Book Banners Insist They Don’t Ban Books: Book Censorship News, October 7, 2022

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

So why do book banners insist that they don’t ban books? Because the level of doubling down as book banning increases is, on one hand, impressive and on the other hand, is concerning about several key components of literacy.

During Banned Books Week, Tiffany Justice — one of the founders of Moms For Liberty — got clever in dodging the question asked of her by Tamron Hall. Justice, who insists what her group does is simply “remove” books, which is different than banning, was asked several times to explain the difference between the two. She avoids answering it, getting in all of her group’s paint-by-numbers talking points; Hall continues to push and, even though she doesn’t say it, makes clear Justice has made no distinction and therefore has no distinction.

It’s a must-watch clip. I keep coming back to it, wondering how people like Justice and her fellow Moms For Liberty cofounder Tina Descovich are training their legions of fellow book banners to define the difference. I suspect it’s much like they’re simply training their followers that indeed, BookLooks/BookLook is their database of book ratings, but to deny the site affiliations with the group unless it serves them.

Click through to see the Moms For Liberty member who cites BookLooks as a Moms For Liberty joint in order to get on a review team of a school library.

It is also impossible not to see something else in this clip between Justice and Hall: white supremacy falters the moment it is questioned. Justice is unable to answer a direct question — something she’s likely not been asked in such a way, on repeat. Hall’s audience, primarily people of color, is not the sympathetic white group Justice is accustomed to addressing. Suddenly, her insistence she and her group speak on behalf of parents looks pretty flimsy when she can’t even define what it is they do.

Here’s a little help for Moms For Liberty and their ilk, including the new-to-me Faith Impact, an arm of the American Council, currently challenging scads of books and assignments across California who define their work as such:

Faith Impact's statement on why they are challenging books in California schools, from their website: https://www.faithimpact.org/campaigns/granite-bay-high-school-books

Book bans mean the removal of books.

Book bans mean the censorship of books.

And maybe most important, no matter how much you claim this is about “parental rights,” what you fail to address is how by removing books, you’re actually abdicating your rights as a parent. If the book isn’t there, you don’t have to do a damn thing as a parent.

Isn’t that convenient?

