Banned Books Week displays packed with copies of dusty books by dead white men still emerge annually, though thankfully, this has really changed over the last year or two as more people understand that while yes, Catcher in the Rye was banned at some point, that’s not the target of contemporary censors. But in the wake of this change has come another interesting one. More and more people continue to recommend the most challenged and banned books as ones others should read.
On its face, this is far from a bad thing. YES, we want more people to pick up and read incredible stories like Gender Queer and All Boys Aren’t Blue. Both encapsulate the real target of book bigotry right now, and both are incredible stories by essential voices.
But they aren’t the only ones.
Because book bans are so overwhelming right now, it’s easy to keep reaching for these notoriously maligned titles as recommended reads. They’re also pointed to as proof of “success” in a really odd way: those books have done financially okay with being targets, as their rise in bans has brought them onto more adult radars, and more adults have used their adult money and access to buy those books from retailers. “Adult” here is key. The real victims of book bans are not the grown-ups who can buy the books but the young people who cannot.
I brought this up during a recent banned books week talk. So, too, did authors like Malinda Lo. In an era where thousands of books are being banned and thousands more challenged, how come we’re still only hearing the titles of a few and conflating those stories with the stories of every other author being censored right now? They’re representative of some things but certainly not of all things.
Book banning impacts me personally: Body Talk has been banned in at least two districts, with several other districts having restricted it or debated banning it. Yet, Body Talk does not show up on banned books reading lists or displays or in the recommendations by gatekeepers of great banned books to read. Why would it? It’s at the bottom of the lists for “most” banned, and thus, is not and cannot be given the status as those we see in reports from PEN or ALA. As cool as Harpers Bazaar‘s list of “every banned book in America” is, it’s not really helpful. It’s just a new way to look at the database kept by Dr. Tasslyn Magnusson.
But it’s been banned, and the book bigots have lodged some really painful complaints about it. In the case where Body Talk was not removed, the two complaints came from school board members, and they used the language used in every other dumb complaint since this wave began. Neither here nor in other cases, including that by Bruce Friedman, who has targeted my books because of a so-called “hit piece” I wrote on him, has led to an increase in sales of Body Talk. Indeed, that remains the only book of mine to still not even earn out its advance — my other two earned out in under a year of publication. Body Talk was published in 2020, and like most authors being banned, those bans and challenges have offered zero lift to sales nor to knowledge of the book itself.
So what can be done about this? We don’t want to stop talking about the most banned books, and we shouldn’t. But how can information about those books falling in the middle of the flurry of bans get some more attention? Those titles that aren’t getting on splashy graphics and book lists everywhere?
The answer seems pretty simple: highlight them.
Thanks to the help of PEN America, I’ve acquired a list of every book banned in American schools this year. The list includes a total of 1,557 unique books banned in the United States during the 2022-2023 school year. I’ve pulled out the middle 20 titles of this dataset, so books that, when ranked by number of bans, fell in the roughly 750-800 range of all titles. I further shorted the list randomly when I recognized that these books had something in common (read the paragraph after the list to understand that decision).
Several of the titles in this range are parts of series that have had additional volumes removed. — for instance, the manga Soul Eater by Atsushi Ohkubo had volumes 1-5 all banned — and to make it easier, I have collapsed them into a single title (i.e., you’ll only see Spy x Family, Volumes 1-6 as a single entry). That means the numbers here might not add up to 20.
- Spy Family, Volumes 1-6 by Tatsuya Endo
- Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Johnson
- Odd One Out by Nic Stone
- Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
- Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker
- Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder
- Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson
- The Remedy by Suzanne Young
- Two Degrees by Alan Gratz
- My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi
- Soul Eater, Volumes 1-5 by Atsushi Ohkubo
- Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan
- From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson
- Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
- Hold Still by Nina LaCour
- What on Earth Is a Pangolin? by Edward R. Ricciuti
- American Panda by Gloria Chao
- Black Boy Joy: 17 Stories Celebrating Black Boyhood by Kwame Mbalia
- Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
- We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin
Something noteworthy here — the number of times these books have been banned in the last year is…once. That is the kind of level of removal we’re dealing with and why it’s important to consider the whole scope of this book censorship. Most books are only banned in one or two places. Of the 1,557 titles on the list, 1,202 were banned once. That is, 77% of all book bans at U.S. schools in the 2022-2023 school year happened at a single school.
