What Young People Can Do About Book Bans: Book Censorship News, April 12, 2024


This week, Kelly Jensen is on a well-deserved break, so we’re doing a more condensed version of her inimitable weekly censorship round-up: fellow editors Danika Ellis and Erica Ezeifedi have each picked a few of the censorship stories of the last week to highlight.

Book Censorship News will be back to its regular programming with Kelly next week! Without further ado, let’s get into some of the notable censorship news stories of the week.

Teens Speak Out About Their Experiences with Censorship and Book Bans

As part of the Books Unbanned Project, Brooklyn Public Library and The Seattle Public Library have gathered hundreds of stories of teens and young people who signed up for a free Books Unbanned e-card to access materials that have been challenged and banned in schools and libraries across the country.

For example, one Texan teen said,

“The library closest to me is very underfunded, and it is very conservative. It has a plethora of Christian novels, but their novels surrounding people of color and [other] religions is very limited. As a person of color, it sucks to not be able to see myself in novels I read.”

A 15-year-old from Illinois shared how censorship has limited their education:

“In my school, there’s really limited access to books addressing topics that the administrators deem controversial. I was trying to do research for a project last semester about inequality in the United States due to things like sexuality and gender, and I could find almost nothing in my school library that would help.”

A 15-year-old from Iowa spoke about how censorship has played out in their town:

“My school library has been entirely cleared out and locked in a closet, and the only public libraries nearby are outright removing every piece of LGBT… media [they] possibly can. I just want to read.”

A teen in Kansas noted the ongoing effects of the rise of censorship in recent years:

“As I went through four years of high school, I witnessed the destruction of our library. We went from a small, but full library, only halved every year until ultimately it was removed due to ‘lack of interest.’ Not only did I lose a vital educational source, but a place of comfort.”

Others spoke about seeing beloved teachers and librarians quit or be fired for defending diverse books. They also detail a lack of access to libraries in general, often because they’ve been defunded or are underfunded — or because they’re too far away for teens who can’t drive.

There are also stories from young people who are disabled and rely on ebooks and audiobooks to be able to read — resources that aren’t always funded appropriately at their local libraries.

LGBTQ young people also appreciate the card because it allows them to check out queer books with relative anonymity, without fear of being outed or targeted. Some of them also live in communities where their school and public libraries outright refuse to carry LGBTQ books for fear of challenges.

You can read many more stories, as well as some statistics about the Books Unbanned Project, in this 39-page PDF on the Books Unbanned website. —Danika

What Young People Can Do About Book Bans

Rohan Satija, a Texas high school student, wrote for PBS about what young people can do to fight book bans. He shares how the library was a safe haven for him when he first moved to Texas and was being bullied for his accent and how reading books with diverse representation helped him to feel like he belonged. He started a nonprofit called the Let’s Learn Foundation, whose “Donate Diverse” program has donated over 5,000 diverse books to underprivileged students. He urges students to attend school board and library board meetings to make their voices heard in order to fight back against book bans. —Danika

Parents Protest Book Removal in Missouri

On Tuesday, a group of parents made an argument to the Eighth Circuit in Missouri challenging the school district’s book-removing policy. Their American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, Gillian R. Wilcox said on their behalf, “The injury here is that there is a right of access to receive ideas and information. And when the policy is triggered by any complaint, the book in a library is automatically removed, and that causes the injury to the students and parents who are filing on their behalf.” This is all part of a lawsuit the ACLU filed against the Independence School District by the four parents, which opposes the school board policy that automatically removes any library materials after receiving a complaint before reviewing or voting on the matter. —Erica

“They don’t want nature worship ideology or Satanism ideology or anything else that’s not allowed in [schools]. Why are they allowing social justice ideologies like gender affirmation, gender ideology, critical race theory, white oppression, BLM (Black Lives Matter), which is Marxist-based, social emotional learning, and all these other ideologies?”

It’s hard to believe that people raving about schools teaching Satanism are taken seriously, but here we are. I’m also continually confused about how the right managed to make “social emotional learning” a scary phrase because it’s hard to think of something more innocuous than teaching kids how to handle their big feelings and be kind to each other — which are lessons that Moms for Liberty could really use.

Another part that stood out to me is Geraghty arguing that these materials should not even be available when kept under lock and key and only checked out with parental permission because “kids can still forge signatures” and there should be “zero tolerance of any of these woke ideologies.” —Danika

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