On September 28 2020, Facebook user Morgan Meeker shared the following post, which referenced “Banned Books Week” and apparently depicted the ten most banned books in American schools and public libraries:
Under a photograph of a stack of ten books, Meeker wrote:
Happy Banned Books Week. These are the most banned books from public libraries and schools in the U.S. It is mandatory if you have not read all of them that you do so now.
Books depicted in the image were:
- To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee);
- The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger);
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain);
- Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut);
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey);
- Lord of the Flies (William Golding);
- Animal Farm (George Orwell);
- The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne);
- 1984/Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell);
- Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury);
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D.H. Lawrence)
Commenters on the post stated that they had read many of the books in school, advancing the notion that the classic novels listed were more recently restricted:
Four of those,( CIR,F451,AF,SL,)were required reading,when I was in High School in 1974. We had exellent teachers in the town of Greece,N.Y. I feel sorry for those less fortunate. The truth about human failings was discussed openly and honestly in our classrooms. And also at home during dinner.
A screenshot of Meeker’s post was shared to Imgur on October 3 2020, and received nearly 150,00 views, furthering the notion that those books were indeed the ten most restricted titles in American libraries and schools.
Although Meeker included a photograph and commentary, no links to any citation confirming that those specific ten books were the “most banned” in schools or libraries were included with the post.
On October 3 2020, Facebook user Eric Leslie shared a modified screenshot of the post and refuted its claims:
It IS Banned Books Week, that’s true. It ends today, actually. And that’s important! But if you see this graphic (the original, without the red cross-out and note I’ve added) being shared around… it’s wrong. And I think it’s wrong in a kind of deliberately gross way that we need to talk about.
This picture of stacked books didn’t actually come from Banned Books Week. I know that because these are not actually the top 10 most banned books in 2020. THESE books haven’t been the most banned for many years. Many of you probably remember them fondly from your youth – I do too, but it was OUR youth when they were being routinely challenged. I suspect they’re being trotted out falsely as current because the current political climate makes it easy to pretend that “woke liberals” are trying to get old classics pulled off the shelves for not being with the times [this is how I’m seeing this graphic shared and discussed, anyhow, regardless of why it was made], buuuuuuuut (1) they aren’t, and (2) when these books WERE being banned, it wasn’t the left doing it, it was people upset by Huck Finn discussing American racism, or who thought that 1984 was “pro communist”. In short: it’s never been “the libs” banning these books, y’all. (Psst: they’re usually the librarians fighting to keep the books on the shelves.)
So which books are actually being banned *now*? Here’s the current top 10, and the reasons why, and you can read more about Banned Books Week at https://bannedbooksweek.org/about/
In the post, Leslie speculated that the books were being falsely labeled as “banned” to advance the well-worn idea that political correctness had run amok, depriving the children of today from exposure to well-loved classic books. Leslie also provided a completely different list of purportedly banned books as of 2020:
- “George” by Alex Gino;
- “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin;
- “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo” by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller;
- “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg;
- “Prince & Knight” by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis;
- “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas;
- “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood;
- “Drama” written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier;
- “Harry Potter” series by J. K. Rowling;
- “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
So which post was correct?
According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, Banned Books Week was September 28 through October 2 2020:
Banned Books Week (September 27 – October 3, 2020) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.
The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
Under a section titled “History,” the ALA explained:
Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.
Banned books were showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. At the entrance to the convention center towered large, padlocked metal cages, with some 500 challenged books stacked inside and a large overhead sign cautioning that some people considered these books dangerous.
The Official Most Banned Books of 2020
Leslie’s list and annotations matched the ones listed by the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom in their “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019”:
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 377 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2019. Of the 566 books that were targeted, here are the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books:
- George by Alex Gino
Reasons: challenged, banned, restricted, and hidden to avoid controversy; for LGBTQIA+ content and a transgender character; because schools and libraries should not “put books in a child’s hand that require discussion”; for sexual references; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint and “traditional family structure”
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, for “its effect on any young people who would read it,” and for concerns that it was sexually explicit and biased
- A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
Reasons: Challenged and vandalized for LGBTQIA+ content and political viewpoints, for concerns that it is “designed to pollute the morals of its readers,” and for not including a content warning
- Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content; for discussing gender identity and sex education; and for concerns that the title and illustrations were “inappropriate”
- Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Reasons: Challenged and restricted for featuring a gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ content; for being “a deliberate attempt to indoctrinate young children” with the potential to cause confusion, curiosity, and gender dysphoria; and for conflicting with a religious viewpoint
- I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Reasons: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content, for a transgender character, and for confronting a topic that is “sensitive, controversial, and politically charged”
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity and for “vulgarity and sexual overtones”
- Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Reasons: Challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and for concerns that it goes against “family values/morals”
- Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Reasons: Banned and forbidden from discussion for referring to magic and witchcraft, for containing actual curses and spells, and for characters that use “nefarious means” to attain goals
- And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole
Reason: Challenged and relocated for LGBTQIA+ content
Leslie’s list was correct; Meeker’s was not. Books “banned” or challenged in 2019 were largely on the list for LGBTQIA+ themes, “family values/morals,” or representation of transgender characters.
The first of the two “Happy Banned Books Week” posts was shared on September 28 2020, provided no citations, and listed a number of well-known books as the most challenged or banned books in then-recent years; it was completely inaccurate. A second post (also very popular) asserted that in actuality, the most banned books were largely works of young adult fiction with gay, lesbian, and transgender themes. The latter post’s list was correct, and the former’s was false.