On this episode of The Desk Set, we’re talking about two 10 to Try categories that have more overlap than you might think: Read a Banned (or Challenged) Book and Read a Young Adult Book. We chat with young adult author/superstar Marissa Meyer about her new series, Renegades, the power of fairytale retellings, and which Sailor Scout she wants to be. Then, we talk about banned books, including the most banned books of 2017, and why comic books and graphic novels so often top the list of most banned books. Did you know you can check out digital comics, including some of frequently banned and challenged titles, from the library via hoopla? Plus we share our top picks for under-appreciated young adult books to try when you’ve finished all the best sellers.
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A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.
See the rest of the books and authors mentioned in this episode.
Looking for more? Check out Britta's picks and Emily's picks for banned books, young adult fiction, and graphic novels. You can also read more about the history of the young adult fiction genre.
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The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. Most of the audio heard on the podcast was recorded at the Makerspace at the Bellevue Library. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.
Emily Calkins: You're probably best known for the Lunar Chronicles, which is a series of sci-fi fairytale retellings that starts with Cinder, where Cinderella is a cyborg mechanic who fixes the prince's android. What do you think is appealing about fairytale retellings, both for readers and also for writers?
Marissa Meyer: Yeah. I think there's a lot of things that we find ourselves constantly drawn to these very archetypal stories and I think that a lot of it is because the themes within these stories are so universal and so timeless. Cinderella is one of the most obvious examples in that it is at its heart a rags to riches story. I don't think there's anyone in the world, no matter where you come from or where you start out in life, what your culture is or your religion or anything, we all love this idea of being able to grow in society beyond where we came from. That's something that I think so many people respond to on a really deep level. Of course, a lot of fairytales too have to do with finding love, finding acceptance, and belonging. Those are just themes that really appeal to us on a human level. So, I think that, that's part of the reason why they continue to persist. And then, for writers it's great that you can take these stories that been around for so long that people do have such strong familiarity with and such childhood ties to, but they leave so much room still for imagination. They're such simple stories that you can really take that heart of the story and expand it and enhance it in so many different directions. For a writer, that's a lot of fun to play with.
Emily Calkins: As the series goes on they get...the stories become kind of more and more complicated, because you're not leaving the original characters behind. They continue. Was that a challenge to balance all of the new stuff you were adding and still sort of try to do the fairytale retelling part of it?
Marissa Meyer: It was a huge challenge and that was the plan from the beginning, that we would start with Cinderella, and then book two would continue Cinderella's story, but then also bring in Little Red Riding Hood. And then, book three, now you have Cinderella, and the prince, and Little Red, and the wolf. But, now you're adding in Rapunzel and her prince. It would just get bigger and bigger. My idea was that by the end of the story you would have this really awesome crew on this spaceship who now had to work together to try to take down the evil queen. I loved that idea from the beginning and it's very much what made me fall in love with this series, but I don't think that the writer I was when I started writing Cinder would have been capable of then writing the book that was Winter. Because, it was so much more complicated and had so many characters and so many subplots by the time you would get to the end of the series. So, it really was very much a growing exercise for me as a writer and I developed so much in my craft, in my skills so that by the time I was tackling Winter I knew so much more about what it took to put this story together and figure it out. I obviously hope that readers agree. It seemed to all work out really well.
Emily Calkins: Like you sort of indicated there, Lunar Chronicles is sort of a huge universe at this point. You've got the four main novels, an additional novel, a collection of short stories, and some graphic novels. Was it hard to leave all of that behind and start over?
Marissa Meyer: I would say it was bittersweet. I really loved writing the graphic novels, which wasn't something I had originally planned to do. But, by the end as I was finishing the series and started to feel really sad about leaving this world and these characters behind, then I had the idea for these graphic novel spinoffs. It was so much fun for me to write them and to be able to stay with these characters a little bit longer. At the same time, I had been writing the Lunar Chronicles for...gosh, almost eight years I think when the series wrapped up. I had a lot of ideas for new novels that were in my head and I was really excited about. So, as much as it was difficult to leave those characters behind, I was also really excited to pursue some new things.
