As I make my summer reading list, I’m putting banned books at the top. PEN America reports that “during the first half of the 2022-23 school year, PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans listed 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles, an increase of 28 percent compared to the prior six months, January - June 2022.” Though 70 percent of parents oppose the banning of books, powerful organizations and politicians continue to successfully pressure school districts and libraries to remove titles from their shelves.
Historically these bans focused on books about race, racism, people of color, and LGBTQ+ individuals, but now books discussing violence and abuse, health and wellbeing, and grief and death are also targeted for censorship. In reality, this topic list probably implicates most books written for readers older than ten years. In fact, when I reviewed the New York Times 12/28/21 list of favorite books of the last 125 years, all had been banned at one time or another. So I’m returning to that list to reread my “banned favorites,” including To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, and Beloved, and I promise to finally finish the Tolkien series.
For recent titles, I refer to the recommendations provided for all age groups from the New York City Public Library. The American Library Association also offers extensive recommendations by age group and genre. It will be interesting to discover which of these new releases will receive bans in the coming months. Meanwhile, exercise your freedom to read, and read widely. Finally, Ashley Hope Perez has received awards and critical acclaim for her young adult novels, and they have been banned. She warns that “when we take away the books that hold space for difficult conversations, we’re really taking away the resources young people need to navigate realities they have to confront, whether or not that book is there.“ The same truth holds for all readers.
Have a relaxing summer full of great books.
Sincerely, Karlyn Strand