Book bans on the rise: here are the contested titles

(NEXSTAR) – A recently released report found that since last summer, more than 1,140 different books have been banned or are at risk of being banned from library shelves and classrooms due to investigations prompted 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 the 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 in the past nine months, 41% of bans have been tied 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 requests to remove books are initiated by members of the local community. “, writes the nonprofit organization in its report.

Where are the book bans happening?

Over the past nine months, book bans have taken place in 86 school districts and 26 states.

PEN America found that these five states have the most recently banned books:

  1. Texas: 713 bans, 16 districts
  2. Pennsylvania: 456 bans, 9 districts
  3. Florida: 204 bans, 7 districts
  4. Oklahoma: 43 bans, 2 districts
  5. 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 overturned. The Central York School District in York, Pennsylvania, reversed its decision to keep dozens of books, websites and films about race and racism out of its classrooms following community protests , reports Nexstar’s WHTM.

Following an investigation in Salina, Kansas, a committee determined that George M. Johnson’s “Not All the Boys Are Blue” would remain on school shelves despite heated conversations at a school board meeting, according to Nexstar’s KSNW.

A panel 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 call to ban it, voting instead to keep it in school libraries and the curriculum.

What books are banned?

According to the index, 1,145 titles by 874 different authors have been affected by the recent book bans.

Over 70% of challenged books are works of fiction while 321 are non-fiction. About half of the banned titles are for young adult readers and about 200 are picture books.

PEN America found that 33% of banned books focus on LGBTQ+ topics or feature “LGBTQ+ protagonists or significant supporting characters.” Books with colored protagonists 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 Your Body, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris, are being challenged and investigated.

Books covering historical subjects, such as biographies of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, account for 111 banned titles.

Well-known impacted titles include Jay Asher’s “13 Reasons Why,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Cecily von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl: A Novel,” all of which have been made into TV series. Other banned stories include those made into movies, like Katherine Paterson’s “Bridge to Terabithia,” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” and Margot Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four.”

“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Outsiders” by SE Hinton and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, titles that were commonplace in schools there not so long ago, are also disputed.

Below is a list of the most frequently banned titles and the number of times they have been banned, courtesy of PEN America:

  1. “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe (30)
  2. “Not All Boys Are Blue” by George Johnson (21)
  3. “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison (16)
  4. “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez (16)
  5. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (12)

Unsurprisingly, all of the ALA’s 10 most contested books of 2021 made PEN America’s list.

Kwame Alexander, a bestselling author whose book ‘The Undefeated’ was banned from Central York classrooms, spoke with Nexstar’s WAVY about limiting access to his titles, saying people need to “stop to try to handcuff history”.

“The beauty is that kids will always find their way to these books.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.