For the third year in a row, George, a book about a transgender girl, topped the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) annual list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books, and LGBTQ-themed books remained dominant among all the censorship attempts tracked by the ALA. Unlike in the previous few years, however, books with themes of race and racial justice, not LGBTQ themes and characters, made up the majority of books in the top 10. That’s still awful.
The Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020 list was released yesterday as part of the ALA’s annual “State of America’s Libraries Report.” “Challenges” are documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, calculated from censorship reports submitted through the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF) as well as from media mentions. More than 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, said the ALA, and overall, “Demands to remove books addressing racism and racial justice or those that shared the stories of Black, Indigenous, or people of color grew in number. At the same time, books addressing themes and issues of concern for LGBTQIA+ people continued to dominate the list.”
George is the only book in the top 10 to have been challenged because of LGBTQIA+ content last year. That number is down from eight ot the Top 10 in 2019, six in 2018, and five in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that the the decreased number of LGBTQ titles in the top 10 means we’ve made progress, though. LGBTQ-inclusive books are still plentiful in the full list of challenged titles, and continue to be challenged, as we saw when two school districts in Texas recently tried to ban Call Me Max, a book about a transgender boy. And LGBTQ authors still get uninvited from author talks at schools, even when they’re not talking about their LGBTQ-inclusive books. More importantly, while the number of LGBTQ books in the top 10 may be down, the number of books being challenged for dealing with race and racism is up, and that’s just as bad. This isn’t a contest anyone should want to win or see others win. Instead, we should ask ourselves why books by, for, and about marginalized communities of many types continue to be targeted for removal or restricted access, and what we can do to address this. Librarians remain vital lifelines for many marginalized youth and need the tools to do this work, which can be literally lifesaving.
While the total number of books challenged last year was down to 273 from 566 in 2019, much of that can presumably be attributed to the many library closings or restricted hours because of the pandemic. If you know of books being challenged in your community for any reason, please report the incident to the ALA through their online form or by e-mailing or phoning the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.545.2433 x4226.
Here is the full list of top 10 titles from 2020 and the reasons they were challenged:
- George, by Alex Gino. Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
- All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
- Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author.
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice, by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
- Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students.
- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison. Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
- The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message.
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