Small Acts of Kindness in Banned Books

Banned and Challenged Books

By: OIF Assistant Director Kristin Pekoll

For Giving Tuesday, we celebrate giving back to make our society a better place. It doesn’t have to be money, though that does help, it can also be kindness. In my opinion we don’t celebrate or practice kindness as much as I would like. I’ve pulled together a list of banned books that have a small act of kindness that has made an impact on me. I’d love to hear from others on what literary acts of kindness, random or intentional, have been memorable to them.

If you would like to contribute and support the work of the Office for Intellectual Freedom or Banned Books Week, please visit the ALA website and select “Offices.” Unrestricted giving to OIF provides ongoing support against censorship challenges, and promotes continuing education efforts, speaking engagements and workshops.


Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris CrutcherMark Brittain stands in my doorway. I’ll be gone to hell. 

“Hey, man,” I say back. 

“You’re kind of famous.” 

“Guess so.” I reach down to the side of the bed to find the button that raises my head. “So, how you feelin’?”

“Okay, I guess,” he says. “Kind of stupid.”

I don’t know what to say. I can feel that he wants to explain himself, and I don’t have it in me to hold him in contempt. I’ve had time to think: The wound I have is just a hole, his wound is humiliation. I’ve felt both, and they don’t compare. I think all this — feel some connection — without Mark having said but one sentence. Feeling kind of stupid. [Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher]

Neverwhere by Neil GaimanRichard had picked the girl up, cradling her in his arms. She was surprisingly light. ‘I’m taking her back to my place, Jess. I can’t just leave her. Tell Mister Stockton I’m really sorry, but it was an emergency. I’m sure he’ll understand.’

‘Richard Oliver Mayhew,’ said Jessica, coldly, ‘You put that young person down and come back here this minute. Or this engagement is at an end as of now. I’m warning you.’

Richard felt the sticky warmth of blood, soaking into his shirt. Sometimes, he realized, there is nothing you can do. He walked away ….

Richard did not, at any point on his walk, stop to think. It was not something over which he had any volition. Somewhere in the sensible part of his head, someone – a normal, sensible Richard Mayhew – was telling him how ridiculous he was being: that he should just have called the police, or an ambulance; that it was dangerous to lift an injured person; that he had really, seriously, properly upset Jessica; that he was going to have to sleep on the sofa tonight; that he was spoiling his only really good suit; that the girl smelled quite dreadful …. but Richard found himself placing one foot in front of the other, and, arm cramping and back hurting, and ignoring the looks he got from the passers-by, he just kept walking.  [Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman]

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins“Don’t go.” Rue tightens her grip on my hand. 

“Course not. Staying right here,” I say. I move in closer to her, pulling her head onto my lap. I gently brush the dark, thick hair behind her ear. 

“Sing,” she says, but I barely catch the word. 

Sing? I think. Sing what? I do know a few songs. Believe it or not, there was once music in my house, too. Music I helped make. My father pulled me in with that remarkable voice — but I haven’t sung much since he died. Except when Prim is very sick. Then I sing her the same songs she liked as a baby.

Sing. My throat is tight with tears, hoarse from smoke and fatigue. But if this is Prim’s, I mean, Rue’s last request, I have to at least try.  [The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins]

Charlottes Web“Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”  [Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White]
The Color PurpleDear God, 

It took him the whole spring, from March to June, to make up his mind to take me. All I thought about was Nettie. How she could come to me if I marry him and he be so love struck with her I could figure out a way for us to run away. Us both be hitting Nettie’s schoolbooks pretty hard, cause us know we got to be smart to git away. I know I’m not as pretty or as smart as Nettie, but she say I ain’t dumb.  [The Color Purple by Alice Walker]

Backstage, Kelly took off the vest of spider arms and handed it to George, who checked to make sure that Mr. Jackson wasn’t watching. Then she donned the vest. The fake arms were filled with cotton and didn’t weigh much, but they were bulky. George had to bunch them up in her real arms, as she had seen Kelly do, to make sure she didn’t trip over them. She combed her hair forward with her fingers, as she had done countless times in the mirror, and waited. The opening scenes of the play had never been so slow. 

George was bouncing on the balls of her feet with nervous excitement by the time the barnyard animals began to greet Wilbur. Charlotte’s first lines were only moments away. George climbed up the ladder to appear above the backdrop, in full view of the audience.

“Salutations!” George called out. Her voice was loud and clear, but with a soft lilt that showed Charlotte’s kindness. She looked down to see Kelly holding the ladder steady with one hand as she took pictures of George with the other.  [George by Alex Gino]

Eleanor & Park coverThat night, Park made a tape with the Joy Division song on it, over and over again. 

He emptied all his handheld video games and Josh’s remote control cars, and called his grandma to tell her that all he wanted for his birthday in November was AA batteries.  [Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell]


Kristin PekollKristin Pekoll is the Assistant Director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Kristin communicates with state library associations on current book challenges and publications that deal with censorship, privacy, ethics, and internet filtering. She organizes online education and training on the freedom to read and how to navigate reconsideration requests and media relations. Kristin started her career as a youth librarian in West Bend, Wisconsin. In 2009, over 80 YA LGBTQ books were challenged over 6 months. While the library board voted to retain all of the books in this case, she learned the indispensable value of support and education for librarians. She continued to fight against censorship in Wisconsin as the Intellectual Freedom Round Table Chair. Kristin’s husband and kids have joined her in Chicago but they all remain true Green Bay Packers fans. She enjoys zombies, knitting, and the Big Bang Theory. Find her on Twitter @kpekoll.

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