Emily Calkins: After Lunar Chronicles, you wrote Heartless, which is about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland sort of before Alice's arrival. And then, Fairest is a backstory of the Lunar Chronicles villain. Like you said, in Renegades the main character has been raised by sort of the super villains. What makes you interested in thinking about villains and unlikable women?
Marissa Meyer: I don't really know why, but it is something I am so drawn to and obviously a lot of these themes that I enjoy playing with and have played with in a number of different novels now. I think a part of it for is because when you think of a villain, the most interesting villains are the ones who are not 100% villainous. There's a famous quote and I couldn't tell you who said it, but it's famous. That the villain is the hero of their own story. They believe they're the hero of the story and I think that's so true. That if you can figure out what it is about a villain that is making them do the things that they're doing and why they are making these choices that to the reader and to the other characters seem like horrible choices and, "You're such a bad person. Why would you do this?" But, if you can dig deeper into their motivations and let the reader see why and hopefully allow the reader to kind of understand them. Maybe even sympathize with them or connect them on a different level, I think it makes them so much more interesting. So, I really like playing with that. I love looking at kind of the gray areas when it comes to morals and ethics and knowing that no one in the world is all good or all bad. We all have these gray areas in our personality and there are situations where you might like to think that you would do the heroic thing, but a lot of studies show that often times people choose not to do the heroic thing and I think that's all really interesting to take a look at.
Emily Calkins: Did you start writing about superheroes with that question in mind or was it just sort of like, "Oh, that's an interest that I have and it works really well with superheroes." How did you go from fairytales to superheroes?
Marissa Meyer: Yeah. No. Definitely. I really wanted Renegades to examine those gray areas between good and evil. I really, from the beginning wanted to take a super villain character and a superhero character, and in someways pit them against each other and force them to question their own belief systems and see if they would change over the course of the story. But, at the same time show that they're starting to fall in love and what does that do to their behaviors and their beliefs. That was very much kind of the structure of the story from the very beginning and part of it is that I have always loved superheroes. Kind of similar to fairytales and how the stories are so iconic and they're such universal themes. We see that same sort of thing in superhero stories and everyone at some point or another has had these vicarious fantasies of having superpowers, and being able to go out into the world and make a difference, and protect the weak and the innocent. We all have those fantasies, and so that's another thing that I've always enjoyed. Reading superhero stories and watching the movies ever since I was a kid. And so, it's been a lot of fun for me now to take some of those themes and apply them to my own creation.
Britta Barrett: If you were to have your own superpower, is there one that you'd really like?
Marissa Meyer: There's a couple. Nova, who's the main character in Renegades ... This is so not very heroic, but she has two powers. One is that she can put people to sleep through her touch, the other power is that she herself never has to sleep. I love that. I'm such a crazy overachiever and I love the idea that if I never had to sleep, "Oh, just think of all of the things that I could get done, and all the books that I could read, and all the books that I could write." So, that's a very vicarious fantasy for me. Even though I probably wouldn't be saving the world with it too much.
Emily Calkins: Readers of all ages definitely enjoy your books. I've read most of them and I am an adult, but technically they're categorized as young adult. Did you start out wanting to write for teenagers?
Marissa Meyer: Yes and no. I started ... When I started writing or trying to write my first novel, that was kind of before young adult was really a thing. Like, Harry Potter was just becoming big, Twilight and The Hunger Games hadn't really hit the scene yet. So, young adult as a genre really didn't start coming into it's prime as we see today until I was already knowing that I wanted to be a writer and working on some of my first novels. So, I didn't know that this is the genre I want to write in. But, when I ... I started attempting to write my first novel when I was 16 and it was about a 16 year old princess of course and even from then on that novel I never finished. And the next one I never finished, and the next one I never finished. I got older, and went to college, and got into my 20s, but my characters always stayed teenagers. At the time, I really didn't know why. I can look back on it now and think of just how much I love how fresh all of the emotions are then, how everything when you're a teenager carries so much importance and so much weight ...
Marissa Meyer: ... when it comes to the romance, every touch is important, every kiss is a moment and I love that and I've always loved that, so it's definitely I think now why I continue to want to write in that age group. Then of course Hunger Games came out, Twilight came out, and suddenly young adult was a thing and I realized, "Hey, this is what I'm writing. This is what my stories have always been."
