American culture as a whole experienced a civil rights reawakening throughout 2020. Although there has been a dramatic increase in calls for social justice, representation and inclusion, this progressive movement still has plenty of detractors, especially in the educational space.
According to a new report from the American Library Association, titles that touch on race, talk about racism and racial justice or tell stories focused on people of color or members of the LGBTQ community still tend to be the books most often challenged as “inappropriate” for school libraries in 2020.
“As the nation attempted a reckoning in 2020 over the issue of race in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, parents took issue with books that dealt with some of the same issues,” Shirin Ali of CNN reported. “For the first time in the survey’s history, six of the 10 most-challenged books — out of 273 books that were targeted in libraries, schools and universities — touched on issues of race,” with complaints ranging from “divisive language” to anti-police views.
According to the American Library Association, the top 10 most challenged books of 2020 were:
- George by Alex Gino
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
- All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazard; illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
While complaints about books distributed to children used to focus on sex, sexual activity and profanity, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said that the rage has been redirected in recent years to books about diverse topics and diverse characters, including stories that focus on Black childrens’ life experiences and LGBTQ characters.
Caldwell-Stone said the 2020 list represented the “inflection points that we saw in U.S. society and politics around racial injustice,” explaining that “we saw an uptick in challenges to books dealing with anti-racism and the experiences of Black persons of racial violence.” She further explained that books like Kendi and Reynolds’ Stamped, which detail “the history of racism and the narratives that have been used to justify it,” are now under attack because they contain “selective storytelling incidents” and don’t encompass racism against all people.
In response to his book making the ALA list, Kendi tweeted a statement saying, in part, “We must end the indoctrination that this nation is post-racial and colorblind that adults impart onto young people when we don’t discuss racism with them and challenge books that do.”
“The history in Stamped will not be denied, nor will young people’s access to this book be cancelled.” Read Dr. Kendi’s statement on banned books & the crucial work of library workers. Anyone can contact @OIF for challenge support: https://t.co/nzdNNI7pof #BannedBooksList #NLWD21 https://t.co/A7jTcVWI4r
— American Library Association (@ALALibrary) April 6, 2021
George by Alex Gino has held the top spot on the ALA list since 2016. The book explores the story of a transgender fourth-grade girl and has repeatedly been “challenged, banned and restricted for its LGBTQ content.”
Despite the criticism from conservatives, however, Gino’s book is a multiple award winner and has landed on numerous “best-of” book lists.
After years of seeing his book criticized and appearing on these lists, Gino wrote in a 2019 blog post, saying “kids lose out when books are challenged, especially transgender kids, deeply in need of seeing reflections of themselves. And while most direct challenges fail in that books aren’t taken off the shelves, they make it easier for soft censorship to creep in, like when books aren’t purchased for fear of possible controversy, are shelved in a restricted area, or are left out of relevant book talks to avoid potential pushback.”