Book Review: Ban This Book

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Ban This Book

by Alan Gratz

256 pages

Published by Starscape & Tor/Forge (Imprint of Macmillan USA)

Age range: MG (9 +)

Summary: (from Goodreads)

Readers, librarians, and all those books that have drawn a challenge have a brand new hero…. Stand up and cheer, book lovers. This one’s for you.- –Kathi Appelt, author of the Newbery Honor-winning The Underneath

An inspiring tale of a fourth-grader who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library–by starting her own illegal locker library!

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That’s when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate’s mom thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

Ban This Book is absolutely brilliant and belongs on the shelves of every library in the multiverse.—Lauren Myracle, author of the bestselling Internet Girls series, the most challenged books of 2009 and 2011

 

It all started the day my favorite book went missing from the library.

Loved this very much! A must-read for any book-lover (who isn’t?) or librarian. I will certainly be recommending it to some of my bookworm pupils and reading some extracts in class.

I sat on my bed surrounded by books.

I stacked them by size, then stacked them alphabetically, then stacked them by books I’d read and books I hadn’t read. I loved the weight of them, the feel of them, especially the hardback books with the clear plastic coating that crinkled and crackled as you opened the book. Some of them were old – older even that I was. Some of them were brand new.

And all of them had been banned.

It was a treasure trove, these stacks, and suddenly I had the idea that I was Smaug the dragon sitting on my piles of gold and jewels, and I would do anything to keep that hobbit and those dwarves from taking them back.

How had I not seen books as treasure before? I loved books. I couldn’t imagine living without them. But I had never seen each book as such a valuable thing before. Even the books I wasn’t interested in reading were like gold. It didn’t matter what was inside them. One man’s junk was another man’s treasure, as my grandmother said.

In this book we meet Amy Anne Ollinger, long-suffering eldest daughter in a family where she keeps her thoughts to herself and her younger sisters rule the roost. He sanctuary is the school library where she retreats every day to read her way through everything on the shelves. Things start to change when she wants to check out her favourite book. The school library has a rule that you can renew a book no more than twice before it must be returned, after which it must spend 5 days on the shelf before you can borrow it again. Amy Anne has waited impatiently to borrow her favourite book…but when she tries to borrow it, it is gone, banned by an active parent member of the PTA who has objected to the themes in the book.

So starts Amy Anne’s journey to revolution.

Well-behaved women seldom make history, ” Mrs Jones said with a smile. “Consider this your first taste of behaving badly in the name of what’s right.”

She starts with her favourite book which her father buys her, then adds books gathered from other pupils, purchased from the shop and ‘borrowed’ from the library’s shelves of withdrawn stock. Before long the B.B.L.L. (Banned Books Locker Library) is born and an underground trade in the banned books sweeps through the school.

And that’s when I remembered why I started the B.B.L.L. in the first place. Good books shouldn’t be hidden away. They should be read by as many people as many times as possible. But that wasn’t exactly true. It wasn’t just good books that shouldn’t be hidden away. It was all books. Any books. It didn’t matter what they were about, or whether I liked them, or Mrs Spencer liked them, or the school board liked them.

I was lucky. My parents would buy me any book I wanted if I asked them to. But not everybody’s parents would do that. Not everybody’s parents could do that. That’s what libraries were for: to make sure that everybody had the same access to the same books everyone else did. That’s why I started the Banned Books Locker Library, and that was why I was going to get every last book Mrs. Spencer had banned.

This was a fantastic book, with many positive messages about the importance of free choice, expressing your feelings and challenging decisions when you think they are wrong. Every book listed in this book is one about which someone has raised an objection in real-life. Harry Potter? Devil worship. Matilda? Disrespecting adult authority. And so on.

All the book challenges, the real ones, were because one person saw a book in a very different way that somebody else. Which was fine. Everybody had the right to interpret any book in any way they wanted to. What they couldn’t do then was tell everybody else their interpretation was the only interpretation.

What I liked: Everything – I couldn’t find fault with this! I loved the positive messages about the power of reading and freedom of thought and speech. I loved the main character who was realistic, brave and faced her challenges briefly. I loved how well the other characters were fleshed out, even the ‘baddie’ who really had the children’s best interests at heart.

Even better if: I already had some hard copies so I could distribute them around my school – some in the school library and one in each book corner!

How you could use it in your classroom: Read the opening chapter and discuss the importance of reading and who chooses what we read. Discuss books which may be controversial. Discuss how people have different opinions and that is okay and every opinion is valid, even if it disagrees with yours. Discuss how the protagonist chose to challenge a decision she thought was wrong. Whatever you do, please do read this with your class!

Finally, a quote from the book from Mrs Jones (the amazing librarian) specifically for teachers:

“It’s our job as educators to expose our children to as many different kinds of books and as many different points of view as possible. That means letting them read books that are too easy for them, or too hard for them. That means letting them read books which challenge them, or do nothing but entertain them. And yes, it means letting students read books with things in them we might disagree with and letting them make up their own mind about things, which is downright scary sometimes. But that’s what good education is all about.”

(Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for my review copy)

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