Celebrate Banned Book Week 2021

Each year, the American Library Association hosts Banned Books Week as a way to celebrate the freedom to read. This event spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The event runs from September 26 – October 2, 2021 with the theme of Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” According to the ALA, sharing stories important to us means sharing a part of ourselves. In support of the event, a few Read to Them staff members have highlighted their favorite titles that have been challenged or banned.

Sara Hudson, Programs Manager

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I read this book as an adult when my daughter was reading it. I knew it had been challenged in the past, so I wanted to know what the issue was. I was reading along, wondering what the problem could possibly be, when I got to that scene when it became clear why some people would feel threatened by the book.

In a less gifted writer’s hands, this story of a community avoiding all painful memories would come off as too far-fetched, the arc too contrived. But, in Lois Lowry’s hands, the story leads you along, giving you so much to ponder about the role of sadness in our lives. Several years after reading the book, I attended a talk by Lois Lowry. She was there to discuss Number the Stars, but she entertained my question about the genesis of The Giver. She shared that the book came from a visit with her elderly father who had sunk deep into dementia. As she rode the train home, she wondered about the importance of memories – all memories. Not just the happy ones, but the more challenging ones also. I come back to that thought often – that no matter how convenient it might be to shield ourselves from pain and sorrow, carrying the full range of experiences is what makes us human. 

Bruce Coffey, Director of Programs

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

One of the great subtle, anti-racist books in American history and literature.  I used to read the classic chapter “You Can’t Pray a Lie” to my U.S. History students to help them grapple with understanding how you can write a book commenting on American racial history and tension and inconsistency without being didactic – and instead use sly, sarcastic, parodic humor to expose the juvenile underpinnings of racist habits.


Mary Jo Warwick, Midwest Regional Representative

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki; Illustrated by Dom Lee

When I first picked up Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, it was both Dom Lee’s illustrations and the curious title that drew me in.  The precious faces of the young players backed by the parched beige of the desert was intriguing, but being a baseball fan, I had to find out how the game could save “us” — whoever “us” was.

I read the story of Shorty, a Japanese-American boy whose family was relegated to an internment camp by the U.S. government after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the government’s ensuing suspicions of the loyalty of all Japanese-Americans.  When camp life becomes unbearable, the boy’s father decides to fight the monotony by constructing a make-shift baseball diamond.  As the camp guard watches their every move, the teams play a game that provides not only physical and mental stimulation, but builds the confidence of Shorty.  

I remember shaking my head as I read the story. The blatant racist policy and practice of the government of a country that prides itself on the American Dream.  How ironic that America’s National Pastime – baseball – can shine a spotlight on such Un-American activity:  limiting access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Sometimes our past behaviors are not something to be proud of, but by acknowledging and owning them, we set ourselves up for a brighter future.  Baseball Saved Us can help do just that. Read it!  Teach it!


Kayla Aldrich, Programs Specialist

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five was the sort of book that found me when I needed it most. Vonnegut is a master of short, snappy quotes that stick with you long after you’ve stepped outside the pages of his novels, and the one that has been with me for upward of a decade, now, is “so it goes.” It became a line I frequently scrawled in notebooks, that I doodled on the back of my hand. It became a reminder that, no matter how hard the present may be, there is a version of me in a thousand different moments who is light and joyous. Sometimes the simple reminder that brighter times are ahead is the only saving grace one may be afforded, and it’s a beacon that should be readily available for anyone to stumble upon as I did. 

For more information on Banned Book Week, visit the American Library Association’s website and follow the ALA on Twitter and Facebook.

Theme Announcement for Read Aloud to a Child Week

Every year during the last week of October, Read to Them sponsors Read Aloud to a Child Week, a national event to showcase the importance of reading aloud to children and to encourage families to read together. For over 20 years, Read Aloud to a Child Week has been a stress-free way to engage with the literacy community. It truly is as simple as selecting books of your choice and reading aloud as a family. 

The 2021 event will run from October 24 – 30th, which is right around the corner. Be sure to mark your calendar— you won’t want to miss it! 

This past May, you had the opportunity to vote for the Read Aloud to a Child Week theme yourself. Read to Them is pleased to announce that the 2021 theme is GRATITUDE!

