“It all started the day my favorite book went missing from the library,” says Amy Anne Ollinger, heroine of the latest middle-grade novel, Ban This Book, by former Knoxvillian Alan Gratz.
As the story opens, several books have just been challenged by an influential member of the PTA, an action that has triggered their immediate removal from the school library. The list of challenged books includes Amy Anne’s favorite, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the real-life children’s classic by E. L. Konigsburg. And this indignity is the straw that breaks the outwardly meek, uncomplaining nine-year-old’s back.
Things aren’t great for Amy Anne. She’s the older sister of two little nightmares (“If there was a prize for Worst Siblings of the Century,” she thinks, “Alexis and Angelina would rank right above Fudge Hatcher, Stink Moody, and Edmund Pevensie—and Edmund Pevensie basically sold his brothers out to the White Witch for a plate of desserts”) and the daughter of two loving but frazzled parents who take her help and patience for granted. In the afternoons, Amy Anne has been hiding out in the school library, telling her parents she’s in several after-school clubs so she has an excuse to enjoy the peace and quiet before taking the late bus home. Her two huge rottweilers, Flotsam and Jetsam, are “the only ones who ever really listened to me,” she says. “With everybody else, I’d just stopped trying.”
Amy Anne prefers to keep a low profile, but she is not about to take the challenge to her favorite library book lying down. She promises Mrs. Jones, the school librarian, that she will appear at the upcoming school-board meeting to defend it against the censors. At the meeting, though, she can’t muster the courage to stand up and speak, and afterward she’s more discouraged than ever. Even when her dad buys a copy of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for her to keep at home, Amy Anne can’t manage to ignore the greater problem: “I was glad to have my own copy, but I couldn’t help thinking about that book that wasn’t on the library shelves anymore and how I would never have known [it] was my favorite book if I hadn’t found it there in the first place.”
Along with a few like-minded new friends, she embarks on the boldest undertaking of her young life: to preserve the spirit of intellectual freedom at her school library. “All the book challenges were because one person saw a book in a very different way than somebody else,” she realizes. “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.”
Ban This Book is an endearing story with themes sure to warm any bookworm’s heart, including the unique value of libraries, the various pitfalls of censorship, and the life-changing potential of books. “I had never seen each book as such a valuable thing before,” thinks Amy Anne. “Even the books I wasn’t interested in reading were like gold. It didn’t matter what was inside them. … One person’s Captain Underpants was another person’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” Book lovers and their parents will rejoice in Ban This Book’s powerful and positive message.
Kathryn Justice Leache lives Memphis, her hometown. Her life among books has included work as a librarian and stints as a bookseller at Square Books and The Booksellers at Laurelwood. She will soon be working at Novel, an independent bookstore opening in summer 2017 in Memphis.