A recently released report found that, since last summer, over 1,140 different books have been banned or faced being banned from library shelves and in classrooms due to investigations spurred by “challenges from parents, educators, administrators, board members, or responses to laws passed by legislatures.”
Since July 2021, book bans have been reported in 26 states, according to PEN America, a nonprofit organization that aims to support freedom surrounding literature. The American Library Association found that books were challenged more than 700 times last year. That’s double the number of books challenged in 2020 and the highest number since the association began recording challenges.
While book bans aren’t new, PEN America notes that over the last nine months 41% of bans have been connected to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers.
“This is an unprecedented shift in PEN America’s long history of responding to book bans, from the more typical pattern in which demands for book removals are initiated by local community members,” the nonprofit writes in its report.
Where are book bans happening?
Over the last nine months, book bans have occurred in 86 school districts and 26 states.
PEN America found these five states have the most books banned recently:
- Texas: 713 bans, 16 districts
- Pennsylvania: 456 bans, 9 districts
- Florida: 204 bans, 7 districts
- Oklahoma: 43 bans, 2 districts
- Kansas: 30 bans, 2 districts
Others making the list include Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri, Georgia, New York, and Utah.
In some cases, book bans are being reversed. The Central York School District in York, Pennsylvania, walked back its decision to keep dozens of books, websites, and movies about race and racism out of its classrooms following protests by the community, Nexstar’s WHTM reports.
Following an investigation in Salina, Kansas, a committee determined “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson would remain on the school shelves despite heated conversations during a school board meeting, according to Nexstar’s KSNW.
A committee in Evans, Georgia, recently reviewed Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The group decided to take no action against a parent’s appeal to ban it, instead voting to keep it in school libraries and the curriculum.
Which books face bans?
According to the index, 1,145 titles by 874 different authors have been impacted by recent book bans.
More than 70% of the challenged books are works of fiction while 321 are non-fiction. Roughly half of the banned titles are targeted toward young adult readers and about 200 are picture books.
PEN America found 33% of banned books either focus on LGBTQ+ topics or feature “LGBTQ+ protagonists or prominent secondary characters.” Books with protagonists of color comprised 467 titles. A quarter of banned books deal with sexual or health-related content. Even some non-fiction titles, like “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris, are becoming victims of challenges and investigations.
Books covering historical topics, like biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez, make up 111 banned titles.
Well-known impacted titles being include “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “Gossip Girl: A Novel” by Cecily von Ziegesar, all of which have been turned into television series. Other banned stories include those turned into films, like “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, and “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four” by Margot Lee Shetterly.
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, titles that were commonplace among schools not long ago, are also being challenged.
Below is a list of the most frequently banned titles, and the number of times it has been banned, courtesy of PEN America:
- “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe (30)
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson (21)
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison (16)
- “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez (16)
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (12)
Unsurprisingly, all of 2021’s top 10 most challenged books, listed by the ALA, made PEN America’s list.
Kwame Alexander, a best-selling author whose book “The Undefeated” was banned in Central York classrooms, spoke with Nexstar’s WAVY about having access to his titles restricted, saying people need to “stop trying to handcuff history.”
“The beauty is, kids are still going to find their way to these books.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.