Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Banned Books Week 2016

This week, libraries and bookstores across the country are observing Banned Books Week,  an annual event since 1982. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Diversity.” As the Association of American Publishers (AAP) notes, “The majority of banned books are disproportionally from diverse authors.” Books with themes of race and racism, gender identity, sexuality, and religious difference are also more likely to be challenged or banned.

What message does this send to young people? First, that difference is bad and unacceptable. Second, that voices that deviate from the norm (whatever that is) are suspect and dangerous.  Challenging books with diverse content stigmatizes many in our community, limits learning and growth, and stifles the healthy dialogue that should be at the center of our schools and democracy.

Fortunately, we have access to more diverse perspectives in young adult literature than ever before. The Hill Top Library proudly features contemporary and classic books by diverse authors; themes of difference, bias, and equity; and characters with a wide range of intersecting identities. Our collection includes many frequently challenged titles, which also happen to be awesome books. Celebrate your freedom to read, and check ’em out!


Note: Books pictured (in Hill Top Library) have all been frequently challenged.

Welcome Back! An intro and two new titles for back-to-school

Dear Students and Families,

It’s a beautiful day on the Hill as we approach the end of our first full week of classes. I’ve always loved this time of year: the still-warm days and cooler nights, and the excitement, anticipation – and yes, craziness – of a new school year, new schedules, new friends…and new books!

For those of you who don’t know me yet, I’m Anna Murphey. I’m thrilled to be back at Hill Top for a second year as the Librarian after assisting Ms. Gillespie in the library last year (thankfully, she’s still literally just around the corner in the Reading Room, making awesome things happen in her expanded role as Director of Post-Secondary Transitions).

I look forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting many of you for the first time at today’s Back to School Night. In the meantime, here are two new books with back-to-school themes. Come check ’em out!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling)

Some of you Harry Potter fans gobbled up this much-anticipated eighth installment to the series immediately after the book was released on July 31st. As you probably know, it’s the script to the new stage play which is being produced in London. Set nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, the book follows Harry (now a middle-aged bureaucrat at the Ministry of Magic) and his reluctant son, Albus, who as the story opens is just starting his first year at Hogwarts.

Complex father-son dynamics, adolescent angst, and Time-Turners…all your favorite themes, characters, and magic are here. But it’s a play, not a novel, which makes for a unique reading experience. Once you get used to navigating the clunky-looking dialogue and stage directions, you may find your imagination is filling in the blanks – like a movie sequel playing in your head. Make some popcorn, find yourself an air-conditioned room, dim the lights, and read. It’s as good as going to the movies.


SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

This book is weird and wonderful. Though it’s technically a graphic novel, there’s little in the way of linear story-telling here from the brilliant author of This One Summer. The book takes place at a private school that’s a little like Hogwarts – that is, for kids who have some kind of special magic ability and are, well, mutants. And they’re also typical teenagers grappling with crushes, class projects, and the existential question of what to do after graduation. I loved these characters and the dreamy artwork in each comic strip. Recommended for mature readers with an absurdist sense of humor.


College Tours

Hey folks…I just finished a whirlwind tour of some PA colleges. Check out my adventures on Instagram. I’m @mrsgillespie (isn’t that creative?).

Give yourself some Headspace

It’s been a while since I shared an app. This one kept popping up as a sponsor for a bunch of my podcasts, so I decided to give it a try. And now, with finals and the end of the year approaching, I thought some of you might find it helpful.


Headspace is a meditation and mindfulness app (and website). I’ll be honest, I’m usually not much of a meditation or mindfulness person. My mind drifts and I start thinking of the 20 million things I could be doing if I weren’t sitting there doing nothing (like I could be sitting there watching reruns of Bones). But here’s the thing. Headspace starts with something called Take 10. It’s just 10 minutes. And once you get a little used to it, 10 minutes really isn’t that long. The first one feels a little funny. There’s this guy, Andy, kind of talking you through. And then all of a sudden, he’ll stop talking and you’ll think, “Oh, is it over?” Nope. He comes back and gives you some more guidance. But you get used to it. Then it’s not so awkward.

And there are some things from the meditation that you can take with you through the day. So if you start to get a little stressed about a test or quiz or paper, you just use part of the method to help you focus and calm down. (I did a meditation class years ago, and even though I never really stuck with it, I ALWAYS use the techniques I learned when I go to the dentist.)

