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Monster Librarian Presents: Banned Books Week 2012

September 30th-October 6th

30 years of Liberating Literature

Horatio P. Bunny reaching for some banned books by Darlene Wanglund.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

- First Amendment to the United States Constitution


        There is nothing more frightening than censorship.   We here at Monster Librarian have the pleasure of providing reviews of horror fiction, urban fantasy, thrillers, paranormal romance, and scary books for children.   It is our desire to help librarians with these genres and support the genre reading community.  While we understand that many of the titles we review are not to everyone's taste we hold the rights of genre readers, and all readers, to read the books they love in the highest regard, and object to censorship and silencing the voices of authors we have the right to read. To read more about what Banned Books Week really means, click here.




         According to the Texas chapter of the ACLU's annual report on challenged and banned books in Texas, in October 2009, P.C. Cast became the most banned author in Texas when the Stephenville ISD banned P.C. Cast's House of Night series. The same district also banned Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy books. All of them. Even the ones that haven't been written yet. If you visit our Young Adult Reviews of Vampire Fiction page, you'll find a link near the top of past interview we did with P.C. Cast, and if you scroll down, you'll find reviews of some of her books, although not the ones she hasn't written yet. More recently, Ellen Hopkins, author of several YA novels dealing with frightening issues and situations faced by teens today, was  disinvited from the Humble, Texas Teen Lit Festival when a middle school librarian shared concerns with some parents who went to the district superintendent. Although he had never read Hopkins' books, and other librarians lobbied to keep her as a speaker, he still canceled her appearance. Four other authors have since withdrawn from the festival, including Pete Hautman and Melissa de la Cruz. We've reviewed books by both of them here, and you'll find a link to an interview with Melissa at the top of our YA Vampire Fiction page as well. Ellen sent us some of her books, and we've reviewed them below. Michele Lee interviews Ellen Hopkins here.

    Moving on from censorship to book burning, it was impossible to miss the attention given to Florida pastor Rev. Terry Jones when he announced his intention to burn the Koran on September 11.  We are thankful that he did not, and bring you a review of Once by Morris Gleitzman, as a reminder.

    Finally, how could we possibly dedicate a page to Banned Books Week without mentioning Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories books? The series, which includes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: Tales to Chill Your Bones, is listed at number 7 in the American Library Association's list "Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009". Our review of the Scary Stories Treasury, which collects all three books, can be found below.

    Most librarians are on the front lines, defending our First Amendment rights. If you know a librarian, Banned Books Week is a great time to let them know you appreciate their work to not just provide you with books and other resources, but in defending your right to read.

Cujo by Stephen King

Signet Press, 2004

ISBN: 9780451161352

Available: Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, Audio CD


Cujo is a stand-alone novel by Stephen King. It concerns the most horrible event of a young family's life, when their devoted, loving dog, a St. Bernard named Cujo, is stricken with rabies. This makes an otherwise sweet and caring dog into a savage killing machine. Cujo was turned into a movie 25 years ago, and it stands the test of time as a gripping, sad and terrifying story both in book and movie form.


        I have read this book many times. As a dog lover and pet parent, Cujo speaks to one of my scariest nightmares. I have a lovable, furry Chow- Golden Retriever mix, and I hope to the heavens it never encounters the dreaded disease known as rabies. This book is recommended for readers of scare-your-pants-off books and killer animal books. Also, if you enjoy werewolf books, you will probably get something out of this. This book also serves a good public service announcement as to why you should keep your dog's rabies vaccination current.


Contains: Violence, terrifying scenes, profanity.

Review by Benjamin Franz



Scary Stories Treasury; Three Books to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell 

HarperCollins Publishers,1985
ISBN-13: 978-0060263416

Available: New and Used

The Scary Stories Treasury contains three popular volumes of “scary stories”, collected from folklore and urban legends by Alvin Schwartz: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones. Any librarian who isn’t familiar with the books collected in this volume really needs to check them out. Not only are these titles in high demand for older children and teens, but they are an incredible storytelling resource. In fact, in the introduction to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Schwartz writes that scary stories are “meant to be told”.  


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the best known of the three books, and is the one I’ve used the most. It both starts and ends with “jump” stories, and these are fun to tell to a group. “The Viper” and “The Ghost with Bloody Fingers” are stories I’ve frequently told. Also included are the poem “A Man Who Lived in Leeds”, the song “Old Woman All Skin and Bone”, “The Hearse Song” and the Halloween game “The Dead Man’s Brains”. Other stories in the book include variants on familiar tales, such as “The Guests”, in which a young couple looking for a place to stay the night learn after the fact that their hosts were ghosts, and urban legends like “The Hook”, in which news that a murderer with a hook for a hand is on the loose spoils a date. Finally, there are some truly creepy and scary tales about ghosts, witches, shapeshifters, and the supernatural. While most of these come from folklore, and can’t be mistaken for anything happening today, they can still give readers, and listeners, the shivers.