Emily Calkins: Do you think you'll ever try adult or middle grade or are you happy writing young adult?
Marissa Meyer: I'm very happy in young adult. Never say never. I don't currently have any ideas for middle grade or adult fiction, but I do have ... I guess for other things, I have ideas for some nonfiction books I'd like to pursue at some point, more graphic novels. I have young children so I'd love to write a picture book at some point. There are other things that I want to explore, but as far as novels go, I'm really happy in YA.
Britta Barrett: What were some of the novels when you were a teenager that really made you excited about reading and writing?
Marissa Meyer: When I was a teenager, I was super into high fantasy, so lots of obviously Tolkien, Eddings, Tamora Pierce, kind of everything in that genre. If there was a dragon on the cover, that's what I was reading.
Emily Calkins: I loved those David Eddings books when I was a teenager.
Marissa Meyer: Yeah.
Emily Calkins: They're so great.
Marissa Meyer: They were so good.
Emily Calkins: Yeah.
Marissa Meyer: And it's interesting that obviously when they came out, they were shelved in high fantasy. I suspect that if they came out today they would be YA.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, I totally agree, because I can't remember the main character's name now, but he's a teenager.
Marissa Meyer: Yeah.
Emily Calkins: It's all about his quest and his first romance and all that stuff.
Marissa Meyer: The growing up story. Yeah, all of that.
Emily Calkins: Speaking of YA, what are you reading now? Do you read other YA authors?
Marissa Meyer: I do. I read a lot of young adult and I also read a fair amount of nonfiction, but within YA, right now I am reading, "PS, I Like You," by Kasie West. It's adorable and has kind of the love, hate romance trope which is my favorite romance trope, so I'm really into it, but I read a lot of YA. It's still my go to, my love.
Britta Barrett: One of the other things we're talking about in this episode are banned books and frequently there's a lot of crossover between YA and banned books. Why do you think it is that people are so worried about what teenagers are reading?
Marissa Meyer: I honestly don't know. It will be interesting as my kids get older and become teenagers to see if I become more concerned about this sort of thing. My girls are three. I have three-year-old twins, so we're like nowhere near that. But to me, even looking at the teenagers in my life, I feel like they are so smart and so aware of what's going on in the world and I think a lot of adults maybe don't give them enough credit for not only already knowing what some of the issues are that I think people ... that books become banned for dealing with these topics and it's like, kids, they know what's going on. They've figured it out. But they also ... I think kids are smart enough to know where their own limits are and if they're reading something that they're not comfortable with or that they might realize like this is beyond what I'm ready to really be reading about, I think kids are smart enough ... I shouldn't be saying kids, young adults are smart enough to set it aside and maybe come back to that later. I think a lot of adults maybe don't realize that, that they have that capacity and so they try to curate more what they think that the young people should be reading, and I personally think that it's always a good thing to read, maybe to read beyond your boundaries sometimes. I don't know. I can't imagine me as a mother ever asking my children not to read something. That's very ... a baffling thought to me.
Britta Barrett: You mentioned some of the YA books you're reading, the ones you grew up with, are there some graphic novels that are inspiring you to work more in that medium?
Marissa Meyer: Yes. I ... okay, hold on. Let me think of names here. Kazu Kibuishi, sorry if I butchered that name. He's phenomenal. I love the work that he does. What's her name? Her name is Faith. Faith Erin Hicks is another who I absolutely adore and love the way that she's able to pull stories together in different perspectives. Gene Luen Yang, of course is phenomenal. I love graphic novels. I've loved them since I was a teenager. There's lots.
Emily Calkins: I think it's sort of like YA too where there's a whole explosion in the last decade or so. If you're a person who was not going to a comic book shop to buy single issues, you can get so much more now which is really exciting and more different kinds of stories available in graphic formats.
Marissa Meyer: Yeah, definitely.
Emily Calkins: Which is really wonderful.
Marissa Meyer: I also know when I was a kid and the single issue comics, even though I loved reading my older brother's X-Men comics, at the same time I always felt like comics were a "boy" thing. I didn't really feel like comics were being written for me and then when I was a teenager, I discovered Japanese manga and suddenly it's all for me, and I just completely fell in love with manga and that for me felt like opening up a brand new world of storytelling and it is really what I credit for starting my love of graphic novels until today.
