Book Bans Keep Breaking Records

A record-setting year for library challenges, according to the ALA

Book banning is so pervasive that the top 10 lists need more slots this year.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom released its ranking of the most targeted books in 2022 on April 24, with LGBTQ memoirs at the top of the 13-book list. Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer took the top spot, with 151 challenges, and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue occupied second place, with 86 challenges. Toni Morrison’s classic novel The Bluest Eye took the third spot, with 73 challenges.

Ties at the 5th- and 10th-ranked spots expanded the list. John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower each had 55 challenges. And Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury, Ellen Hopkins’ Crank, Jesse Andrews’ Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Juno Dawson’s This Book is Gay each weathered 48 challenges in 2022 to share the closing spot.

The list, released every April in tandem with National Library Week, is the newest accounting of a years-long mushrooming wave of censorship, as state lawmakers and local officials increasingly pass laws and policies to restrict what books are available in school and public libraries. It accompanies ALA’s annual State of America’s Libraries report. (Spoiler alert: Under attack!)

Kobabe’s graphic-format memoir Gender Queer arrived in 2019 in a 5,000-copy print run that sold out the first week. More printings followed, along with awards in 2020 from ALA’s youth division. But in the fall of 2021, a parent in Fairfax, Va., complained about the book’s content, which triggered Gender Queer’s path to topping the most-banned list two years in a row.

“For now, I am strengthening my commitment to continue writing stories centering trans, queer, and nonbinary characters,” Kobabe wrote in a January essay about Gender Queer. “Certain parts of the country may be fixated on censoring me, but I will not be censoring myself.”

The ALA’s library report notes that challenges in 2022 – another record-breaking year, with 1,269 challenges targeting 2,571 unique titles – split almost evenly between school and public libraries.

Banned books
‘Gender Queer’ by Maia Kobabe is the most controversial book in the USA.

A big change is the increased number of books in each challenge, as well as who filed the challenges, noted Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s OIF. Before 2020, most challenges involved a parent seeking to restrict access to a single title. In 2022, 90 percent of challenges involved more than one title, with 40 percent targeting more than 100 books simultaneously.

“These numbers … are evidence of a growing, well-organized, conservative political movement whose goals include removing books addressing race, history, gender identity, sexuality, and reproductive health from America’s public libraries and school libraries that do not meet their approval,” Caldwell-Stone wrote in the report. “Using social media and other channels, these groups distribute booklists to their local chapters and individual adherents who then utilize the lists to initiate a mass challenge that can empty the shelves of a library.”

Conservative groups like Moms for Liberty have been at the forefront of book challenges as part of their mission to control student access to books and lessons.

The ALA’s list comes just a few days after free-speech advocacy group PEN America released its own most-banned list. Ten or more school districts banned each of the titles on PEN America’s list in the latter half of 2022.

PEN America’s Top 11 list featured a tie for first place: Kobabe’s Gender Queer and Mike Curato’s graphic novel Flamer, inspired in part by Curato’s own adolescence.

Also on the PEN America list: Ellen Hopkins’ Tricks, a 2009 novel in verse about five teens from disparate backgrounds, all victimized by adults, who turn to prostitution; a graphic-novel adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; and Patricia McCormick’s Sold, a National Book Award finalist in 2006. The book spotlights sex trafficking through the story of one young Nepalese girl.

PEN America also released a newly updated Banned in the USA report on April 20, noting in the report’s subtitle “State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools.” Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina racked up the most bans overall, serving as models for restrictive policies that spread to other regions, the report noted.

The ALA released its list in tandem with its launch of Right to Read Day, an effort to transform opposition to censorship into action, organizers say. Suggested actions include attending a local school board meeting, writing a letter to an elected official, or staging a protest supporting area libraries. April 24 also marks the one-year anniversary of the group’s Unite Against Book Bans campaign.

“Readers who think, ‘This will never happen in our community,’ need to think again,” said ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada.

“More than half the states have legislation proposed or passed that would take library books off the shelves, punish library workers who dare to make books accessible and silence the voices of LGBTQ, BIPOC and other authors. Speaking up and raising our voices now can stop censorship where it’s happening and prevent censorship where it’s just getting started.”

Right to Read Day is one of two new efforts to harness action against well-organized book banning efforts like those espoused by Moms for Liberty. Creative Artists Agency’s CAA Foundation and Campaign for Our Shared Future teamed to create Let America Read, which features video testimonials from actors including Julia Roberts and Sterling K. Brown.

EveryLibrary, a national political action committee supporting libraries, continues to push support and action through petitions, letter-writing campaigns and calls to action through its Fight for the First platform. The group’s educational arm, EveryLibrary Institute, announced a “generous” donation April 23 from author Nora Roberts, who has also donated $50,000 to help keep Michigan’s Patmos Library open after it lost funding over support of LGBTQ books and $25,000 to a library in Jonesboro, Ark.


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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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