Book bans in US public schools have increased by 33% over the last school year, according to a study by Pen America, a non-profit that supports freedom of expression in literature.
The organisation recorded 3,362 instances of book bans in public school classrooms and libraries between July 2022 and June 2023, affecting 1,557 different titles.
The report, Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor, found that more than 40% of all cases occurred in Florida, which overtook Texas as the state with the most bans. Missouri, Utah and Pennsylvania also saw high levels of book banning cases.
The authors whose books were targeted were “most frequently female, people of colour, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals”, read the report. It found that 30% of banned books included characters of colour and themes of race and racism, 30% represented LGBTQ+ characters or themes, and 6% included a transgender character.
“It’s disappointing to see such a steep rise in the banning and restriction of books,” said author John Green, whose book Looking for Alaska was the third most-banned title in US schools. “We should trust our teachers and librarians to do their jobs. If you have a worldview that can be undone by a book, I would submit that the problem is not with the book.”
Pen also found that more than three-quarters of books banned fall under the young adult, middle grade, picture book and chapter book genres. “Hyperbolic and misleading rhetoric continues to ignite fear over the types of books in schools. And yet, 75% of all banned books are specifically written and selected for young audiences,” said Kasey Meehan, lead author of the report.
The Pen America study comes days after the American Library Association reported that books bans in schools and public and academic libraries reached a record high in the first eight months of 2023.
Some of the books banned in more than 20 districts include The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas, Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
The report found that pressure from advocacy groups and the demands of newly passed state legislation are having a “profound chilling effect” on book availability in schools.
“Those who are bent on the suppression of stories and ideas are turning our schools into battlegrounds, compounding post-pandemic learning loss, driving teachers out of the classroom and denying the joy of reading to our kids,” said Pen America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “By depriving a rising generation of the freedom to read, these bans are eating away at the foundations of our democracy.”
The study also reported increased efforts by students to push back against book bans, in the form of protests, speaking out at school board meetings and establishing organisations dedicated to defending access to literature in schools.