April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Interview: Why Lauren Myracle’s Proud to Top ALA’s List of Most Challenged Books

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the

Lauren Myracle

freedom to read. We caught up by email with bestselling author Lauren Myracle, who ranked number one on the American Library Association’s top 10 most frequently challenged books list in 2011 and 2009—and who also made the list in 2008 and 2007.

What does it mean to top ALA’s list of most challenged books–not once–but twice?

Well, it means I get a little bit of attention for a few days. I like that. I like attention! It also reminds me to do my best to stay on the top of my game. If I’m going to be an advocate for intellectual freedom which I sure try to be—then I better keep a close eye on myself. Where do I fall short? What ideas am I uncomfortable with? How do I deal with those ideas and the people who express them? +shrugs+ It’s tough. I am still a total work in progress.

Are you proud? Sad? Mad?

PROUD, for sure. “Mad” went away a long time ago. (I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, you know. I’ve been on this list before.) “Sad”? Well…maybe a little, in the broad way that I am sad that we silly humans can’t get our acts together and sing in harmony. But I’m an eternal optimist. We’ll figure it out, and conversations about tough topics—like censorship—inevitably lead to growth.

This is your fourth time on the list in five years. Why’s it important that kids get to read books like yours?

Because they’re AWESOME. Can that be my answer? Okaaaay, fine. Because ideas don’t kill people. Guns do. Except maybe gun-totin’ mamas have a valid argument for strapping lady revolvers to their inner thighs. Only how will I know if I’m forbidden from reading the gun-totin’ mamas’ treatise: “How to Coordinate Your Pistol with Your Pumps”? Hmmm???? (Um. My books have nothing to do with guns. My brain just goes to weird places late at night…)

What is the most moving comment from a reader that you’ve received?

“I am a gay boy living in NC. If I hadn’t read yr book Shine (Amulet, 2011), I probably wldn’t be here today. Thx.”

Do book challenges have any effect on your writing?

Absolutely, and it’s a pain in the butt. I doubt myself all the time. I want to reach tween and teen readers, but to reach them, I often have to meet the approval of an adult parent/teacher/book buyer/etc. But I don’t care about the approval of those adults. Do I? What if what I write really *is* “wrong”? What if I try so hard to not censor myself that I go too far and fall over? What if I try so hard to not not censor myself that I teeter in my high-and-mighty heels and fall over in the other direction? WHAT IF I SUCK? It is a mind game, see? But for the record, I don’t wear heels. I am usually barefoot.

OK, an easy one. How do you feel about book banning and challenges?

Can my answer be “Awesome!” again? Kidding. I don’t feel awesome about book banning. I feel crappy about it. Censorship hurts readers (all readers) and hurts authors (especially those who have yet to develop a thick skin). As Chris Crutcher said, “When you ban a book, you ban a kid.” Uncool. On the plus side, the fact that we celebrate Banned Books Week every year *is* awesome, because it draws attention to the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power—and yes, the absolute and utter awesomeness—of literature.

About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.



  1. Terrific interview. Terrific author with a great sense of humor. Thanks. For those interested, follow the author on Twitter @LaurenMyracle.

  2. I don’t think ladies strap guns to their thighs anymore. Now it is all about bra holsters. Seriously. Google it.

  3. A few years ago I accepted an invitation to spend the day visiting an elementary school in upstate New York. When the school received my pre-order form, the principal would not allow me to sell My Little Book of Whitetails or My Little Book of Manatees nor could I read these books to the students. Here’s what she considered inappropriate for the K-4 students.
    “One day several bucks began go follow the doe. When the time was right, she mated with a strong one that had eight points on his antlers. After mating she spent her time searching for food…” (The deer weren’t shown mating.)
    And accompanying a warm, mother-child double spread in the manatee book: “The hungry baby searched for one of his mother’s thumb-size nipples behind her front flipper. When he found it he began to nurse.”
    H’m. Are the students taught that manatees babies bottle fed?
    Do they think the stork brought Bambi?
    In retrospect I wonder if I should have refused to visit that school. I am glad I didn’t. I loved sharing my books and animals with the children. They were attentive and responsive and the faculty members warm and appreciative. Still that niggling question remains: Should I have dis-invited myself in opposition to censorship by a principal who exerted too much control over her school?