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In a new picture book for kids, a lot of random stuff gets banned

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

A new children's picture book introduces little kids to a big topic.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Reading) "This Book Is Banned" - words by Raj Haldar, pictures by Julia Patton.

DETROW: "This Book Is Banned" isn't really about books being removed from libraries. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, it's a silly story about banning things like unicorns, avocados and old roller skates.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In "This Book Is Banned," the hippos don't like the giraffes.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Reading) The hippos over here really don't like how those tall giraffes are getting all the leaves for themselves. One hippo's like, how rude, I'm starving.

BLAIR: The consequences are brutal.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Reading) OK, no more giraffes - banned. And you think these hippos complain too much? Let's get rid of them, too - banned.

BLAIR: Raj Haldar was partly inspired to write "This Book Is Banned" because of something that happened to him after his first book was published. "P Is For Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever" is all about silent letters and other spelling quirks. For the letter O, he used the word ouija and ended up getting some hate mail.

RAJ HALDAR: Which is a silly game that people play on Halloween and, you know, they try to talk to ghosts. But, you know, I've gotten emails where I have been called a tool of Satan.

BLAIR: Haldar shared one such email with NPR. It's not family friendly. "P Is For Pterodactyl" became a bestseller. Meantime, Haldar started doing some research on book bans.

HALDAR: One of the really kind of important moments in my journey with "This Book Is Banned" was reading about the book "And Tango Makes Three."

BLAIR: "And Tango Makes Three" by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is based on a true story about two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who raise a penguin chick together. For a time, it was one of the most challenged books in the country, according to the American Library Association.

HALDAR: Seeing that freedom to read is being trampled on in this way, like, I needed to create something that could help them contend with the idea of book bans and understand the dangers of censorship but, you know, allowing kids to also have fun.

BLAIR: In "This Book Is Banned," there are sound effects.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Reading) Fizz, buzz, whir, gah (ph).

BLAIR: And Haldar breaks the fourth wall.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Reading) Are you sure you want to keep reading? You do? You're having fun? I don't think you want to know what happens at the end, though.

BLAIR: Haldar says one of his favorite books growing up was Sesame Street's "The Monster At The End Of This Story."

HALDAR: It's this sort of meta picture book where, like, the book itself is trying to kind of dissuade you from getting to the end of the book.

BLAIR: And that just makes kids want to get there even more.

HALDAR: Kids in general, they're always trying to push at the edges of what they can discover and know about.

BLAIR: Nothing says read me like the words banned book.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.