Book Bans Encourage More Book Bans: New PEN Report

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.

This week, PEN America released a report titled “Spineless Shelves” reflecting upon the cumulative effect of the last two years of book bans in US schools. Nearly 6,000 books have been banned since 2021–and that number does not include the 444 titles pulled in one district the week the report was released.

Among the key findings in the latest report include:

  • Copycat banning, where titles that have not been challenged in a district may be removed because a district elsewhere banned them
  • The removal of all the books by an author when a single title of theirs is banned
  • Books on challenging topics or about marginalized identities continue to be among the most banned in schools

  • Bans on books have not only become more common but many of these bans have become more comprehensive and permanent.
PEN America graphic of books being banned and seeing increased scrutiny following.

For those paying attention to book bans, it comes as little surprise to hear that Florida and Texas top the list in number of books banned. But it’s not just in those states. All but 9 states have recorded book bans in schools since 2021.

Young adult books top the charts when it comes to book bans, too. YA books compose 58% of banned titles, followed by adult books (17%), middle grade (12%), picture books (10%), and chapter books (3%). All of this points to the reality that books written specifically for a school-age audience are the vast majority being targeted. These are the books that adults call “inappropriate,” “explicit,” or “pornographic”–even though they are for these age groups.

total number of book bans recorded between 2021-2023 by PEN in schools.

As the report points out, all of this data sits in an interesting position with the research on trust that parents claim to have in librarians–if 92% of them trust library workers to select and recommend age-appropriate materials for children, why all of the book bans?

You can read PEN America’s new report here.