Out of the 1,557, only 70 books were banned 10 or more times. That does not change the impact — Ellen Hopkins having one book banned in 33 schools is not good. But it’s worth emphasizing that only 4% of the books in the last school year were banned 10 or more times. A total of 161 books have been banned at three to nine schools — that’s 10% of banned books. So, we’re up to 14% of the books banned in school districts last year being banned at 3 or more schools. In other words, most books are being completely forgotten or overlooked.
Kind of changes the perspective on the books that continue to get showcased, doesn’t it? Most authors and most books who are banned never get attention for their work being stolen from the hands of readers by a small, vocal, well-connected, and well-funded group of bigots.
These numbers represent only the confirmed book bans in a single school year. They do not count challenges to books, nor do they count the insidious reality of quiet/soft censorship wherein books simply “disappear” from shelves or are never allowed a space at all.
With all of the thanks to Dr. Tasslyn Magnusson and PEN America, here is a spreadsheet you can access with all of the books banned in “only” one or two districts during the 2022-2023 school year. Maybe it’s better framed as here are 86% of the books banned in American schools in the last year.
Book Censorship News: October 27, 2023
- Following the lead of Iowa, then Florida, there is now a database of all the banned books in Utah, created by one of the state’s major papers.
- “Menomonee Falls High School [WI] has removed 33 books from its school library after the school district banned the titles, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” Nothing I could say better describes the story.
- Students in Miami-Dade County Schools (FL) now need a permission slip to go to the book fair.
- (Paywalled) Escondido schools in California quietly removed books and shut down the libraries after a parental complaint. That’s…a lot of censorship. The books were This Book Is Gay and Looking for Alaska, and here’s the story without the paywall.
- While we’re in California, a new policy at Chino Valley Schools (CA) was not decided on at the latest board meeting but will continue being debated..and it would allow a lot more book banning. For funsies, I guess.
- Visalia Unified Board of Education (CA) heard from angry community members that 13 books were NOT banned in the district.
- Conroe Independent School District (TX) will soon be the new Katy ISD, in that book bans are going to explode thanks to the new book banning policy.
- New library cards in Hillsborough County, Florida, public libraries will let parents decide how to restrict access for their kids. Good luck to all of those under 18 without parents or guardians to give them permission to use stuff. Oh, the same library dropped its affiliation with the American Library Association.
- “The board voted 6-3 Thursday to pass a defacto book-banning policy at the Blackhawk School District. Under the new guidelines, any material that a person in the district potentially finds objectionable to their “values or fundamental religious beliefs” can be removed from the district’s resources and all content deemed to not be “neutral” will be prohibited.” So anyone can just ban books now in the Blackhawk School District (PA).
- Nazareth Area School Board (PA) will decide this week whether or not to ban Push.
- Hernando County Chapter of Moms for Liberty decided she didn’t like two books at Hernando Schools (FL), so watch as It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families and The Perks of Being A Wallflower get removed this week. Oh, sorry, did you think this would be an issue discussed by professionals in the district? We live in Moms For Liberty’s reality now.
- Will Rogers Public Library (OK) will keep the book My Footsteps on shelves. “An earlier challenge had asked that a specific book be taken off the library shelf, be marked plainly and clearly as an LBGTQ+ book, and be set aside from easy access.” That’s how the bigots want the world to operate. Remember the li(n)es about it being only about school libraries.
- Rockford Public Schools (MI) are being sued by bigots over books that are “sexual in nature.” The good news is the lawsuit has been dismissed.
- “That decision [not to ban 5 books] not only angered Jacob Marchitell, pastor of Christ Community Church, but his conduct at that meeting ultimately resulted in his banishment from school property for a year because of what Superintendent Mike Hayden called his violation of the district’s code of conduct.” If your bigot pastor is kicked out of a professional meeting for poor conduct, why is he getting any time or attention paid to him at all? This is in the Clyde-Savannah School District in New York.
- This Book is Gay, Gender Queer, Let’s Talk About It, and All Boys Aren’t Blue are the four books removed from Kenosha Unified School District (WI) this year. So far.
- Garfield County Libraries (CO) continues to hear from “all sides” of the book banning debate.
- Cullman County Library (AL) will not be moving books that have been challenged.
- Parents in Southington, Connecticut, are mad about the use of Native Son in a junior English class. Did you know this book about racism is too “sexually explicit?” I think that’s code for something else.
- (Paywalled) 24 of the books challenged in Catawba County Schools (NC) have been read, but no decisions have yet to be made. That’s what I assume the story is, at least.
- Easthampton Public Library (MA) just resolved to stand against book bans and challenges.
