How Many of These Banned Books Have You Read?

Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the Past Decade

We are midway through Banned Books Week 2020 and this is a special year.  Banned Books Week is celebrating 20 years.  Skim this list and then tell me – how many of the top 100 banned and challenged books for the past decade have you read?  I’ll star the ones I’ve read.

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie*
  2. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher*
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green*
  5. George by Alex Gino*
  6. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell*
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier*
  8. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  9. Internet Girls (series) by Lauren Myracle
  10. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini*
  12. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins*
  13. I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel*
  14. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky*
  15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee*
  16. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
  17. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  18. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
  19. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss*
  20. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
  21. Alice McKinley (series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  22. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
  23. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  24. Scary Stories (series) by Alvin Schwartz
  25. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson*
  26. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley*
  27. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
  28. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck*
  29. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood*
  30. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  31. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  32. It’s a Book by Lane Smith*
  33. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain*
  34. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  35. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones*
  36. A Child Called “It” by Dave Pelzer
  37. Bad Kitty (series) by Nick Bruel*
  38. Crank by Ellen Hopkins*
  39. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  40. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi*
  41. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
  42. This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman
  43. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
  44. A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  45. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  46. Goosebumps (series) by R.L. Stine
  47. In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco*
  48. Lush by Natasha Friend
  49. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger*
  50. The Color Purple by Alice Walker*
  51. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  52. The Holy Bible*
  53. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
  54. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell*
  55. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  56. Gossip Girl (series) by Cecily von Ziegesar
  57. House of Night (series) by P.C. Cast
  58. My Mom’s Having A Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler*
  59. Neonomicon by Alan Moore
  60. The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlake
  61. The Giver by Lois Lowry*
  62. Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank*
  63. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  64. Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle
  65. Dreaming In Cuban by Cristina Garcia
  66. Fade by Lisa McMann
  67. The Family Book by Todd Parr
  68. Feed by M.T. Anderson*
  69. Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach*
  70. Habibi by Craig Thompson*
  71. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  72. Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  73. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  74. Monster by Walter Dean Myers
  75. Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter
  76. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
  77. Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag
  78. The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal
  79. 1984 by George Orwell*
  80. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  81. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
  82. Awakening by Kate Chopin
  83. Burned by Ellen Hopkins
  84. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card*
  85. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
  86. Glass by Ellen Hopkins
  87. Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesle´a Newman*
  88. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou*
  89. Madeline and the Gypsies by Ludwig Bemelmans
  90. My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  91. Prince and Knight by Daniel Haack*
  92. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology by Amy Sonnie
  93. Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judith Schachner*
  94. So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins*
  95. The Color of Earth (series) by Tong-hwa Kim
  96. The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter*
  97. The Walking Dead (series) by Robert Kirkman
  98. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  99. Uncle Bobby’s Wedding by Sarah S Brannen*
  100. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

I have to admit that I’m shocked I’ve only read 38.  Of course, I’m also shocked that It’s a Book by Lane Smith is on the list.  The world is a strange, strange place.


3 Warning Signs that Your Character’s Emotion May be Over-the-top

When book club meets, we talk about more than this month’s book.  In September we read If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.  We also talk about the other books we’ve been reading.  When someone mentioned a particular title, I had to admit that I hadn’t been able to finish it.  The characters were too over-the-top in terms of their emotions.

Some writers do this to create tension.  And since the tension has to grow throughout the story the character’s emotions get more and more extreme.

And didn’t realize that I rejecting the character’s melodrama until I read this post by Mary Kole, Melodramatic vs Dramatic, A Definition.  There are times that a character is going to have a big emotional reaction but if this happens every time they get a bad grade, spill their drink at dinner, or can’t find their favorite top?  Over-the-top.

Here are three ways to tell that your character’s emotions may be over the top.

Check your punctuation

If everything your character says is accompanied by an exclamation point (!) or twelve (!!!!!!!!!!!!), they are probably over the top.

Check your dialogue tags

Said or says.  Those are the gold card standards of dialogue tags.  They disappear into the background but are enough to help readers tell who is speaking.  If you are tempted to use screamed, shrilled, shouted, swore, exclaimed, yelled, shrieked, wailed, howled, screeched, or anything oalong these lines, your character may need to tone it down.

