Read an Excerpt From Attack of the Black Rectangles

See censorship through a student's eyes.

attack of the black rectangles feature excerpt

Each year, more and more books are banned from schools and libraries. While book bans are ostensibly meant to protect children from controversial ideas or harsh realities, censorship also removes a child's chance to grow, learn and form their own opinion. 

Award-winning author Amy Sarig King has taken on the topic of censorship in her children's book Attack of the Black Rectangles. The story follows Mac, a fifth grade student who is assigned to read the classic Holocaust novel The Devil's Arithmetic. At first he assumes the black marks on his book's pages are a mistake—but when he and his friends find out what the censored words are, he's enraged.

This is a story about fighting for the truth, even when it's hard—and seeing the good in people, even when you disagree with them. Below, read an excerpt from Attack of the Black Rectangles.




Attack of the Black Rectangles

By Amy Serig King


“I am here to protect all of us from the ugly world.” —Laura Samuel Sett 


According to a lot of the adults in our town, everything here is perfect. 

We don’t have accidents. We don’t have any crime at all. We don’t have Halloween anymore. Or junk food. We don’t have bad thoughts. We don’t use any bad words, like cancer or death or sex or donut

A lot of people thank Ms. Laura Samuel Sett for this. She’s as famous as a person can get in our town, and probably the only reason the local newspaper is still in print. Everyone reads her letters there. 

Ms. Sett is also a sixth-grade teacher, but the adults around here are her students as much as kids like me who pass through her classroom at Independence North Elementary School. Those adults join Ms. Sett in letter writing, sitting on the town council and committees, and making rule after rule after rule. They seem to believe that rules equal safety—by making more rules, they are keeping us all safe and keeping the town’s reputation spotless. 

Ms. Sett thinks that if we even think about “bad things,” our whole town could fall right into the toilet of the world. 

“Just like all those other towns,” she says. 

The adults around here don’t just keep our town safe from unsavory words and thoughts. They keep our town safe from unsavory people, too. And if we believe what the adults around here say, then unsavory people are anyone who doesn’t go to church, anyone who doesn’t pledge the flag louder than the person next to them, and anyone who eats junk food. 

Most of us have to go to the next town over to do our grocery shopping so we can buy Cheetos. 

My family has ignored the town’s silly rules for as long as I can remember. We don’t go to church, I don’t pledge the flag overly loudly, and we eat a decent amount of junk food. My mom loves Oreos. I love Cheetos. And my grandad is a bona fide candy freak. 

Ms. Sett wrote a letter to the paper one time about an elderly man who sits on Main Street, always eating candy. She asked for him to be removed for his bad example to children. She was talking about Grandad. Here’s what he did in response: He started bringing me with him. 

Don’t get me wrong—we eat really good homemade food and a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I get a lot of calcium and vitamins and grains and protein and all the other stuff in the food pyramid. 

There are much worse things in the world than junk food. Mom knows it because she works at a place that helps people grieve the death of their loved ones and helps people with cancer and other terminal illnesses. Grandad knows it because he fought in the Vietnam War. My dad sure knows it, because he’s always mad at something—like, every single day. 

I just think Ms. Sett and the adults around here should mind their own business. I don’t think any town is perfect and I don’t think any town is in the toilet of the world. I think life is what life is and we just have to try our best. 

Life is what life is and we just have to try our best. —Mac Delaney 

For all I’m about to say here about her and for all her weird rules, Ms. Sett taught me to stand up for myself and I’m grateful to her for that. 

You’re probably confused. 

Yes, Ms. Sett is a pain and thinks we shouldn’t eat Cheetos. But also yes, she was nice to me when I needed it most. 

No one is ever just one thing. 

And not everyone is telling the truth. 

That’s the closest anyone will ever get to perfect. 



We were on the way to Philadelphia with the fifth-grade school trip when Denis and I made up the game BOT DUCK MAN. It stands for botflyduck, and human

Botfly on account of Denis’s uncle getting one in his arm the last time he went to Costa Rica. Duck because we live in a town with a lot of ducks, and ducks eat insects including, we figured, botflies. Human on account of the way Denis described the botfly coming out of his uncle’s arm— right by the elbow—and how bad his uncle said it hurt. 

I am never going to Costa Rica. 

Anyway, it’s just like ROCK PAPER SCISSORS and I highly recommend it as an alternative to listening to the tour guide at the Liberty Bell. 

“Stop it.” Those were the first two words I ever heard from Ms. Sett. She was a chaperone because the school always had sixth-grade teachers chaperone fifth-grade trips. 

“Stop it,” she said again, and then she moved Denis to the other side of the Liberty Bell so we couldn’t finish our BOT DUCK MAN tournament. I was winning. 

BOT beats MAN. 

DUCK beats BOT. 

MAN beats DUCK. 

After the Liberty Bell, we went to Independence Hall, where the tour guide was way more boring than the Liberty Bell tour guide. 

And no, I don’t have a bad attitude. I’ve seen the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall three other times and each time I wasn’t impressed. It’s not that I don’t respect the founding fathers, but I do have some problems with how they did stuff. Mostly how they bought and sold people. 

I definitely have a problem with that. 

So when it was question time at the end of the tour, and we were standing right in the room where the founding fathers had signed the Declaration of Independence, I raised my hand and asked, “How many of the guys who signed the Declaration of Independence owned slaves?” 

Ms. Sett moved quickly toward me with her hand out. 

The tour guide said, “Forty-one out of fifty-six signers owned slaves. That’s a great question.” 

“Thanks,” I said. 

I’m white, so maybe this seems like a weird question. But just because I’m white doesn’t mean I can’t talk about what white people do wrong. We do a lot wrong. For starters, we don’t talk about how 73 percent of the signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. 

Ms. Sett stopped edging toward me once the tour guide answered. But she gave me a disapproving look while she listened to the next question. Marci Thompson asked something about why women weren’t invited to the whole signing party. Predictable. Marci was always talking about women and how they need more rights. I’d been stuck in the same class as her since first grade. The whole time, I thought she was okay . . . as long as you didn’t say anything to her. 

Ms. Sett didn’t say anything to Marci then. Or me. 

But I could tell she was taking notes in her head.

On the bus home from the Philadelphia trip, the teachers made us sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” like we were first graders. They made us do it in three different groups of singers so we could appreciate “the harmonies!” Denis and I were playing a best-out-of-twenty-one tournament of BOT DUCK MAN. He won both games during “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” because I can’t sing and think at the same time. Then I lost my place in the song and sang out of sync with everyone until I just stopped singing altogether. 

Marci Thompson leaned around the seat in front of us and chided, “You two should really pay more attention.” 

“Are you a teacher now?” Denis asked. 

“Trying to be a good friend,” she said. 

Denis looked like he was going to say something mean. 

So I said, “You’re a great friend, Marci, but you could probably be more chilled out.” 

My mom taught me how to do that.

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attack of the black rectangles

Attack of the Black Rectangles

By Amy Serig King