Libraries, censorship, and tweens

Hi everyone, I hope you enjoyed the series from last week!! This week I’ll be covering an important issue that I face on most days at work: book censorship. This is quite a complex and diverse topic, but I believe it’s one that our younger readers will continue to face. I have selected a short list of titles that I believe can illustrate this issue. Please, parents and teachers, have a read about this with your young adult and talk together about what you both think about this.

I had done some extensive research before I embarked on this topic for this post. Reading articles on a Sunday afternoon was certainly a highlight and challenge. Books have been blocked from reading at various times throughout recent history. Banned Books week was launched in the US in 1982 to mark what the ALA (American Library Association) recognised as a sudden surge in attempts to have books removed or restricted in schools, bookshops and libraries. Since then more than 11,300 books have been “challenged” in America. They are not alone since this also occurs in the UK, Australia and even here in New Zealand, where official state boards have restricted access to titles over the years. This topic is one of those grey-tinted ones, don’t you think? The edges fade and fray over time as opinions vary, technology and knowledge expand, and generations change. What’s considered inappropriate now would have been perfectly acceptable thirty years ago. 

Since I look at this with my librarian hat; I don’t believe making censorship decisions lies with us at the front line. I believe in free access to all. I am one who is happy when a young child confidently chooses their own books based on their interests and not on what someone tells them they should read! 

The selections below feature some clever, civic-minded and courageous youngsters who decided to do something about the banning of books at their school libraries. 

image of open blue locker in school. pile of books inside. yellow tape across middle reads Ban this book. No censorship in graffiti ink at top left corner. Alan Gratz along top two book spines.
An interesting read

Title: Ban this book

Author: Alan Gratz

Genre: Fiction – contemporary

Publication details: Lothian Children’s Books; Australia, 2017

What this book is about: When Amy Anne Ollinger finds out that her school library has begun banning books – including her favourite book in the whole wide world – she decides to fight back by starting a secret banned-books library out of her locker. Before long, Amy Anne and her friends find themselves on the front line of a battle over censorship and book banning. And now that they’ve found their voices, they are not afraid to use them. 

My review: I hadn’t laughed so much over a book since…well…I can’t remember now. Anyway, this was hilarious!! The characters, dialogue, school classroom setting and library scenes, even the school board meeting room scenes, they were all exceptionally done. Amy Anne is a phenomenal young woman who finds her voice and uses it for the ultimate battle!! What I loved the most was how passionate she was about books and how much she knew about them. I didn’t realise the process that went into banning a book before so I think I even learned some professional advice here. The role the school librarian plays in Amy Anne’s life is portrayed nicely. Also I like how Gratz has described the librarian, not as the stereotypical ‘cardigan and glasses’ type but in a unique way!! A really good read that will get you thinking about what censorship means especially when it comes to children’s books.

My rating: 5 ⭐

Best quote:

“Nobody has the right to tell you what books you can and can’t read. Except your parents.”

Amy Anne Ollinger
yellow cover with image of young girl in silhouette with book standing atop pile of multicoloured books. bright white shape behind her. title across top and on mountain of books reads 'Property of the Rebel Librarian.' Allison Varnes at bottom in smaller letters.
A fascinating read

Title: Property of the Rebel librarian

Author: Allison Varnes

Genre: Fiction – contemporary

Publication details: Random House; NY, 2018

What this book is about: June Harper is a good kid who follows the rules, plays the flute in honors band, and spends her spare time reading. Nobody would ever call her a rebel…until her mom and dad take strict parenting to a whole new level. It starts with one book deemed “inappropriate” by her parents. What follows is a massive book ban at Dogwood Middle school, and suddenly everything June loves – the librarian, books, an author visit – is gone. Then June discovers a Little Free Library on her walk to school. When her classmates realize she has access to contraband, she becomes the (secret) most popular girl in school. A risky reading movement begins at Dogwood, which could destroy June – or gain enough power to protect the one thing she cares most about: the freedom to read!!

My review: Awesome read!! Another rebellious young spirit who loves their books!! I was hooked into this from the first page!! June Harper is a plucky and courageous young girl who decides to stand up for what she believes is right. Themes of censorship of reading, which seems to be quite a big deal in the southern states in the US, runs quite strongly throughout this book. Friendship, loyalty and family bonds are also some themes that are seen here. A great read for library lovers!!

My rating: 5 ⭐

Best quote:

“….We may be kids, but we’re smarter than you think. We will always find a way to get around what you say if we don’t agree with it….You can let us make reasonable choices about what we read, or you can wrap us in Bubble wrap and watch us find a way around it.”

June Harper

This last one is a teen book better suited for older readers. 

cover has image of book. book cover has black lines from top to bottom. in some spaces some words in orange. in middle title in orange portion in black letters reads Suggested Reading and David Connis in smaller print. pages of book also looks orange.
An engaging read

Title: Suggested reading: a novel

Author: Dave Connis

Genre: Fiction – contemporary

Publication details: Katherine Tegen Books; NY, 2019

What this book is about: Clara Evans is horrified when she discovers her high school principal is taking library books out of circulation and considering them “prohibited media.” In fact, the books aren’t allowed anywhere on the school’s premises, and students caught with the contraband will be sternly punished. Many of these stories have changed Clara’s life, so she’s not going to shut up and watch while Dr. Walsh abuses his power. She’s going to strike back. With the help of her friend and student body president, LiQui, Clara starts an underground library – the UnLib – in her locker, during a shady trade in titles like Speak and The Chocolate War. This witty and hard-hitting novel by Dave Connis explores the power of the written word, the danger of censorship, and the way stories connect us all. 

My review: An excellent read!! I was gripped from the beginning until the end. Clara’s character is one I admired despite all that she goes through. The high school scenes are superbly described and I found myself learning quite a bit how private schools are run. Clara’s fight for the ‘banned books’ and the drama that follows is really well written out. I liked the overall pace and storyline here. Dave Connis’s cast of high school students here are really well crafted out and we get to see how each one affects the others. A good read for bibliophiles – teen ones though! Some dark themes of homosexuality, identity and suicide are highlighted here. 

My rating: 4 ⭐

Best quote:

“The problem is, we bring ourselves to the pages. Our whole selves. Every single darkness. Every single light. Every single passion. Every single heart. We read with all the layers that make us who we are acting as filters. We read with all that our eyes have seen and all our hearts have felt since birth. With too much density making up humanity, it can’t be up to us to make sure people don’t misunderstand a book. And it can’t be up to books to make sure people don’t kill themselves or hate someone, or even love someone…. What we do, before and after we read is our choice. And that choice is freedom.”

Clara Evans

I hope this post allows my readers, whether you are a parent or teacher, to have an honest and open discussion with your tween or teen about their reading choices. As they navigate their way through these transitory years of schooling, it’s my belief that they need your utmost support, kindness, and openness when it comes to the books they read for leisure. 

Stay safe everyone!!

Miss Mahee

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