As book bans become more prevalent in US school districts, there is now hard data showing the extent of those bans, courtesy of an updated report from PEN America.
The number of book bans grew 28 percent in the first half of the 2022-2023 school year compared to the previous six months, according to Banned in the US: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools.
From July to December 2022, there were 1,477 individual book bans affecting only 874 unique titles, a sign of harmful censorship in literature.
Since PEN America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting for free expression, began tracking public schoolbook bans in July 2021, the organization has counted more than 4,000 instances of banned books.
The organization attributes many of these book bans to a campaign by politicians and “few parents or community members” who want to instill anxiety or anger with the underlying goal of suppressing access to literature and information.
Of the 1,477 books banned in public schools this year, 30% contain themes about race, racism or include a character of color and 26% have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
PEN America found that, unlike in the past, nearly a third of book bans were the direct result of newly enacted state laws in Florida, Utah, and Missouri.
“The heavy-handed tactics of state legislators call for a book ban, plain and simple,” PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said in a press release.
Last month, Republican lawmakers in Missouri threatened to defund public libraries in retaliation for the ACLU’s filing of a lawsuit challenging a recent ban on educators “providing sexually explicit material.”
Similarly, Florida recently began removing “pornographic, violent, or inappropriate” books from classrooms.
But PEN America notes that books are more often labeled “pornographic” or “indecent” on the grounds that they contain sexual content.
Some of these books include the bluest eyes by Toni Morrison The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Looking for Alaska by John Green.
In addition, vague language in legislation, such as the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits educators from instructing about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, can influence the ban on books
Utah’s Sensitive Materials in Schools Act also uses vague language to prohibit “certain sensitive instructional material.”
Banning these books may also limit students’ personal health resources.
Books that address LGBTQ+ issues, issues, and personal experiences such as flamethrower by Mike Curato and genderqueer by Maia Kobabe were among the top banned books.
“The book ban impedes the freedom to read, limiting students’ access to a diversity of viewpoints and stories,” says PEN America.