Manufacturing Problems with School and Library Books to Cash in on Solutions: Book Censorship News, December 8, 2023

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.

As we race toward the end of 2023 and book bans continue to be a major reality across the country, it seems worth pausing to think about some of the trends across the landscape this year. We have seen shifts in the kinds of books being targeted, thanks to the work of PEN America, and we have seen a shift in the targets of censors more broadly from individual titles (those still happen!) to book distributors with the Texas READER Act and book fairs. While bigotry and power are two key themes of why censors are targeting books, one thing we should be looking at and addressing by name is this: there is a lot of money to be made with book bans.

I’ve talked at length for years about how book banners have found this a prime opportunity to point to wasteful spending of tax money. If they can complain about books in the schools, they can complain their tax money was wasted on the books, then that their tax money was wasted on the review process, and then they can take these claims to sympathetic politicians in their state to demand voucher programs, which then further defund and hard public institutions. They own the entire cycle. We haven’t touched on how many tens of thousands of dollars have been wasted on policies and how they’ve been translated at the public library level (see Hamilton East Public Library’s review of all their YA books, followed by the abrupt ending of that policy).

But a new and frankly unsurprising trend in 2023 is that private entities have stepped in to offer solutions to banned books. These are not solutions to end book bans, but rather ways to continue living in a system that permits books to be banned for lies perpetrated by right-wing parental right groups (no matter how many times book banners push the same handful of images from Gender Queer on social media or in school board meetings, those don’t meet the legal definition of obscenity; they just make you look incredibly ignorant about how books, literacy, and the law work). In 2023, book banners have started to cash in on their own lies, once again owning the entire outrage cycle and its money from start to finish.

Who has been behind this? I’ve already covered two of the biggest, most marketed to date here: BookmarkED, an app designed to “help schools and parents with book bans,” and the Brave Books-now-SkyTree book fairs designed to offer an alternative to Scholastic. The first was created by an individual who was advocating for a book ban bill at the Texas Senate this year. Convenient that he would be able to really push his new app as a solution to the bill. The second, of course, has put Kirk Cameron and a cadre of right-wing “children’s books” at the center of discourse over naughty books available in school and public libraries (and hey, even if the storytime events that Brave Books coordinated in August at public libraries across the U.S. were free, they were certainly getting plenty of press and attention for the publisher and their books, both during the event and in the coverage leading up to it — the tone of that coverage didn’t matter, since they got their goals into people’s mouths).

These are the two that are known now, but certainly, other business ventures are starting up in hopes of making bank off the restriction of First Amendment rights of students and citizens across the country. It’s the American way: capitalism.

Of course, it goes without saying it’s not just private business cashing in. So, too, are the “parental rights” groups who have gotten endless and breathless mainstream attention. Moms For Liberty claimed to have raked in over $2.1 million in their 2022 taxes (it’s likely a lot more), while school board elections and library-focused local ballot measures have become places where unprecedented amounts of money are being spent.

The truth is that every single censorship-themed post can end the same way, but it bears really highlighting here. These book bans are not about the books. They’re about the people behind the books and the institutions that permit access to these books. While we spend precious time making funny memes about Moms For Liberty and giving them cute social media nicknames, other people are racing to create the next billion-dollar solution to “solve” the entirely manufactured “problem.” I don’t know how many more ways this can be said.

People need to stop being surprised when they learn about another bad thing happening — none of this is happening in the dark; it’s been exposed again and again, and we’re ramping up for yet another year of it. Perhaps the problem is it isn’t sexy to talk about the systems allowing “inventions” like an app to help “navigate” book bans being created by someone who helped push a book ban bill in Texas. Perhaps it’s not as clicky to read and digest a piece with evidence and documents outlining the insidious plans to shove right-wing book fairs into public, taxpayer-funded schools as it is to post a quick “lol Kirk Cameron, he’s not even relevant” style meme or story (he very much is relevant and that’s an issue being ignored here). We’re all tired and stretched to our limits.

That’s precisely what censors bank on.

Book bans are about the money, and organizations are cashing in on the backs of the most vulnerable in this country.

