Next week begins Banned Books Week, and rather than passively “celebrate” banned books, let’s spend this week regrouping and taking a series of small action steps toward actually curtailing the non-stop assaults on intellectual freedom and First Amendment rights. I’ve pulled together a list of seven action items for the week plus several bonus actions — pick and choose to do them all or choose one per day for seven days (then, of course, keep the momentum going). Let this list help you get into the habit of championing the right to read and the right for all people to access the information they’re looking for.
Seven Action Items for Banned Books Week:
- Show up to your local public library and borrow — and read — books that have been banned in the last year. This means you’re going for books like Gender Queer or All Boys Aren’t Blue or Monday’s Not Coming, not books like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye. Bonus action: once you read one of these books, leave a review on as many consumer-facing sites as possible. Books like these are being bombed by censors; this is an easy and effective way to push back.
- Request your public library purchase books that are by or about queer people and people of color. You can look at books that have been banned this year and request titles your library might not have or you can peruse lists of upcoming titles and submit purchase requests. Most libraries have a form on their website or at the reference desk to do this. If they don’t, work up the courage to ask a library worker how you can do that.
- Plan to attend your local school board meeting and speak in support of books by and about people of color and queer people. Your school board may not be meeting this week and that’s okay. Get it on your calendar to attend the next one or write a letter to the board. Here’s a template you can use for speaking and for your letter. Know if you write, you might not hear anything back. Because communication with public employees is subject to FOIA, most are not responding. This is a good thing!
- Write a letter to your local newspaper, and if you have more than one local paper, send a similar letter to as many as you can. In the letter, talk about how many books have been banned this year across the country, and talk about how that is a blatant attack on First Amendment rights. If you’re in an area with an active chapter of Moms For Liberty, No Left Turn, or equivalent, name those groups in the letter. Point out their actions so you create a paper trail. Example: my local area has both an active Moms For Liberty group and a more local group. Both have been involved in stirring up criminal behavior, including vandalism at a local bakery (charged as a hate crime) and in creating a threat so real, a public library canceled their drag queen program for teens. Name and shame. Whether or not the letter publishes in the local paper, share your words across your social media and engage with comments you might receive. Use research, use facts, and use a calm demeanor. You are likely educating a lot of folks who might otherwise not be aware of what is going on and that matters.
- Make a donation to groups doing work on the ground. Do this instead of being tempted to buy and donate books — books are great, but they don’t change policy and don’t protect lives that need protection. The $20 you were going to spend on a book could be sent to orgs who will use each penny to do hard, thankless work. Some options include EveryLibrary, PEN America, and Florida Freedom to Read Project. You can also donate to fundraisers for librarian Amanda Jones, who is currently suing right-wing groups in her state after they attacked her, or Brooky Parks, who was let go from her job after calling out a new library policy that censored programming.
- Find out when school board and library board elections (if applicable) are in your area and make a plan to vote. Research the candidates and if you are unsure where they stand on issues of censorship, reach out to their campaigns and ask. They should be working for your vote and, in doing so, respond in full. Then reach out to 3+ people about their plans to vote. If your state has been added to The School Board Project (part one and part two), use the spreadsheets to take notes on candidates.
- Write to your local lawmakers at the state and federal level about the importance of defending intellectual freedom and the right to read for all. Cite the research and reports and highlight how the stories we are hearing about “parents’ rights” are about a very small, vocal minority and not, in fact, most parents. If you’re lucky to have a representative who is sympathetic to these causes, write in support of their stances. For example: I plan to tell Sean Casten his willingness to name and talk about the disgusting actions of Awake Illinois is deeply appreciated and a model for other lawmakers across the country.
Bonus and Additional Action Items:
- On “meet the teacher” nights or “back to school” nights — any such event will work — show up and take time to go read in the library. This small action not only shows how much the school library matters and how much life there is within it, but it also protects the library workers who may otherwise face harassment from right-wing “parental rights” people.
- Find or build a local anti-censorship group.
- Subscribe to our biweekly Literary Activism newsletter to stay on top of book censorship news and other stories and ideas for engaging in on-the-ground work related to books, reading, education, and literacy.
- Talk with 3 people in your community — friends, family, neighbors, etc — about book censorship. This is especially important in communities where such censorship is not occurring or hasn’t been highlighted in the news but may be occurring. Emphasize why it is an issue everyone should care about and share how people can get involved and engaged.
- See a person on social media post false stories of grooming or indoctrination happening at schools? Call them out. Define those terms. Tell the individuals how they’re being indoctrinated by right-wing dark money groups into thinking these things, even though they are patently false (and created precisely for this reason).
Your work will matter this coming week. Sharing a photo of yourself reading a banned book and/or using a hashtag has some marketing value, but it doesn’t move the needle on the actual threats against the ability to read. Particularly for the most marginalized.
Here’s what the right is doing and preparing for this week. How you choose to counter these narratives will help determine the success of Banned Books Week as activism toward protecting the freedom to read or whether it pushes things back another step.
Book Censorship News: September 16, 2022
- A Katy Independent School Teacher (TX) pulled every single YA book from their classroom. This is what the chilling effect of gag orders and book ban legislation is. Wholesale removal of books. Some more context for this story:
- 7 books were pulled from Dearborn Public Schools (MI) for review. The books do not even get to stay on shelves or in digital format during the review.
- In St. Joseph schools (MI) a parent claimed victory about getting What Girls Are Made Of pulled from shelves. Problem? It wasn’t removed because there was never a formal review filed. (And they were certainly celebrating this “victory” hard in their Facebook group, despite the fact they…did not challenge the book).
- Banned books have become a focal point of the Maine governor’s race.
- Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library (AR) will keep l8r g8r off library shelves.
- Gender Queer and White Fragility are being challenged at Spruce Mountain High School in Maine.
- All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews and Looking for Alaska by John Green were all challenged in Osceola Public Schools (FL). There was no formal complaint; the review was initiated because of public comment and the superintendent responding to that. Why have policies if you’re not going to follow them?
- “‘I just want to state that it’s completely inappropriate that these sexually explicit books are available to children without parental consent,’ said Turkosz. ‘The availability of these texts also shows that you are extremely insensitive to students whose family, religious beliefs, conflict with the pornographic texts and images contained within their pages.’” And yet there’s no consideration for the families for whom such things are not inappropriate because they understand what pornography is and is not. This is in Amity Schools (CT) and one parent brought over 80+ books up to complain about.
- Alamance-Burlington (NC) superintendent Dr. Dain Butler removed Gender Queer from the high school library. Read that again.
- Parents showed up to the Kearney Public Schools (NE) board meeting to complain about several LGBTQ+ books and demand that they be notified what their students borrow from the library.
- Gender Queer and Patience and Esther are back on shelves at Dixon Public Library (IL).
- However, the same library is drafting new policies surrounding what can and cannot go on a public book display.
- “The Greeley-Evans School District 6 Board of Education might evaluate whether it will continue public participation at board meetings, saying the process is being abused and used for shock value after two speakers Monday evening read an excerpt from one novel and showed illustrations from a graphic novel.” I had not considered the idea this is abuse of time, but it really is. This is in Colorado.
- And similarly, in Salem (OR), over attempts to ban books (and similar topics the right chooses alternate facts for), “The Salem-Keizer School Board will no longer allow the public to attend meetings in-person following a district review of an August board meeting where tensions between groups of attendees escalated into threats and conflict.”
- Polk County Schools (FL) created an opt-out option for 16 books in the district (and you’ll recall, in other schools across the state with such options, they’re not popular). But the County Citizens Defending Freedom are now so incensed by this decision not to remove the books, they’re filing criminal complaints against the Board. Whose freedom is being defended?
- “A federal judge denied a request from a Great Valley School District parent to issue an injunction to remove ‘sexually explicit’ books from the libraries.” This is in Pennsylvania.
- Perry High School (IA) is reviewing a book used for years in English classes after a parent complaint. The book is not named in the story, and in the years of its use, only one parent has ever sought an alternate assignment for their student.
- One victory worth celebrating, even if the reason for it is absurd: Mead School Board (OR) will not ban critical race theory nor will they ban any “books that mention they/them pronouns.”
- Moms For Liberty members suggest that the real Christians will know who they are following a decision in Natrona Public Schools (WY) not to remove two books from the schools.
- In Forsyth County Schools (GA), parents can now get notification of books their students check out of school libraries.
- Fauquier County School Board (VA) is working on a policy that allows parents to opt their students out of school assignments that involve reading sexually-explicit material. Which is bizarre, since those kinds of things aren’t assigned reading to begin with, and who gets to determine what that yardstick is?
- Puberty is Gross, But Also Really Awesome by Gina Loveless, Own Your Period by Chella Quint, and Making a Baby by Rachel Greener will remain on shelves in Ashland Public Library (OH). Yes, people wanted puberty books banned from the groups for whom these books are intended.
- “Legislation has been introduced in the Pennsylvania state legislature that would allow officials to remove material deemed “highly sexual” from school libraries.” Who gets to determine what “highly sexual” is? For groups that don’t coparent with the government, they sure want the government to be parents.
- Guilford County Schools (NC) will keep Salvage The Bones on school shelves.
- The Victoria Public Library (TX) advisory board just gave themselves permission to review “contested” books purchased for the library.
- Bedford County Schools (VA) have a new book review committee structure for challenges.
- “Parsons acknowledges in his challenge that he has not read either book. He contends each book ‘breeds stupidity’ and writes, ‘Kids and some parents buy into that if a child ‘feels’ different than they are somehow magically different than how they were created.’” There are several books under fire in Conway Public Schools (AR) with a new school board member who is eager to do some banning.
- This is a heck of a story. Book challenges were abound in Wellington Public Library (CO) thanks in part to someone on the board being married to a book banner. Now the town council has decided that the library board can’t be involved in determining book challenges.
- Stillwater Schools (OK) are still debating several books that have been challenged. There is now an anti-censorship group involved (go Highlighter Resistance!).
- Valley City Barnes County Public Library (ND) removed Let’s Talk About It from their shelves.
- Protesters and counter protesters met before the Loudon County School Board (VA) meeting over CRT this week.
- You need to read what this high schooler said about the actual impact of book removal on students in East Coweta High School (NC).
Also In This Story Stream
- How to Run for School Board: Book Censorship News, September 9, 2022
- How To Create A Good Banned Books Display: Book Censorship News, September 2, 2022
- States That Have Enacted Book Ban Laws: Book Censorship News, August 26, 2022
- Defending the Right to Read: Book Censorship News, August 19, 2022
- How To Find and Develop a Local Anti-Censorship Group: Book Censorship News, August 12, 2022
- A Template for Talking with School and Library Boards About Book Bans: Book Censorship News, August 5, 2022
- The School Board Project, Round Two: Book Censorship News, July 29, 2022
- What Would Help You Fight Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, July 22, 2022
- How to Address Misinformation and Book Challenges: Book Censorship News, July 15, 2022