Four books standing upright on a wooden table (photographed from above) via Sarah Pflug on Burst.
Advocacy & News

Banned Books & The Freedom To Read

When you hear about certain books being restricted or banned from schools, libraries and bookstores; it conjures up an image of writing that’s dark, dangerous and divisive. While some may argue a line needs to be drawn against insidious messaging, recent attempts at book banning have seemed to target works about acceptance and diversity.

The most challenged and banned books in the United States in 2018 and 2019 were titles that shared and explored LGBTQ2S+ issues; with the 2020 list being dominated by works that covered Black history, diversity and anti-racism. Even as recently as last month, a year-long ban on books in a Pennsylvania school district; that focused overwhelmingly on writing authored by and/or about People of Colour, wasn’t overturned until protests by students, parents and educators made them reassess their position. The educational board “froze” books from a diversity committee that included informative explorations of notable people who fought for equality throughout American history; and children’s stories that celebrated the love, joy and kindness of Families of Colour — none of which were explicit, offensive or unsuitable for school age students; which is so often cited by individuals and groups who seek to prohibit literary titles.

A collage of various books that were banned by Central York School District in Pennsylvania, USA (image compiled and shared from The Conscious Kid on Instagram). The titles included are: Hair Love; Under My Hijab; The Undefeated; Little Leaders Bold Women In Black History; Alma and How She Got Her Name; The Day You Begin; Fry Bread A Native American Family Story; Sulwe; The Crown.
Here are some of the books previously banned by a Central York School District in Pennsylvania, USA – via The Conscious Kid

Protecting the freedom to read has been championed in this country by the American Library Association (ALA); which since 1982 has held an annual ‘Banned Book Week‘ to showcase the ten most challenged publications of the year. 2021’s list has followed the same pattern as previous years (referenced above); with literary works that aim to address racism, racial injustice and understanding/supporting LGBTQ2S+ communities predominately coming under fire.

What appears to be happening with regards to censoring certain topics is that individuals or groups; who want restrictions placed on anything that goes against their personal beliefs, and political ideologies are behind the majority of challenges made against various reading materials. This comes as no surprise as censorship has consistently been used in this way. Trying to elicit control over what other people read; so that an individual/s preferences are forced on everyone else seems to have one aim, to strangle a protected right to access information and ideas.

A person (unseen except for their arms and hands) holds a new book open at the first few pages. Photo by patpitchaya on Canva.
photo via patpitchaya on Canva

While there are undoubtedly some books that offend or are unsuitable for specific age groups; choice about whether or not there is access to them should come down to individual supervision and not complete suppression. However, it’s become increasingly evident that the purpose of challenging and banning publications has come down to obstructing knowledge about anti-racism movements, evolving social perspectives and LGBTQ2S+ acceptance.

… so when you start saying to a kid or your kids, “I only want you to read things that validate my point of view,” that’s no longer education, that’s indoctrination. | Ta-Nehisi Coates (CBS Mornings Interview)

One of the most consistently challenged books in recent years has been ‘George’, a children’s story written by the non-binary author, Alex Gino (they/them). This poignant tale is about a fourth-grade transgender girl named Melissa; who is trying to figure out how to navigate through isolation to discover hope, love and acceptance within a world that regards her as a boy. This work was challenged, banned and restricted for LGBTQ2S+ content; conflicting with a religious viewpoint; and not reflecting ‘the values of our community’. But what about the community this story does reflect? What about building empathy, peer support and social awareness about the world we’re living in?

A word cloud showing the reasons given for challenging books in 2020. The largest words being LGBTQIA+, Political Viewpoint, Anti-Police and Anti-Racism among others. Resource created by the American Library Association.

It’s inevitable portions of the population will feel threatened by social progress. A shift towards embracing more of our differences and becoming increasingly aware of racial injustice (and the history behind it) helps to fuel cohesion, innovation and advancement; that’s exactly how the world works.

To those who want any mention of critical race theory, racial justice, historical truth or LGBTQ2S+ lives scrubbed from our bookshelves and absent from our social consciousness; I offer this thought: your approval isn’t required for society to continually develop and evolve, it’s going to happen with or without you. No matter how hard you try to censor what is represented on the pages of works that you wish to exclude; it’s already reflected in the life around you.

The recent focus on banning books almost exclusively authored by/about People of Colour and members of LGBTQ2S+ communities speaks to where we’re at as a society. While it does still point to the relentless grip that prejudice, discrimination and racism has in this country, it also shows that change is literally being written into existence.

Have you read any of the most recent top ten banned books (find the list here)? What are your thoughts about the top ten banned books consistently being about/by People of Colour and the LGBTQ2S+ communities? Do you think book censorship is beneficial or detrimental?


Further Info:

Watch the Oscar-winning short animation ‘Hair Love‘, written and directed by Matthew A. Cherry, about a Black father learning to do his daughter’s hair. The book based on this beautiful and loving story was banned by the Central York School District.

Banned Books: Top 3 Pros And Cons – Britannica

LGBTQ2S+ What Does It Mean? – Kids Help Phone

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58 thoughts on “Banned Books & The Freedom To Read”

  1. WOW, what a great article on such an important topic Molly – It really is quite upsetting and frustrating how censored books can be that really have beautiful messages that are so important for all to hear (regardless of age)! Thank you for speaking up about this – this was very informative.

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    1. I am so glad that this was informative — and you’re 100% right; it is upsetting and frustrating that censorship still exists (particularly in this context too). There are so many great works being challenged that it makes me feel sad for the people who see such creativity and condemn it. Thanks so much for reading!

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  2. This is such a great post Molly! I really appreciate the information on the subject that you’ve shared here and now feel a bit more knowledgable about this topic.

