Book bans in public schools rose by 33% in the last academic school year, with many efforts targeting titles perceived as “sexual” or “inappropriate,” a new report from the literary and free expression advocacy group PEN America shows.
The organization released its latest analysis of book bans at America’s public schools Thursday, which tracked more than 3,000 instances across 33 states.
The analysis found Florida had the highest number of book bans – more than 1,400 bans – compared with any other state. Texas, which had the most bans last year, had the second-highest number of book bans during the 2022-2023 school year with 625 instances, the group said.
“Florida may not necessarily be an anomaly here but may just be ahead of other states. It may be signaling where other states are going – the increased way in which groups are coordinated across some states and the role in which legislation may have on book bans,” Kasey Meehan, PEN America’s Freedom to Read program director and lead author of the report told CNN.
When it comes to legislation, PEN America says 63% of all book bans tracked in their report took place in eight states with laws that directly influence book bans or have had a chilling effect on educators. Those states are Florida, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma and West Virginia.
“The toll of the book banning movement is getting worse. More kids are losing access to books, more libraries are taking authors off the shelves, and opponents of free expression are pushing harder than ever to exert their power over students as a whole,” Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said in a statement.
The report found 48 percent of titles banned in the last school year included themes or instances of violence and abuse, some of those including episodes of sexual assault. Forty-two percent of books banned covered health and wellbeing topics, including mental health or substance abuse; 33% detail sexual experiences between characters, 30% include characters of color or discuss race and racism, and 30% have LGBTQ characters or themes, the report said.
Meehan added that more than 75% of the books targeted by bans were specifically written and selected for younger audiences, meaning they are labeled as young adult, middle grade, chapter and picture books.
In the 2022-2023 school year, book bans removed access to at 1,557 different titles including “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “Looking for Alaska” by John Green.
Meehan said PEN America’s analysis shows how the movement is shifting and expanding to increase more books. In previous years, many of the titles challenged were those telling stories related to LGBTQ people and people of color.
While those types of books are still being targeted, Meehan said there’s a growing focus on removing books that some describe as “sexually explicit” or “harmful to minors.”
“They’re sweeping larger swaths of literature that’s been conflated as sexually explicit material,” she said.