Mock Newbery Finalist: ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES by Amy Sarig King
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Janee Jackson-Doering
“I am here to protect all of us from the ugly world.” Laura Samuel Sett, Sixth Grade Teacher
In the world of Amy Sarig King’s novel, ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES, adults like Ms. Sett write letters to the newspaper and enact laws on everything to keep their “perfect” town safe. No Halloween celebrations. No junk food. Even thinking “bad things” is a problem.
Sixth Grader Mac Delaney has ignored all the town’s rules. He’s a free-thinking kid who’s been raised by his mom and Grandad to call out things that are wrong. At the elementary school, Mac and his friends, Marci and Denis, are assigned to read The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. There’s only one problem: black rectangles are drawn around certain words in the book. Once the kids see this, they visit the bookstore and grab a copy to read the omitted words: breast, undeveloped chest. Feeling violated, the three kids suspect Ms. Sett drew the rectangles – and they intend to right this wrong.
ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES is more than just a book about censorship. It’s about kids taking a stand by protesting, speaking at the school board meeting, and voicing their frustrations.
It’s about Mac understanding his unreliable father’s erratic behavior is a result of mental illness – and coming to terms that he’s not the father Mac needs him to be.
It shows how Tweens feel when well-meaning grownups – like Principal McKenny – dismiss their valid concerns not just because they’re children – but because the grownups know something is wrong and they’re forced to actually do something about it. Or not. When Mac, Marci and Denis report to McKenny their copies of The Devil’s Arithmetic are censored, she checks into it. However, she doesn’t replace the copies Ms. Sett distributed and doesn’t resolve the problem.
It’s about intellectual freedom, tolerance/intolerance, finding grace in uncomfortable situations and finding out who you are.
I loved how Mac, Denis and Marci stood up for intellectual freedom. These kids are smart, resilient, and relatable. I adored Mac’s hip, meditating Grandad, Marcus – who reveals to Mac that he fought in the Vietnam War, killed two men, and struggles with the shame of that decision (pg. 187).
ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES shows readers that there are ugly truths about our world. Yet, like Mac and his friends, you can face those truths and hopefully, change the status quo.
Mac says, “What happens next, if we let it happen, is the truth sets us free. Even if it makes us uncomfortable or sad. It’s still better to know the truth than it is to be lied to.” (pg. 257)
Strong characters and excellence in presentation of themes make ATTACK OF THE BLACK RECTANGLES a worthy Newbery Medal contender.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
SLJ Blog Network