Reading & Literacy

The Top 7 Most Banned Picture Books Last School Year

By Eesha Pendharkar — February 22, 2023 3 min read
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Among the thousands of titles removed from school and library shelves last school year were more than 300 picture books meant for young readers, according to a nonprofit organization that tracks book bans.

Picture books are meant to help familiarize elementary students with reading. They have sparse text and focus on illustrations or pictures. Hundreds of picture book titles have been caught up in book bans and challenges across the country.

Most of these frequently banned picture books contain LGBTQ characters or themes. Some are fiction, and others are about real-life LGBTQ leaders. They’re being challenged in the same districts where other kinds of books are being removed from shelves.

Here are the top seven most-banned books from the 2021-22 school year, according to PEN America, the free-speech advocacy organization that documents book bans nationwide. All of these books have been banned three or more times, and many continue to be challenged in districts across the country:

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

This book by author Rob Sanders and illustrator Steve Salerno is about the Pride Flag, from its beginnings in 1978 when social activist Harvey Milk asked designer Gilbert Baker to design an LGBTQ pride symbol, and how it has become a global symbol of pride since. It was banned five times during the 2021-22 school year in five districts in five different states: Florida, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

I Am Jazz

This illustrated book by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas tells the story of a transgender child, based on Jennings’ experience of being a transgender woman, knowing her identity since she was 2 years old, and coming out to her family. The book was banned five times in the last school year, four times in Florida districts, and once in Georgia.

And Tango Makes Three

This award-winning picture book by Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson, and Henry Cole is a true story of two male penguins named Roy and Silo in New York City’s Central Park who took in a baby penguin with the help of a zookeeper. The book was challenged five times last year, including four districts in Florida and one in Texas. The book continues to be banned in districts across Florida this year, for containing references to LGBTQ characters and allegedly violating the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

In Our Mothers’ House

This illustrated book by Patricia Polacco is another true story of a family with two moms and their kids, who aren’t accepted by all families, but teach their children that being different doesn’t mean wrong. It was removed from school and classroom libraries four times in the last school year, including in two Florida districts and two in Texas, based on administrators’ challenges to the book.

The Baby Tree

This picture book by award-winning artist Sophie Blackall answers the question, “Where do babies come from?,” through the lens of a curious boy who asks that question of everyone he meets until his parents give him the answer. The book was banned in three districts last year, twice in Texas and once in Wisconsin.

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation

Seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, the Mendez family fought to end segregation in California schools. This award-winning picture book by Duncan Tonatiuh tells the family’s story through their daughter, Sylvia Mendez, who was turned away from her neighborhood school and told to join a Mexican school instead. The book was banned three times, once in a district in Pennsylvania and in two Texas districts.

Everywhere Babies

This illustrated book by Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee contains rhyming text describing babies and their daily lives and different kinds of babies and families, including some references to families with same sex parents. It was banned three times during the 2021-22 school year. All three districts were in Florida.

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