Book bans have escalated for 18 months now, hitting an all-time high in December 2022.
Since June 2021, PEN America, a free speech advocacy organization that tracks bans, has recorded more than 4,000 book challenges and bans in school districts.
The actual number is estimated to be even higher because PEN America relies on media reports, publicly available documents, and school district meeting minutes to track bans.
Book bans have impacted a wide range of topics, from titles about LGBTQ+ characters, to books on sexual health, to books featuring themes of race and racism.
Here’s a visual representation of book bans, from June 2021 to December 2022, based on PEN America data:
How many books have been banned?
Book bans reached an all-time high during the fall of 2022. But since 2021, PEN America has tracked more than 1,000 instances of book challenges and bans during each six-month period.
What is the No. 1 most banned book?
Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, is the most banned book over the last 18 months. The graphic memoir both written and illustrated by Kobabe chronicles the author’s life from adolescence to adulthood, detailing their experiences with their gender and sexual identity.
It has been banned 56 times in 18 months.
What is the No. 1 reason books get banned?
Books are frequently challenged for having inappropriate or sexual content, according to PEN America. In 2021 and the first half of 2022, more than 41 percent of banned books were about LGBTQ+ characters or stories. That changed in the latter part of 2022, with most banned books being about sexual experiences, violence, or sexual health.
However, many books about gender and sexual identity that chronicle LGBTQ+ experiences fall under these categories too.
Where do books get removed from?
Books predominantly get removed from school libraries, with only a small percentage of book bans impacting classrooms specifically. Most books are removed pending investigation, meaning that a book is removed whenever there’s a challenge for review.
Many of these books are removed from student access before due process of any kind is carried out, according to PEN America. In some cases, books can also be removed without challenges for review. These books often end up being unavailable for weeks or months.
Where are book bans happening?
Most book bans are happening in Texas and Florida, according to PEN America. Over the past year, Texas has seen more than 1,200 book challenges, and Florida more than 900. In some cases, state laws are responsible for causing districts to remove books to err on the side of caution, the report found. In other cases, districts are removing hundreds of titles for review.
Book bans have been recorded in at least 32 states.