Check your verbs

What is your character doing while delivering her dialogue?  Is she stomping or slamming?  Throwing or battering?  Rending or flouncing?  Those last two are a nod to the purple prose that Kole mentioned in her post.

Trot this type of display out too often and you are going to burn out your reader. I’m not saying that all of the above should be avoided 24/7.  But save it for a special occassion like getting dumped.


One Way for Writers to Push Themselves Creatively: Inktober

I always tell people to push themselves creatively.  That said, I’m not always really good about taking that advice.  I get “busy” with the paid work and forget to just have fun and play.  But because I don’t illustrate, Inktober is a great way for me to play creatively.

The rules for Inktober are simple.  Draw every day.  Draw in ink.  Post what you’ve drawn on social media with #Inktober. Jake Parker already has the prompt list for 2020 out.  It has been out for weeks. He does this because this is primarilly a challenge for illustrators and it shows.  The artwork you see throughout this month is astonishing and many of these artists have their pieces well under way.

Me?  I have some brush pens and I’m going to be doing this in the back of my bullet journal.  I’m more comfortable lettering than drawing, and, at best, my drawings are sketches that just happen to be in ink.

If you are a writer, I’d like to encourage you to take part.  Do a simple sketch.  Create word art.  Use what you’ve created as the inspiration for a story.

I have to admit that I didn’t get too far in October 2019 but in 2018?  I had a lot of fun and it was really inspirational.  I loved seeing all of the amazing art work that the professionals do.  And it was a lot of fun playing along even if I’m in the shallow end of that particular pool.

Check out the video below for a bit of an explanation.  Skim the list above.  I may have to break out my brush pens early.





Three Things to Consider for Your Story Setting

Art Hill, Forest Park, St Louis, Missouri, Art Museum
Across the lagoon . . . a forest!

Tonight, I was chatting with a group of my fellow authors about mystery writing. They’ve all completed and published mysteries. I’m working on my first cozy.

One of the things we discussed was what annoys us enough to quit reading.  One woman mentioned that she grew up in New Orleans so when she read a mystery in which the character stares out the window at the hills of New Orleans, she put the book down. Apparently New Orleans has one hill.  It is manmade.

I had a similar experience reading a mystery when the body was found in the tree line beside the St. Louis Art Museum.  The author had done enough research to know the museum is located in Forest Park but not enough to know that the forest does not come that close to the museum.  Back in the library bag it went.  And that leads us to the #1 thing to consider when creating your setting.

1. If you don’t know this setting like the back of your hand, using it might be a huge mistake.

The devil is, as they say, in the details.  You can find a lot of information online and Google Earth is a huge help.  But if you’ve never been there you are taking a chance.  What looks like a hill on Google Earth, may be something else entirely.

2. Making a setting up is 100% legitimate.

If you are setting your story in a real city and you need it to take 45 minutes to drive across town, you are simply out of luck if it only takes 30.  The same holds true for a real building.  If you need three floors and no more, but the building you are setting your story in is only two, that’s going to be a problem.

The solution?  Create a location that is just as fictional as your story.  You can make the city as large and the building as tall as your story requires.

3. Even a fictional setting can half real-life components.

I didn’t want to set my cozy in the city where I live, but I am using certain buildings as locations in my setting.  A church and a historic school house that I’ve actually visited have found their way onto the page.  By migrating a real place into my story, I can draw on the details that I observed while singing in a Christmas program, helping set up a wedding reception, or attending a punch and cookie event.  These details will help my settings feel as real as the places that inspired them.



How-to Attend the National Book Festival

Banner graphic promoting the 2020 National Book Festival

Wow!  This is the 20th birthday for the National Book Festival, put on each year by the Library of Congress.  I didn’t realize the event was this young.

Not surprisingly, given all that is 2020, this year the event will be 100% virtual and there is no cost to attend.  I’m avoiding the F-word because that can alert various filters.

There are 120 authors taking part this year include Tomi Adeyemi, Jerry Craft, Jared Diamond, and more.  It is such an amazing list!  You can see it here.

All you have to do to take part is create a free Book Fest account.  Find that information here.  There are videos that you can watch at any time and also live author discussions and so much more.

If you aren’t familiar with how the festival usually works, the set up is being recreated virtually. There are a variety of stages, featuring different types of writing including but not limited to Children, Teens, Family, Food & Field, Fiction, Genre Fiction, History and Biography.