And like all good things these days, there’s a social aspect to it. Sign up with friends and connect as buddies and compare your progress.

The app is free for the Take 10 portion, which is ten 10-minute guided meditations (which can be repeated). If you really like the practice and wanted to do more with it, you would need to subscribe. It’s available for both iThing and Android and on line.


New Audio and a New-ish Book

SYNCHEAD-150x150Okay, somehow I missed that yesterday was Thursday and forgot to announce the Sync downloads for the week. The contemporary book is 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, which I really liked (which is saying something because I hated the first book I read by him and just had to stop reading another after only 51 pages). The classic book is This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Download them here.

As for the new-ish book. We’ve been taking the time this month to recognize mental health and we’ve had some wonderful presentations aimed at helping us understand how the brain works differently in different people. This seemed like a great time to talk about what has been my favorite book I’ve read so far this year.20160520_091330

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman is a very strange story in the best possible way. It is the story of Colin Bosch, artist in residence on a ship headed for the deepest ocean. It is the story of Colin Bosch, odd high school student. There are pirates and parrots and families.

I don’t want to give too much away except to say, give this book a chance and just trust the story. At the beginning it may not make a whole lot of sense and it may be difficult to follow. But there are amazing “A-HA!” moments in the book once everything falls into place. And there is a great author’s note at the end. You can read it first, if you want a heads up as to what’s going on in the story, but I recommend you leave it until the end.

In short…please read this book. It is wonderful, and beautiful, and amazing.

Oh…and next week…


Fold Paper, Listen to Audiobooks, You Will

Today is Star Wars Day! So, grab a Star Wars themed book. We’ve got a bunch. The Shakespeare 20160504_092700editions. Novels of the movies. Jedi Academy. But I do love the Origami Yoda series (as evidenced by the poster in front of the circulation desk).

Want to make your own origami figures for Star Wars day? Then grab Art2-D2’s Guide to Folding and Doodling. Learn to draw speedy versions of your favorite Star Wars characters (pre-The Force Awakens). Or make your own origami cast (although you may need the novels to get origami instructions for all the characters). If you make any, be sure to stop by and show us!

Another exciting thing about today…it’s Sync ’16 Eve! Sync is the program that offers free audiobook download all summer long. Two books each week based on a theme. Each yeaSYNCHEAD-150x150r they add more titles and start the program earlier. This year…it starts tomorrow. The first two books are The Great Tennessee Monkey Trail and Vivian Apple at the End of the World. Each Thursday two new books will go up on the site. Once downloaded, they’re yours to keep. So take advantage. There are some ah-maze-ing books this summer. You can see the whole list here. Or grab a flyer from the library or at Mrs. Neft’s desk.

Alimentary, my dear readers

This is not a poetry book, even though it’s still April. But I’ve been enjoying it so much, I just had to talk about it.

Mary Roach has written some fascinating books. Want to know about death? Try Stiff. Want to know about the afterlife? Spook. (Maybe some of you who were part of The Unexplained might want to read that one.)  Want to know about life in space? She has tips on Packing for Mars.

20160429_091849But today’s book is about what happens when you eat. It’s called Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal. If you’ve even wondered about the process of eating, this is the book for you. Things I’ve learned so far:

  1. The average human produces 2-3 pints of saliva a day.
  2. There was a guy who, as a result of being accidentally shot, lived the rest of his life with part of his stomach exposed. The doctor who treated him used this strange feature to do all sorts of experiments about digestion and stomach acid.
  3. Mexican dogs prefer spicier kibble than American dogs.
  4. It takes about 30 hours for food to pass through our bodies…the same amount of time it takes to travel by Amtrak from Seattle to Los Angeles.
  5. April 27th was National Hairball Awareness Day…and I failed to do something special for Skitty, my cat.

I’m only at the beginning of Chapter 6.

One of the things I love about Roach’s books is that she totally enjoys the research and the things she’s writing about. That means that her books are really fun to read. She makes everything interesting. And she’s wickedly funny.

If you want to learn something odd and laugh a lot while learning, pick up one of her books. We have all of the books mentioned in this post. I promise you’ll enjoy them.