Emily Calkins: Do you think the East Asian setting and stuff of manga influenced the world building of Lunar Chronicles?
Marissa Meyer: Definitely. Definitely. Yeah, part of it was inspired just by my love of manga and Sailor Moon, which had my heart when I was a teenager. But the specific choice for Cinder being set in futuristic China is because the...to what many believe to be the first recorded version of the Cinderella story was written in ninth century China and it's a wonderful fairytale called Ye Xian, and I definitely encourage people to go read it because it's fascinating to see the story of Cinderella set in this very different world and culture, but at the same time, it's obviously Cinderella. She loses the slipper and at the end marries the emperor. She has the wicked stepmother. Instead of having a fairy godmother or magical birds, she has magical talking fish bones that give her the dress. It's totally the story of Cinderella, but at the same time so different from what we expect the story of Cinderella to be. So that was the inspiration for the specifically Chinese setting.
Emily Calkins: Did you do a lot of fairytale research when you were putting books together?
Marissa Meyer: Oh yeah.
Emily Calkins: Any other sort of favorite nuggets that you dug up?
Marissa Meyer: I think my favorite one to research was Little Red Riding Hood, because it really went through a lot of different variations over the centuries until obviously the one by the Grimm Brothers that we know, and most people know the story of Red Riding Hood by the end she and her grandmother are both gobbled up and then the kindly old woodsman comes and rescues them, but in much older stories, Little Red Robin ... Robin, Little Red Riding Hood was actually able to trick the wolf and get away herself and I love that to see the girl outsmarting the villain and rescuing herself, which we don't always see so much in the Grimm versions.
Britta Barrett: Did you have a Sailor scout that you really identified with?
Marissa Meyer: Sailor Jupiter was always my favorite, although you phrase it as one I identified with...For me, Sailor Moon was the one that was most like me, just because we were both super bubbly and chipper and always the optimistic one in our friends group, and let's all be happy. So my friends actually called me Usagi when I was a teenager, which is her name in Japan, was my nickname for a long time. But, Sailor Jupiter was the one that I admired the most and I loved her. I actually based Cinder's character a lot off of Sailor Jupiter, because I love that on the outside Sailor Jupiter, when you meet her, she's a tomboy and she's really tough and always getting into fights and all the other students are scared of her, but then once she gets to know the other characters, you learn that she's this total softy and she really just likes to bake and cook and she just really wants someone to love her and she's totally soft and squishy on the inside and I just really loved that dichotomy in her character.
Britta Barrett: Going back to something you said earlier, do you think there's a villain that stands out as someone who's really misunderstood?
Marissa Meyer: I'm sure there are. That's part of the reason why I wanted to do The Queen of Hearts is because you learn so little about her in Alice in Wonderland and for a long time I thought, "There's got to be more to this woman. Why is she so angry? What happened?" I think that's obviously I feel the same way with the Wicked Witch of the West and I love what Gregory Maguire was able to do with her character, and so it's really fun for writers to take these characters that everyone thinks they know but then twist ... give them a twist somehow and maybe show that it's actually much different than we all assume, which doesn't answer your question, but I'm sure there's a lot. Actually, you know what villain I think would be fascinating to do, and has been done, is Rumpelstiltskin. I love the story of Rumpelstiltskin, but ever since I was a child I always felt like Rumpelstiltskin is not the bad guy in the story. Clearly the king-
Emily Calkins: Right.
Marissa Meyer: -is the one with the issues here and I'm so curious about that character and why he does what he does to help the farmer's daughter and why does he want the child at the end of the story? I just think there's so many unanswered questions there, so I think he'd be a fun one to do with something at some point.
Emily Calkins: I think Naomi Novik's new book, Spinning Silver, has some of that. I haven't read it yet and I don't think it's as much about him, but I do think it plays with the Rumpelstiltskin story a little bit.
Marissa Meyer: Yeah. I have not read it yet either. There's also another ... I don't know if it's YA or middle grade, but there is a Rumpelstiltskin telling that I should pick up because I'd be really curious to know what she ended up doing with it, and I can't think of what the title is. Actually it might be called "Rump," maybe? I'm not sure.
