“The words were dangerous.” For as long as people have been expressing their opinions in writing, there have been those in positions of power who have succeeded in censoring those thoughts—or making sure they were never printed in the first place. In this timely and provocative parable, a book is first subjected to redaction, then removal from a library. From award-winning author Jonah Winter, this provocative tale is subject to increasing amounts of blacked out text from censors, leaving behind a powerful message of the effects of censorship. Award-winning artist Gary Kelley’s moody and powerful art sets a weighty tone, portraying the emotions of the readers, the censors, the indignant librarian, and the questioning students. What becomes of a banned book? Is it good for only landfill fodder in the end? Banned Book will spark discussions with students in middle school and above as they confront a situation that is altogether too common in our own time.
Censor bars gradually fill the pages of this bleak, self-referential exploration of book banning. Following a classic fairy tale opening, a pointed voice recounts the tale of a work—subject redacted—in which “words had been blacked out/ by people who believed the words/ were dangerous.” Unraveling the events of the censorship, the narrator places the blame with a group dubbed “ ‘We Are Right’ (or: ‘WAR’).” The group shows up at a school board meeting, a librarian is silenced, and the book ends up in the trash, to be forgotten for good. Throughout, asterisks point to flimsy justification for the redactions (“These words are not allowed”). Shadows and dusty hues lend Kelley’s chalky geometric artwork an ominous quality that echoes the tone of endangerment summoned by Winter throughout this stark portrayal. Human characters are portrayed with various skin tones.
–Publishers Weekly, 09/08/2023
The uptick in picture books about books being banned this year has been notable. Not that there have been all THAT many, but I’ve noted more than a few. There was The Great Banned Books Bake Sale by Aya Khalil, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan and This Book Is Banned by Raj Haldar, illustrated by Julia Patton. Those were interesting but pretty straightforward picture books overall. This latest from Winter & Kelley is a bit different. I found it particularly interesting since this is definitely the first time Winter has ever worked with the publisher known as The Creative Company. Kelley, for his part, is a very specific kind of illustrator, and here he’s pulling out his full inner-European for the art. The whole trick to this book is that as you read it more and more of its words are blacked out. Eventually so many blacked out blocks of text fill the page that you begin to realize that if you read the words that have not been blacked, you start to find an entirely new story there. But what about the art? Everyone loves a cool concept, but how the heck do you illustrate it? Never fear. Kelley’s art opts for an interesting combination of realistic and surreal. I liken them to WPA paintings of the Depression Era, except with a bit of a dada twist. You get a hint of that from the cover certainly. It’s making a gigantic point rather than a coherent story, but considering the truly peculiar way in which it’s doling out its material, you kind of respect it. Definitely a title for older child readers, that’s for sure. Definitely unconventional.
–Betsy Bird, Fuse #8 (31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Unconventional Children's Books), 12/17/2023
For the same age group, “Banned Book” (Creative Editions, 32 pages, $18.99) radiates akind of cold fury. Gary Kelley’s social-realistic artwork, combined with Jonah Winter’s text—dramatically redacted, with words blacked out as if by a government censor—combine topresent a picture of absolute evil in the motives of anyone who wishes to limit access to anyAppeared in the December 30, 2023, print edition. book, for any reason. One passage reads: “[They] claim that they only want to protect children, when what they really want is power over everyone, because they don’t believe other people have the right to think for themselves.”
–Meghan Cox Gurdon, Wall Street Journal, 12/28/2023