Books that talked about racism and racial justice – or told the stories of people of color or the LGBTQ community – were among the most challenged as inappropriate for students in 2020, according to a survey by the American Library Association.
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.
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, and the complaints ranged from “divisive language” to anti-police views, according to the ALA. The list included new books plus library staples such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men.”
The top 10 list in 2019 was dominated by books that dealt with the LGBTQ experience, and none were challenged over racial issues.
The results reflect a trend that the library association has noticed over the past decade, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Ten years ago, complaints were about books that referenced sex, sexual activity and profanity. In more recent years, complaints are about books about diverse topics and diverse characters, like stories about Black children’s life experiences and LGBTQ characters.
“This year I think reflecting are the inflection points that we saw in US society and politics around racial injustice. We saw an uptick in challenges to books dealing with anti-racism and the experiences of Black persons of racial violence,” Caldwell-Stone told CNN.
The second most-challenged book of 2020 was “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, which discusses the history of racism and the narratives that have been used to justify it.
According to the ALA, it was challenged because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and doesn’t encompass racism against all people.
Despite the challenges, Kendi and Reynolds’ book is currently rated at 4.48 stars on Goodreads with over 5,000 reviews.
On learning about the complaints, Kendi tweeted out 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 top spot on the ALA’s list is a book that has been in the top 10 since 2016, “George” by Alex Gino.
According to the ALA, the book which explores the story of a transgender fourth-grade girl, has been challenged, banned and restricted for its LGBTQ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint and not reflecting “values of our community.” However, the book has earned multiple book awards and, has landed on several best-of book lists.
Since 2012, books that address themes and issues relating to LGBTQ people have consistently made the list.
“Kids lose out when books are challenged, especially transgender kids, deeply in need of seeing reflections of themselves,” said “George” author Gino in a 2019 blogpost responding to the challenges.
“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.”
A challenge doesn’t mean a book is removed from library shelves or classrooms, Caldwell-Stone said. The ALA recommends that a process of reconsideration is launched that allows for an open discussion with all communities impacted.
“After all, the First Amendment supports the rights of individuals to petition the government. And so, everyone has the right to raise a concern about a book,” said Caldwell-Stone. “It doesn’t mean that their concern should automatically mean that the book is removed, or the focus removed at all.”
Here is the ALA’s top 10 list of 2020’s most-challenged books:
1. “George” by Alex Gino
2. “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
3. “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
4. “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
6. “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
7. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
8. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
9. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
10. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas