With Banned Books week fast approaching I have already read enough about people who continually try to ban books, but yet here we are again…

The press has been buzzing in recent weeks over the withdrawal from the GCSE syllabus of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about disaffected youth, “Education for Leisure”, and the advice to schools from the examining board, AQA, to pulp the anthology in which the offending poem appears. They said that they had received a handful of complaints, and had concluded that knife crime is too sensitive a topic for kids today.

Last month Asda withdrew a book by Jacqueline Wilson because it contained the word “twat” and had aroused a customer complaint. I was reminded of a letter Puffin once received about Roald Dahl from a head teacher. He said that Dahl’s work was totally unsuitable for primary schoolchildren, and he was now going to ban his books entirely from the school. When challenged, he said he hadn’t actually read any himself but one of his parents had complained about a word in one of them, and that was enough to damn the entire oeuvre.

There is something very disturbing going on here. Stories and poems aren’t just to entertain; they provide a hugely important way for children to explore the experiences and concerns of growing up. Books are where they find out about the world and learn to deal with their fears and anxieties as well as escaping into a world of fantasy and humour.

For toddlers, this might be a way to talk about their feelings about a new baby sibling or their first school, and for older kids to stimulate thinking about social issues such as drugs or violence, but at either end of the spectrum books offer help in understanding the world better.

The Duffy ban sparked a round of family emails, with my children (both English teachers) agreeing that neither teachers nor students see this kind of material as a glorification of violence. My eldest summed up the debate by saying, “If they don’t get to discuss these issues in school, where do they discuss them?” And that is the crucial point: censorship tries to sweep things under the carpet but they don’t go away.

The Children’s Laureate and many others have voiced their support for Duffy’s poem. At a time when reading and writing attainment are as low as they have ever been among children entering secondary school, such that the government last week pledged to provide one-to-one reading support for every primary child, we must go on making sure children can continue to think and talk about issues which trouble and interest them.

Sally Floyer is about to retire as m.d. of Penguin’s brands and licensing division (Ladybird, Warne and BBC Children’s Books) after 40 years in publishing.

So knife crime is too sensitive a topic yet it happens every day?

Asda supermarket withdrew a book because it contained ‘twat’?