Friday, 7 October 2011

Banned Books: On no account should you read this …

Edge author Dave Cousins on the curious incident of the dog in the locker.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article about a student in an American high school, running a library of banned books from her locker. What started as a small act of rebellion against censorship, turned into something much more significant and interesting, when she discovered that her classmates wanted to borrow and read the books because they had been told they shouldn’t.

Before I started (the library), almost no kid at school but myself took an active interest in reading! Now not only are all the kids reading the banned books, but go out of their way to read anything they can get their hands on. So I’m doing a good thing, right? ”   

A few days later I read in the press about the cancellation of  an appearance by award winning children’s author, Meg Rosoff, at an independent school in Bath. Having somewhat belatedly realised that the novel she would be talking about, There Is No Dog, explored the idea of God as a nineteen year old boy, the school felt that inviting Rosoff to speak would not be an appropriate reflection of their Christian ethos.  

The discussions that followed this news, both publicly and amongst friends and fellow writers were passionate and wide ranging in opinions. As far as I was concerned this reaction served as a perfect illustration as to why young people should be encouraged to read and discuss books such as There Is No Dog, precisely because they are thought provoking and stimulate debate.  

In an interview on Radio 4’s Open Book programme some weeks before her event was pulled, Meg Rosoff said that her intention when writing the book had been to simply pose questions that would make readers realise that somebody else was thinking about these issues. And that she believed it was part of the writers job “to look at the dark questions of life.”  

I don’t wish to enter into a specific debate about There Is No Dog, or the school’s decision to cancel Meg Rosoff's visit. I would like to suggest however, that books tackling some of these “dark questions” provide an excellent opportunity for schools to engage students in informed debate. Hiding away from an issue or a difficult question won’t make it go away. Ignorance, fear and prejudice will merely continue as a result. Whereas a generation of young people who read widely, and are encouraged to explore different viewpoints and ideas, will surely be better equipped to shape our world in future.  

A final thought. The library in the locker clearly showed that young people like to read what they’ve been told not to. The question is – how can we stimulate similar interest in books that haven’t been banned? Your thoughts on this would be most welcome.

Dave Cousins' debut novel for teenagers, 15 Days Without a Head comes out in January, published by Oxford University Press. On no account should you read it … 

Please note that all opinions in this post are those of the author alone.


  1. So ideally, what I want is for my book to banned, as publically as possible!

  2. It worked on me, you said don't read this post, so I did. Which is what you secretly wanted. You manipulator of evilness!

  3. Yup, I was drawn in by the title of the post too... :-)

  4. i don't think one needs to be controversial to stimulate interest in a book for young people. the one thing this age group is good at is word of mouth - so if the story's outstanding, it is going to get out there. the problem really is time. because word of mouth is a slow moving beast ... will publishers/booksellers give a book enough time to win an audience? so the first point of marketing for an author with a new book - weirdly enough - is his or her own publisher.

  5. Great post, Dave, and definitely food for thought. The problem with banned books is - how many of them actually get into readers' hands if they are hard to get hold of!
    Personally, I think that being labelled as 'controversial' is far better, and although word of mouth can work really well, if there is something different about the book, it gets picked up by reviewers and readers faster.