Book Censorship News: December 8, 2023

  • All 97 books being challenged in Beaufort County, South Carolina, schools have been reviewed. Five books were removed in total, including Beautiful by Amy Reed, The Haters by Jesse Andrews, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, and Forever For a Year by BT Gottfried.
  • “State Superintendent Ryan Walters introduced new guidelines for Oklahoma libraries, saying the ones used before were ‘woke.’ On Wednesday, Walters ditched information literacy guidelines put out by the American Library Association. Walters said the ALA supports putting books in schools that are inappropriate and pornographic.” Yes, they just removed guidelines for INFORMATION LITERACY in Oklahoma libraries. You know precisely why.
  • Hanover County, Virginia, schools are reviewing two more books after banning 75 in November and 19 others prior to that. The two books being discussed? Valiant Ladies by Melissa Gray and…The Bible.
  • Alachua County, Florida, schools have 13 book challenges in progress from three parents in the district.
  • Here’s a story that is kind of difficult to link to because it’s one not worth giving traffic to, but it’s also important. 1819 News is a right-leaning Alabama news outlet. Guess what they’re trying to do? If your guess was “evaluate books in a local school district to help the district remove ‘inappropriate’ titles,” you’d be a winner.
  • “A conservative activist who teaches parents how to get books removed from school libraries has won her first major victory at a right-leaning Southern California school board, setting the district up for a fresh legal battle with the state.” Yes, this is California.
  • We know for certain now that the two new board members of the Corpus Christi, Texas, public library are affiliated with right-wing book banning groups.
  • Brevard County, Florida, schools are seeking to restrict the book Sold to high schoolers only.
  • Read this story of the Community Library Network (ID) and its trustees trying to write a new policy over inappropriate materials. Some believe they can just erase legal definitions to suit their desires. These people are serving in your school and library boards, folks.
  • A San Diego, California, father is mad about his 14-year-old being assigned Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian but it’s not about banning a book. Do you think he talked with the teacher and got an alternate assignment or nah?
  • Liberty Lakes (WA) is back in the news! The city council is trying once again to take power of the library away from the board and give it to themselves. This week, they did just that.
  • Union schools (OK) are hearing from the aggrieved about the book Lucky by Alice Sebold.
  • New proposed rules in the state of Alabama could change what books those under 18 can access in public and school libraries. Nothing to see here…except fascism. I thought these “parental rights” folks didn’t want to coparent with the government, but interesting they want the government to make these rules.
  • Worcester County schools (MD) are hearing from book crisis actors about how inappropriate it is to have All Boys Aren’t Blue in school libraries.
  • “Conservative groups have submitted a petition urging a criminal investigation into the El Paso and Teller County schools [CO] over the possession and promotion of what they term ‘obscene books.'” They’re LGBTQ+ books, shocker.
  • Laramie County School District 1 (WY) passed its controversial new materials policy at the latest board meeting. Expect more book bans here.
  • Effingham County Commissioners (GA) met with a local library because they have eaten up the rhetoric that there are “inappropriate” books in the public library, and they, with all of their expertise in child development, literacy, education, and librarianship as commissioners, believed they should evaluate the books. Bonus “ALA is bad” commentary by these well-versed, not-at-all-biased folks. Of course it’s LGBTQ+ books, y’all.
  • Moore County Schools (NC) will see the next hearings over several challenged books in the new year.
  • Same with Catawba County Schools in North Carolina.
  • “A group of residents voiced its support for Iron River librarians [WI] last week, even as they learned that one new library board member has spoken out against LGBQT+ books available at the library.” Sigh.
  • Empire of Storms was kept on shelves in Brainerd Schools (MN), but the decision was appealed. It’ll go through the process again next week.
  • Brown County Libraries (WI) moved the book Let’s Talk About It from the teen section — it’s a teen book — to their adult section.
  • “‘We are not book banners. We just want to have some kind of policy that can either label these books, segregate these books, have parental opt-out options, or in the event that some of them are too graphic—be removed from the schools,’ Chair of the Knox County [TN] Moms for Liberty Sheri Super said.” They’re really committed to the bit.
  • Apparently, the New Hampshire Department of Education has had a hand in creating panic over naughty books throughout the state, and people are catching on now. Recall a thing called fascism.
  • “The Library of Graham Advisory Board voted Thursday, Nov. 9 in favor of keeping We Need to Talk About Vaginas: An IMPORTANT Book About Vulvas, Periods, Puberty and Sex! The book is currently set to be relocated to a yet to be determined area of the library. Following the decision by the library board, eight local pastors submitted a letter to Graham City Council members encouraging them to reject the board’s decision and remove the book entirely from the library.” Pause with this. A public library in Texas went through the process of a book challenge and determined the puberty book written for tween girls was actually appropriate for tweens to access in the library. PASTORS complained to city council, and now the city council is taking this issue up. IT’S NOT THE CITY COUNCIL’S JOB.
  • Berkeley County, South Carolina, schools spent thousands on book reviews and then went ahead and suspended the committee. Again, manufactured problem here to wasteful spending.
  • Water for Elephants and The Lovely Bones will remain accessible to high school students in Wilson County, Tennessee, schools.
  • The state of book bans and challenges in Connecticut.