Now is the time to recognize and thank the people in our lives who’ve helped us through this trying year. Identify the moments and people who bring you joy. Reflect on the positive parts of your everyday life, any part that brings you joy. Be it the big, small, and in-between things, you’ll have the opportunity to ask your children: Who are you grateful for? Where do you find the light when the world feels dark? Who do you want to thank? 

Below are five picture books and five chapter books that embody gratitude in one way or another. For a more extensive list, be sure to check out the Read Aloud to a Child Week program page

Picture Books Chapter Books
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon  Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina
We are Grateful: Ostaliheliga by Traci Sorell Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
The Ramble Shamble Children by Christina Soontornvat Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins

For the latest Read Aloud to a Child Week updates, be sure to follow Read to Them on Facebook for more information as the event draws nearer. We hope you’re eager to read with us! 

A Parting Thanks to the Incomparable Chris Dudley

Chris working hard at Read to Them’s old office

Chris Dudley came to work for Read to Them in December of 2014. He was Read to Them’s sixth employee.  Like many who work for Read to Them, especially in the early days, he came to do one thing only to turn into a human swiss army knife.  He was an invaluable part of Read to Them’s startling growth over that period.  Chris elected to step away from Read to Them this summer, and so we must say goodbye and pay tribute to his myriad contributions over these seven years.

Chris came to assist our Executive Director at the end of 2014,  but we quickly learned that the guy who once had A READER as his license plate had more to contribute than helping with accounts.  Chris brought a deep-seated love of children’s literature with him, something he displayed every day he worked and contributed at Read to Them.

Chris helped read and especially recommend books.  He continues to make it a personal project to read every Newbery Medal AND Honor winning books. All of them. As well as Pulitzers, National Book Awards, Scott O’Dells, Corretta Scott Kings, and the Pura Belprés…  The man is dedicated – and Read to Them was fortunate to reap the benefits. For an organization that likes to recommend books, what will we do without our #1 book recommender?!

Chris is a tenacious problem solver.  With no special training in graphics or software or web design or office system interfaces, Chris was tireless and dedicated, dogged and creative, in helping us solve and manage a plethora of technical challenges.  He was the go to guy, and such people are rarely properly appreciated: Chris, we appreciate you!  And thank you!  Again and again.

Chris keeping the shipping area in tip-top shape

As Read to Them continued to grow, Chris took on the responsibility of our burgeoning shipping tasks.  Ordering bookmarks and posters (for over 150 books on our list!) and stickers, organizing and keeping track of them (are those bookmarks banded in bundles of 100?) – and shipping them out to each client school.  He also trained and supervised an evolving array of volunteers and high school and college interns with good cheer and reliability.

Chris is also a master proofreader – no mean task at an organization with an array of writers, a bevy of books, and an atmosphere of bookishness all around.  Just when we thought the newsletter was ready to go, Chris might come in for a ‘final check’ and catch a bunch of inconsistent em dashes and irregularly aligned columns.  Chris was always the real final check and the standard of those who aspired to proofreader pride measured themselves against.

Chris is a natural librarian and while pursuing a degree in Library Science, he served as a part-time Librarian in nearby Henrico County until fatherhood – and the demands of Read to Them – pulled him away.

One of Chris’s favorite place to grab a bite from – Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen

Chris is a foodie.  He doesn’t love to cook it, but he does love to read about it and talk about it and eat it. Whenever Read to Them staff convened convivially, Chris was there to suggest a puzzle, or a game of Scrabble, or a round of Trivia HQ.  He functioned as a vital morale officer for all of us.

Chris working with staff to pack an order for a state read

In his last year with Read to Them, Chris helped create our Book Selection Committee, reading about dozens of new (and old) children’s books. Their merits are debated, their strengths and weaknesses for reading aloud assessed; the potential for sharing at home and reading across a broad population taken into consideration over an intense reading period.  As is natural to the Book Selection Committee, Chris was always passionate – and always a reliable resource for publisher information, paperback status, and Spanish translations.  While we cry, “What will we do without him?”, in fact we are blessed that Chris has agreed to stay on  as a volunteer  and continue to serve on our Book Selection Committee.

