Attack of the Black Rectangles

by A S King (Author)

Attack of the Black Rectangles
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Award-winning author Amy Sarig King takes on censorship and intolerance in a novel she was born to write.

When Mac first opens his classroom copy of Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic and finds some words blacked out, he thinks it must be a mistake. But then when he and his friends discover what the missing words are, he's outraged.

Someone in his school is trying to prevent kids from reading the full story.

But who?

Even though his unreliable dad tells him to not get so emotional about a book (or anything else), Mac has been raised by his mom and grandad to call out things that are wrong. He and his friends head to the principal's office to protest the censorship... but her response doesn't take them seriously.

So many adults want Mac to keep his words to himself.

Mac's about to see the power of letting them out.

In Attack of the Black Rectangles, acclaimed author Amy Sarig King shows all the ways truth can be hard... but still worth fighting for.

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Kirkus Reviews

A searingly relevant opus to intellectual freedom.

Publishers Weekly

Pennsylvania sixth graders battle classroom censorship in this uplifting middle grade novel by King (The Year We Fell From Space). At Independence Elementary, Mac Delaney and his friends Denis, who's loyal and has anxiety, and Marci, an outspoken feminist, are outraged to discover that someone has used "ugly black rectangle" to expurgate classroom copies of Jane Yolen's historical novel The Devil's Arithmetic. The trio suspects their teacher, Ms. Sett--she's always writing letters about banning junk food or insisting that local homes be painted white "to maintain the look of history"--so they show the selectively redacted text to their principal. Dr. McKenney also dismisses their concerns, however, making the kids even more determined to fight for the right to the "whole truth." Their campaign inspires some students to publicly discuss aspects of their lives, including a girl who reclaims her non-Anglicized name. But Mac struggles with internalized shame, secretly fearing he'll turn out like his callous, erratic father, a fear kindly explored by his keenly drawn Vietnam War veteran grandfather. King empathetically tackles the intersections of multiple sensitive topics--mental health, patriarchy and sexism, war's realities, whitewashed history--while educating readers on the power of protest and the benefits of living with grace. Protagonists cue as white. Ages 9-12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Sept.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5 Up--King's latest novel is so timely and relevant, some readers may feel like the author has been privy to what's going on in their own schools. Mac is in the sixth grade and is a kid who knows his own mind. His teacher is known around town to be a strong, conservative influencer--for reasons that are never explained. Ms. Sett runs her classroom like she seems to run their small town, with antiquated rules and expectations. Girls aren't allowed to wear shorts to school and no junk food is available, and these are enforced city ordinances. Ms. Sett is a conundrum when she doesn't tolerate bullying and is an advocate of children but then censors books in her classroom including the book Mac is reading, The Devil's Arithmetic, in a literature circle. When Mac and his classmates find black marker has been used in all the books to mark out words thought to be inappropriate for sixth graders, Ms. Sett has gone too far (not even canceling Halloween got the kids as riled up as the "black rectangles"). While Mac and his friends work against censorship, Mac is also dealing with his father's mental illness. He has a good mom and grandad to support him when things get very confusing with his dad. Readers will find it easy to side with the outraged students and parents who go to the principal and then the school board to protest censorship and make sure the rules will protect everyone, and not just the opinions of one person. This title is slightly more sophisticated and mature than Alan Gratz's Ban This Book but is equally satisfying. VERDICT A striking book on censorship; a must-have in all middle grade classroom and school libraries.--Kim Gardner

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Praise for Me and Marvin Gardens:

A Spring 2017 Kid's Indie Next List selection

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

A New York Public Library Best Book for Kids

A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year

A Texas Bluebonnet Master List selection

* A provocative exploration of human action and interaction on both local and global levels, as well as the interplay between past, present, and future, King's novel will leave readers pondering how we treat each other and the planet. — Publishers Weekly, starred review

* A smart, environmentally conscious underdog story with a lot of heart.... The characters are rewardingly complex. Through Obe, King asks the Big Questions alongside the smaller, more personal ones in a way that will likely have readers doing the same. — The Horn Book Magazine, starred review

* A coming-of-age novel with a fully developed and authentic protagonist. An emotionally rich read for a wide audience, especially those interested in keeping the planet alive and well for future generations. — School Library Journal, starred review

Mystical, fablelike... just right for a sensitive sixth-grader with a growing self- and world awareness trying to navigate the troubled waters of uncertain friendships and demeaning bullying. A finely wrought, magical coming-of-age tale with a convincing message. — Kirkus Reviews

This is acclaimed YA author King's first foray into middle-grade territory, and it's no surprise that she adeptly handles issues like bullying, compromised friendship, complex family dynamics, and the tedium of homework... Drawing upon the tradition of Carl Hiaasen's Hoot (2002), this eco-focused story will tug at readers' consciences and heartstrings. — Booklist

A S King

Amy Sarig King is the author of the middle grade titles Me and Marvin Gardens, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and The Year We Fell From Space, an ALSC Notable Children's Book. She has also published many critically acclaimed young adult novels under the name A. S. King, including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which was named a Michael L. Printz Honor Book; Ask the Passengers, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Michael L. Printz Award winner and LA Times Book Prize finalist Dig; and SW/TCH. After many years farming abroad, she now lives back in southeastern Pennsylvania with her family. Visit her website at and follow her on Twitter at @AS_King.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Scholastic Press
Publication date
September 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JUV047000 - Juvenile Fiction | Books & Libraries
JUV035000 - Juvenile Fiction | School & Education
JUV039220 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Values & Virtues
JUV061000 - Juvenile Fiction | Politics & Government
JUV039290 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Activism & Social Justice
Library of Congress categories
Family life
Books and reading
Middle schools
Eccentrics and eccentricities
Youth protest movements
Student movements

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