Book challenges in America aren’t new — but over the past year, they’ve reached a fever pitch. A majority of the books that have been targeted nationwide focus on sexual orientation, gender identity, race and racism. Consider “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, which has been challenged for an alleged anti-police agenda, and “This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, a nonfiction book about sexuality and gender.
The situation is “unprecedented in its scale, and in the proliferation of organized groups who are trying to remove whole lists of books at once in multiple school districts, across a growing number of states,” says Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America, an advocacy group.
According to an April report from PEN America, there were 1,586 instances of individual books being banned during the nine-month period from July 1, 2021, to March 31, affecting 1,145 book titles. Texas had the most bans (713), followed by Pennsylvania (456), Florida (204) and Oklahoma (43). That’s an “alarming” spike, compared with previous years, the group notes.
“From my place in the world, I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, who started working for the organization in 2000. She noted that social media is amplifying the situation. “A parent will stand up, do this impassioned speech about obscenity in school libraries in Virginia, and it goes viral on Facebook.”
Amid the heated discussions about the issue, sometimes terminology can become muddled. To help clarify, we spoke to experts about the difference between a challenge and a ban, why books are challenged and when the current wave began. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions: