On April 5, the American Library Association (ALA) released The State of America’s Libraries Report 2021, an annual summary of library trends released during National Library Week (April 4–10) that outlines statistics and issues affecting all types of libraries. In 2020, libraries of all types stepped up to meet the needs of their communities as they responded to the impacts of COVID-19, a national financial crisis, and social unrest. They were at the center of some of our nation’s most consequential work, including supporting accurate counts in the US Census, fighting political disinformation, and facilitating free and fair elections.
Libraries kept Americans connected in ways that brought our communities closer. Buildings may not have been open, but libraries were never closed.—ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr.
This report also includes a snapshot of censorship in libraries, schools and universities: who initiates challenges, where are they taking place, and what are the reasons.
Top 10 #BannedBooksList
The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) tracks attempts to ban or restrict access to books across the United States and to inform the public about censorship efforts in our libraries and schools.
In 2020, more than 273 books were challenged or banned. Demands to remove books addressing racism and racial justice or those that shared the stories of Black, Indigenous, or people of color grew in number. At the same time, books addressing themes and issues of concern for LGBTQIA+ people continued to dominate the list.
Below are the top 10 most challenged books of 2020, and a description of challenges that were reported in the news in 2020, available in the compiled booklet Field Report 2020: Banned & Challenged Books on the ALA Store:
1. George by Alex Gino
The story of George centers around a fourth-grade transgender girl and her struggles being seen for who she really is. When George wants to audition for Charlotte in the school production of Charlotte’s Web, her teacher won’t allow it because George is “a boy.” George encounters bullies, stereotypes and discrimination highlighting the intricacies of navigating identity as a young transgender person.
Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community.”
Several patrons of the Lincoln Parish Library in Ruston, LA, complained about George and other books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters in the children’s room collection. They expressed concern that children could encounter a topic the parents didn’t want them to. The director restricted access to the books, but protested that the restrictions did not reflect library policy. The board subsequently voted to abide by library policy and reinstate the books to the children’s collection. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Stamped is an account of racism in America through five historical figures and how racism played a role in their lives. The aim of Stamped is to offer an unvarnished history that both Reynolds and Kendi thought was missing from traditional history lessons and textbooks, according to an NPR interview.
Banned and challenged because of the author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people.
A group of parents sought removal of Stamped from the Berlin (NJ) Borough School District. Parents harassed the teacher by email and phone, which led to the teacher resigning. The New Jersey Library Association and New Jersey Association of School Librarians wrote a letter in defense of the book and the teacher. The board has retained the book though no teacher is currently teaching it. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reynolds shares a story of police brutality toward a young Black teen and the white teen boy who witnesses the injustice. All American Boys highlights the reality of how racial inequities is often a life or death battle for the Black community.
Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now.”
Despite being taught in Somerset County Public School in Westover, MD, since 2016, All American Boys was challenged by a parent at a board meeting for its “foul and vulgar language” and “divisive topics.” The parent also challenged Ibram X. Kendi’s and Jason Reynold’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak tells the story of a teen girl raped at a high school party, her immersion in art to deal with her trauma and how she reclaims her voice after a second violent encounter.
Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint, it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity.
5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Drawing from stories of his own life, Alexie tells the story of Junior who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to go to an all-white, rural high school.
Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author.
6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
A picture book that tells the story of how one Black and one white family address police violence toward the Black community with their children after a police shoot a Black man. The book features guidelines for parents and caregivers on how to address racism with children.
Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views. Join the authors for a Q&A coffee chat on Friday, April 9, at 10 a.m. CT.
In a letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association’s (MPPOA) says the book “encourages children to fear police officers as unfair, violent, and racist” and has asked that the state stop recommending the book for instruction in elementary schools. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Set in the Great Depression, Lee’s classic tells the story of Atticus Finch and the trial of Tom Robinson a Black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.
Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience.
After parent complaints about the use of racist epithets in To Kill a Mockingbird, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Cay, Of Mice and Men, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the Burbank (CA) Unified School District superintendent issued a statement removing the books from the district’s required reading lists for its English curriculum, and banned the use of the N-word in all school classes. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
A frequently challenged classic, Steinbeck chronicles the life and bond between drifters George and Lennie and how their hopes of a simple life go awry.
Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students.
