The dangerous thing about this iteration of the book banning brigade is that they are using strategies and resources that weren’t around in decades earlier. While book banners in the 1990s and the 2020s both equate queer books/kids/teachers/etc. with pedophilia, they are finding this (mis)information and spreading it faster than they ever could in years past.
Part of the reason these book banning attempts are spreading so far and so quickly is because they share lists online, such as in Facebook groups or shared Google Drive folders, making it easy for a book being banned in Montana today to pop up in a California school board meeting the next day. They share images, rhetoric, out-of-content quotations, and other fodder for the fear machine, and it seems to only collect more targeted books as it goes.
The book banners have been so loud in recent years that it’s easy to forget that parents may have a legitimate reason to want to research the books their kids are reading. In my time as a bookseller, I helped many parents connect the right books with their kids: one was looking for read-aloud chapter books that didn’t contain any violence or anything “scary,” because their sensitive kid easily got nightmares even from media aimed at his age group. Others wanted to find YA books for their middle schooler with a high reading level, but didn’t want anything with romance or sex, because she had no interest in that yet.
Of course, there’s a big difference between trying to find the right books for your individual kid(s) and making that decision for all kids and parents. It’s not exactly “parental rights” when families no longer have the ability to make the decision of whether their kid can read that book, because it’s been taken off the shelf and denied to everyone.
One of the strategies book banners are using that makes me nervous is that they are weaponizing resources that were never meant to defend book banning. For example, prior to this explosion in book challenges, there were several sites online that reviewed media for parents and let them know about the content: swearing, sexuality, violence, etc. Some of them are more Christian or conservative than others, but they served a function: to help the kinds of parents I was helping as a bookseller. Now, book banners are scouring those sites for mention of anything they can slap on a poster board and object to in a school board meeting.
Even worse, resources that were specifically made to help teachers and parents find diverse books for kids are being weaponized in this way. In Central York School District (PA), the school board took resources that were made for teachers to address racism and banned every title on it. In this case, it was a confusing policy to enforce, because the list linked to several other online lists, some of which linked to others. Were all of them off-limits?
Book banners are searching out lists online that are aimed at finding good sources to teach age-appropriate sex ed, or lists of books starring Black main characters, or lists of LGBTQ-friendly picture books, or lists of books to teach social-emotional learning — and they’re using these resources as book banning target practice.
These resources are often made by people who care deeply about creating a more inclusive classroom environment, about making queer kids feel accepted and loved, about fighting against racism, about keeping students safe by teaching them about consent and safer sex practices. To have that work used to further the exact opposite agenda is infuriating. And because these resources are used without context, it often means that a lot of books become casualties that would not otherwise have gotten the attention of these groups: they’re just books with Black main characters that don’t even address racism, or they’re picture books about families that have a two mom family on one page.
It just goes to show how much this book banning surge is linked to the death of expertise. The people protesting books in school board meetings are not usually particularly informed about the state of YA and children’s publishing. They don’t have a broad knowledge base of kids’ books and which kids will be the best match for each — not like, say, the librarian who is selecting books for the library. So instead, they rely on other people’s resources, removing context and going with a broad, scattershot approach: why challenge one book when you can challenge 20 or 200 or 800? Sure, it means not reading them or even researching each one, but that just makes the process easier.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution to this. Book Riot publishes plenty of book lists that could get this treatment: lists about sex ed book for all ages, queer middle school books, anti-racism books for kids, etc. But not publishing those lists would make it harder for the people who need them to find them, so we’re not going to stop doing that any time soon.
Recently, I voted in my local school board election. A whole slate (usually school board members here run individually) was running that aligned themselves with book banners and other regressive school board policies. After annoying everyone I know about the election for weeks and dragging my roommate to the voting station, I was surprised to find a long line awaiting me. Of the six board members who ran with that slate, exactly zero got elected, which I hope means that part of the reason so many people voted in this local election was to vote them out.
So show up for school board meetings, and definitely show up to the polls. Annoy your family and friends into voting, and let them know which candidates are running on platforms that are hostile to queer (especially trans) kids and students of color. Because what do you know: sometimes voting works.
Almost 100 books were removed from Beaufort school libraries (SC) without a formal challenge of any of them. Several parents compiled the list of what they called “adult-rated” content and read several passages out at a school board meeting. The books were pulled soon after without following the book challenge process.
Maine Families First has funded an attack ad based on a candidate not banning Gender Queer.
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy and Ekua Homes has been removed from school libraries and classrooms in Lexington County (SC) after being challenged.
Batesburg-Leesville schools (SC) have removed Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds from school shelves, and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent them a letter urging them to return it.
Megan Degenfelder, a Republican candidate running for state superintendent of public instruction in Wyoming attended a school board meeting and said that the two LGBTQ books that had been challenged (Gender Queer and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves) were inappropriate for schools.
Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out was already challenged in Woolwich Central School Library (ME), but the parent is now appealing the school’s decision to keep it.
The Utah State Board of Education has received 280 complaints about books since a new law restricting “pornographic” books was passed in May.
A book in St. Tammany Parish Library System (LA) was challenged for being inappropriate for children. It was an adult book in the adult section.
Let’s Talk About It by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan is remaining on shelves in Ankeny Kirkendall Public Library (IA), and it won’t be moved to the adult section.