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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

'Ban This Book:' New book for young readers by bestselling author tackles banned books, set in Raleigh

Posted September 6
Updated September 7

In his previous life, bestselling author Alan Gratz taught middle school and high school English, worked as a publicist for an art museum and a private boarding school, wrote radio commercials, sold books and, at a library, shelved books.

Now teachers, librarians and bookstores are the ones passing Gratz's works on to kids. Gratz is the bestselling author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including "Refugee," which hit the New York Times best sellers list in August, and "Ban This Book," which came out last week.

"Refugee" tells the story of three different child refugees - a Jewish boy escaping Nazi Germany, a Cuban girl leaving Cuba in 1994 and a Syrian boy in present day. "Ban This Book," which I chatted with Gratz about by email, is set right here in Raleigh and tells the fictional story of a girl who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library.

Gratz, who lives with his wife and daughter in Asheville, will be in Chapel Hill on Thursday with acclaimed Triangle author John Claude Bemis, who also writes for young readers. Bemis is author of "The Wooden Prince," "Lord of Monsters" and the Clockwork Dark trilogy, among others. Together, they'll talk about their latest books, which are intended for kids ages 8 to 12, during a reading and signing event at 6 p.m., Thursday, at Flyleaf Books.

I checked in with Gratz by email to learn more about "Ban This Book." Here's a Q&A:

Go Ask Mom: You've written a number of books for kids, mostly recently stories set during war and "Refugee," which follows three different refugee children. Why tackle banned books?

Alan Gratz: I hope that no student will ever attend a school where a parent challenges or bans books, but if they do, I hope that Ban This Book prepares them for the fight, and teaches them that they actually can make a difference in that debate. And perhaps this book will catch some kids who might have grown up to be the kind of person who challenges books. Building empathy and a more nuanced view of the world is one of the great benefits of reading books. That being entertained and engaged by a great story!

GAM: Raleigh plays a big role in the story with mentions of Wake County schools, Cameron Village library and north Raleigh, among others. The Triangle is awesome, of course, but why base it here?

AG: I live in North Carolina, and wanted to set the story close to home. And the Raleigh area is a tremendously bookish community with amazing universities, public libraries, and independent booksellers. Despite that, Wake County has seen at least nine book challenges in recent history. I wanted to show that even in one of the most well-educated, open-minded places in the South, books are still challenged and banned. It’s something we all have to work on.

GAM: Tell us a little bit about the book and Amy Anne. She's really determined!

AG: Amy Anne is certainly determined—but not at first. At the beginning of the book, Amy Anne is quiet and non-confrontational. She’d rather bury her nose in a book than deal with the real world around her. Books are like that for so many young people—escapes from the real world. Amy Anne’s personal life isn’t bad, it’s just chaotic, and books are an oasis for her. It’s only when her favorite book is banned that she’s brought out of her shell, and learns to confront the chaos in her life. It’s not easy, but she’s certainly happier for it in the end—and learns that she really can effect change.

Amy Anne is based somewhat on my wife, who as a young girl would disappear into a book to escape from the chaos around her!

GAM: There's a lot happening in our country today - a lot of discussions about freedom of speech, for instance. And, it seems, every school year, we hear concerns about one book or another in a school library. Why is it important to have discussions about these kinds of things with kids?

AG: Kids need to understand that what’s right for one person isn’t always what’s right for everyone. That goes for books, religion, relationships, politics, and more. Learning that there are different perspectives and opinions than our own—and that all of them are valid because they’re all personal and subjective—is the first step in building empathy and understanding. And if there’s one thing our nation seems to need a lot more of now, it’s empathy.

GAM: What's next for you?

AG: I just turned in the first draft a new World War II thriller for kids about the Battle of Okinawa! It’s called "Grenade," and should be out in fall of 2018. Travel-wise, I’ll be on the road all this fall visiting schools and conferences to tell readers all about my books! I’ll be in the Raleigh area a number of times—I hope folks will come out and say hello!

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