Administrators in the Henry Sibley High School (Mendota Heights, MN) have “paused” teaching two novels after community complaints about the books: Of Mice and Men was challenged for its use of the N-word. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Set in 1941 Ohio, The Bluest Eye tells the childhood story of young Black girl Pecola Breedlove and how she longs for blue eyes like the much-loved blue eyed children in America. One summer tragic violence changes her life. Morrison’s first novel explores issues of Black girlhood, shame, internalized racism and ideas of whiteness and white supremacy.
Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse.
Following the complaints of several parents about sexual violence and child sexual abuse, this novel was removed from the Colton (CA) Joint Unified School District’s core and extended reading list for English Language Arts classes during Black History Month, while remaining available in school libraries. Following pushback by other parents and some national press attention, the school board reversed its decision. (Find over 50 more descriptions of challenges and bans in the Field Report 2020.)
10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Starr Carter witnesses a police officer murder her childhood friend, Khalil. While she deals with grief and the inevitable racist dialogue surrounding the event, she also grapples with her life split between her predominantly Black community and her predominantly white, privileged friends at her private school.
Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message.
The books on this year’s list address topics such as gender identity, racial injustice, and sexual violence. It’s critical that readers have access to a range of narratives at their library or school — to see themselves and learn about others within the pages of a book.
Raise awareness of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2020 this National Library Week with infographics and activities! Social media images and printable handouts are available on the Free Downloads webpage (with even more graphics for ALA members updated regularly). Below are some ways you can help amplify this year’s list:
- Retweet OIF or copy a sample tweet:
- What books are the most banned and challenged? Find out in @ALALibrary’s State of America’s Libraries Report: http://www.ala.org/news/state-americas-libraries-report-2021. #NationalLibraryWeek #BannedBooksList
- Today during #NationalLibraryWeek, @ALALibrary published its annual #BannedBooksList. See the full list and explore ways to defend the freedom to read at ala.org/bbooks/top
- Repost OIF or copy a sample post: Did you know that 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020? Find out which books made @OIF’s Top 10 Most Challenged list: ala.org/bbooks/top
- Join us at Friday’s coffee chat with the authors of the #6 Most Challenged Book Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice
- Monday, April 5: State of America’s Libraries Report released, including Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2020.
- Tuesday, April 6: National Library Workers Day, a day for library staff, users, administrators and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers.
- Wednesday, April 7: National Library Outreach Day, a day to celebrate library outreach and the dedicated library professionals who are meeting their patrons where they are. Post National Library Outreach Day graphics on social media.
- Thursday, April 8: Take Action for Libraries Day, a day to rally advocates to support libraries.
Submit a Star
Encourage patrons to show their appreciation for library staff by nominating someone for the Submit a Star program, which recognizes library employees nationwide for their hard work. Post photos of library staff on social media or in a display using the hashtag #NLWD21.
Take Action for Libraries Day
- Ask library users to contact their members of Congress, urging them to support the Build America’s Libraries Act. #BuildLibraries
- Share Libraries Transform advocacy-themed Because statements on social media.
- Invite elected officials to take a virtual tour of your library and highlight its value to the community.
- Encourage your patrons to join Booklist’s Donna Seaman and Dan Rather for a live conversation about his recent book, What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism. Registration is free and open to all, but space is limited, so tell them to sign up now.
- Remind your community how important it is to #FundLibraries, and urge Congress to support libraries in the FY22 federal budget.
We hope you’ll join us at Friday’s coffee chat with the authors of the #6 Most Challenged Book Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard.
Celebrate Banned Books Week
Draw attention to these titles and the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, September 26 – October 2, 2021. This year’s theme is “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.” Learn more about this year’s theme on the Banned Books Week Coalition website, and explore new products on the ALA Store. You can also stay updated about materials and announcements by following Banned Books Week on Facebook and Twitter.
Welcome to Your Library
What activities do you have planned for National Library Week? Find NLW graphics, ideas, and events on the ALA website. Find out what other libraries are doing and join the conversation with #NationalLibraryWeek and #BannedBooksList.
Thank you for defending everyone’s right to access information.
Jacqui Higgins-Dailey worked as a public librarian for 10 years before becoming full-time residential library faculty at Glendale Community College in Arizona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Chico and a masters in library science from the University of North Texas. She is passionate about information literacy instruction and loves to read, write, hike and travel.