Book Challenges Reach Record Highs

Library association urges people to unite against book bans

The newest tally from the nation’s largest library association finds that book challenges more than quadrupled in 2021, the largest number since the group began tracking complaints.

“The 729 challenges tracked by ALA represent the highest number of attempted book bans since we began compiling these lists 20 years ago,” American Library Association President Patricia Wong said in a statement. Tracked challenges typically represent between 3 and 12 percent of actual challenges, the group notes, since most remain unreported.

The ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom released its annual Top Ten Challenged Books list April 4 as part of National Library Week. It also announced a new anti-censorship initiative, Unite Against Book Bans.

“We support individual parents’ choices concerning their child’s reading and believe that parents should not have those choices dictated by others,” Wong said. “Young people need to have access to a variety of books from which they can learn about different perspectives. So, despite this organized effort to ban books, libraries remain ready to do what we always have: make knowledge and ideas available so people are free to choose what to read.”

The books topping the list are familiar to censorship watchers. Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir Gender Queer, Jonathan Evison’s novel Lawn Boy, George M. Johnson’s memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue and Ashley Hope Pérez’s historical fiction book Out of Darkness. All are award-winning titles challenged for sexual content – three specifically for LGBTQ themes — and all are new to the list this year.

“Definitely not the ‘top 10’ an author hopes for … Fan the flames of literacy, don’t ban books,” tweeted Pérez, who encouraged followers to connect with anti-censorship organizations PEN America, National Coalition Against Censorship and the ACLU as well as ALA.

Repeats on the list include Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which marks its third appearance in the Top Ten, and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which has appeared multiple times.

Book challenges have mushroomed across the country in the past year, fueled by well-organized campaigns of right-wing parents and widely circulated lists from elected officials. Censorship of LGBTQ stories and books by and about marginalized communities has also seeped further into author appearances at festivals and other events.

Yet a March survey commissioned by ALA found that 70 percent of voters overall opposed efforts to remove books from libraries. The breakdown includes a majority of Democrats (75 percent), independents (58 percent), and Republicans (70 percent), according to the ALA.

“This poll demonstrates that, in fact, we are hearing from a loud local minority,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told NPR. She attributed the spike in challenges to organized political groups.

The ALA’s new Unite Against Book Bans initiative joins other anti-censorship organizations’ efforts to rally supporters of book access. Other grassroots groups include the Texas librarians’ group FReadom Fighters and Red Wine & Blue, which has teamed with PEN America, We Need Diverse Books and the Women’s March to host a Book Ban Busters Read-In April 7. The event spotlights banned authors, including Nikki Grimes, Leslea Newman and I.W. Gregorio. Stella Parton, who recently made headlines after she defended her sister Dolly against a Kentucky state senator’s accusation that the music and philanthropic icon’s Imagination Library might be disseminating inappropriate books, hosts.


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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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