Lynn: Censorship is a hot and timely subject, especially now. We all hear the news and read about politicians’ rhetoric. For librarians, authors, publishers, and teachers, this is not a new issue although it is especially front and center now. But how do you address censorship with kids? Amy Sarig King has written a terrific new book that does just that for middle-grade students. Attack of the Black Rectangles (Scholastic, Sept. 2022) approaches the subject through the eyes of 6th grader, Mac Delaney.
Mac already has a lot going on in his life. Mac lives with his mom and grandfather, with his erratic dad making occasional visits. Mainly during those, he works on a classic car that belongs to Mac’s grandfather. Increasingly, Mac’s dad tells him that he is really an alien from another world and an anthropologist studying Earth’s culture. Fortunately, Mac has great support from his mom, grandfather, and a close set of friends.
Mac is excited about 6th grade and he thinks his new teacher is “the kind of teacher I’ve wanted my whole if-it’s-not-interesting-I-don’t-care life.” For one thing, their lit circle is starting Jane Yolen’s intriguing book, The Devil’s Arithmetic. But strangely, when Mac gets his book and starts to read, he discovers words in the book that are covered over with black rectangles! What is going on? What are these words, who did this, and why?
King skillfully shows us Mac’s first encounter with censorship, his thought process, and the actions he and his friends undertake. Mac’s voice is wonderfully authentic and very engaging as this important issue is threaded into a compelling story of Mac’s struggles to understand his father, himself, his own coming of age, as well as the wider issues in the world. Interestingly, King has found a way to deal with censorship in a way that largely avoids the various political issues that are currently front and center without diluting the basic issue. This is a perfect book to use in a 6th-grade classroom and is guaranteed to generate discussion and thought.
Cindy: I’m late for my part here, having spent Banned Books Week finally reading The Handmaid’s Tale for my local library’s banned books reading challenge. Now, perhaps, I can finally check out the video series, if I can bring myself to do it. What a chilling read.
As for King’s novel, I was sold by the cover art. It’s perfect and will certainly draw in young readers and will grace Banned Books Week displays for years. Once inside the pages, it is King’s mastery with characters that brings this story to life. She doesn’t shy from including the adults, and they are well done again here, especially Mac’s grandfather and their important relationship. And Jane Yolen’s surprise entrance at the school board meeting was a delight. Jane is everyone’s hero. Mac and his friends come up against adults who don’t want to admit there’s a problem and those who, instead, listen and support them when they take action.
The students in Answers in the Pages (Knopf, 2022) by David Levithan, are in the same situation when the parent of one student decides that the class science fiction novel is “inappropriate” for unstated reasons. The book’s structure features the current challenge to the book, alternating with excerpts from the challenged book, and another storyline from the previous generation in this town. The stories all merge at the end and will raise as many questions as answers as readers ponder what is “inappropriate,” how people read texts differently, and the importance of supporting a diversity of readers.
The majority of the challenges in our area, as well as across the country, focus on LGBTQIA+ issues, so books like Levithan’s will provide some food for thought for the younger readers who may wonder what all the fuss is about, while King’s book sheds bright light on the misguided efforts to protect children from words and ideas. My thoughts are with the educators and librarians who are striving to provide books for all of their readers despite the many attacks against them.