Familiar titles are being taken off shelves across the country to restrict minors’ access.
BY KATIE MESSNER ’24
Book banning has been on the rise recently. Lawmakers and protective parents are zoning in on certain titles to restrict them from minors and public use.
“Book banning” is when a book is challenged by a group or person and restricted or removed from ac- cess due to the material covered.
“Book banning takes that book out of someone’s hands and doesn’t allow them to read it,” Judy Deal, the UAHS Learning Center media spe-cialist, said.
Policies on how to “ban” a book can differ, but usually the book needs to be challenged by a person or group and presented to a school board, committee or assigned group to de-cide whether or not it should be re-moved.
Usually, the challenger is re-quired to read the book and explain why, how and where the offensive material took place, according to PEN America, a non-profit orga-nization created “to protect free ex-pression.” If found guilty, it will be restricted from access or restricted to certain age groups.
However, many books are re-moved without a formal challenge or process, or even removed from access while the books are still being re-viewed, according to PEN America.
In 2021, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe was the most chal-lenged and banned book, according to the American Library Association, the oldest and largest non-profit li-brary association in the world.
A common reason cited for these challenges is concerns of ex-plicit sexual content.
According to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, there were 729 challenges in 2021 and among the most challenged were “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson and “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez. The number of challenges has risen in recent years. Reasons behind “book banning” and restrictions dif-fer, but are usually due to sexually ex-plicit content, offensive language and sensitive topics.
A graphic novel about the Ho-locaust, “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, was removed from a school in Ten-nessee because of explicit language and nudity. Other familiar books that have been challenged or banned in-clude, “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.
From a study done by PEN America, from July 1st, 2021, to March 31, 2022, there were 1586 individual books banned or restrict-ed from access. There are 86 districts with book bans, affecting 26 states, with Texas, Pennsylvania and Flor-ida having the highest number of bans. Of these books, 33% included LGBTQ+ themes, 22% dealt with race and racism, 41% contained char-acters of color and 25% included books involving puberty, sex or rela-tionships.
In most cases, even if a book is banned, it can still be found online. However, some students and fami-lies cannot afford to buy these books, causing these restrictions to dispro-portionately affect lower-income families.
In addition, online sites are now being targeted to restrict access to books all together. In Virginia, Barnes and Nobles is being sued for selling “Gender Queer” by Maia Ko-babe and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas. Tommy Atlman, a congressional candidate in Vir-ginia, argues that the two books are “obscene for unrestricted viewing by minors” and is fighting to get them removed from access. If the lawsuit is successful, it could set a precedent for more books to be even further re-stricted.
Moms For Liberty, one of the proponents of these book restric-tions, is a nonprofit group founded in 2021 that is “dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights.”
This message of parental choice has been growing more popular as more books undergo scrutiny. Parents have become more involved in school curriculum and what their children should be reading, while free-speech groups and libraries have been trying to fight back against these challenges.
“If you’re a minor, obviously if your parent has a problem with you personally reading it, that’s their pre-rogative, but when institutions start banning books, it becomes an issue,” Deal said. “If you say ‘I don’t want my child reading this and no one else can read it’. Then, that is censoring the rest of the population.”
In Ohio, not many challeng-es have been made. However, three books in the Hudson City School District have been restricted from ac-cess. “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “642 Things to Write About” by San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, were pulled from the shelves after being challenged by community members.
In addition, Bill 327 was intro-duced in the Ohio House in 2021 and could restrict schools and read-ing materials further. The bill deals with ‘divisive concepts’ which refers to something that implies that the “United States is fundamentally rac-ist or sexist” or that “an individual’s moral character is necessarily deter-mined by the individual’s national-ity, color, ethnicity, race, or sex” and “bears responsibility for actions com-mitted in the past by other members of the same nationality, color, ethnic-ity, race, or sex,” according to the pro-posed bill. This bill would prohibit the teaching of any divisive concepts and would permit books to be chal-lenged based on this concept. Bill 322, which is also in committee in the Ohio House, uses similar language regarding teachings.
Maria Ionno, a high school student from Grandview Heights, testified for Bill 327, arguing that according to the bills, “teachers are restricted from teaching honesty in education” and that students “deserve to have multiple viewpoints.”
As more and more books are being challenged, students are still finding ways to fight back despite their lack of involvement in the deci-sion-making process.
Banned Book Clubs have ap-peared in schools across the country and students are continuing to read books that have been taken out of their libraries by purchasing them online. In addition, “banned book week,” created by the American Library Association to “celebrate the freedom to read” will be from Sept. 18-24. The theme this year is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
During that week, Deal said, “We will have multiple displays here in the Learning Center of books that have been challenged and why they’ve been challenged as well as a slideshow on the big screen of books that have been challenged, just to kind of raise awareness.”