Kids' Right to Read Project says numbers of books banned or challenged is way up

Kids' Right to Read Project staff says that in November alone, the group investigated three times more incidents than usual.

Mike McLeary/The Bismarck Tribune/AP
Superintendent of the Anamoose and Drake schools Steven Heim opens the door of the furnace at Drake High School in Drake, N.D., showing where 32 banned books were burned by order of the school board in 1973.

The Kids’ Right to Read Project, a group that investigates cases of books being banned or challenged and supports those who work against book-banning, says they’ve experienced a large increase in the amount of incidents they’ve looked into in 2013.

According to KRRP coordinator Acacia O’Connor, the number of cases they’ve investigated this year represents a 53 percent increase over 2012 cases. This past November, there were three times more incidents than in an average month.

O’Connor told booksellers industry newsletter Shelf Awareness that, for whatever reason, this fall in particular has been very busy for them.

“It has been a sprint since the beginning of the school year," she said. "We would settle one issue and wake up the next morning to find out another book was on the chopping block.”

Most of those who tried to challenge or ban books were parents, whose children encountered the book in question either in school or at a public library, O’Connor said. She added that, during the fall, there were a disquieting number of incidents in which the books challenged were titles by minority authors. These authors include Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, and Alice Walker.

O’Connor says she’s at a loss to explain these odd spikes in numbers.

“Whether or not patterns like this are the result of coordination between would-be censors across the country is impossible to say,” she told Shelf Awareness. “But there are moments, when a half-dozen or so challenges regarding race or LGBT content hit within a couple weeks, where you just have to ask, 'What is going on out there?'”

Recent cases of books challenged or banned that came to national attention included a decision by New Mexico’s Alamogordo High School this past October remove Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” from classrooms and libraries after a parent complained. Later, however, the novel was put back into circulation. Also, Rocklin High School in California decided to remove Stephen King’s “Different Seasons” in October 2012. But that book was later restored after a student brought the issue to the local school board.

Banned or challenged books are honored during Banned Books Week, which is celebrated in September.

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