Britta Barrett: I'm still waiting on someone to share Ursula's side of the story.
Emily Calkins: That's what I was gonna say too. I feel like Ursula's ...
Marissa Meyer: Well, since you mentioned that ... I actually have a short story in a collection called Because You Love to Hate Me, and the collection, the anthology, is 13 stories about well-known villains and I got to do the sea witch's story.
Britta Barrett: I can't wait to read that.
Marissa Meyer: Yeah, so check that out. It's available now. I think it just came out in paperback.
Emily Calkins: Great. I'm sure we have it. We'll put it in the show notes for our listeners.
Marissa Meyer: It as fun. I also had long been interested in the Sea Witch. She's another character similar to the Queen of Hearts that I thought, "There is more going on here." I really loved getting to tell her story.
Britta Barrett: Thank you so much for joining us today.
Marissa Meyer: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Emily Calkins: Yeah. Absolutely.
Emily Calkins: So I think a lot of readers, teen and adults, are familiar with Marissa and some of the other big YA names like John Green or Veronica Roth, but where do you go when you've read the best sellers? I have a couple of suggestions. The first is "Jasper Jones," by Craig Silvey. Jasper Jones isn't anything to Charlie, the main character of this book. He's an older boy, he's sort of the town outcast. He's mixed race in a time and place, rural Australia in the 1960s, when being mixed race was itself enough to make you the town outcast. So when Jasper shows up at Charlie's window in the middle of the night and asks for help, Charlie's kind of shocked, but he climbs out the window anyway. Jasper leads him to the body of a 16-year-old girl and begs Charlie to help him hide her until they can figure out who killed her. Otherwise, Jasper knows he'll be blamed for this crime that he didn't commit.
New Speaker: This is a fantastic book. It's an elegant combination of mystery and historical fiction and coming of age. It paints a vivid portrait of the small town where these boys live. It has great dialog and despite its heavy subject matter, it's got some really funny moments as well. If you like To Kill a Mockingbird, or other coming of age stories where
Emily Calkins: ...characters are just beginning to understand and grapple with the injustice in the world, try Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.
New Speaker: My next pick for underappreciated YA is also set in Australia. This is Stolen by Lucy Christopher. Stolen is written in the form of one long letter from the main character, 16-year-old Gemma, to the man who kidnaps her and holds her hostage in the Australian Outback. There are two things I love about this novel. First, the setting is so incredibly realized that it feels like a character in its own right. I read this book literally years ago, and I can still picture the red sands of the Outback blowing across the yard of the little house where Ty is holding Gemma hostage.
Emily Calkins: Second, Christopher, the author, really plays with your mind. If you've ever pondered Stockholm Syndrome, this is the book for you. As the story unravels, she manages to make Ty seem kind and almost sympathetic. That's a pretty impressive feat when you're reminded on basically every page that he's kidnapped the main character and is holding her hostage. It's an unnerving reading experience, and sometimes that's my favorite kind.
Britta Barrett: So you might hear this later, but we're actually recoding this during Banned Books Week. Could you tell us what that is, Emily?
Emily Calkins: Sure. So every year at the end of September, the American Library Association celebrates Banned Books Week. You might be surprised to find out that books are still regularly banned and challenged in this country. It sort of feels like something out of a different time.
Britta Barrett: Or out of a book, like 1984.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, exactly. But actually, in 2017, the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom tracked over 350 challenges to books. That means someone tried to have the book removed from the library or from the school where it was. So Banned Books Week is a chance for libraries to draw attention to the fact that this is ongoing, and to remind people that the freedom to read and access ideas isn't something that we should take for granted.
Britta Barrett: And what kind of books are they trying to ban?
Emily Calkins: That's a great question, and it's an interesting answer. So I brought the list of 2017's 10 most frequently banned and challenged books, and there are definitely some common themes in there. The number one title was Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why. This is an older book, it was published in 2007, but you might know that there was a Netflix series made out of it recently.
Britta Barrett: And it was very popular.
