This past week was Banned Book Week. I’m always amazed when I think about the volume of books that get challenged and banned. I can understand if parents think that material in some books might be too old for their child, but other than that, I think having conversations about the material rather than banning it outright is more important. Many topics that get questioned in books for truly younger audiences actually go right over the child’s head. The older kids are ready for having discussions about their beliefs and how they feel about given topics.
Hundreds of years ago, very few people were able to read. Reading was left to the privileged elite. As reading became more common and as books became more available, there still was a class divide over reading abilities. Now that we expect everyone to read, it is an important part of understanding the world around us and works to inspire, educate, and inform. I can’t imagine a life without books and that’s why I absolutely loved The Book Tree by Paul Czajak and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh (Barefoot Books, 9/30/18).
In this fabulously illustrated book, young Arlo accidentally drops his book on the head of the town mayor who decides to ban books outright.
So not only does the mayor get upset that a book has dropped on his head, he gets upset that people might actually get ideas from books (gasp!). Like a good dictator, he will be the one to tell people everything that they need to know. That is what the world was like before larger numbers of people were able to read on their own. They had to rely on leaders, especially religious leaders, to tell them anything they might need to know. The mayor then rips up all of the books and the result is that their town becomes quite boring indeed. On an editorial note, I love the fact that the books are in all different languages when we see their pages being ripped. I’m not sure how Rashin Kheiriyeh did it, but she ingeniously incorporated real text into her illustrations for an amazing affect.
Arlo follows the one page of ripped text that floated along “like a dandelion seed drifting on a wish.” It plants itself in the ground and Arlo sadly writes “The End.” Here is where the hope comes in. Arlo gets an idea by just writing those two words. He decides to write his own stories and share them. His actions magically manage a book tree sprout out of the ground containing his stories. A girl comes by and is given one of his books and the idea of reading once again spreads through the town “like pollen in the wind.” In the end, even the mayor can’t ignore the power of books and how they make his town a better place.
I adored this book. I think this is such a perfect book to read to children during banned book week and throughout the year. There were so many wonderful phrases and the concept of book trees growing like real trees, creating flowers and pollen that floats through the air, is such a marvelous metaphor for what books can do. A powerful tribute to the power of books. Thank you to Edelweiss+ and Barefoot Books for an eARC of this book. All opinions are my own.