More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark has longer stories. Some are set in a specific historical period, such as “The Weird Blue Light”, which takes place during the Civil War. Many of them have sudden endings. In “Something Was Wrong”, we follow a bewildered and frightened John Sullivan around, learning only in the last few words that he is dead. Some folktales have clearly been adapted for a modern audience, such as “The Drum” an ominous contemporary variant of the folktale “The New Mother”. Schwartz doesn’t hold back or moralize when he retells a story. “Wonderful Sausage” is a clever and horrifying tale about a butcher who adds a special ingredient to his sausage. This volume also has a few more contemporary tales, ranging from frightening to tragic, and a description of the creepy sleepover game “A Ghost in the Mirror”. While the stories in this volume are more satisfying in many ways, I’d say these tales are aimed at a slightly older audience.


Scary Stories 3 continues with more detailed and sometimes complicated stories. In “Just Delicious”, a twist on the folktale “The Golden Arm”, a terrified wife feeds her husband a dead woman’s liver without his knowledge... and the woman wants it back. “Harold” is a chilling story of a vengeful doll. “The Wolf Girl”, set in a specific time and place, has its basis in the lives of real people, as does “The Trouble”, a story about poltergeist activity in the Lombardo household. “Maybe You Will Remember”, a baffling story about a girl whose sick mother disappears from her hotel, becomes truly horrifying when the reader turns to the notes at the back of the book to solve the puzzle. The volume wraps up with a couple of mildly funny stories. Of the three books, I’d say this is my least favorite, possibly because it is so grounded in detail, as details often distract listeners, making it harder to get them engaged in the story.


All three books have detailed notes and bibliographies provided by the author. While you don’t have to read the notes to enjoy the stories (with the exception of “Maybe You Will Remember”) they are easy to understand and interesting. All three books also have incredible illustrations by gifted children’s book illustrator Stephen Gammell, done in just black and white ink. It’s his illustrations that make the books so magnetic to kids... and so terrifying. The illustration for “Wonderful Sausage”, as an example,  brings a whole new grotesque dimension to the story. With just a few strokes and some shading, Gammell ups the scare level considerably. Tormented, skeletal faces, ragged clothes, distorted and indistinct figures, glowing eyes and teeth, empty chairs, empty baskets, empty’s enough to cause nightmares, and makes much more impact than if we had only Schwartz’s words. Many collections of scary stories from American folklore don’t include illustrations, or at least not effective ones, and that is probably one of the reasons why more of them aren’t well known. The Scary Stories books, however, are notorious, to the point that the series was seventh on the American Library Association’s list of the most frequently challenged books for 2000-2009, and the illustrations are surely a good part of the reason why these books in particular are noticed.


The main benefit of owning The Scary Stories Treasury is that you’ll have all three books in one volume. Each book appears to have been faithfully reproduced, with Gammell’s original illustrations. However, there’s no new or additional material here. Readers who don’t have the books and want them might want to consider this volume, but for those who already own them, there’s no reason to purchase it. I highly recommend that libraries of all kinds have at least one copy of each of the books included in The Scary Stories Treasury, and the Treasury itself might make a nice reference volume, and you’ll find that the Scary Stories books are rarely on the shelves. The Scary Stories Treasury is highly recommended to libraries and readers who do not already own copies of the Scary Stories books, and recommended as a reference volume for school and public libraries.


Contains: Violence, gore, cannibalism, deception, the occult, witchcraft, murder.

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski


Once by Morris Gleitzman

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); First Edition edition, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0805090260

Available: New and Used

Once there was a boy who told stories, whose parents left him in an orphanage in the mountains and didn’t say why.  He lived there for nearly four years, until one day he saw professional librarians arrive and burn all the books in the library. Except they weren’t librarians, and they were burning all the Jewish books they could find, not just in the library there, but everywhere. The boy decided to find his parents, Jewish booksellers, and help them save their books.


What he didn’t know, and readers will know almost immediately, is that the book burners didn’t just destroy Jewish books... they were Nazis, bent on killing off the Jews. The narrator’s innocence on his journey to join his parents creates a sense of dread long before he encounters the first obvious results of violence, and his description of events that he doesn’t understand is wrenching to the reader. While he makes sense of the world for himself and for others with imaginative storytelling, what’s most terrifying is when he finally recognizes the situation and is unable to tell stories anymore, when other people need to believe them most.