Emily Calkins: It was. And so it sort of came back into prominence because of that. So most of the challenges to this book are coming from school districts where parents are concerned because the book depicts suicide. So that sort of parental concern/difficult topics is definitely something that comes up. Many of the books in the Top 10 are aimed at teen readers. In addition to Thirteen Reasons Why, we've got Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. We have The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, which was a huge book last year, also gonna be made into a movie. We have Raina Telgemeier's beloved graphic novel, Drama. These are all books that we have in the Teen Section here at KCLS that show up on this Top 10 Banned List.
Britta Barrett: And they have something else in common, don't they?
Emily Calkins: They do. Another common theme is books about gender and sexuality, especially for kids. Drama has LGBTQ characters that are often cited in challenges. And there are two books featuring young transgender characters also on the list. Those are George, which is a chapter book by Alex Gino, and I Am Jazz, which is a picture book by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel. I think it's notable that both of these books are also by gender-nonconforming authors. These are really stories about the lived experiences of trans kids. Also in this category, Sex is a Funny Word, A+ title. This is a sex-ed book for kids. And the perennially banned and challenged, And Tango Makes Three. Do you remember And Tango Makes Three?
Britta Barrett: It's a picture book, right? Based on ...
Emily Calkins: It's a picture book.
Britta Barrett: ... some loving penguins.
Emily Calkins: Indeed. It's a picture book based on the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who formed a bonded pair and raised a chick named Tango together. The presence of so many books for young readers on this list isn't an aberration, right? It's pretty common to see everything from picture books to teen novels making up the vast majority of the Top 10.
Britta Barrett: But they're not the only ones that get banned, right?
Emily Calkins: No, that's true. There are other titles. In 2017, we see The Kite Runner, and in past years, stories by Chuck Palahniuk and others. But it's sort of an interesting question, this books for young readers, right?
Britta Barrett: You're a parent yourself.
Emily Calkins: I am. I'm a parent myself. And there are definitely things in our library collection that I would discourage my young daughter from reading. But there's a difference, for libraries. It's a personal choice for me, as a parent, to say, "This is not something that's appropriate for my child at this point in her life." It's not a choice that I make for the whole community by asking the library to remove a book from the collection entirely. And for us in libraries, that's the core of intellectual freedom. Our patrons have the right to access all kinds of information, from the materials our collections, by using our computers, or whatever.
Britta Barrett: And that's true in our programing, too.
Emily Calkins: It is true in our programming. So earlier this year, we offered Drag Queen Story Times in some of our libraries, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's a story time hosted by a drag queen. As with all of our programs, parents have the option to take their kids or not. And full disclosure, my toddler and I went to Drag Queen Story Time and we had a great time. But parents also have the option to skip these programs. We know that not all of our programs, or all of our materials, are for everybody. And that's okay. We do our best to reflect our incredibly diverse community in as many ways as we can.
New Speaker: So one of the other common themes on the frequently banned and challenged list is comics and graphic novels.
Britta Barrett: Yeah, and there's a whole organization called The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund whose job it is to defend these titles. So they cite a lot of the reasons why comics are frequently banned. It's a visual medium. There's just something different about opening up a book and seeing something on a page and finding it objectionable as opposed to if it's text there.
Emily Calkins: I think there's also something about comics and graphic novels where people have this instinct that it's for kids, even when it's not. I'm thinking of Matt Fraction's Sex Criminals, which is definitely not a book for children. But something about that comics format makes it feel a little more juvenile to some people.
Britta Barrett: Yeah, there's this idea that comics are just for kids, or that they're only telling superhero stories, and that if a kid sees a book that's in a comics format, they're gonna think, "That one's for me," even if it contains content that is ideally suited for adults. And there's this, like, long history of banning comics that dates back to the 1950s. So previously, there was this thing called The Comics Code Authority, which was the censor of comics. You had to obtain the seal of approval to get distribution in the country. And to do that, you had to abide by this really strict moral code, the same way film at the time had a moral code. And so, a lot of publishers were hit pretty hard by these restrictions. If you know Mad Magazine, that is a publication that only continued because it switched to the magazine format to get around the rules.
Emily Calkins: Interesting.
Britta Barrett: Yeah. And then in the '60s and '70s, to kind of circumvent the regulation, a lot of alternative comics were sold in head shops.
Emily Calkins: Fascinating.
