Something witchy this way comes

Need a cribsheet for the Earthsea series? Calmgrove has reviewed each of the novels leading up to our Witch Week read-along of Le Guin’s The Other Wind. Take a look!


Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series is like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, one of those secondary worlds that I’ve found I’ve needed to revisit every so often. I’m not the only one, I know, that — however familiar the outline plots — discovers something new each time I step into those universes, whether it’s an insight, a revelation or an emotion.

With the imminent arrival of Witch Week 2018, its theme this year of Fantasy+Feminism and focus on Ursula Le Guin (further details here and here, and also here), I’ve been re-immersing myself in Earthsea as I originally promised myself in a mini-review back in 2015.

Lizzie Ross and I will be co-hosting Witch Week (30 October to 06 November), with a week of posts celebrating the fantasy genre and Diana Wynne Jones.
We’ve lined up some exciting posts from guest bloggers, including a Top-Ten…

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Ramping up for Witch Week

Autumnal mood

The days are getting cooler and shorter, the nights are getting nippier and longer. And you know what this means….

WITCH WEEK is only a month away.

Calmgrove and I will be co-hosting the event (30 October to 06 November), with a week of posts celebrating the fantasy genre and Diana Wynne Jones.

We’ve lined up some exciting posts from guest bloggers, including a Top-Ten list of fantasy heroines, and a discussion of a Polish fantasy series.

AND don’t forget our read-along: Le Guin’s The Other Wind, the final book of her Earthsea series.

Watch this space for more WITCH WEEK news.

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Banned Books Week, Day 7

This is the final day of Banned Books Week 2018, and I’m about to turn this thing over to you. What are you willing to do to support banned and challenged artists?

One obvious move, of course, is to pick up a few controversial books and read them, and then talk about them with friends and family. See plays, visit museums, listen to music, memorize poetry (mark your calendars — Poem in Your Pocket Day comes around every April). Engage with the diversity that’s out there, and get to know something new. Put your brain to work.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association (

You could also do this: The ALA has started a Dear Banned Author letter-writing campaign. Write to an author whose banned book/s have been important to you.

At a conference I attended a few years ago, Chris Crutcher, as part of an anti-censorship panel, defended Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which was facing challenges and bans because of sexual content. Afterwards, an audience member approached him. “Mr. Crutcher,” she said, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe in masturbation.” Without hesitating, Crutcher replied, “Lady, that’s ok. It doesn’t need you to believe in it.”

Nearly all of Crutcher’s books have been challenged, so I think I’ll drop him a line. He deserves another letter from someone who loves his work.

Tomorrow, Banned Books Week will be over, but censorship will continue. Do what you can to make sure people’s stories aren’t silenced.

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Banned Books Week, Day 6

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association,

I think everyone agrees with the message of this year’s theme for Banned Books Week: a banned book is a story silenced.

But are there other ways stories are silenced, ways we as consumers (of written text, art, music, film, theater, etc) aren’t conscious of?

In a word, Yes.

“How so?” you ask. Well, consider these questions: Who gets published? Who gets funding to compose or create art? Who is on the boards that make these decisions? Who reviews artists’ works? Who makes decisions about how and where works (print, music, art) are displayed, played, or sold?

Agents, editors, and publishers, especially those working in the field of children’s literature, have within the last decade begun pledging to support the work of diverse authors writing about diverse characters. The result: more books featuring minority, gay, transgender, or otherwise “non-traditional” protagonists dealing with issues of identity, sexuality and prejudice (good result). But many of these books end up being challenged (bad result).

Of course, the challenges usually backfire. Any hullabaloo only makes people more determined to read the book and find out what all the fuss is about. After hearing that his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn had been banned (the first in US history, according to PBS’s American Experience), Mark Twain quipped to his editor “That will sell 25,000 copies for us, sure.” Twain certainly knew that there’s no such thing as bad press.

We all need to be less afraid of things that are unfamiliar, different, contrary to our expectations about the world.

So, on that note, today’s featured artists are the “disinvited”. I cringe as I write this, because I haven’t yet decided how I feel about problematic authors/content. For instance, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books are valuable historical documents of the western expansion in 1870s/1880s US history, but she doesn’t hide her mother’s racist attitudes towards Native Americans, nor does she give any recognition to how white settlers displaced huge numbers of people. Am I bothered that an award once named after her is now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award? Only a tiny bit, because I can understand why the change was made. This move doesn’t take the books away from readers, and Wilder herself much later approved revisions to language in her novels that denigrated Native Americans.

