As recently as 2010, the award-winning teen novel “Looking for Alaska” topped the American Library Association’s list of books most often challenged by parents and community members, thanks largely to a single sex scene.
Just two years ago, eight of the 10 books on the ALA’s most-banned list featured LGBTQ topics.
But 2020 was a year like no other, and that was reflected in the books Americans tried to exile from classrooms and library shelves. Four of the top 10 most challenged or banned books of 2020 named by the American Library Association tackled issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, including anti-Black racism and allegations of police brutality.
“This is a shift,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
“It reflects the concerns and conversations we’ve been having as a society and a country, villainizing the idea that we should consider racism inherent in American history.”
The books on the ALA’s 2020 list included “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds; “All American Boys,” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely; “Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice,” by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard, and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin; and “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas.
Kendi released a statement through the ALA saying that he was proud of “Stamped.”
“We must provide readers of all ages, races, backgrounds, and political affiliations with the tools to discuss racism today and to know America’s racial story,” Kendi’s statement said. “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 fact that ‘Stamped’ is being challenged proves just how necessary and effective it is for young people.”
About 10 years ago, book banning attempts tended to focus on books written for teens that included references to sex, Caldwell-Stone said.
In recent years, critics have tried to remove LGBTQ books from libraries and schools. “George” by Alex Gino, a children’s novel about a transgender fourth-grader, has been one of the most challenged books of the last three years, Caldwell-Stone said.
One example of a 2020 book challenge involved “Something Happened in Our Town,” an illustrated children’s book about a police shooting of a Black man. The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association requested that Minnesota stop recommending the book for instruction in elementary schools, due to what members viewed as divisive language and unfair depictions of police officers.
Caldwell-Stone said the ALA generally hears of 350 to 400 book ban attempts per year. This year the number was down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 156 ban attempts involving 273 books.