Britta Barrett: And it's weird to think of these books, like, being among the bongs. But the scene was particularly vibrant in San Francisco. And we have artists like R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky coming out of that time and tackling subjects that were pretty taboo, from sex and drugs to political satire.
Emily Calkins: Something must've changed, because I've heard those names.
Britta Barrett: Yeah, absolutely. So in the '80s and '90s, I feel like there's this huge paradigm shift in comics and graphic novels, probably starting with Maus. Have you read that one?
Emily Calkins: I haven't, but I know of it.
Britta Barrett: Yeah. And most people know of it, even if they don't know about other comics and graphic novels. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner. It's a beautiful story of ... the author interviewed his father, who's a Polish Jew and a Holocaust survivor, and translated that story into a book where Jews were depicted as mice, Nazis were depicted as cats. And it's something that's used in classrooms today. But it tackled this really difficult, heavy subject in a beautiful, relatable way. And I think once that got published, people really started to see, "Oh, comics can be a lot of things," including art, including something very serious. So that book was huge in shifting public opinion, but they're still frequently banned, for reasons like having coarse language, sex, queer-identified characters, and I've got some suggestions that have all of the above.
Emily Calkins: Fantastic.
Britta Barrett: A few books that I love that are both comics and banned books include This One Summer. It was one of the most-banned books in recent years. And the reason why people don't like it is because it looks at early adolescence through a lens that I think is quite honest and complicated, and involves some curse words and some mentions of difficult family topics. And for all those reasons, adults don't necessarily want kids reading about that. But I think it's a very warm, beautiful story.
New Speaker: It follows Rose, who's kind of on the cusp of adolescence. She's about 11. Every summer, her family goes to this same beach, has a beach house, has this friend that she only sees there. And they're both just, like, running around, having a lot of fun, getting sugar high on candy, and swimming all day, and taking long bike rides, and also trying to impress all the cool, older kids in town by like, renting scary movies and cursing awkwardly. But unlike summers in the past, there's some heavier stuff that's happening, both in Rose's family, with those teenagers, they are these small-town secrets that they uncover. And so this summer is a little bit more intense than maybe ones had been in the past.
New Speaker: I would've loved this book when I was Rose's age. I love this book now. I think it can be read by many readers. And the choice about whether or not it's appropriate is something that each reader gets to make for themselves. But I wholeheartedly suggest This One Summer. I think it's a beautiful story, and absolutely worth reading.
New Speaker: Another frequently-banned comic is Sex Criminals, which you can guess from the name has some sexual content in it. It is not necessarily safe for work. One of the main characters is a librarian who is trying to save this library from closing. And the way that she does that is very unlikely. She's been going through her entire life with this secret special power. And it's not until she meets someone else who shares it that she really begins to use it for all it can do. I can't say too much more without giving away the plot, but I highly suggest Sex Criminals, which, again, is one of those books that I think I would've loved when I was a teenager. It handles sex in this very frank, honest, wonderful way. It's playful, and nuanced, and surprisingly relatable for anyone who's ever felt a little bit weird. So would highly suggest This One Summer and Sex Criminals.
Britta Barrett: If you're a fan of comics and graphic novels, there's a new way to read your favorites. There's this cool streaming service from the library called Hoopla. So you can use it to watch movies, listen to music. But my favorite thing to do with Hoopla is to read comics.
Emily Calkins: Yeah, and the selection is really great. It has a lot of the stuff that we've talked about already today. It's got Saga, it's got Sex Criminals. It has superhero comics. It's also got smaller, indie stuff.
Britta Barrett: Yeah, one of my favorites are all the books that come out from Fantagraphics. So, spoiler alert, I used to work there, so I'm a little bit biased. But I think they've got some amazing titles, like How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis and Megahex from Simon Hanselmann.
Emily Calkins: So if you're a comics book reader and you haven't checked out Hoopla, be sure and go on KCLS.org and search for Hoopla and check it out today.
Britta Barrett: Go to KCLS.org/hoopla. That's H-O-O-P-L-A.
Britta Barrett: Thanks for listening. You can find all the books mentioned in today's episodes in our show notes.
Emily Calkins: The Desk Set is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins. Produced by Britta Barrett, and brought to you by The King County Library System.
Britta Barrett: If you liked the show, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review us on Apple Podcasts.