What about awards rescinded, as with Sherman Alexie’s award for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (the award was the American Indian Library Association’s 2008 award for best YA book, rescinded due to allegations of sexual misconduct). Again, I understand the reasons, and this move in no way lessens the importance of Alexie’s book. (Plus, he still has the 2007 National Book Award.)

But, and here’s when I’m stuck for an answer, what about rescinding invitations to speak, which seems to happen frequently these days? I’ve heard arguments on both sides of this issue, and I’m relieved that I will never be in a position to have to make such a choice. This quandary includes whether to interview controversial people for radio/TV talk shows/print articles, etc. Once the interview is completed and written up, is the publisher required to print/broadcast it? Again, I’ll never be that interviewer or publisher, for which I’m grateful, because I can’t decide what’s right here.

Tomorrow: “Dear Banned Author.”

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Banned Books Week, Day 5

The NCTE blog for 12 September 2018 provides this list of authors whose books have been challenged as part of AP high school curriculums:

These authors have written books everyone should read, books that address such topics as sexuality, politics, racism, sexism, colonialist history, and anti-immigrant exclusion laws, forcing readers to recognize our complicity in letting certain practices and beliefs continue. Teachers often find themselves on the receiving end of complaints about the books students are asked/required to read.

Fortunately for teachers, NCTE provides support for those wishing to include controversial books on their reading lists. Their Intellectual Freedom Center shows the ways they help all English teachers fight censorship.

John Singer Sargent, Madame X, 1884, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Today’s featured artists: all painters, sculptors, photographers and printmakers whose works have drawn demands they be removed from view. The Huffington Post lists some of these works here, beginning with Michelangelo’s ceiling painting in the Sistine Chapel. Lots of trigger topics (nudity, religion, the US flag), but violence and war don’t seem to make the list. Weird, eh?

That portrait to the right is John Singer Sargent’s Madame X (portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau). You may know the story: the original version showed the gown’s right strap dropped below Ms. G’s shoulder, which caused an uproar when it was exhibited at the 1884 Paris Salon. Sargent revised his portrait, putting the strap in its proper position, where we see it today. But if you look closely, you can see the ghost of the original strap in the discoloration on Mme G’s upper arm.

Tomorrow: diversity (authors and characters)

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Banned Books Week, Day 4

So, how many challenges are there each year? As with almost anything else anyone wants to count, answering this question requires reliable evidence, and reports of challenges are spotty at best. The ALA offer this infographic, based on data collected in 2017:

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association (

I’ve always wondered how anyone guesses what percent of anything (crime, censorship, customer dissatisfaction) goes unreported, but even if we cut the estimated unreported challenges for 2017 by 90%, that still leaves 1077 challenges, i.e., nearly 3 per day, every dayNo time off for weekends or holidays.

Geoffrey Chaucer, by unknown artist, late 16th century, National Portrait Gallery, London

Today’s featured author is a reminder that poets are challenged/banned, too: Geoffrey Chaucer (died 1400). According to Poets.Org, The Canterbury Tales hit some road bumps when it was published in the late 1300s, but the real problems arose in the late 1800s:

In 1873, Anthony Comstock, founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, achieved a federal bill that banned the mailing of “every obscene, lewd, lascivious or filthy book, pamphlet, picture, paper, letter writing, print or other publication of an indecent character.” The Comstock Act, officially known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, banned many world classics, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for its sexual content.

Now you’ve learned two things: what the Comstock Act was, and why The Canterbury Tales is still selling pretty well for a 600-year-old book. Let’s hear it for bawdy poetry!

Tomorrow: English teachers and censorship.

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Banned Books Week, Day 3

Why are books challenged? Who initiates the challenges? Where? The infographic below (from the ALA) provides a breakdown of some data from 2017.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association,

What surprises me is that the bulk of challenges take place in public libraries, more than what occurs in classrooms and school libraries. But this explains why 42% of challenges are initiated by patrons — library patrons unhappy with specific books. I’m reminded of the women in The Music Man, shocked to find that “dirty” books by “Chaucer, Rabelais, BALZAC!” are in the River City library. “He left River City the library building/But he left all the books to her.”

Don’t let anyone tell you a librarian’s job is a quiet or easy one.

Today’s featured author is a playwright: Lillian Hellman, whose 1934 play, The Children’s Hour, was banned in some cities in the US and UK for hinting that homosexuality exists. Hellman argued, however, that “It’s not about lesbians. It’s about the power of a lie.” Artists of all stripes are still battling lies.

Tomorrow, how many each year?

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