Book Censorship News: October 7, 2022

  • “The literary and artistic merit of many of the books on the list is obvious — at least four of them have appeared on free-response questions on the AP Literature exam multiple times. Brave New World, for example, first appeared on the AP Exam in 1989, and The Bluest Eye in 1995. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a thoughtful conversation about what books are and are not appropriate for students, and at what ages; but the Mama Bears Rising approach — with its accusations of porn-peddling and child sexualization — makes that kind of conversation difficult, if not impossible.” Franklin Strong’s piece about the 35 books banned in Conroe ISD (TX) and the Christian nationalist group behind them is a must read.
  • Gender Queer will remain on shelves in Bonney Eagle High School (ME).
  • Stamped was removed from the School District of Pickens County (SC), but now the ACLU is getting involved.
  • Let’s Talk about It was removed from “at least” two Cherry Creek high schools after a parental complaint in Colorado. No review process? No actual count of how many copies were removed?
  • “Katy school trustees voted Monday to remove students from a book review committee tasked with deciding whether a particular book or books should remain in school libraries.” So the Katy ISD (TX) removed student representation from the book review board, and the reasoning is because children don’t make decisions for other children. SINCE WHEN DO SOME ADULTS GET TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR ALL OF THE CHILDREN AND ADULTS IN A DISTRICT, THOUGH? The logic here is nonsense.
  • 13 books have been challenged in Kent District Library (MI). Here’s what they are and why parents are complaining about them.
  • Get a look at the books banned in the Kansas City area — on the Missouri side — thanks to the state’s new laws on graphic material. The powerpoint slide here is maybe the most disturbing part, as it instructs on “known” books with sexually explicit images.
  • “The situation inspired a state law that goes into effect Nov. 1 requiring school libraries to reflect ‘community standards’ and contain age-appropriate materials. But the bill, authored by Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, doesn’t describe how communities are to develop those standards.” This is in Oklahoma, with an update on three current book ban attempts happening.
  • A new Bedford County, Virginia, school library policy is a wide open door to quiet censorship, as a parent complaint could lead to a librarian or administrator simply pulling the book. Censorship is baked right into the policy!
  • “Wilkes County [PA] School Superintendent Mark Byrd has been given temporary authority to immediately remove any challenged books or other educational materials from schools that he determines are inappropriate for the age and maturity of students.” Read that again. The superintendent has been given authority to remove anything he wants. This undermines the professional skills, knowledge, and work of the school library workers and educators in an appalling manner.
  • Here’s what happened at the Kerrville Public Library (TX) during Banned Books Week, when the library was warned they shouldn’t have a display. You can read an ill-informed editorial on the manner, too, if you’d like to see the manufactured controversy.
  • Three sex ed books challenged in South Central Regional Library (southern Manitoba, Canada), will remain on shelves.
  • Pride flags, crosses, and other “advocacy material” are banned now in Pennridge Schools (PA).
  • A substitute teacher disliked having to read a book about a queer couple to the class she was subbing, was fired, and now believes her rights were violated. That’s not how it works.
  • “But Dixon hasn’t offered much when asked repeatedly about specifics about her proposals like banning ‘pornographic’ books, as well as if she’d sign related bills pending in the Legislature on grooming, transgender athletes and expanding the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.” This is a right-wing gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, who wants to talk on the right-wing talking points, despite having no clue what any of them mean (ahemBANNING).
  • This isn’t from a news source, but it is a nice rundown of the Westport, Connecticut, school board meeting from this week wherein the same right-wing talking points bubbled up because people were mad about a banned books display. A crucial reminder this isn’t a red state vs blue state thing. If you’d like a news recap, this is a solid one.
  • Speaking of this not being a red vs blue state issue, This Book Is Gay was pulled from Abingdon, Massachusetts, schools while it is being “reviewed” (again, this is censorship). It’s the first book of several that look like they’re going to be challenged there.
  • Some good news, though: “In response to the upward trend of schools banning books from their libraries on topics such as race, racism, abortion, LGBTQ representation and more, Westfield Memorial Library [NJ] is pushing back against this ‘freedom of expression.’ The Library and the Board of Trustees passed a resolution on Wednesday, Sept. 28 against books bans, stating that ‘individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions about what they read and believe.’ The resolution also states that ‘parents should not be making decisions for other parents’ children about what they read.'” More of this please, particularly the last part.
  • Remember when Rapid City Area Schools (SD) tried to quietly remove hundreds of books that students never got to see? The “controversy” is ending with…the books being sold and students still never getting to use them in class.
  • “Lacy is one of three new School Board members endorsed by the group Sumner County Constitutional Republicans [SC]. One of his campaign promises was to ‘not approve any book or curriculum that teaches racism or isn’t age appropriate.'” This is what we’re up against…he’s running because he’s mad about an award-winning, age-appropriate children’s book.
  • In Madison County, Virginia, schools, banning books from the library is literally on the school board agenda.
  • 10 books are being restricted in Nixa Public Schools (MO), including titles by Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and several by/about Black and queer people. Students need adult permission to look at them. Hey Nixa, it’s still censorship.
  • Writing this headline in 2022 is unreal and yet, it’s VERY real and the story does a good job explaining how book banning isn’t about banning books but about a bigger, more dangerous mission: How a Christian Cellphone Company Became a Rising Force in Texas Politics.
  • “Dearborn Public School [MI] officials said Wednesday that the recent removal of six books from their bookshelves was a one-time thing, while they revamped their book review process, and that no books would be pulled in the future prior to a strict review process.” It’s still censorship. The line in there about building a better materials policy in regard to issues of books being sexually explicit is extremely concerning.
  • Gender Queer and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves are staying on shelf at Kelly Walsh High School (WY).
  • Woolwich Central School (ME) board will decide whether or not to pull Beyond Magenta from the school library later this month.
  • This Book Is Gay is being challenged (informally, so far) in the Walla Walla school district, and inside this story is the list of books challenged in the Columbia County Rural Library District (WA).
  • The Hate U Give will remain in the curriculum for Perry Schools (IA). I do recommend reading the story prior to the decision being made, as the police did a good job explaining how this book isn’t anti-police but anti police brutality. Again, language matters and has meaning.
  • Melissa, formerly George, is being reviewed in Chandler Schools (AZ). You know this entire story could have been about how parents exert “parental rights” if it ended after the second paragraph, where Concerned Mom tells her son not to read the book.
  • The Waldoboro, Maine, school district will decide if Gender Queer remains on shelves later this month, but a petition from a high school senior in the district is pushing for it to remain on shelves. Why, again, do teenagers have to do this? And why aren’t we listening?
  • Elizabethtown Area Schools (PA) will decide later this month if Me and Earl and The Dying Girl will be pulled from shelves or not.
  • Remember Campbell County Public Libraries (WY) and the sheer number of book challenges they have been facing for the last 15 months? There’s a mostly-new board now and plan to create a book rating system. “‘My idea is something like, put an ‘S’ if there’s sexual content, a ‘V’ if there’s a violence,’ [Board member] Bear said, adding that whatever system the committee comes up with could be completely different. Librarian Elizabeth Albin said the library already has a group of people that accomplishes this very purpose: the librarians.”
  • On the topic of places that haven’t been in the news for book bans in a minute, Leander ISD (TX) has five school board seats up for the next election, and you better believe book banning is one of the hot button issues.
  • These Park City (UT) parents are mad their attempts to ban a book did not succeed and are mad, too, that because they’ve tried to ban a book, they can’t sit on the materials review committee. Park City’s materials policy has been under review to align with Utah’s new laws that allow ample book banning.