- Book bans and challenges have doubled from 2020 to 2021, according to the American Library Association.
- LGBTQ books account for a third of all banning attempts.
- Some conservative politicians are leading the charge.
- Libraries are fighting back and expanding access to books.
Banned books aren’t new, but they’ve gained new relevance in a growing culture war that endangers books centered on racism, sexuality and gender identity in schools and public libraries.
A dramatic increase in the number of challenged books over the past year, an escalation in censorship tactics, and the coordinated harassment of teachers and librarians have regularly brought book banning efforts to the headlines.
Potential book banners argue that readers can still purchase books they can no longer access in public libraries, but this is only true for those who have the financial resources to do so. For many, especially children and young adults, schools and public libraries are the only way to access literature.
Books banned from newspapers
Summer Boismier, former high school teacher in Oklahoma, resigned in opposition to a new state law that bans certain concepts of race and gender in schools. Oklahoma Education Secretary Ryan Walters has filed for revocation of his teaching license.
- Tennessee schools removed more than 300 books library shelves as state lawmakers made proposals to ban LGBTQ books, including district books labeled “Black Lives Matter.”
- West Michigan’s only community library could close in a battle over LGBTQ books. After library staff refused to remove queer-themed books from shelves, residents of Jamestown Township voted to fund their only library.
- Librarians become targets. When Amanda Jones, a college librarian in Livingston, Louisiana, spoke out against the book ban at a local library board meeting, she became the target of a campaign of online harassment calling her “evil” and a “sick pig”.
- A Texas school district has removed all books from shelves in disputed libraries and classrooms by parents, legislators and other members of the community over the past year – including the Bible. The Keller Independent School District has removed 41 books while they are under review.
- A school district in Pennsylvania isthe establishment of a controversial library policy give any resident of the district the opportunity to challenge the books available in the schools.
- A small-town Iowa library briefly closed and was without a director following a series of resignations and criticism regarding the hiring of LGBTQ employees and certain library books.
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What is a book ban?
When a book is successfully “banned”, it means that a book has been removed from school curricula and/or public libraries because a person or group objected to its content.
An attempt to delete a book is called a challenge. Most public schools and libraries have boards of elected officials (or people appointed by elected officials) who have the power to remove books from the schools and libraries they oversee.
Why is this important: A book ban is significant because it restricts others’ access to books and the ideas contained in those books, based on another person’s often ideological or political objection.
Are book bans on the rise in the US?
Yes. The American Library Association (ALA) tracks challenges and bans across the country, and the most recent data is alarming. In 2021, the ALA recorded 729 book challenges targeting 1,597 titles. That’s more than double the figures for 2020 and the highest number since the organization started recording data in 2000.
The actual numbers are likely much higher: some issues are never reported by libraries, and books preemptively removed by librarians out of fear for their jobs are not included.
What are the most banned books?
A recent analysis by PEN America found that many contested books focus on communities of color, the history of racism in America, and LGBTQ characters. In fact, one in three books restricted by school districts over the past year featured LGBTQ themes or characters.
Here are the 10 most contested books of 2021, according to the ALA:
- “Queer gender”, by Maia Kobabe
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
- “Not All Boys Are Blue” by George M. Johnson
- “Out of Darkness”, by Ashley Hope Perez
- “The hate you give”, by Angie Thomas
- “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, by Sherman Alexie
- “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
- “This book is gay” by Juno Dawson
- “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin
Many books that were historically banned ended up becoming literary classics that are still taught in modern classrooms. According to the ALA, commonly banned classics include:
- “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee
- “The Heart Catcher”, by JD Salinger
- “Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck
- “The Violet Color”, by Alice Walker
- “1984,” by George Orwell
- “The best of worlds” by Aldous Huxley
- “Son of the country”, by Richard Wright
- “Slaughterhouse-Five”, by Kurt Vonnegut
- “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles
- “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
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Who bans books in the United States?
The book ban made headlines this year when the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee voted 10 to 0 to remove Pulitzer Prize-winning Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir “Maus” from its curriculum. , about his parents’ experience of the Holocaust.
Since then, there has been a largely conservative push to remove certain titles from schools and libraries, in some cases with politicians leading the charge, including:
Glenn Youngkin: During his successful run for governor of Virginia last fall, the Republican candidate aired a controversial ad featuring a mother who objected to her teenage son being awarded Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” in the current of English. In April, Governor Youngkin signed a bill requiring Virginia schools to notify parents when their children are assigned books containing sexually explicit content.
Henry McMaster: South Carolina’s Republican governor backed a school board’s decision to remove “Gender Queer,” calling the book “obscene.”
Ron DeSantis: Florida’s Republican governor has also slammed “Gender Queer” and this year signed into law a bill requiring schools to make all books and materials more transparent so parents can “speak up.”
What are we doing to fight against the banning of books?
American Library Association: Every year, ALA and libraries across the country celebrate Banned Books Week in September. This year’s Banned Books Week runs from September 18-24 with the theme “Books Unite Us, Censorship Divides Us”.
Foundation 451: A fundraiser in Florida to buy challenged books and distribute them to students has spawned thousands of donations and turned into a nonprofit. The organization distributed books at a dozen events, setting tables at festivals, churches and local businesses.
Nashville Public Library: This Southern library protested against banned books this year with a limited-edition library card with the special message: “I read banned books.” The bright yellow cards are part of the library’s Freedom to Read campaign celebrating the ‘right to read’.
Margaret Atwood: The author of the frequently banned dystopian feminist novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ promoted the auction of a specially commissioned non-burnable edition of her book in Cinefoil by unsuccessfully attempting to incinerate a prototype with a flamethrower. The stunt grossed $130,000, with proceeds going to PEN America.