Here is an update on the latest book challenges for the week of December 20, 2023.
The Dec. 4th meeting saw complaints about Jodi Picoult’s 19 Minutes, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and others. Challengers called them pornographic, while two high school teachers stood to defend free expression. The conversation is ongoing.
When a resident found his demand to remove Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe denied by the review committee, he appealed to the school board. The school board stood by the decision and has left the graphic novel on the shelves. Every speaker at the school board meeting who spoke about the book supported retaining it in the library.\
The library board voted to keep one of the most-challenged books of 2023 in its adult section, with the director penning a thoughtful response accurately reflecting the book’s potential importance to LGBTQ+ readers. A local pastor challenged the decision and complained about the library’s 5-year-reconsideration-moratorium policy following a decision. A survey of other complaints reveals clear anti-LGBTQ+ bias and an apparent misconception that the purpose of American public libraries is to exclusively promote Christian values. Meanwhile, 5 of 18 additional challenged books were improperly moved to different sections.
An anonymous source falsely informed the police that a middle school classroom contained pornography, citing Gender Queer as the “pornographic” book in question. An officer searched for the book and did not find it. In a district where LGBTQ+ students already describe feeling targeted, the search was viewed as an escalation and an affront. Over 100 students walked out in response.
The board, at times voting against the district’s own review committee, voted to remove Push by Sapphire; A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas; The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold; and The Handmaid’s Tale: Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood (adapted by Renee Nault); Beloved by Toni Morrison; and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison was restricted to adults. Counsel for the district cited the Miller test for obscenity, which requires that the literary and artistic merit of a work be taken into account, which everyone proceeded to ignore.
Mike Curato’s young adult graphic novel Flamer, a queer coming-of-age story about understanding one’s sexuality, was removed from the Knappa School District’s libraries last week after a parent submitted a homophobic complaint. Citing the district’s policy against bias — apparently without deliberate irony — the parent demanded the school district remove “books that plant ideologies into our children’s impressionable minds,” echoing a right-wing extremist talking point that falsely claims LGBTQ+ identities are “ideologies.” Unsurprisingly, the remaining challenged books were predominantly by and about LGBTQ+ individuals.
I Never by Laura Hopper, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder were all either removed or restricted by the Lake Travis ISD Board of Trustees, reversing a review committee’s decision to leave them on shelves. In response, community members rallied at a December 13th meeting to protest the decision.
The Leavenworth, KS school board, including an outgoing board member, has banned any books mentioning gender identity or sexual orientation from elementary school use, in addition to any books containing nudity other than classical works of art. The decision clearly targets LGBTQ+ books, but is vaguely worded in an apparent attempt to avoid claims of bias. Many district residents protested the decision.
A review committee read Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury in full, considered its sexual content in context through careful deliberation, and voted 8-1 to retain it in district schools. The school board ignored them and banned it anyway.
Proceedings became heated at Lorain County Joint Vocational School in Ohio as parents complained about the inclusion of Looking for Alaska by John Green in a 9th grade English class. The committee will decide the matter in January.
Banned titles include Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen, the collected poems of Allen Ginsberg, and The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel. The teacher’s union is not in favor of the result, which was decided Monday, Dec. 18th. Reports suggest that the committee used Book Looks, a biased book rating website with ties to former Moms for Liberty organizers.
The Norfolk, VA Sheriff’s Office claims that a shipment directly from the publisher contained the drug Suboxone in the packing materials. It is not clear at the time of writing how or why such a thing could occur. As a result, the Sheriff’s Office has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, banning all book shipments and restricting inmates only to what is already in the library or on prison tablets. This occurs at a time when new awareness has been gathering over the book banning crisis in prisons.
673 books, including Paradise Lost, East of Eden, and The Color Purple, have been removed from Orange School District, FL this year in response to Florida laws. The list included widely taught classics as well as more recent and more frequently challenged books like Gender Queer.
Making a Baby by Rachel Greener and Clare Owen was the cause of significant controversy in Pickaway County Library after it was nearly removed and shortly after nearly moved to the adult section. The picture book is a frank and playful take on reproduction to help parents answer hard questions about where babies come from.
Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was retained after a failed attempt to ban it from the Pinellas, FL School District. It has been banned in at least four other Florida school districts, and Sebold’s memoir has been challenged elsewhere around the country.
In a 3-2 vote, Temecula CA school board passed a policy on 12/12 that would ban so-called “vulgar” material, in terms similar to book ban policies passed around the country.
The supposed crisis of inappropriate content may not be as urgent as book banners would have you believe, given that the challenged books were rarely, if ever, checked out by students. In Pine Richland and Blackhawk School Districts, books on the challenge list had comparatively few, and in some cases no, recent checkouts. The exception was Heartstopper, a graphic novel series that has since become a hit Netflix show. Why, then, have the books been challenged? Most likely because (per PEN America) books that are challenged in one place are likely to receive copycat challenges elsewhere.
The Williston, ND school board voted to retain all 25 challenged titles in a victory for the right to read. Tempering the good news somewhat was their decision to add parental notifications to some books, a trend ABFE is monitoring with some concern.