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  3. What an interesting and informative read. I never realised that these books were being banned – it’s shocking in this day and age! Thank you for raising awareness of this issue.

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    1. It’s so sad that each year there are many books being challenged and banned. The fact that most of them are blocked because of the education they provide about racial justice, Black history and acceptance of others makes it even more disheartening (though unsurprising). Thanks for stopping by to read and comment!

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  4. Your post was thorough and souper informative! I haven’t had the chance to read any of these books. It is discouraging to read that there are books forbidden to be read in schools. It reminds me the Nazis that were burning books or the time that were burning women as witches.
    It is like the formal authorities decide to close the children’s eyes to what is out there, everywhere. Closing your eyes does not make something dissappear. I guess every authority at every time in history has its witches.

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  5. I find the concept of banned books terrible especially when most of the banned books are by LGBTQ2S+ & POC authors & address important issues & experiences. It’s also wrong that a book like George be banned because it conflicts with a religious viewpoint.

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  6. Your research into this is amazing. I wouldn’t of thought so many books would of been banned in this day & age. Its certainly an eye opener for me & will definitely be a wonderful conversation / research piece

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  7. I didn’t know banning books was really a thing apart from obviously the more explicit content not being suitable for school libraries. Thank you for sharing.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

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  8. This is such a great and well researched post. I agree with many of the comments that are on this post. I think that banning books simply because of their content, topics and point of view is restricting, because it keeps those voices from being heard. I also find it heartbreaking that many of these books are LGBTQ2S+ & POC.

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  9. This is such a well-written and researched post! It’s so sad that these books are being banned and are censored. In order to expand our mindsets we have to see from different viewpoints.

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  10. I honestly hate that some books are banned. What’s even more annoying to me is that most of these books are banned because of the viewpoint of the writer. Sometimes, it makes me questions the right to have our own opinions. Books are banned easily and I think those who ban books can be so inconsiderate. Like do they know how much it takes to write a book?! Writing a book is no child’s play and they ruin someone’s hardwork just because it covers a certain topic, seems contrary to their own beliefs and has a certain view point. That’s just so wrong tbh.

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    1. Exactly! It’s kind of obvious that the books being banned were being targeted because they were written by BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ authors. There is a very disheartening vocal group who want to keep society from progressing. I am glad that, for the most part, people responded to these bans by buying the books anyway and reading them! Thanks so much fro stopping by and taking the time to leave your comment.

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  11. Considering all the work that goes into writing and publishing a book, not to mention the courage one needs to write about a controversial topic or share their different viewpoint, banning books is just wrong and a way to silence people. I believe everyone should have the right to write and read whatever they want.

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    1. Exactly — ideas and information and the access we have to it is a protected right. I don’t like the idea of someone else’s religious beliefs or some other communities values dictating what I read and learn from. It is just an exercise to silence the voices that create social progress. Truly disheartening.

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  12. This is very interesting but also very sad. I did not know people of color books were being banned, but considering the current discourse at the moment I shouldn’t be too surprised. There are some books I can see why a student might need a parent’s permission to read- my school did this with books that were a little more mature- but the fact that child-friendly poc authors are being banned is very sad.

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    1. Exactly — I can understand individual parental consent needed for things considered more mature, etc but beautiful children’s stories have also been targeted. It is an attack on ideas around educating about racial justice, etc. It is truly sad, but as you pointed out, not surprising given the current social climate.

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  13. As a primary school teacher, this absolutely breaks my heart. It’s SO important to teach children about differences – different races, cultures, genders, sexualities… so that they can grow up and be kind, well-rounded, respectful adults.
    Thank you so much for such an informative post x

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    1. It feel your heartbreak as the children’s books that have been targeted are not explicit or dangerous in any way, they just share the love and differences of different races and gender identities. I agree with you 100% when you ask how else are we to raise loving, respectful adults! Thank you so much for reading!

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  14. Words have such power. It’s why the Nazis burned so many books during WW2, and also why hundreds of years ago, only the nobility and the priests could read and wanted to keep it that way, to prevent the people from learning and discovering too much that might upset the status quo.

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  15. I didn’t know we were still banning books. That’s really disappointing to hear. It would make sense if it was white power propaganda, but these books have no logical reason to be banned

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  16. It is very upsetting that in today’s world, books like this are still being banned. It is important that we educate ourselves and others. I would understand if there was a specific reason (things that are not appropriate for children). But otherwise, we should be able to read whatever we wish to.

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    1. Exactly, if there was a clear reason specific to not being appropriate for children then I would hope the school/library would leave it to the parents to decide and not make that decision for everyone.
      Thanks for stopping by to read!

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  17. This was such an interesting read! I believe this thing of banning books simply because they have a certain point of view, ends up killing creativity.
    Loved the article!

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  18. Such an interesting read. I personally haven’t read any of the banned books but certainly not because they’re banned. I loved the Hate U Give movie so I really do need to read that one. I think banning books is ridiculous – in the form of storytelling is the perfect way to educate children and young adults (and adults in general) about these very real and important issues.

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    1. The Hate You Give is a fantastic book and it was banned as it was seen as anti-police — which completely ignores that fact that there is an issue in this country of police brutality against communities of Colour. If the lived realities of certain communities can’t even be written about, how can they even begin to be addressed? Thanks so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. This was such an interesting topic and so well researched Molly! You would think that story wouldn’t repeat and we wouldn’t have to deal with banned books now. It is such an outrageous thing! I only read the Hate you give from the list, so checking some more out x

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    1. I hope this level of targeted censorship will one day be a thing of the past. It is sad to think that books are being challenged because they tell the truth about racism or dare to humanize and celebrate those in LGBTQ2S+ communities. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Like

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