An open letter to school boards and the boards of public library districts:
It has been brought to my attention that some people have asked you to remove books from your classrooms and libraries. Perhaps you’ve been asked to remove them because they have violence in them. Or sexual situations. Or racism. Or LGBTQ+ characters. Or witchcraft. Or poverty. Or something else that scares the people in your district.
I am the editor for Nikki Grimes’s YA memoir in verse Ordinary Hazards, as well as for many of the author’s middle grade and picture books over the years. Ordinary Hazards is being banned all over the country, and I’m writing this letter to urge you to stop banning this book, and others.
Nikki Grimes is outspoken about censorship, with a widely-circulated op-ed in Publishers Weekly and a powerful Q&A on the Cotton Quilts blog.
First, I’d like to share a little bit more about Ordinary Hazards, so that you can understand why this book is important. Ms. Grimes’s memoir is not explicit. It is a multi-award-winning book that sensitively portrays Ms. Grimes’s triumph over the hardships and challenges that she faced growing up. There are dark moments in it as Ms. Grimes writes about true incidents in her life, but these are all handled delicately, and ultimately it is an inspiring story of how Ms. Grimes prevailed through courage, faith, and writing.
It’s vitally important that books like this be available to young readers, because they can bring validation and hope to teens who may be facing similar situations in their own lives and they can nurture empathy in all readers.
Ordinary Hazards, like many banned books, has won many awards and received high praise from reviewers for being an inspiring story. Below, I’m including a partial list of its awards and honors as well as quotes from some of the reviews it received in professional journals to give you a sense for the quality and value of this book.
★ “Ordinary Hazards is a gorgeous piece of writing that also serves as powerful inspiration for any reader who has struggled and sought grace. Grimes’s triumph over adversity is matched only by her skill with the written word.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review
★ “Young adults will identify with and connect to the many challenges explored in Grimes’ work, which delves into issues of love, family, responsibility, belonging, finding your place in the world, and fighting the monsters you know—and the ones you don’t. The memoir has heartbreaking moments—even soul-crushing ones—that will make readers ache for young Grimes and teens grappling with similar circumstances. But inspiring moments bolster her raw, resonant story, showing that there is always light at the end of the darkest of tunnels.” —Booklist, starred review
★ “[T]he striking free-verse poems powerfully convey how a passion for writing fueled her will to survive and embrace her own resilience. . . . A must-read for aspiring writers.” —The Horn Book, starred review
★ “[W]ritten in highly readable verse and delivers a relatable message characterized by pathos and resilience . . . this book is an homage to the fortifying effect of written expression. School counselors can use this text as bibliotherapy for students in similar situations (and it) can also act as mentor text in classroom lessons on memoir writing or when teaching confessional poetry.” —School Library Connection, starred review
“A raw, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting story of trauma, loss, and the healing power of words.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This book will heal hearts and open a lot of eyes. It will keep some kids alive and it will wake up some adults. This powerful story, told with the music of poetry and the blade of truth, will help your heart grow.” —Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak and Shout
Again, the above is only a partial list of honors and praise this book has received. Ordinary Hazards is one of the books I’m most proud of publishing in my more than 30 years as an editor of children’s books.
This is ONE title in an ongoing movement to ban books that some people find frightening. But young adults need to know that the world can be frightening, they need to understand, empathize, and consider deeply the events that people have gone through.
I believe, as Laurie Halse Anderson noted, that books—especially this one—have the potential to be life-saving and that while it’s an inspiring book for all readers, Ordinary Hazards is a book that some readers need. Please don’t keep it from them.
For a partial list of banned books in 2021, see Pen America’s post: PROTECTING THE FREEDOM TO LEARN: A BANNED BOOKS WEEK READING LIST.