As Book Bans Target LGBTQ+ Writers and Writers of Color, Here’s What Banned Books We’re Reading

At a meeting of the Placentia Yorba Linda School Board in Orange County, Calif., on Nov. 16, 2022, there was an even mix of proponents and opponents to teaching racial and gender history in schools. The meeting discussed a proposed resolution to ban so-called critical race theory from being taught in schools. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Talk (and action) around what books kids and young people should be able to read and when has been on the rise the last couple of years. Attempts at banning books in schools and libraries are occurring at a furious rate. 

I’ve been a librarian for 15+ years now and challenges and bans of books are actually not new. Every year the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office of Intellectual Freedom keeps track of the country’s most banned books for the year. They offer support and guidance for librarians dealing with challenges, but many challenges go unreported. Book challenges and removals are a grim reality that librarians, especially school and public librarians, deal with on a surprisingly regular basis. 

Most challenges—usually between 350-500 annually—are due to “sexually explicit” material, “offensive language” or that a book is deemed “unsuited for age group.” Up next are violence and queer content, followed by Satanic or occult themes (is it 1983?), religious viewpoints and “anti-family” content. Newer reasons include “anti-police” and “CRT” (insert Inigo Montoya meme here, sigh). Last fall alone, there were an “unprecedented” 330 challenges, according to preliminary reports from the ALA.

My unsolicited opinion? As a parent and a librarian, I understand having concerns about what my kid was reading (he’s 24 now), but leave the books alone and just decide for, or better yet with, your own kid. Don’t take away my kid’s chance to read something that I will allow just because you wouldn’t allow it for your kid. The banning and removal of most of the books on these lists are just an extension of the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy anyway.  

So what can you do? First, you can be aware of any issues or challenges happening in your communities. Befriend the librarian(s) at your public library or local school, if you are raising children. Find out if they have any challenges and how you can help. If you’re able, ask if you can donate books that they’d like to have but are unable to purchase. Attend your school board, PTA or other community meetings when there’s a challenge and speak up in support of the freedom to read. 

You can also read the books that have been challenged and/or banned across the country. And you’re in luck because I’ve assembled lists with which to begin! As usual, my lists are a bit different from other lists you may have come across because they focus on women and writers from other historically excluded communities. Just the list this time, no commentary. I ask you to buy, borrow and read the books in question. And: Support the authors! If you enjoy their books, leave positive reviews, tell your friends, give them as gifts. 

Some of the most recent challenged and banned books by women, queer and trans writers and writers of color include (in alphabetical order by title; picture books are in a separate list below):

Most Challenged Books 2010–2019

And in case you are curious, here’s a list of the most challenged books 2010-2019 according to the ALA (mostly in ALA’s order with most challenged at #1, with books by straight white men and J.K. Rowling removed):

  • Drama by Raina Telgemeier

  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

  • Lush by Natasha Friend

Picture Books (in alphabetical order by title)

  • I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

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Karla J. Strand is the gender and women’s studies librarian for the University of Wisconsin. She completed her doctorate in information science via University of Pretoria in South Africa with a background in history and library science, and her research centers on the role of libraries and knowledge in empowering women and girls worldwide. Tweet her @karlajstrand.