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When a Book Ban Isn’t a Book Ban

A new report claims record numbers of books are being censored. James Fishback says that there’s more to the story.

Last week the American Library Association (ALA) published its annual list of the “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2023,” claiming there is more censorship than ever on library shelves. 

According to the ALA report, 4,240 titles were “targeted for bans” in schools and libraries last year, a record high and up 65 percent from the previous year.

But to reach these alarming findings, the ALA has distorted the facts. The ALA paints a picture of widespread censorship using a broad and misleading definition of “targeted” books. “Targeting” a book can mean any of the following:

  1. “Moving a book in the. . . young adults section to the adult section.” 

In other words, ensuring that students are exposed to books that are age appropriate.

  1. “Placing restrictions like parental consent rules on the book.” 

Simply put, this means offering a parental opt-in, ensuring that parents have a say when their children want to check out a book that isn’t age appropriate.

3. “Taking the book out of the library altogether.”

This means removing a book that is deemed inappropriate from a taxpayer-funded library.

To frame all of this as a kind of censorship, or a ban, is dishonest. 

And what is it that these parents are objecting to? The ALA’s own press release states that Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe—number 1 on its list—is “banned” because of “LGBTQIA+ content,” but parents and school board members tell me their concerns have nothing to do with the book’s “queer” author or characters and everything to do with its explicit sexual content, including the graphic sketches of oral sex found on page 167, something the ALA doesn’t acknowledge or address.

This is plainly inappropriate for children. The book’s stated reading age is “18 years and up” on Amazon, and 15 at Barnes and Noble.  

According to the ALA, This Book is Gay—number 3 on the list—is also being targeted because of its “LGBTQIA+ content,” yet their list neglects to tell the full story: in addition to a chapter entitled “The Ins and Outs of Gay Sex,” the book explains how to upload photos to adult sex apps (pg. 156).

Again, is this really appropriate for children? Schools rightly restrict access to websites that feature this kind of content. Why should books be any different? Such steps should be uncontroversial, but instead the ALA wants to use them as evidence of anti-LGBTQ censorship sweeping across America. 

Doing so isn’t just misleading; it’s a smear against parents who are rightly concerned about inappropriate content their children are exposed to at school. 

James Fishback is a writer for The Free Press. Follow him on Twitter @j_fishback. And read his recent piece, “The Truth About Banned Books.”

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