BAN THIS BOOK, by Alan Gratz, Starscape, Aug. 29, 2017, Hardcover, $15.99 (ages 8-12)
If ever there was a book where you should ignore the suggested age, it’s Alan Gratz’s Ban This Book. Though intended for middle readers, this novel will resonate with book lovers of every age.
At the center of Ban This Book is Amy Anne, a shy and soft-spoken fourth-grader. There’s nothing Amy Anne likes to do more than escape into a good book. And recently that book is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Amy Anne can totally relate to running away and hiding in a museum.
When Amy Anne arrives at her school library to check out her favorite book, it’s not on the shelf. But it hasn’t been checked out, either. It’s been pulled from the library all together, and it’s not the only book. A parent has been hand-selecting books she sees as dangerous for young people and getting the school board to ban them.
So Amy Anne does what all mild-mannered girls would do — she sets up a banned books library in her locker. At first it’s just a few friends who are borrowing books but pretty soon kids from all grades are coming to her for reading material. But it isn’t until she gets caught that Amy Anne really finds her voice. With the help of friends she sets out to make a point by getting every single book in the library banned.
Ban This Book resonated with me not because I’ve experienced censorship with books but because I have not. The thought of someone telling me which books I can and cannot read makes my blood boil. As a child, I spent countless hours at the library, checking out boxes of books at a time. Never once did my mom question my choices.
At first, I wondered at author Alan Gratz’s choice of younger main characters — most fifth- and sixth-graders would probably pass this book by on principle. But as I was reading it, I realized how important it is for younger readers to know their voices matter. The thing is, even picture books (Where the Wild Things Are, The Lorax and The Giving Tree are some examples) have been banned, and I don’t think it’s anyone’s place except a parent to decide whether a book is appropriate for their own child/children.
Gratz’s writing is easy and inviting, and his characters are multifaceted. I loved how Amy Ann related to the children from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and how Amy Anne helps a friend deal with loss by sharing Bridge to Terabithia.
Ban This Book is an excellent read that will probably earn a place on the banned list just because it challenges the notion. That’s OK, though. When you ban something, especially a book, you tend to only make it more popular.
To learn more about which children’s and young adult books have been banned and why, visit the American Library Association website.
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