10 notable books that are coming under attack
Efforts to remove books from libraries or limit their availability to teenagers and younger children have stepped up amid culture wars on race, gender and sexuality.
Fights over critical race theory, transgender rights and other issues have public libraries on the front lines, sparking efforts to remove books from wide consumption.
The American Library Association (ALA) reported a record number of “challenged” books in 2021, a designation it gives to books that have been subject to attempted removals or being restricted based upon the objections of a person or group.
Here are 10 of the books that have repeatedly been the focus of attacks.
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
Thomas’s debut book, published in 2017, focuses on 16-year-old Starr Carter after she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, who was unarmed, at the hands of a police officer.
Parents and leaders have called for the book to be banned from school libraries because it includes profanity and violence. They have also complained that it promotes “an anti-police message” and indoctrination of a social agenda.
The book has been on the ALA’s list of the 10 most challenged books of 2017, 2018 and 2020.
The effort has also triggered a pushback by supporters of the book who argue it is important for children and teenagers to be able to read its subjects.
Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement to The Hill that preventing young people from accessing such books limits their First Amendment rights.
“Young people have a First Amendment right to access information and ideas, including on their school library shelves,” Eidelman said. “Libraries exist to give us access to the full breadth of human knowledge—to allow us to explore a variety of genres and perspectives, and to learn to think for ourselves. The government cannot restrict that right simply because it dislikes the views or perspectives expressed in particular books.”
“Maus” by Art Spiegelman
Maus is a critically hailed graphic novel depicting the experiences of Spiegelman’s parents during the Holocaust. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
First published in 1980, the book portrays Jews as mice and Nazis as cats while exploring Spiegelman’s mother’s experience in a concentration camp and her struggle with depression.
The book was recently removed from an eighth grade English language arts curriculum in January by the McMinn County Board of Education in Tennessee due to its language and nudity.
Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by that decision, adding that he has met many young people who “have learned things from my book.”
Deborah Caldwell-Stone, Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the ALA, said the removal of the book was “the sort of censorship that really only serves to narrow education.”
“Everyone decries the lost opportunity to learn about the Holocaust from such a rich first-person experience or at least one family’s experience with the Holocaust,” she said. “And that’s the sort of censorship that really only serves to narrow education.”
She added that censoring books does not “protect kids from the harsh realities of what goes on in the world,” noting that many of them are “actually experiencing those harsh realities.”
“Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
Kobabe’s book was cited by the American Library Association as the most challenged book of 2021 and has been banned in 30 districts, according to PEN America, a nonprofit that aims to defend and protect free expression.
The 2019 illustrated memoir explores Kobabe’s life and journey through self-identity as a nonbinary person.
There have been multiple attempts to ban the book in several school districts in Texas, with some Texans calling for criminal charges, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Caldwell-Stone said the book is intended for mature audiences and “has high interest for mature adolescents who are interested in the topic.”
“To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
The 1960 classic, widely read in high schools across the country, is a coming-of-age novel about a young girl named Scout as she tries to understand her father, Atticus, who is a lawyer defending a Black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
The book has been challenged numerous times over the years for its discussion of race, its use of the N-word and other profanity, according to ALA.
In 2020, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Of Mice and Men” received complaints from four parents in Burbank Unified School District, three of them Black, according to the Los Angeles Times.
They challenged the books for alleged potential harm to the public school district’s roughly 400 Black students.
It was most recently targeted in February when it received complaints from parents in Columbia County School District in Georgia, which led to it being reviewed by the school board, according to WJBF, a local ABC News affiliate.
“New Kid” and “Class Act” by Jerry Craft
These graphic novels, loosely based on author Craft’s childhood, tell the story of friends Jordan and Drew, middle school students who enrolled in a predominantly white private school.
Drew is depicted with darker skin, while Jordan has lighter skin. The novels primarily focus on Drew and Jordan and how they both deal with microaggressions and racial stereotyping from their classmates and teachers.
Last October, Katy Independent School District near Houston removed both books from shelves and postponed Craft’s virtual appearance with students after parents complained about the book teaching critical race theory, according to Reuters.
Craft said he was shocked by the decision, saying his books had received “nothing but love.”
However, in less than a week, the books were approved to be returned to library shelves, and the school extended an invitation to Craft, which he said he accepted.
“No parent has ever come to me and said that their kid was offended by my book. I think some parents are worried because, even though Jordan is African American, he’s still the kid who they relate to, And how often does that happen?” Craft told The Hill. “So they end up feeling empathy rather than guilt.”
“It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris
This 1994 book topped the ALA’s 2005 list of most challenged books.
The book aims to inform preadolescent children about puberty by exploring different definitions of sex and generally providing sex education. It includes color illustrations of the human body and sex acts.
However, it received complaints about its inclusion of homosexuality, nudity, abortion and “being unsuited to age group,” according to ALA.
“Heather Has Two Mommies” by Lesléa Newman
First published in 1989, this children’s book explores the life of a young girl who is the daughter of lesbian parents. She realizes her different family dynamic when she draws a picture of her family for a classroom assignment.
The ALA estimates that the book has been targeted by 42 lawmakers and parents across the country.
The book, which has been a staple of LGBTQ representation for more than 30 years, has recently made headlines after leaders at a Pennsylvania school district requested the book’s removal from all elementary school libraries for “referencing gender identity,” according to the ACLU.
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The acclaimed book by Coates, written as a letter to his teenage son exploring what it is to be a Black American, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was named one of Time magazine’s 10 best nonfiction books of the decade in 2019.
It has also repeatedly been targeted because of the way it looks at race.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed House Bill 3979 in June. It states that schools cannot teach that “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual ’s race or sex.”
Books by Black authors that look critically at the country’s history of race are among the most targeted in the country given the furor over issues such as critical race theory.
“Challenges to books, specifically books by non-white male authors, are happening at the highest rates we’ve ever seen,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education and lead author of its report on banned books.
“When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball” by Mark Weakland
This children’s picture book published in 2016 depicts American Olympian Rudolph’s childhood experiences, such as battling polio and playing basketball. It also explores Rudolph’s experiences with racism as a child growing up in Tennessee in the 1940s.
The book is one of many biographical children’s books that have been targeted that generally have explicit or prominent themes related to rights and activism, the PEN America report found.
“Looking for Alaska” by John Green
First published in 2005, Green’s book, based on his time at Indian Springs School, received high praise from critics and won the ALA’s 2006 Michael L. Printz Award for best young adult novel.
The book mainly focuses on high school junior Miles “Pudge” Halter and his life going through high school.
The book made the ALA’s 2016 list of the top 10 challenged books for its inclusion of a sexually explicit scene that may lead a student to “sexual experimentation.” It has continued to receive complaints throughout the years, with some even banning it.
“It is disheartening to see Looking for Alaska on so many banned-books lists as a new wave of challenges spread through U.S. libraries and schools,” Green tweeted in February.
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