Ban This Book!

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

4th March 2022
A true story.

August 2020

'Books should be banned, Miss,' says an 11 year-old I've just met. Her name's Anna, like me, and we've already had a joke about how she'll be best in the class as she has the best name. Then she told me she hated reading, so I swiftly changed my mind on that one.

'They're boring,' says her best friend, identically fringed, next to her. Under their fringes are two pairs of eyes and the rest is covered up by a mask. I've no idea who they are, and it will be months before I see them properly unless I'm brave enough to take 29 children, newly released from lockdown, outside.

'Why should books be banned?' I say, hoping for a debate. 'And how do you know books are boring? Have you read every single one in the world?'

'ALL books are boring,' says a boy at the back, 'especially this one.'

This lad, if I remember correctly is called G (real name hidden, sorry. Though it's not Gary. We don't get many Garys any more) I've never met a nice G, but I'm sure one does exist. Somewhere.

"This one" refers to a book I've just handed out. It's called 'Freya's Lockdown,' and it's all about a girl who starts a community service for older people in her village. Freya is a looked-after child, neglected from day one, with a dodgy foster family who only do it for the money. Freya meets all kinds of people when she starts helping them, and in return she finds her own family of grateful, older, lonely people. The great twist is that one of older people secretly does some digging at the local register office, finds Freya's real family, and they are reunited, just as lockdown ends. I like Freya, and I like the message of hope.

Some of the students are glaring at the book as if it may attack them. Some are half-heartedly looking at it. Some are staring out of the window. Some are talking. I've tried to sell it to them but they're not having it. Probably as sick of lockdown as I am.

Nonetheless, this book is on my curriculum, and it must be read. We stumble through it, me reading and the children supposedly following. Every few sentences I need to say, 'Masks up', or 'You've only just BEEN to the toilet, James, or 'Leave her hair alone,' or, 'Masks!' or 'Read with me, ignore him,' or answer the phone to the office, looking for an errant child, or remind the children what page we're on. We stumble through, through yawns and tellings-off, and I'm frazzled by the end of it. Kids don't read anymore and they've all lost their focus, due to lockdown.

Maybe I should ban all books and give up.

Maybe we could just type everything - the minute you put a computer in front of them they all plug in and zone out, like little robots.

But I'm not like that.

The next lesson I ignore the 'Ban all books!' (It's a cry they learned from Anna, and they're not letting go of it) and drag them to the library. It's like herding very noisy cats who've just eaten a tube of orange Smarties each (the old, chemical ones that turned your whole mouth orange) and I'm exhausted before we even get to the big wooden door. I read what I suspect will be a fruitless riot act and let them loose.

Now, I've already checked. Over half the children in my class have never set foot in a library. Many of them have never been read to. Some have possibly only held books inside school walls.

Anna has gone a funny colour.

'I think I'm allergic to books, Miss,' she says. I lead her to the teen fiction section and leave her staring, horrified, at the many coloured spines. 'Far too long,' she's muttering. 'I can't read that many words.'

'Hmmm,' I say, picking out a book about lockdown and zombies, and handing it to her. The edges of the pages are red, to match the spine; it looks dangerous. Much like my mood; I'm struggling to remain positive as Anna's not the only one bemused. The whole class is hiding in small clumps, behind shelves, thinking if I can't see them, I won't give them a book.

The librarian and I exchange glances and I shrug an 'I'm sorry' at her. Y8 classes can be difficult. But this one is difficult AND post-viral. They've been sitting ion front of Tvs and computer games for months.

It takes almost the whole lesson, but eventually they've all got books.

'Still think books should be banned, Miss,' says Anna, holding the red-paged book cautiously, as if it might bite her.

They riot their way back to class (I've given up, and follow behind, hoping the head, if she passes, won't assume they're with me) and we have a go at reading.

And we have a go at reading every lesson, for ten minutes, for the next two terms. It starts with me telling them that, just as in every other lesson, we will be doing personal reading for a bit. And every lesson I collect groans. A quid per groan and I'd be a millionaire.

At first, I have to patrol the desks like armed book police, forcing their minds back into the pages. After a few weeks, there are a couple of groans when I tell them it's time to STOP reading, and I feel the tingle of victory and want to do a dance. Not Anna, though. She has toyed with the red pages for weeks, huffing if I stand over her and watch her read the first page again, and again, and again, protesting that actually, really, honestly she CAN'T read. I know she can and there are no barriers or reading issues to stand in her way.

One day, stroppier than ever and bored with me, she turns the page. I watch, as her eyes move faster, and faster. I hold my breath as she turns another page. And another.

This time SHE'S the one who groans when it's time to start the lesson.

February 2022

Our ten minutes' reading is now fairly painless. I don't hear groans; the library is no longer the unknown place it once was to them. Lessons are easier, their focus is longer. I've stopped biting my nails and living on wine in the evenings.

Anna still has the red-paged book.

It's slow going, but she's a third of the way in. And she never puts her book down when it's lesson time. 'Pleeeaassseee let me keep reading,' she says, all puppy eyes and nice smile, finally sans mask. And sometimes, I let her.

'I'm glad you're enjoying the book,' I say, as I pass her desk. 'Maybe books aren't all evil after all?'

'Only this book,' she says.

'Oh, there are lots like that,' I say.

'There ARE?' she says. 'Where?'

'In the library, in bookshops, in charity shops... online?'

'Wow,' she says.

'Yeah,' I agree. 'Still think we should ban books?' I ask her.

She nods, but this time with a mischievous grin. 'Only books that aren't like this one,' she says.

I give her a big smile. 'Told you you had the best name,' I said. 'I knew you could do it.'

Then there's a massive crash. I turn around to see G on the floor, hitting another boy with his library book whilst wearing his hoodie like a ninja warrior.

Oh well. You can't win them all...