Among the new features being offered this year are timely topics such as Fearless Women, Hearing Black Voices, and Democracy in the 21st Century.  Another new feature includes offereings for children, teens and schools educating at home.  I have to admit that I’m excited about the Roadmap to Reading, which includes a list of “Great Reads from Great Places.” These 53 books reflect the literary heritage of all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I hope you’ll find the time to explore what the Library of Congress is offering us all this year.  My first stop?  That book list!



4 Steps to Retelling a Classic

Billy Goat, Goat, Horns, Horned, Goat Buck, Goat'S Head
My first retelling was the Three Billy Goats Gruff

I’m fascinated by retellings.  Here are 4 steps for tackling this kind of project.

Read, read, read.

It is always tempting to read a retelling and think “That’s not how I could re-work X.”  Instead of doing it that way, reread a few of your favorites.  Which ones really capture your imagination now?  Your taste may well have changed since you were 12 and that’s fine.  But you want to pick something you love know because you’ll be spending some serious time together.

Plot it out.

You don’t want your plot to copy the classic scene by scene but do jot down the major plot points you want to keep.  How would Romeo and Juliet procede if they met at a state fair?  A swim meet?  A tent revival?

Character creations

Now it is time to take a hard look at your characters.  You are going to need most of the main characters but secondary charcters and cameos can easily be altered.  You may end up changing character genders, combining characters or turning one of them into a drone (robotic not hive).

Props and settings

As you plan out your version of the book, think about the props and settings in the original. Which ones are important and need to remain? Can they be changed?  If so, how?  The ruby slippers might become a candy apple red moped.  In my 3 Billy Goats Gruff rewrite, the bridge just wasn’t going to work.  Where would my characters encounter the troll? This is a school story, so they cross his path in the cafeteria.

Figure out what features of the original are essential.  As you alter one thing, it will have a ripple effect.  Play around until you create a combination that works for you.  Then it is time to write!


3 Times Slang Can Throw You a Curve

Idiomatic expressions are tricky.  Not familiar with that term?  An idiomatic expression is a phrase that means something other than the literal meaning of the words.  For example, when we call someone a bookworm, we aren’t calling them a book devouring bug.  We are saying that this person loves to read.  In Spanish, the phrase is rata de biblioteca – library rat.

Why does that matter?  Because it is item #1 on the list of “slang troubles.”

You Can’t Assume

You can’t assume that an English idiomatic expression can be translated word-for-word into Spanish or Portuguese, Malay or Farsi.  You actually need to find the parallel term if there is one.  Not every expression has a corresponding expression in another language.  You have to make sure you get it right and that’s a problem because . . .

The Devil Is in the Details

I’ve been reading contest entries lately as well as stories published online.  When you use slang or another idiomatic expression, make sure you get it right because it is going to stick out like a sore tongue when you get it wrong.  Do you see what I did there?  If you don’t read very much, you may mishear a common phrase.  When you write it down, your slip is going to show.  And last but not least . . .

A Little Goes a Long Way

A daddy-o here and there in dialogue makes your character sound jazz-appropriate.  But if he uses this word in every other sentence, it is going to sound like either the character or you the author is trying too hard.  This was something that K.M. Weiland mentioned in her post on slang in dialogue.  One of the worst cases of this I’ve ever seen was a New York author writing a story set in the American South.  The character’s sounded like characachers.

When using slang, idioms and period expressions, remember that a little bit goes a long way.



Book Covers: The Impeachment of Donald Trump and Coronavirus: The COVID-19 Pandemic

Saturday I got the author’s copies of my two most recent books: The Impeachment of Donald Trump and Coronavirus: The COVID-19 Pandemic.  I just had to be a little silly when we took the photo.  It just felt a little ridiculous to smile and look happy while holding these two titles.

When I turned in the final chapter of the coronavirus book, that was it.  I didn’t have any more book contracts in the works.  That was back in early June.

So I worked on picture books and my novel.  I roughed out two chapters to pitch with a proposal for the middle grade nonfiction Wild Cities.

But last Thursday I landed a new contract.  No, I can’t reveal wthat it is.  Let’s just say it is every bit as chipper as many of my books.

So why do I write books about difficult topics?  There are a number of reasons.

That’s What They Ask Me to Write

These are the topics that my editors at RedLine ask me to take on, but that is because . . .

