Throughout the country, most children have recently started a new academic year. Teachers are sending out their lists of required readings, and parents are beginning to gather books.
The American Library Association uses this time of year for an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment.
Held during the last week of September, "Banned Books Week" highlights the benefits of free and open access to information. Observed since 1982, this event is intended to remind Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.
This month's booklist lists material that the ALA has identified as titles that are often "challenged" across the country. This isn't to stigmatize the books, instead it identifies the range of materials, often popular and classic titles, that come under close scrutiny.
In fact, some of the titles on this list might surprise you. It's my hope that parents are always aware of the reading choices their children make and are open to having honest dialog about that content.
For more information on Banned Books Week go to the American Library Association's webpage at www.ala.org.
"And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell (Ages 4 to 8)
This award-winning children's picture book is based on actual events at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. It tells the story of two male chinstrap penguins that hatch an abandoned egg and then parent the young chick. Given a starred review by School Library Journal, this true tale of love and family is wonderfully illustrated and includes factual information about chinstrap penguins.
"In the Night Kitchen," by Maurice Sendak (Ages 4 to 8)
This Caldecott Honor book tells the story of a young boy's dream journey through a surreal baker's kitchen where he assists in the creation of a cake that needs to be ready by morning.
"The Stupids Take off," by Harry G. Allard Jr. (Ages 4 to 8)
This picture book shares the silly misunderstandings that the Stupid family has as they go about their day. In this installment of the series, the family tries to avoid a visit from boring Uncle Carbuncle. They take off in the family plane but end up meeting even more Stupid relatives in their travels. Luckily, the Stupids are cared for by their rather intelligent pets.
"A Light in the Attic," by Shel Silverstein (Ages 9 to 12)
From the woes of homework to the best way to get out of doing the dishes, from the joy of imagining oneself in a rock 'n' roll band to the amazing abilities of the Twistable, Turnable Man, readers will find themselves laughing at the characters found in Silverstein's poetry.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," by J.K Rowling (Ages 9 to 12)
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 Witchcraft and Wizardry. This first title in series has enjoyed world-wide success.
"James and the Giant Peach," by Roald Dahl (Ages 9 to 12)
The plot centers on a young English orphan boy who enters a gigantic, magical peach and has a wild and surreal adventure. This novel, originally published in 1961, enjoyed a second life when it was released as a Disney-animated motion picture.
"Julie of the Wolves," by Jean Craighead George (Ages 12 and older)
While running away from home and an unwanted marriage, a 13-year-old Eskimo girl becomes lost on the North Slope of Alaska and is befriended by a wolf pack. Jean Craighead George is the author of more than 80 books for children and young adults and has twice received the Newberry Award.
"The Face on the Milk Carton," by Caroline B. Cooney (Ages 12 and older)
When 15-year-old Janie Johnson recognizes herself in a photograph of a missing girl on a milk carton, it leads her on a painful search for her real identity.
"The Giver," by Lois Lowry (Ages 12 and older)
This is the story of 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal world, until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver. Only then does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community. It won the Newberry Award in 1994.
Lesley Mason is children and teen librarian at Washington County Free Library.