The Books Briefing: Zora Neale Hurston, Lemony Snicket


This year, the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week came amid a renewed push to limit the literature children can access. Schools and libraries across the country have sought to ban and remove hundreds of titles, many of which address gender, race and gender issues, in a bid to protect young people from supposedly sensitive issues. And while notoriety has the potential to raise a book’s public profile, in most cases, suppressed titles disappear without much fanfare, resulting in fewer sales for authors.

The current panic over what children are reading seems to forget that writing for children has long contained troubling themes. Before its Disney adaptation Pinocchio was a political novel full of references to poverty, incompetent authority, pressure to conform, and death (including, in the first version, the hanging of the puppet itself). And Zora Neale Hurston may not have written specifically for children, but writer Ibram X. Kendi found that her stories – particularly “Magnolia Flower,” which he adapted into a picture book – still teach children about the power and worth their existence, even in the face of persistent anti-blackness and injustice.

Many children are ready for – and enjoy – heavy literature. Sometimes they know what to expect and turn the page anyway. Lemony Snickets A chain of unfortunate events Books are meant to be depressing: the pseudonymous author-narrator warns the reader of a postmodern technique that challenges the reader to continue following the tale of woe of the Baudelaire orphans. The author ND Wilson who wrote the children’s series The Ashtown Burials, The outlaws of timeand 100 cabinets (one of my personal favorites as a kid) believes that scary books give kids the tools to deal with anxiety on the side. Books offer their readers the opportunity to go beyond the world they know. Banning books closes the door to the good and the bad, the funny and the frightening, and the knowledge that difficult paths can lead to happy endings.

​Every Friday in the book review we thread together Atlantic Stories about books that have similar ideas. Do you know other book lovers who might enjoy this guide? Forward this email to them.

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what we read

Books with barbed wire around them

Getty; The Atlantic

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The Banned Books You Haven’t Heard Of

“The effects of this spreading ban effort are being felt by authors whose names we may never hear, but who are feeling the effects in deeply personal ways.”

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old drawing of Pinocchio being held by the nose by a soldier

Fritz Kredel/Getty

The politics of Pinocchio

“At some point Pinocchio is thrown behind bars because he was robbed – ‘Four gold coins were stolen from that poor devil. So grab him and put him straight in jail’ – and have to convince the guards it’s him Not an innocent victim (‘but I’m a crook too’) to be set free.”

πŸ“š The Adventures of Pinocchioby Carlo Collodi

A collage containing a photo of a smiling Zora Neale Hurston

Katie Martin / The Atlantic; Getty

Zora Neale Hurston is for everyone

“All the more reason for this profound Hurston message for children in our political times: Although they treat me as if I am nothing, I am something. Although poverty is dehumanizing, I am not subhuman. Although they want me to be their mule, I’m not an animal. Though the world may be miserable, I am joy. Though they are hateful, I am love. Although tragedy haunts my identity like a shadow, I am not a running tragedy.”


Author Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket in a map reading booth with a crystal ball

Jeff Chiu/AP

Postmodernism – for children

β€œOf all of the show’s postmodern gimmicks, perhaps the most endearing was the how unfortunate events, in a truly metafictional way, championed reading as an inalienable good. For all the moral black and gray villains the Baudelaires and their readers must endure, the books routinely equated literacy with virtue.”

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Two children with swords in their hands are standing in front of a spooky forest

Kara Gordon / The Atlantic

Why I write scary stories for children

β€œEvery child in every classroom, every child in a bunk bed frantically reading by flashlights, every latchkey and every child in a helicopter, every single mortal child grows into a life story in a world of danger and beauty. Everyone will have struggles and ultimately everyone will face death and loss… The stories that feed their imaginations should inspire a courage and bravery stronger than anything they face. And when what lies ahead is truly and terribly awful (as too many children are), then fearless, self-sacrificing friends walking their own fantastic (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and be of help.”


About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Elise Hannum. The book she is reading right now is The hunger Gamesby Susanne Collins.

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