Americus, by M.K. Reed and Jonathan David Hill

In honor of Banned Books Week next week, a review of a graphic novel about fighting the banning of books.

All Neil wants Is to sit at the library and read with his best friend. But right before the start of high school, his friend is sent to a military academy, and his friend’s mom tries to ban their favorite book series. Neil will have to start high school alone, and do what he can to keep the books on the shelves. [In the background, a woman yells at a woman behind a desk, while throwing ripped pages into the air. In the foreground, a boy reads a book while imagining a strangely dressed woman, a wolf, and a sky full of birds.] This funny graphic novel has great, well crafted characters, who have such full lives that they seem to have existed before the story and to go on after it. But the treatment of the book-banning characters goes beyond even simple stereotype to become an inflammatory, mean-spirited caricature.

Good for: Pre-teens and up, but only those who can recognize a mean caricature when they see it. I see myself as fundamentally opposed to the kind of people who ban books, but I still thought the book-banners were treated really poorly in this depiction. The book is great and funny, and the rest of the characters are crafted so lovingly and given such wonderful depth. Why couldn't the same be done for the "bad guys"?


Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries said:On Sep 21, 11 at 4:20pm

Graphical propaganda! I love it! No book has been banned in the USA for about half a century. Fanny Hill got that honor a long time ago. Challenged books in schools that are removed is different from banning. Setting aside that Banned Books Week is propaganda, the creator of BBW said: "On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn't fit your material selection policy, get it out of there." See: "Banned Books Week Propaganda Exposed by Progressive Librarian Rory Litwin; ALA Censors Out Criticism of Its Own Actions in a Manner Dishonest to the Core."

Audrey said:On Sep 21, 11 at 4:32pm

Hi Dan. Thanks for commenting. What you call "propoganda," I call "an advertising campaign to promote reading." It's called "Banned Books Week" for brevity, but on every associated website it is specified that the books are "banned or challenged." No one denies that book banning is pretty rare nowadays, but personally I find it hard to see the difference between any action that tries to prevent access to a book and an attempt to ban it.

I for one enjoy reading challenged books and comparing my impression of them with the reasons given for challenging their inclusion in libraries by their detractors. I'm sure other people enjoy doing the same. It's a great week to expose people to new books and ideas—and there are a lot of young adults out there who are more likely to give a book a chance if it has some notoriety. My old high school library definitely saw more use during Banned Books Week!

Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries said:On Sep 21, 11 at 4:41pm

Okay, good. I see you know what's up. Many people don't. The problem occurs when BBW is used to brow beat people by labeling anyone who dares challenge anything as a censor. And the ALA does just that. As Rory put it in that link I provided, "Regardless of what the school's decision turns out to be, regardless of its reasonableness or unreasonableness, and regardless of the objectivity or bias within the decision-making process in a specific case, all challenges to a book by a parent get counted as an attempt at book banning." Also, if people use BBW for propagandistic purposes, then true incidents of true censorship will be drowned out in the noise. Thanks. And it really does look like a cute book, even if it pushes the ALA line.

Audrey said:On Sep 21, 11 at 5:01pm

This book isn't about Banned Books Week, or related to the ALA in any way that I know of. It's really a coming-of-age story that uses book banning as a plot device, and it seemed like a good way to segue into my reviews of challenged books for BBW next week. But this is a review website, so my job isn't necessarily to promote the book to you, but just to tell you what I thought of it and to let you decide if you want to read it.

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