Sunday 1 March 2020

Banned books everywhere!

I’m using my “Banned Books” mug this morning even though Freedom to Read Week ended yesterday.  In honour of my favourite week of the year, I reread a fabulous children’s book that is all about intellectual freedom and censorship.  Here’s what I said about the book the first time I read it:

“I read (or I should say “inhaled” - it took me just two days!) a new book by Alan Gratz this week, one that I recently purchased for my schools, Ban This Book.  It tells the story of Amy Anne, a grade four student who loves to read.  She is not popular, but has one best friend, Rebecca, and two younger sisters, Alexis and Angelina.  She lives in a crowded house and her mom works alot of overtime, so in order to make some time for herself, she goes to the school library after classes have let out and reads, telling her parents that she is taking part in various clubs after school.  When she goes to find her favourite book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler and discovers it is not on the shelf, she turns to Mrs Jones, the librarian, for answers.  What she hears is unbelievable - this book has been withdrawn from the school library because a parent decided it was unsuitable for elementary school students.  And not just this book… a whole stack of them, fiction and non-fiction, have been deemed by this parent to be unsuitable. This parent is an influential member of the PTA from a fairly wealthy family and supports many school board initiatives.  How is our book-loving heroine going to deal with this? Shy, meek, never-speaks-up Amy Anne, along with Rebecca, devises a plan to keep these books available for students at her school - she forms the Banned Books Lending Library (B.B.L.L.) which she keeps hidden in her locker.  Soon more students join this fight against censorship as it threatens to grow beyond its bounds. Can Amy Anne bring the school board around to her way of thinking and save the school library’s collection (and the school librarian!) before everything is ruined beyond repair? If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that Freedom to Read week is my favourite week of the year.  Scheduled for the week of February 25-March 3, 2018, it is a week I celebrate with my students by putting up a big display of many of their favourite books that have been banned or challenged somewhere, for some reason, in recent history, books like the Harry Potter series, Captain Underpants, Junie B Jones, even some of Shel Silverstein’s poetry collections, and I read a challenged book aloud to my students as well (I think this year it will be The Lorax by Dr Seuss, banned in a California school in 1989 because it portrayed the forestry industry in a negative light and would turn children against forestry.)  Anyway, now you can understand why I had to use my “banned books” mug! This book was entertaining and humourous, but it also tackled a serious topic in a realistic and positive way, demonstrating that even kids as young as ten can make a difference if they stand up for what they believe in.  It was a fabulous book, a real celebration of all things books and reading, which explains the concept of censorship and freedom to read so well in a way that children can understand and appreciate. It will make a perfect read-aloud selection for my grade fives once I finish The Bad Beginning, and it's perfect timing, too, as I’ll be reading it during Freedom to Read week!”
I have nothing to add to this, except that, this year, rather than read a banned or challenged book to the kids, I hosted a game show called “Ban this Book” and had students choose a book from the display and guess why it was banned or challenged.  They had a great time, and so did I! Maybe next year I’ll make it into a more elaborate game, giving books different values and having teams… but that’s for another time. I enjoyed this book even more this year than I did the first time, and, once again, I inhaled it in two days.  I can’t say enough about this fabulous novel, and would recommend it to anyone. As Amy Anne points out near the end of the book, if you look hard enough, any book can be challenged for some reason, and soon there would be nothing left on the library shelves. I have had a wonderful week promoting this idea to my students, and will be talking about it with my Volunteer Book Club next weekend when we discuss the oft-challenged Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the mild, sunny day!

Bye for now…

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