These Are the Books Young Readers Need

We consider certain topics tough because it can be hard to find information on these issues.  Also, a lot of adults avoid discussing these topics with young readers.  If they do, their approach is often pretty biased.  Think about a kid asking their parents about The Impeachment of Donald Trump.  Supporter or no, it is hard to imagine any unbiased answers.  Kids need books about tough topics so that they can find answers.  But I like to think there is one more reason to write these books.

This Is What I’m Good At

Hopefully this isn’t the only thing I’m good at.  Not to worry.  I know there are other things I’m good at doing.  But I’m good at this and, as we discussed, a lot of adults aren’t.

So today I’m tackling another difficult topic.  Step 1 – the outline.


3 Creative Ways to Promote Your Book

How do you promote your books when buyers can’t come to events and you can’t do school visits?  Authors who have had books come out in 2020 have gotten creative.  Here are 5 of my favorites.

An Online Scavenger Hunt

To promote his book, Into the Clouds, about a 1953 attempt to reach the summit of K2, Tod Olson has created an online scanvenger hunt.  He gives the reader a bit of information about the story found in his book.  Then he asks a question.  Readers search for the answer and then key it in.  Answer by answer, in this interactive quiz, they make their way up the mountain.

This might not work for your book but you could do a visual scavenger hunt – identify these animals, find these art objects, and more.  Take a look at your book and you’re bound to come up with ideas.

A Giveaway

Olson has a giveaway for Into the Clouds on the last page of his scavenger hunt.  I’ve seen other giveaways for all of an author’s preceding books.  Last year, I won a copy of Sharon Mayhew’s Keep Calm and Carry On, Children with accompanying British snacks.

Get creative! If your main character is a knitter, give away the book and a knitting pattern and the yarn needed to make it.

Teach Them Something

Mo Willems has been doing a series of videos where he shows his viewers how to draw something specific, such as The Pigeon.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi has done similiar videos.  She also has a series of images she has made that feature found objects – a broken crayon, a flower petal and more.

Not an illustrator?  Neither am I.  But you can teach your readers to do things that are integral to your books such as draw a map, build a platform to feed birds, or make their own invisible ink.

What you do to promote your book will depend on your book itself.  Brainstorm some ideas and then see which ones you should tackle first.  There are young readers out there desperate to make a connection.


5 Tips on Recharging

Raise your hand if you’ve noticed that 2020 has been a bit much.  In spite of that, I feel like I’ve gotten a fair amount of writing done.

  • Early in the pandemic I wrote and rewrote The Impeachment of Donald Trump and Coronavirus: The COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • I’ve also written two new picture books, Baby Browz and Four Freddies.  Baby Browz is ready to submit.  Four Freddies probably needs another draft or two.
  • I’m revamping a nonfiction picture book series into Wild Cities, a middle grade nonfiction title.
  • I’ve also drafted a poem, a piece of flash fiction and 4693 blog posts.  Okay, I don’t know how many blog posts but it feels like a lot.

It may seem like I’m bragging but I’m just trying to illustrate a point – I’m prolific. And writing requires a lot of energy.  It’s easy to forget that because we aren’t physically lifting heavy loads.  Instead we do it intellectually and emotionally.  It is important to take time to regroup.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not brilliant at this.  Often I don’t bother until I’m crabby, exhausted and blue.  Don’t be me.  Be smarter.  Here are 5 tips to help you out.

  1.  Take breaks throughout the day.  When you freelance, it is easy to be on the job all day long. For example, I’m writing this at almost 11 pm.  Don’t do that. Get up from your desk for five minutes every half hour.  Weed the garden.  Stretch.  Get the laundry from your basement laundry room.
  2. Schedule your day.  When you start your work day, start with what has to get done.  Your blog post for tomorrow.  The new chapter intro your editor wants this afternoon.  Then plan when to end your work day.  Once that time arrives, do something other than work.
  3. Screen free time.  If you work on-screen, you need to spend time off-screen.  That includes your phone.  Sundays used to be my screen free day. Now it is Saturday.
  4. Have another creative outlet.  I’m not sure why doing non-writing creative work recharges me, but it does. I’ve been knitting. I crochet.  I bead and weave.  Maybe your creative thing is cooking.  Or decorating.  Or gardening.
  5. Schedule fun.  That may seem difficult to do right now but go someplace fun.  You get extra points if it is someplace in nature. Put these things on the calendar so you don’t ignore them.

Writing is difficult enough.  Give yourself what you need to have the energy to write.