What is astonishing about this book is that for nearly a third of the story, the main character’s most terrible imaginings are of the destruction of books and persecution of bookstore owners and customers. He is unable to conceive that there’s anything that could be worse, in spite of the trucks packed with unhappy prisoners, soldiers, guns, and burning houses he encounters. Even when he finally recognizes the reality of what’s happening, he clings to his own notebook of stories. His notebook, and his ability to tell stories changes lives and makes tragedy a little more bearable. In the end, the fate of the characters is unknown, although for most it appears to be inevitable. Stories can’t save everyone. But there’s always the possibility that a book, a story, the power of imagination, will save someone, and destroying them also leads to the destruction of hope.


Contains: violence, murder, brutality, book burning, death camps, killing of children, Holocaust setting.

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski



Fallout by Ellen Hopkins

Margaret K. McElderry, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1416950097

Available: New and Used

In Fallout, the third book in the series that started with Crank, centered on meth addict Kristina Snow, Hopkins moves on to show the effect Kristina's selfish ways still have on her children, and covers a wide spectrum of emotional and psychological problems. Fallout is told through three narrators: Hunter, Kristina's first child, born of rape and trying to deal with rage; Autumn, who struggles with OCD and turns to alcohol to get her through a major life change; and Summer, who is unaware that she has siblings, and has been raised by a series of abusive foster homes and her own addict father.


Fallout is raw, as can be expected from Hopkins, sharp and yet beautiful as well. Hopkins manages to bring new sympathy to the subject, even to characters readers are already familiar with and have started to hate. While the full scope of the story would be missed if readers started the series here, this is the book that will most call to the loved one or friend struggling to support (or justify not supporting) an addict. Highly recommended.

Contains: drug use, sex, language

Review by Michele Lee


Glass by Ellen Hopkins

McElderry; Reprint edition, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-1416940913

Available: New and Used

Glass is the direct follow up to Crank. Glass continues the story of Kristina Snow after she's had her baby, and kicked meth and nicotine, shortly before her eighteenth birthday. It follows her relapse in her struggle with the meth monster and goes farther than Crank imagined. Sharp and painful,  Glass is hard to read. For one, Kristina seems to not even care that she's making such horrible mistakes. Almost on autopilot in her quest to fill simple needs, this reader more than once wanted to reach into the lines and try to shake some sense into her.


While Crank goes very far to combat drug use as an introductory tale, Glass is Anti-Drug 201, a hardcore look at more of the nasty side effects of addiction, as good as an uncut marathon of Intervention with viewers thrust, uncomfortably, inside Kristina's head. There's no doubt it will be too much for many readers, either too brutal, or too close to home. Hopkins savagely slices through any illusions of “normal life” with beautiful poems and style that makes the story she's telling all the more horrific. Highly recommended.

Contains: sex, drug use, language, domestic violence

Review by Michele Lee


Crank by Ellen Hopkins

McElderry; Original edition, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0689865190

Available: New and  Used

Crank is Ellen Hopkins' controversial, and sorely needed, verse novel. Kristina Snow’s life changes forever when her father and the boy she's crushing introduce her to meth. Unlike Impulse, which is raw and shredding in its emotion, Crank is almost cold at times, brutally showing a girl on the edge of being a woman, who should have the kind of life that discourages drug use, choosing to ride with the monster time after time. Likewise, the people in her life who should be able to step in, fail, leaving Kristina alone to fight a beast that defeats most adults.


Crank is a difficult book to handle, but it's far closer to reality than any drug awareness program I went through in school. Hopkins’ books are strongly positioned to be of great value as fiction, as poetry, and for their educational value, as they boldly strip away pretenses and sensitivities to show addiction as the cruel master it is. Highly recommended for public collections as well as recommended reading material for those whose lives have been scarred by the real life monsters on our streets.

Contains: sex, drug use, rape, language

Review by Michele Lee


Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

McElderry; 1st Simon Pulse edition, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1416903574

Available: New and Used

Floored, that's how readers will feel even when they are only part of the way into this breathtaking tale of three teens admitted to a mental care center after each has attempted suicide. While the book is large, 666 pages, it's written in poetry form, so it’s a fast read. The terrible story of how these three kids, who should be enjoying the last years of high school, ended up where they are, is boiled down to terse, powerful, images that will leave readers feeling scarred.


I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It puts adults into the head space of serious teen suffering and offers teens a real, honest look at how addiction, parasitic relationships and mental disorders (like depression and bipolar disorder) work, washing it all with a message of sympathy and solidarity. There are an increasing number of books out there designed to help parents and teens understand and cope with the big, very real, problems that they face. But none that I've read have been as real as Impulse. It skips the clinical approach altogether and puts the reader directly into the characters’ heads, slowly revealing their lives, even as they themselves face up to the significance of things. Few books are must-reads in the large scope of fiction, but for teens and even parents suffering from or seeking to support someone who struggles with these issues, Impulse is a must-read. Nothing else crosses the barrier between “normal” and not with such strength and odd beauty. Impulse simply should be available in all public collections.

Contains: references to sex, addiction, self mutilation, suicide, language

Review by Michele Lee


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