Wooden placard of a witch holding a sign on a windowsill of a house. Sign reads: "Witch services, spells, hexes, magic. October special, prince to frog change. Poof!"

What Happens When a Book is Banned?

Book banning has been around for a long time, from burning texts in 213 BCE
all the way to removing a book from library shelves in 2023. As a kid, I remember asking a librarian to show me where I could find “books about magic.” My parents, one a borderline pagan and the other a devout Christian, had drilled into me only the most magical of things about the world, and I was eager to learn more. I remember the horror—and slight amusement—on the librarian’s face as she turned to my dad and I and proclaimed, “Oh, we don’t have those here. Those types of books are banned.”

Banned books are currently a hot topic in the news, but every year more books across the globe face criticism and removal from shelves. Some suggest that book bans are turning libraries and schools into political warzones—but what really happens when a book is banned? Book banning comes down to a means of censorship, a process as old as writing itself. In contemporary society, books are banned when “. . . private individuals, government officials, or organizations challenge books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes.” Challenged books often contain graphic violence, sexually explicit content, or offensive language, but many of the books challenged in 2022 contain queer or racial themes. In bookstores and libraries, books can also be censored discreetly when defaced, placed in non-accessible areas, or marked with too-high reading levels. In order to be banned, a book with unlikeable content must be “challenged” by an individual or organization. Once a book is challenged, the case is sent to the American Library Association to be documented, but the individual institution chooses whether to remove the book from its shelves based on its content. Book bans are institutionally based, meaning if a book is banned at one library, it won’t be at all libraries. Students, teachers, and other individuals can protest the banning, but the ban is ultimately up to the institution. If a book is removed from shelves, it may still be available at other places, and can often be found online. However, the problem with book banning lies primarily with our young readers, who often don’t have the resources to access banned books.

A recent report on banned books released by PEN America suggests that of the books banned between July 2021 and June 2022, 41 percent address LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+ and 40 percent contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color. That’s 81 percent, or nearly 1,335 of the 1,648 titles banned during this period. The number of titles equates to nearly four million students across the US who have been impacted by the bans. For many young readers with these identities, finding representation in media can be crucial to their mental health and quality of life, and banning books is a threat to students’ free expression and first amendment rights. Book banning can also create significant gaps in knowledge for young learners. Banning books not only harms young readers but can harm authors as well, especially queer authors or authors of color, whose books are often targeted and labeled as “critical race theory,” “anti-police,” or “inappropriate for youth.” Reading books with unconventional themes helps all readers build empathy for others’ diverse experiences, and books challenge us to think in new and sometimes uncomfortable but important ways. This push is especially necessary in today’s society, when we face division more than ever. As readers, we can stand against book bans by doing what we do best: reading more banned books.

Some great banned books to read:

    Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
    Night by Elie Wiesel
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
    All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
illustrated cover art for book showing a car, a moon and city buildings. Text reads "Sleeping in My Jeans" and "Teaching Guide"

Reimagining Marketing with Curriculum-Based Teaching Guides

Here at Ooligan Press, innovation has been the name of the marketing game in the past couple years. To market a book, you’ve got to market your brand.

This is where extending outreach to new or secondary audiences reimagines a stagnant brand strategy. We’ve taken the hassle away from literary analysis and created an online, self-guided curriculum for teachers, librarians, and independent learners alike.

Marketing to Educators

We all know Ooligan is staffed by Portland State graduate students. It would seem only natural that Ooligan serve educational or academic audiences outside of the typical target consumer. So, why teaching guides? And what titles will be included in this new outreach?

Extending our outreach to educators is really all about brand strategy. Every book has a specific target audience, but teaching guides act as promotional materials that appeal to a singular audience across multiple genres. This outreach attempts to solidify a stable target audience for our press. And a stable consumer means a potential increase in sales.

With creative writing exercises, reflection questions, and interactive activities, Ooligan’s new teaching guides will appeal to educators as well as the homeschooled learner or the not-so-enthusiastic reader. Not only do these guides reinforce Ooligan’s mission of regionality, community, inclusion, and social-emotional awareness, but they also strengthen pre-existing connections with educators and the Multnomah County Library.

In fact, as Ooligan Press’s 2021-22 Marketing Manager, I was shocked to learn that the press actually had dabbled with teaching guides in the past. With curriculum-based teaching guides of backlists like Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans drowning somewhere in the deep, dark Ooligan archives, I took inspiration from the strategies of yesteryear and am seeking innovative ways to reimagine how these strategies may be more consistently and successfully implemented now and in the future.

In particular, we will be focusing this effort on YA titles. They may be fiction or nonfiction, but must teach valuable social-emotional lessons or spread awareness about key regional, historical, social, or political spheres. Think of it this way: if one of our YA titles can contribute to meaningful discussion in either a high school classroom or library setting, it is probably a worthy candidate for a teaching guide.

So, what does the process actually look like? Well, it’s taken some trial and error. First, the 2017 teaching guides from Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans had to be redesigned. While the curriculum the 2017 Oolies had created is smart and interactive, the design was not much more than a PDF-converted Google Doc with some on-brand fonts. To ensure each guide seamlessly adhered to its respective title’s branding aesthetics, one volunteer crafts a beautifully designed guide. The sparkly new Ricochet River and Sleeping in My Jeans teaching guides are live on the Ooligan website’s Educator Portal, where access is just a simple click and download away for educators and independent learners.

The tricky bit? Creating the actual curriculum for new titles. Each teaching guide must have a particular set of interactive activities, discussions, and additional materials like comparative readings, teaching slideshows, and K-W-L curriculum worksheets.

Whew! Oolies are multi-talented, absolutely. But it’s not like all book publishers are versed in the art of curriculum building, so how the heck do we do it? With the assistance of fellow educators, our curriculum will be reviewed and given the green light. Once this happens and the curriculum has been created, a callout goes live for yet another designer to conceptualize and design the curriculum into a brand new teaching guide.

What’s Next?

Promotion, promotion, promotion.

With all this hard work, it’s crucial that we ensure these standards are incorporated into future production schedules. Project Managers now have access to a Teaching Guide Checklist to assess their title’s appropriateness for a teaching guide. In the Marketing Plan stage, project teams will begin planning for teaching guides in their Marketing and Publicity Highlights, and will begin production after blurb requests—before publication.

Oh, but that’s not all. We’ve got to spread the word. Social media promotion and community connections will be important here. So, get to work on those social media collateral callouts and continue to reach out to educators and libraries for some awesome deals on class sets. This year at Ooligan we’re all about innovation. If all is implemented successfully, teaching guides can set a precedent for a stable target audience within our little independent graduate press.