happen. Jared, a curious, adventurous boy, quickly seeks out and finds the hidden laboratory of his great great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. He unleashes a mysterious force when he locates a field guide full of the secrets of the magical creatures that inhabit the forest surrounding the mansion.  Based on the five-book series.


In both cases, the challenges were handled informally, through personal correspondence with the complainants.


Diffusing an Angry Parent

August 6, 2009

The following was originally posted by Kelley McDaniel <> on the MELIBS listserv, Fri, 12 Nov 2004 20:00:28 under the subject: Dealing with a Challenge (long) 


This afternoon, we were showing a movie in the library after school, and I received a strange phone call from the Maine State Library saying that they had received a call from a parent earlier today asking if there was a list of books that are appropriate for schools to have. 

The parent’s child had borrowed a book from school that the parent did not approve of.  The call had been referred to a couple of different people, and it was suggested that the call be referred to me, as the Intellectual Freedom Chair of the Maine Association of School Libraries (MASL).  I was given the parent’s name (Let’s call her Sara.) and her phone number.

I immediately called Sara. She came to the phone and I introduced myself as a librarian and said that I had been called by the State Library because she had called there looking for a list of books that are appropriate for schools.  She told me the story of the book that her daughter had taken out of a classroom library, found very graphic and shared the graphic passages with her mother.  Sara had called the school and left a message for the teacher, saying that she thought the book was inappropriate for middle school; the teacher returned her call the following day and left a message for her, saying that the book was award-winning and perfectly appropriate for middle school.

I thanked Sara for her interest and concern. 

“You’d be surprised how few parents really take such interest in what their children read and take the time to talk with their children about what they read.”

I said, “You are to be commended on the relationship that you have with your daughter, such that when she read something that made her uncomfortable, she immediately told you about it, ‘This made me really uncomfortable.’”

Sara thanked me.

I told her that I had a suggestion.  “Does your daughter’s school have a library?

“Yes,” she replied.

“I was going to suggest that you contact the school librarian and share this story with her and ask her if she’d meet with you and your daughter.  Find out what your daughter’s interests are, what she likes to read.  Learn more about your family and the values that you have. Then the librarian could recommend some books for you and your daughter that your daughter would enjoy and that would support your values as a family.” 

I said, “I LOVE when people come to me with requests like that.  Those are my favorite moments as a librarian.  They give me the chance to get to know the students and their families, and the better I know them, the better able I am to serve them.  I love when I get requests like that.”

Sara said, “That’s a good idea.  I can do that Monday.  I did call the principal after the teacher left the message and the principal said to have my daughter return the book.”  Pause. “What do you think of the book?”

“I’ve read it.  And it’s a book that I have in our middle school library.  One of the things that makes libraries so important in our communities is that we offer a wide range of books.  No book is perfect for everyone and every book is perfect for someone.  That’s why it’s important for librarians to know their communities and the people they serve.  As educators, it’s our job to help connect young people with the right book at the right time.  I’m sure your daughter’s school library has many such books.  Ask the librarian to help connect your daughter with them.”

Sara said, “I don’t want the book to be removed so no one can read it.  I just don’t think it’s appropriate for my daughter.”

I assured her, “That’s called good parenting – knowing your daughter, having the relationship with her that you have, being involved in her growing up and learning.”

I left Sara with my name and phone number and invited her to call me if she had any other concerns, or if I could help her in any way.  She thanked me and I thanked her and we hung up.

I wanted to share this story for a couple of reasons:

1) In my capacity as Intellectual Freedom Chair of MASL, I wanted to model one way of dealing with a challenge.  This method comes directly from the School Library Journal article “How the Mind of a Censor Works” by Dr. Sara Fine from  School Library Journal, January 1996, pp.23-27.

2) When I spoke with Sara, what I heard her saying was NOT, “Why is my daughter being given bad books?” but “I’m scared. My daughter was exposed to something that scared her and scared me.  Is my daughter safe at school?”  The reason I heard this was because I recently had an experience that left me feeling the exact same way.  A security guard in my building told me, “Get your homosexual a** upstairs!  You’re not welcome here!”  Ever since that experience I have felt unsafe in my building and I have been scared for the safety of my own children, especially after my five-year-old daughter asked me, “Is he just mad at you or does he hate us too?”  I wanted – needed – to know that I and my family were safe.  The greatest thing done for me right after that happened was when my colleagues listened to me, heard my fear and comforted me, BEFORE they told me what to go and do about it.  So that’s what I did for Sara.

3) I learned something very important from my conversation with Sara. I listened to her. And she knew that she was being heard.  I didn’t throw in my opinions.  I kept my opinions to myself.  I just listened. What I heard was that Sara and I are more alike than different.  


P.S. The book in question was What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones (Simon & Schuster, 2001)