(NEXSTAR) — Book bans have been on the rise over the last year, with over 1,600 different books being banned or challenged since last summer alone, a new report has found.
Earlier this year, PEN America, a nonprofit organization that aims to support freedom surrounding literature, found that between July 2021 and March 2022, over 1,100 different books were challenged or pulled from libraries and classrooms. Roughly 500 additional titles were banned or challenged between March and July 1, 2022.
In total, between July 2021 and June 2022, PEN America found 2,532 instances of individual books being banned in school districts across 32 states.
The American Library Association (ALA) reported last week that the number of challenges to books for 2022 is already approaching last year’s totals, which were the highest in decades. So far this year, the ALA has documented 681 challenges to books through the first eight months of this year, involving 1,651 different titles.
Both PEN America and the ALA rely on media accounts and reports from libraries or other local officials to compile their findings.
What books are being banned?
Books with LBGTQ+ themes or prominent characters, as well as those with prominent characters of color, were banned more often than others, PEN America reports. Other commonly-banned subject matter includes sexual content, issues of race and racism, and themes of rights and activism.
Three-quarters of the titles that have been banned are works of fiction, and roughly half are intended for young adult readers.
PEN America estimates that at least 40% of books banned over the last year “are connected to either proposed or enacted legislation, or to political pressure exerted by state officials or elected lawmakers to restrict the teaching or presence of certain books or concepts.”
Well-known impacted titles include “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “Gossip Girl: A Novel” by Cecily von Ziegesar, all of which have been turned into television series. Other banned stories include those turned into films, like “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, and “Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four” by Margot Lee Shetterly.
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, titles that were commonplace among schools not long ago, have also been challenged.
Below are the most frequently banned books and the number of instances in which they’ve been banned, courtesy of PEN America:
- “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe (41)
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson (29)
- “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez (24)
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison (22)
- “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas (17)
All five of these books are among the 10 most banned titles of 2021, according to the American Libraries Association. The five other books on the ALA’s list were also among PEN America’s most banned titles.
Those titles are:
- “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
- “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
- “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews
- “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson
- “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin
Where are books being banned?
Of the 32 states in which PEN America reports book bans happened during the 2021-22 school year, four have banned more than 300 titles each.
These five states had the most books banned throughout the previous school year:
- Texas: 801 bans, 22 districts
- Florida: 566 bans, 21 districts
- Pennsylvania: 457 bans, 11 districts
- Tennessee: 349 bans, 6 districts
- Oklahoma: 43 bans, 3 districts
In PEN America’s report earlier this year, Tennessee had conducted just 16 bans across four districts.
Other states reporting book bans include Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Book bans have occurred in 138 school districts, which serve 5,049 schools for a combined enrollment of nearly 4 million students.
Both reports from PEN America and the ALA are timed with Banned Books Week, which began Sunday and will be promoted around the country through table displays, posters, bookmarks and stickers and through readings, essay contests and other events highlighting contested works.
Banned Books Weeks is overseen by a coalition of writing and free speech organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Authors Guild and PEN America.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.