- Pretend to be shocked when you see the name of one of the complainers followed by the title “pastor,” ok? “Over the almost 2½-hour school board meeting at the A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless, around a dozen people questioned why certain books such as All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, a graphic version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Push by Sapphire are available to students.” This is Pine-Richland School District in Pennsylvania. In this article, look for “Marxist Librarians” and a district that is now reconsidering its policies.
- Iberia Parish (LA) just pulled several LGBTQ+ books from shelves. The story is paywalled, too, naturally. Here’s a paywall break, and the three books are three you’ll be absolutely unsurprised to see. The “Library Scavenger Hunt” subject line of the email is, I think, a mistake from the sender of the email as it lays out what bigotry group they’re part of.
- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (NC), which you’ll recall is friendly with the local Moms for Liberty group, decided to ban Banned Books Week activities. They then flipped their decision. Turns out, this is a whole host of messed up nonsense, perfectly fitting with a district that cares about the requests of a Hate Group.
- But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools decided to keep Nineteen Minutes and Sold in the high school library.
- Horry County Memorial Library (SC) restricted access to Tiffany D. Jackson’s Monday’s Not Coming to only those 18 and younger with parental permission. The Moms For Liberty contingent is not happy the book wasn’t completely removed from the public library.
- “The St. Tammany Library Board of Control [LA] rescinded a controversial policy that segregated over 150 challenged titles pending review, a practice First Amendment advocates say was unconstitutional.” This is good news if what counts as good news is changing the vote on bigotry.
- Students silently protested at the Laramie County School District #1 meeting (WY) over possible changes that would allow book banning to happen very easily. Students. Led. The. Protest.
- Abilene City Council might deny the development of a new storybook statue because it is in honor of Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn, the book that grown-ass adults in Texas are having gay panic over.
- Another update to the display policy in Greenville County Public Libraries (SC).
- “Supporters of a proposed levy for Port Clinton’s public library are facing an unusual obstacle: An organized ‘vote no’ campaign. Library levies in Ohio usually pass by wide margins, and organized opposition to library levies is quite rare. But in Port Clinton, where the Ida Rupp Public Library is attempting to pass a 0.8-mill replacement levy, a group that calls itself ‘Clean Up Ida Rupp’ is campaigning to get voters to reject the levy.” The book bigots in this Ohio community are attempting to get its public library levy denied. This is not about the gay books if this message has somehow failed to sink in.
- The Lexington-Richland 5 school board (SC) voted that members of their book review committee can’t have longer to read the challenged material, so some members may vote on whether or not to remove A Court of Mist and Fury without finishing it, and honestly, just sounds like the way of the book banners anyway so why not? This story is fake paywalled.
- Volusia County Schools (FL) have put the Bible back on shelves. If you’re anti-censorship, you’re happy about this.
- The Nazareth Area School District (PA) hasn’t made a decision on whether or not to ban the book Push.
- Woolwich Central School (ME) will not be removing It’s Perfectly Normal after a parent decided it was sexual. Every time an adult complains about this puberty book being sexual or explicit, they tell on themselves and their disgusting minds.
- The Pennsylvania Senate has passed a book ban bill. Not a ban on book bans. A bill to make banning books easier.
- The South Carolina Department of Education Superintendent wants it to be the STATE’s job to pick books for school libraries everywhere in the state. This…is fascism.
- While we’re in South Carolina, Berkeley County Schools will be deciding the fate of 10 of the 93 books challenged by one parent in the district this week.
- Daviess County Public Library (KY) moved three books from the YA section to the adult section. This article is paywalled, so sorry, I can’t tell you more.
And just to round out this week’s news, here’s a list of every school board candidate endorsed so far by Moms For Liberty in the November 7 elections in several states.
Also In This Story Stream
- Most Parents Trust, Respect, and Feel Safe with Librarians: Book Censorship News, December 1, 2023
- Book Censorship News: November 24, 2023
- Where Are The Book Sanctuaries?: Book Censorship News: November 17, 2023
- My Book Was Banned Again — This Time In Retaliation for My Anti-Censorship Work: Book Censorship News, November 10, 2023
- Most People Don’t Know How Librarians Select Collection Materials, So What Do They Think of Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, November 3, 2023
- Ending Censorship Applies to Prison, Too: A Prison Banned Book Week News Roundup, 2023
- Are Gatekeepers Giving Up The Fight Against Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, October 20, 2023
- What Else Do Parents Who Believe Librarians Should Be Prosecuted for Library Materials Think?: Book Censorship News, October 13, 2023
- 74% of Parents Think Book Bans Infringe on Their Parental Rights: Book Censorship News, September 29, 2023