85 pages 2 hours read

Alan Gratz

Ban This Book

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Ban This Book is a work of contemporary juvenile fiction by Alan Gratz. Published in 2017, the novel features nine-year-old protagonist and prolific reader, Amy Anne Ollinger. When a classmate’s mother successfully persuades the school board to ban a list of books including Amy Anne’s favorite, Amy Anne establishes a secret lending library in her locker comprised entirely of the challenged titles. Themes of power and control, innocence to systems and society, and betrayals of trust develop as Amy Anne discovers ways to make her voice heard on the issue. Ban This Book was a 2018-2019 North Carolina Battle of the Books selection, a 2019-2020 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award Nominee, and a 2018-2019 Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Nominee. This guide references the 2017 edition by Tom Doherty Associates, an imprint of Macmillan.

Plot Summary

Nine-year-old Amy Anne Ollinger arrives one morning at Shelbourne Elementary intent on checking out her favorite book from the library, but Mrs. Jones, the librarian, tells her that the school board recently forced its removal from the shelves. Mrs. Sarah Spencer, PTA president and mother of classmate Trey, insists that Amy Anne’s favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, is harmful to children (along with Harriet the Spy, Matilda, five other stand-alone titles, and the Junie B. Jones, Goosebumps, and Captain Underpants series). Mrs. Spencer bypassed the school’s procedure for requesting reconsideration, going instead directly to school members to seek their support.

Mrs. Jones asks Amy Anne to speak at the school board meeting to share the book’s positive impact; Amy Anne agrees but immediately regrets it. She is a quiet girl who mentally composes responses to others that she never actually says. She persuades her parents, however, that she must attend, even though it means adjusting a busy schedule. She is often frustrated by her chaotic household and fussy younger sisters; Alexis’s ballet and Angelina’s make-believe games always seem to come first—at Amy Anne’s expense. This time, her parents rearrange the schedule to accommodate her, and she spends days preparing her remarks for the meeting. When the crucial moment arrives, however, Amy Anne cannot find the courage to stand and speak. The school board bans all the books on the list.

Amy Anne’s friend Rebecca Zimmerman is surprised that she did not speak at the meeting. They chat with classmate Danny Purcell about the banned books and agree to share two of the titles they have at home amongst themselves. Amy Anne is happy she will have a few fellow readers with whom to discuss those books. She gets the idea to spend her saved-up money on new paperbacks, with the goal of eventually reading every book on the banned list. Then, classmate Janna Park leaves a note in Amy Anne’s locker asking to read one of the books. With this note, Amy Anne gets the idea to use her locker as a secret lending library for all the banned titles. The Banned Books Locker Library (BBLL) is born, and word begins to spread. She hangs a list of the banned titles on her locker and a green dot signifies books she acquires. She and Rebecca hold a bake sale to purchase more books, which becomes necessary after Mrs. Spencer bans more titles. Meanwhile, Amy Anne wonders how Trey Spencer, classmate and son of Mrs. Spencer, feels about his mother’s actions. Amy Anne and Trey complete a social studies project together researching the First Amendment. Amy Anne has not liked Trey since the previous year when he used his drawing talent to create caricatures of classmates and teachers as animals. Everyone thought his drawings were great except Amy Anne, who did not like how Trey portrayed her as a mouse.

Principal Banazewski calls Amy Anne to her office. There, Amy Anne hears the principal expressing sympathy to Jeffrey Gonzalez, whose grandmother just passed away. Principal Banazewski wants Amy Anne to remove the list on her locker. Amy Anne wants to question this, but instead she hides the list behind a poster. Rebecca decides Amy Anne will be president and chief librarian of the BBLL. Amy Anne asks for information from Mrs. Jones on circulating books, and Mrs. Jones shows how patrons used to sign a card in a pasted-in envelope in the back of a book to check it out; many older books still have a card in them. Amy Anne adds envelopes and new signature cards to the BBLL titles.

Mrs. Jones asks Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants series author, to visit on funds raised by Mrs. Spencer and the PTA. Mrs. Spencer, in retaliation for the author visit, brings friends and they pull tall stacks of books from the library shelves for review. Now upset at the number of banned books, Amy Anne, Danny, and Rebecca want to add all of them to the BBLL, but with no funds, the only way they can do so is to take the very copies pulled from their library’s shelves. Amy Anne is so focused on her goal to get the books into the hands of those who want to read them that she goes along with the plan, swiping the books from Mrs. Jones’s private office while Danny distracts Mrs. Jones. She and Rebecca take the books out of the library. That night at home, Amy Anne adds or replaces sign-out cards as needed. One card from 1985 catches her eye and she sets it aside.

Back at school, she notices Jeffrey Gonzalez misbehaving and surmises that his grandmother’s death causes him to act out. She convinces him to check out Bridge to Terabithia from the BBLL in the hopes that reading about a character grieving the loss of a friend will help him to see he is not alone. Trey surprises Amy Anne by wanting to check out a Captain Underpants book. At first Amy Anne is suspicious, but as her goal for the BBLL is to avoid limiting what young people read, she checks out the book to Trey.

Amy Anne arrives at school to finds Principal Banazewski waiting at her locker with the custodian and bolt cutters. Amy Anne faces suspension for three days because of the BBLL. Her parents are shocked at her deceit, but also proud to see her care about a cause. On her suspension, Amy Anne discovers that the school board fired Mrs. Jones. Amy Anne pledges to help Mrs. Jones and fight for the return of the books. She assumes Trey told about the BBLL, but soon learns that when Jeffrey Gonzalez’s parents called the school to commend Mrs. Jones for recommending Bridge to Terabithia, Principal Banazewski forced Jeffrey to explain how he got the banned book. Amy Anne realizes Trey is innocent—until she sees him with a tall stack of Request for Reconsideration forms. She assumes he is helping his mother to remove more books, but Trey explains he is using the forms to show the school board how silly it is to remove a book based on one person’s contention. Amy Anne brings Trey to Danny and Rebecca, who love his idea. They spend the rest of the week in preparation for the school board meeting filling out Request forms to remove books for ridiculous reasons.

The night before the meeting, Amy Anne discovers that her little sister Angelina shredded all 500 of their forms for pretend hay in her pony stable. Amy Anne is so furious that she tries to run away, but soon she returns and has the idea to get help from the entire student body. The next day she and Trey, with Danny and Rebecca’s assistance, organize the completion of over 7,000 Request for Reconsideration forms. That night at the meeting, Amy Anne is nervous but stands to point out the insensibility of banning certain titles based on one person’s opinion of them logically and emphatically, using their own silly Reconsideration forms as cases in point. When Mrs. Spencer insists that the books she bans are harmful to readers, Amy Anne uses an old signature card to reveal that Mrs. Spencer once checked out one of the banned books five times. Amy Anne points out Mrs. Spencer’s meritorious service projects to school and community, showing that she is a good person despite the book’s influence. Mrs. Jones recommends they return the books to the shelves and stick with the approved procedure for requesting reconsideration in the future; the school board hastily agrees, and they reinstate Mrs. Jones as the school librarian. Back at school, Mrs. Jones makes Amy Anne her official student assistant.

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