Review: Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

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Published: 5 September 2017

Publisher: Starscape

Category: Middle Grade/Books About Books

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.

Rating: 5 Stars

A book about books is almost guaranteed to get my attention, but when the book in question is about a young girl standing up to censorship in her grade school library, that book makes its way a lot higher on my list pretty darn quick.

Amy Anne, the nine year old protagonist of the story, loves reading. It gives her a refuge from a hectic home life where she has two younger sisters that get into everything and, in her mind, get away with everything. In order to find some peace and quiet, she stays late after school to read in the library, making friends with Mrs. Jones the librarian and becoming familiar with the library’s inventory. One book in particular keeps her coming back to check out as many times as she can and, when one day it has been removed because a single parent went over the head of the librarian to have the school board remove it, Amy Anne finds herself starting a journey that will bring her out of her shell and find her standing up for the rights of her fellow students.

Amy Anne has a lot of ideas in her head about how to be a better person: about how to stand up for herself in a friendship, at home when one of her sister’s gets away with an unfair attitude, and, most importantly, about speaking at the school board meeting regarding the banning of her favorite book from the elementary school library. It’s just incredibly difficult to stand up for what you believe in when you feel like you don’t have a voice. As a child this feeling must be multiplied exponentially because they are all the time being told what to do, what’s best for them, what’s right, and who is right. Amy Anne feels this particularly at home when she feels like her parents favor her sisters and at school when she’s faced with rules that feel wrong. What is she supposed to do: listen to rules that feel wrong or do what’s right?

She and her friends start a small operation: the Banned Books Locker Library, finding and then lending out copies of the original banned book (From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg) as well titles that Mrs. Spencer, the parent behind all this censorship, keeps taking out of the library because she deems them inappropriate.

Banning books like Mrs. Spencer wants, without discussing them with her child or having other parents make an informed decision, doesn’t work and the author makes it clear why in conversation the morning after the first school board meeting when Amy Anne is on the bus.

“Why do you guys care so much?” Danny asked. “Are these books really good or something?”

“They have to be,” Rebecca told him. “Why else do you think they banned them?”

If you hide something from a kid or tell them not to do it without talking to them about it, odds are they’ll be all the more interested in testing it out or discovering the forbidden for themselves.

“Good books shouldn’t be hidden away. They should be read by as many people as many times as possible.”

One of Mrs. Spencer’s problems is that she is deciding to ban these books even though she’s never read them herself. She’s going by a limited number of sources to decide what is good for other people’s children, which is not her right.

“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.”

Ban This Book makes a lot of good points, not only about censorship and how it is ineffectual, but also about libraries and their importance in a community. Libraries serve the community at large, not a single person or even a small party of people. They provide books and resources for everyone, regardless of their income, making them vital for people like Amy Anne’s classmates who can’t afford to buy all the books they want from a store.

“Look, the point is, once you ban one book, somebody, somewhere, can find a reason to ban every book,” I said.

Censoring is also a huge slippery slope because once one thing gets banned, it opens up the door to other books to be taken away from the people that want or need them. It can be difficult at times because, even though I consider myself quite open minded, there are books I disagree with enormously, but how can I consider myself truly anti-censorship if there are books that I would keep from people? I may dislike them, I may hate the stories they tell or disagree with the message/political leanings of the author, but I can’t tell someone else what they can or cannot read. All I can do is voice my opinion, respectfully, and hope others hear me out.

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

Reading about Amy Anne and her friends learning how to stand up for themselves and their rights, finding out ways to protect those rights when they’re threatened, was a great time. The writing style got the subtle nuances of nerves, such as when Amy Anne is having difficult making herself heard at home and school, and it encouraged a variety of characters, such as Rebecca, the future lawyer who had some great ideas about the setup of the B.B.L.L., and Jeffrey, a sci-fi geek who has to deal with sudden death of his grandmother and copes with the help of a book from Amy Anne’s library (Bridge to Terabithia).

Alan Gratz wrote a great story about learning when to stand up to the things you know are wrong and when rules may need to be followed (such as Amy Anne’s parents tabling The Hunger Games until the sixth grade). Ban This Book features over a dozen titles, each and every one of which has been banned or challenged somewhere in the U.S. sometime in the last 30 years. I think the book itself will not only be a good time, but will lead to more amazing reading experiences.

 

Have you ever read a banned book? Do you make it a point to do so? What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comment section below. 🙂

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

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