What's Up With The Book Bans?
And why does it matter?
I’ll be honest with you: book bans make me roll my eyes. What better way is there to get people interested in specific books than by banning them? For those of us raising or working with kids, we know that when kids hear “no,” their brains have translated it into an emphatic: “YES, YES, YES! Challenge accepted.” Who am I kidding? This applies to adults too. I grew up in the Harry Potter era when the books had midnight release parties and kids desperately waited for each new book. At the time there was a backlash against the series—there still is today—and I remember my Mom explaining to me that “some people felt it went against their religion and thought kids would care more about magic and witchcraft over religion.” Obviously a very simplistic explanation but I remember thinking as a kid that adults were dumb and, duh, kids knew that magic wasn’t real (cue major disappointment at a lifetime of being Muggle) even if they really wanted it to be. And, because life always comes full circle, I get to learn about the book bans happening today not only through the eyes of an adult but through the eyes of a parent…
I’ve written up a simple, easy-to-understand overview (around 1,000 words if I can!) of what’s happening today. If you’re interested in learning more, I link to additional resources for more in-depth knowledge and opportunities to take action as well.
Book bans have always been around but with different flavors
Okay, so first of all, book bans have been around for just about as long as books have been around. So quite a long while. One of the first book bans to happen in the United States was when the Puritans banned New English Canaan by Thomas Morton since it criticized Puritan customs . Indeed, even the Bible has been banned throughout history. Some of the earliest bans of the Bible were to prohibit the rise and spread of Christianity and persecute Christians . To this day, the Bible remains one of the most challenged books in history.
What are the current book bans about?
Today, parents are challenging books in school and public libraries that relate to racism (including books featuring people of color) and gender identity (LGBTQ+ themed books) in some way:
For the past few years, LGTBQ+ and critical race theory have been at the forefront of national and political conversations and this has propelled a vocal minority to move to prohibit the teaching of these topics to children in many parts of the US. Those who are pushing the bans want to avoid these “divisive” topics being taught in classrooms. Parents are concerned about books containing racism because they fear the discomfort children will experience and they want to stifle books about gender identity so kids aren’t “morally corrupted.” These groups use terminology like “obscene” and “pornographic” to describe these books .
But now, not only are they focusing on book bans but they are also using educational gag orders to make reading / accessing these books criminal offenses . What does this mean? School libraries and public libraries (one of the most beloved public institutions in America) can face steep fines or even lose state funding if found in violation of a book ban . In fact, Missouri is voting on defunding all of the state’s public libraries. If passed, this would be truly catastrophic to the citizens of Missouri.
To see if your state has implemented any book bans, PEN America has put together a state map (below) showcasing where most book bans have occurred:
Who’s challenging these books and how are they doing it?
There are many, varied conservative parent-driven groups pushing these challenges and bans. Some of the bigger ones are national with local chapters such as Moms For Liberty, Citizens Defending Education, and US Parents Involved in Education. Almost all books are challenged and banned at local levels so these local chapters are behind much of what is seen on the news.
The initial attempt to ban a book is called a challenge. If that challenge is successful, that book officially becomes banned. To get the process started to ban a book, quite a bit of paperwork needs to be submitted to challenge the book. The forms require that the applicant has read the book and can explain why the book is considered offensive. Once the paperwork has been submitted, a hearing and review will take place to determine how the matter should be handled: deciding if moving the book to another part of the library makes more sense or if an outright ban is warranted .
You can find out if these types of groups are actively seeking to challenge / ban books in your community by going through this spreadsheet compiled by BookRiot.
Why this matters and what you can do
The most obvious reason why books shouldn’t be banned is because of freedom of speech. That in itself is reason enough for me.
Without a doubt, there are sensitive topics that we want to introduce our kids to at a time and manner of our choosing. However, banning books is not the solution. We should have an individualized process in place where we can keep an eye on the material and content our kids are consuming but realize that the world isn’t ours alone and we cannot dictate the access of other caregivers and kids. Can you imagine restricting all parts of the Internet for everyone just because you don’t want your kids to access some part of it?
Books are amazing tools to help us understand harsh realities without actually being subject to them. They allow us to gently confront hard decisions and force us to reckon with our preconceived notions and biases. As caregivers, books present opportunities to learn with our kids.
If you believe as I do, here are just a few small ways that you can do something:
Find out if this is happening in your community—look at your local newspaper or talk to your school or library
Read a “banned” book! See what the fuss is all about yourself; check out this list compiled by New York Public Library
Report banned books — if you know a book has been challenged or banned, report it to the American Library Association (ALA) an organization that runs the Office for Intellectual Freedom whose charter is to “[implement] ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom as embodied in the Library Bill of Rights, the Association’s basic policy on free access to libraries and library materials.”
Accessing banned books
If you have book bans in place, you can still access these books! Here are a few resources to check out (ahh my puns 😅):
Brooklyn Public Library—if you have a kid aged 13-21, they can apply for a free Brooklyn Public Library eCard which will give them access to BPL’s entire digital library and resources
Independently-owned bookstores—while big retailers may succumb to public pressure, independently-owned bookshops are much less likely to limit access to titles. And bonus, you get to help a local business!
Book sales—check out local thrift and secondhand shops for books
Digital books—buy a digital copy of a banned book if it’s hard to get your hands on a physical copy
If you’re interested in learning more, here are some great places to get started:
(Podcast) NPR’s Consider This — Bonus: Banned Books
 Banned Books. Harvard University Library. https://guides.library.harvard.edu/c.php?g=1269000&p=9306840
 Spotlight On Censorship - The Bible. Intellectual Freedom Blog. https://www.oif.ala.org/spotlight-on-censorship-the-bible/
 Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/30/books/book-ban-us-schools.html
 What Are We Protecting Children from by Banning Books? The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-are-we-protecting-children-from-by-banning-books
 America's Censored Classrooms. Pen America. https://pen.org/report/americas-censored-classrooms/
 How Does The Challenge Process Work? Triton College Library. https://library.triton.edu/c.php?g=1073138&p=7814213
Okay, so I lied. I clocked in about ~1400 words for this post. The thing is I love books and this new movement needs to be shared and understood. To me, books are living, breathing things with literal stories to tell just like the rest of us. (Hey, how come corporations are granted personhood but not books??) So I get very passionate about restricting access of any kind! Luckily, I haven’t seen much activity in my neck of the woods. Have there been any book bans in your area?
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