LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — It seems like more and more reports of groups attempting to have certain books banned from schools and libraries pop up almost daily in 2022. From Texas to Oklahoma, to Loudoun County, Virginia, school boards are being asked to take books off the shelves.
According to the New York Times, the pace at which groups of parents, officials and lawmakers are challenging books has reached a speed many haven’t seen in decades.
Katie Paris is an Ohio mom and founder of Red, Wine and Blue, the group behind Book Ban Busters.
“The pandemic is exhausting enough, we don’t need book bans too,” said Paris.
Book Ban Busters is a campaign made up of suburban moms and other partners who aim to fight against banning books from schools and libraries.
Paris feels like the need to fight grows daily as it seems there is new book ban news in the local and national media constantly. She pointed to a book-burning event reported near Nashville as an example of why the fight is so urgent.
“This is horrifying, but hardly surprising,” Paris said. “Because there is a straight line from book banning to book burning.”
In November 2021, Spotsylvania school librarians cleared shelves of books that were deemed “sexually explicit.” The school board voted unanimously to remove the books, with two members even advocating burning the offensive books.
Paris claims most books that are being targeted are not actually assigned books, but are simply on school and county library shelves. She said that she understands that parents may not want their children reading books that deal with certain themes, but asks those parents to not take away the opportunity to read and explore those books from other kids.
“I just want to be clear here, be real about what the issue is here,” Paris said. "The books being targeted are almost entirely about Black people and LGBT people. If sexual content was the issue, they’d be targeting Shakespeare or Ernest Hemmingway, the Bible and we’d be standing up against banning those books, too.”
The group has launched the website BanBookBusters.com in an effort to educate and help fight back against the book banning movement. The website includes an interactive map that shows all the attempts to ban books across the country and their status. It also provides a way to procure a banned book and ways to get trained in how to push back.
“We call this our trouble maker training,” Paris said.
Red, Wine and Blue is a group comprised of nearly 300,000 moms across the country. Several moms involved in the Book Ban Busters movement spoke alongside authors in a Zoom meeting Thursday. One of those moms was Rasha Saad of Loudoun County.
Saad said that the fight to stop book banning is a subject near and dear to her heart. Having grown up in what she described as a “very conservative” household, she said her school library taught her so much about her own self.
“It helped me learn and grow. It helped me understand my own sexuality. So, to take away these voices, to take away these stories from our students who are the most marginalized and who will most benefit from these voices is simply unacceptable.” Saad said.
Saad is a member of the group Loudoun 4 All. The group recently partnered with a local small bookstore to find banned books and later created an area at a school board meeting with a sign reading: “Get Your Banned Books.”
Saad explained that Loudoun 4 All combats the movement to try to remove marginalized voices and any attempts to remove the safety and equity that others have worked so hard to install in Loudoun schools.
“The conservative effort to remove and roll back all of our amazing progressive changes will not stand,” Saad said.
Author Ashley Pérez spoke alongside Saad and Paris. Pérez is not just a mom, she is also a Literature professor, former Texas high school English teacher and the author behind the award-winning book Out of Darkness.
Out of Darkness is a Young Adult novel set in a Texas oil town in 1937. It centers on a romance between Naomi, who is Mexican American, and Wash, who is Black. Pérez said while the book was published years ago, she only started to see it get banned in 2021.
Pérez was inspired to write her book by the students she taught in Texas because the books they wanted to read were not in the high school library.
“Out of Darkness isn’t for everyone, I never intended it to be,” Pérez said. “But it is the book for someone, and that reader deserves the freedom to find it in their high school library.”
According to Pérez, Out of Darkness has so far been banned in Texas, Virginia, Utah, Kansas, Missouri and, as of this week, Georgia.
Julia Finley Mosca is a mother and author who lives in Ohio. As an author, she writes children’s books that tell the true stories of women who work in STEM fields. She was shocked this fall to learn that two of her books were placed on a ban list in Pennsylvania.
“I just couldn’t imagine what was so controversial about them,” she said.
Mosca held up two examples of books in her series that were not banned, both featured illustrations of white characters on the covers. She then showed the covers of the two books that were banned, both featuring illustrations of characters that were people of color.
“The two books in the series that were banned were the only two about Black women,” explained Mosca.
Mosca said what she found most upsetting about the banning of those books is that they are about truly hidden figures in history. One tells the story of Dr. Patricia Bath, a Howard University alum who invented laser cataract surgery. The other focuses on Raye Montague, naval engineer credited with creating the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship. She was the first female program manager of ships in the United States Navy.
“When you are banning them, you are essentially re-hiding these women,” she explained. “You’re hiding their stories again from our children. From society.”
Jonathan Friedman is the director of free expression and education at PEN America, a nonprofit organization that defends literature and human rights.
“There seems to be no bottom right now to what might be banned or removed or challenged from schools,” he said. “The floodgates are open.”
Friedman said fighting the bans does not mean the organization believes all parents are coming at this issue with nefarious intent or that parents shouldn’t ever have a say in what their children should have access to.
“There is a way to create systems in school libraries that don’t result in books being banned for everybody else and we have to embrace those solutions here to how we operate in a diverse society,” Friedman explained. "Where the freedom to read, the freedom to think, the freedom to learn are shared core principals to which all can subscribe.
The American Library Association keeps a list of the 10 most challenged books every year. The most recent list available is for 2020. It includes:
- 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 Hazzard, 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
Spotsylvania school librarians are clearing their shelves of books deemed "sexually explicit" after a parent complained of finding shocking titles on sexuality, faith, and race. Some staffers and students are now starting to push back on the plan.