It’s fitting that he is leaving us to take more personal care of his young daughters, who he affectionately refers to as Thing One and Thing Two, to be a family man to his wife and mother, and to explore some entrepreneurial ideas simmering in his creative mind.

Thank you, Chris, for seven unforgettable and vital years. And good fortune to you as you tread a new path through the world. Holy bagumba!

Take a Look at Our New Fall Titles

Read to Them is always looking to add new, exciting titles to our library – as you might recall from the book selection overview piece. We invite you to explore these seven titles, from both debut authors and creators established on the KidLit scene, with your school communities. You can find blurbs for each book below and further explore Read to Them’s catalog by visiting our featured book lists


by Katherine Applegate

“If you ever have to live in your car, you are going to have some problems with feet.” 

In the past, Jackson and his family lived in the family van before moving into an apartment. Now they are facing homelessness again. And though both his parents are loving and supportive, Jackson is worried.

Which is where Crenshaw comes in. Crenshaw is a large, imaginary, talking cat who likes purple jelly beans. Can Crenshaw magically solve all the problems in Jack’s complicated life? No. But, he can offer support, and ask sassy, challenging questions that help Jackson think differently about his childhood.


The 14th Goldfish

by Jennifer Holm

“A PhD lasts a lot longer than love.”

What would you do if you discovered your grandfather had turned into a 13-year-old wise-cracking kid?

Grandpa Melvin is a scientist and he’s discovered a cure for aging. (It involves jellyfish.) He appears on his daughter’s doorstep looking for help breaking into his lab to recover his research. He ends up enrolled in middle school with his 11-year-old granddaughter, Ellie!


Because of the Rabbit

by Cynthia Lord

“It happened once…”

That’s how Emma’s grandfather – Pépère – always began his enchanting, lesson-filled stories about the trickster rabbit, Monsieur Lapin. Emma also receives sensitive and winning support from her older brother, Owen.

Emma’s biggest concern is the fate of her rescued rabbit, Lapi. Not only does she have to care for Lapi, but she must also determine if Lapi has a former owner. This turns out to be a dicey ethical question as Emma wants to find a way to keep him.


From the Desk of Zoe Washington

by Janae Marks

“To my Little Tomato…”

Marcus writes to his daughter, Zoe, from prison. But if Zoe’s mother has anything to say about, Zoe won’t receive these letters, and she certainly won’t be allowed to respond. Zoe’s desire to build a relationship with her father lies at the heart of this novel, but there is so much more.

Zoe’s relationship with Marcus grows through letters, recipes, and playlists. The novel takes a sharp turn when Zoe decides to take on the mission of proving his innocence. With the help of her good friend Trevor, she sets off to find an alibi witness and engage the Innocence Project. The story deals with serious themes of friendship, family, and justice, along with cupcakes, basketball, and Stevie Wonder. 



by Thomas Taylor

“But in a place like Eerie-on-Sea, legends can sometimes have a little more… bite.” 

This is a lesson that Herbert “Herbie” Lemon, Lost-and-Founder of the Grand Nautilus Hotel, quickly discovers when he learns about the fearsome Malamander, a half-fish, half-man, that’s kept the town of Eerie-on-Sea wary of misty evenings for generations. 

Get ready to embark on a larger-than-life adventure, especially if you are one who enjoys an appreciation for things that are just a little bit strange. 


Ways to Make Sunshine

by Renée Watson

“Be who we named you to be.”

Ryan Hart is full of spit and fire, and a drive to do right by everyone. Yet somehow in moving to a new neighborhood, and worrying about her father’s new job, and fretting about the fourth-grade talent show, well, little things can go awry.

We invite you to share Ryan Hart with your school and families. Every child should experience authentic characters like Ryan, and all the things that make them so relatable – their attitude, warmth and generosity, mistakes, ups and downs, lessons, and their resolutions.


Harbor Me

by Jacqueline Woodson

“Always remember, when you are with your people, you are home.”

Welcome to the ARRT Room – A Room To Talk. Here, six Brooklyn middle school students are afforded one hour each Friday to talk amongst themselves – no adults present.

It’s a racially and economically diverse group of students, dealing with their own challenges. They use the time and freedom to get to know each other – to find out where each of them is coming from and what each of them is dealing with.