During this lockdown I had planned to read as many books as I could lay my hands on. But things did not go as planned and I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to. In search of a book to kickstart my reading I found this gem of a book. Released in 2017, this book is highly recommended for any book lover, librarian or book advocate.
Genre: Young adult, Children’s fiction, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary fiction
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.
These words were a boost for me and had me curious about the book. I couldn’t wait to flip the pages to read. I was captivated from the first word. This might be because of my bias towards books being a librarian. The content and the title already had me itching to know more. Are books banned in this story? Which books? Why? Who bans them? What made them ban the books? These questions kept circling my mind and I had a tough time to quieten the screams to peacefully read the books. When I started reading I couldn’t put it down. I was reading it whenever I could.
Plot: 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.(Courtesy: Goodreads)
On the simple premise of a student standing up to advocate for books, the book has many underlying themes. It not only speaks up against banning of books and the freedom to read. There are also family themes, friendship, education, relationships, etc.
Amy lives with her parents and two younger sisters. Being the eldest she has to make compromises each day against her wishes. There is an atmosphere of chaos at home and the only time Amy finds solitude is when she is reading. That too is not possible in her room, and she has to hide away in her own home for some ‘me’ time. Many a times parents tend to take for granted the compromises elder children make for the family. These children lose their voice in the process just like Amy, who feels that she will never be heard. Hence, her conversations take place in her mind. Words she intends to say are never spoken out aloud. She always has these conversations in her own mind, silencing her voice for her family. This percolates into her being so much that she becomes timid and quiet. Relationships and family form the core of the book on which other themes balance.
Education is another underlying theme in the book. Education is meant to enlighten the mind and bring forth learners who can question. Yet we ban books and decide they are inappropriate for children. Thereby undermining their right to read as well to question and grow. What is the purpose of education then? If children are kept safe from ideas and topics would they grow as critical thinkers?
Amy’s school decides to remove the books without following the procedure for removing the books or trusting Mrs. Jones, the librarian, the voice the school should have looked upon. Book banning and censorship are topics that ride all the pages of the book. Most of you will agree with that no one has the right to restrict what we read, but Mrs. Spencer(The lady who bans books from the library)makes a valid point when she says not all books should be allowed in a school library, especially an elementary school library.
Would a responsible school library mix vulgar and obscene adult books with children’s novels? No; adult books should not be kept in a school library or else should be appropriately marked and shelved in their own area of the library. What would you do if inappropriate adult content is found in children’s books? Would you simply remove the book because the publishers failed to delineate between material that is and is not kid appropriate? Shouldn’t the decision about the book be upon parents and librarians to filter what kids read? It’s a legitimate question, but Mrs. Jones’s response holds firm: that’s why a procedure is in place to reexamine books that may cross the line of propriety. If a challenge is made and the librarian agrees the book is patently inappropriate, it will be removed. Overruling this process on the other hand just gives too much power in the hands of authorities, who for sure are eroding the right to free speech and freedom to read.. If kids don’t learn to value natural human rights in school, when will they?
The only thing that I found disturbing was that the main character was a fourth grader. It would have been better if the book was based on 6th or 7th graders because of the higher level of the text and the locker premise is more apt for middle school children rather elementary school. The story would be more appreciated and also have wider reach. In addition, some of the racial references like braids, blond hair were jarring and disrupting.
The books also has great Common Core-aligned discussion and activity guide included at the end which can be of great use for librarians for book discussions and for English/language teachers.
Highly recommended for school libraries and classrooms. A definite read aloud for 4th and 5th grades. No middle school grader should skip this just because the protagonist is a fourth grader.