Florida school district bans book about book banning. "Irony is dead," says author.


Alan Gratz’s children’s book “Ban This Book” was published in 2017. Seven years later, his novel for kids ages 8 and older is at the center of a debate over book banning after a Florida school district last month took took the title literally and banned the book. 

The Florida school district of Indian River County, home to the city of Vero Beach, last month voted to remove “Ban This Book” from its shelves. In removing the book, the school board overruled its own review committee, which had recommended that the school district retain the novel. 

“Ban This Book” is about a schoolgirl who tries to check out her favorite book from her school library, E.L. Konigsburg’s “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” only to find it’s been removed due to a ban. She rebels by starting a secret banned book library — an aspect of the novel that the Florida school board objected to, with one member saying he believed the book’s message was about how to “overtly subvert school boards.”

“The thing they took objection to was calling out [school officials] in banning books. Now irony is dead.” Gratz told CBS MoneyWatch in a phone call. He added wryly, “I guess if you call a book ‘Ban This Book,’ you are kind of asking for it.”

Indian River County School District didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Impact of book bans 

Despite the ban, the incident is sparking renewed interest in his novel, Gratz said, although he won’t know the ban’s impact on sales until he receives a royalty statement later this year. Book bans typically harm sales, he added, and deters some schools from inviting authors to discuss their work with students. 

“In a select few cases, it’s true that a banned book equals more sales,” Gratz said. “But for most authors that have books banned or challenged, their books disappear.”

It’s an issue that’s impacting more books and authors, with the American Library Association (ALA) finding that the number of books targeted for censorship surged 65% in 2023 compared with a year earlier, reaching the highest number of titles ever documented by the group. 

In all, about 4,240 books were targets of censorship efforts last year, with about half of those books written by or including people of color and those from LGBTQ+ communities, the ALA found.

Gratz said that when “Ban This Book” was published, the most frequently banned books were works from series such as “Harry Potter” or “Captain Underpants,” with some critics objecting to the descriptions of witchcraft or attitudes toward authority.

Children’s book authors often support themselves by visiting schools, which pay for travel and provide an honorarium to speak with students, Gratz said. But a ban can cause school officials to shy away from inviting authors onto school grounds for fear that they’ll get into hot water or even lose their jobs. 

“If their book isn’t on the shelf at all, they aren’t getting invited,” Gratz said. “When authors of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+  aren’t making money off their books, they have to stop writing and make money from other jobs, so we lose those voices.”

Gratz noted that some of his other books — he’s written 20 in all — have faced bans, but none have gotten the same amount of attention as “Ban This Book.” 

“The big theme of ‘Ban This Book’ is that nobody has a right to tell you what book you can or cannot read, except your parents,” he said. “If the book is removed, then I can’t let my daughter read that book — you’ve already chosen for me that my kid can’t read it.”



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