Over the last nine months, PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for the freedom of expression, found that American schools have banned 1,145 books. In 41 per cent of these books central characters are represented by people of colour, 30 percent of these banned books either feature LGBTQ themes or feature LGBTQ as protagonists or secondary characters, and 20 percent of these banned books cover in a direct manner topics related to race and racism.
These are indeed staggering numbers but not surprising either. The practice of banning books has always existed in America and everywhere else for that matter. Supporters of the ban cite various reasons including the fact that the banned works include content or language that is offensive, sexually violent, inappropriate, or needlessly graphic, and therefore not relevant to be used in schools.
On the other hand, critics view the practice as a blatant breach of free speech and part of a raging cultural war. For them these banned works represent crude depiction of cultural realities that students need to know and understand in order to build a culturally diverse and tolerant society where everybody is respected regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Whether the practice of book banning in schools constitutes a breach of free speech is a contentious issue. In fact the topic of book bans can be the theme of a group discussion in class where students share their perspectives regarding reasons for the ban, discuss key constructs related to critical race theory and freedom of speech, among others.
Regardless of the camp you side with, as teachers and educators we should definitely be aware of these banned resources, read them, understand the reasons for their ban and create out of this conversation an opportunity for learning and growth.
To this end, I am sharing with you this collection of 10 prominent books banned in American schools. The list is sourced from the Washington Post. Check out the American Library Association website for a comprehensive list of all the banned books since the year 2000. You can also read PEN America report to learn more about book censorships in the United States.
1. Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe
“Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.”
Reasons for the ban: Includes ‘sexual scenes depicting masturbation, a sex toy and oral sex, as well as depictions of menstrual blood and Kobabe’s fantasizing about having a penis’.
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, By Harper Lee
“A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.”
Reasons for the ban: Includes racist words such as the n-word, ‘as well as the centrality of a ‘white savior’.
3- New Kid, by Jerry Craft
“New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.”
Reasons for the ban: the book ‘teaches children that White privilege comes with microaggressions that should be kept in check.’
4- Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, by Art Speigelman
“Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.”
Reasons for the ban: the book embeds profanity, nudity, and depiction of violence and suicide
5- The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times Magazine
“This is a book that speaks directly to our current moment, contextualizing the systems of race and caste within which we operate today. It reveals long-glossed-over truths around our nation’s founding and construction – and the way that the legacy of slavery did not end with emancipation, but continues to shape contemporary American life.”
Reasons for the ban: Depicts an exceedingly negative view of the American history as well as includes factual errors.
6- And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
“At the penguin house at the Central Park Zoo, two penguins named Roy and Silo were a little bit different from the others. But their desire for a family was the same. And with the help of a kindly zookeeper, Roy and Silo got the chance to welcome a baby penguin of their very own”
Reasons for the ban: ‘the story is anti-family, promotes homosexuality and is unsuitable for young readers’
7- Out of Darkness, by Ashley Hope Pérez
“Race, romance, and family converge in this riveting novel that transplants Romeo and Juliet to a bitterly segregated Texas town. Includes a fascinating author’s note detailing the process of research and writing about voices that have largely been excluded from historical accounts.”
Reasons for the ban: ‘Pornographic depictions of sex, with a particular focus on one scene that refers to anal sex’.
8- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
“This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.”
Reasons for the ban: ‘the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not include context about racism against all people, according to the American Library Association’
9- The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
“In Morrison’s acclaimed first novel, Pecola Breedlove—an 11-year-old Black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others—prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning, and the tragedy of its fulfillment.”
Reasons for the ban: the book includes ‘crude language and graphic depictions of rape and sex.’
10- It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
“With more than 1.5 million copies in print, It’s Perfectly Normal has been a trusted resource on sexuality for more than twenty-five years. Rigorously vetted by experts, this is the most ambitiously updated edition yet, featuring to-the-minute information and language accompanied by new and refreshed art.”
Reasons for the ban: ‘the book is too graphic and sexually explicit for children’.
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