Banned Book Week: See which books are being challenged in KY

A sample of library books that are frequently challenged nationally, displayed by Mary Landrum, a children's librarian at the Lexington Public Library and chair of the Kentucky Public Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee.

A sample of library books that are frequently challenged nationally, displayed by Mary Landrum, a children’s librarian at the Lexington Public Library and chair of the Kentucky Public Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.

swalker@herald-leader.com

If you take a look at some of the books that have been challenged recently amid a wave of book bans sweeping the country’s schools, you just might be surprised by what you find.

Jack London’s classic adventure novel “The Call of the Wild,” Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” and Ernest Hemingway’s first best-selling novel “A Farewell to Arms” all make the Lexington Public Library’s list of books questioned by one or more members of the public for being too controversial in some way.

“Many of the books on there are ones that were life changing for me as a child,” said Anne Donworth, who directs the public library’s communications and marketing efforts.

Donworth points to titles like Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Even “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – the book that first got Donworth’s children hooked on reading – doesn’t emerge unscathed, she noted.

Donworth worries the recent wave of book bans sweeping the country will only further divide people.

Reading a diverse variety of books, she added, “helps people build compassion and understanding for people that are different than they are.”

How to participate in Banned Book Week in Lexington

Sept. 18 to 24 is Banned Book Week, and Donworth said the Lexington Public Library has a slate of events and programming aimed at spotlighting challenged books.

That includes activities like banned book bingo, selfie stations where you can pose for photos with your favorite one and a new banned book club for teenagers that will feature moderated discussions each month. The club is in partnership with the Carnegie Center for Literacy.

For more information about Banned Book Week 2022, visit lexpublib.org.

The growing movement to censor books in schools

Between July 2021 and June 2022, there were more than 2,500 instances of individual books being banned in 5,000 schools across the country – affecting more than 1,600 unique book titles. That’s according to a new report by the group PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression.

The group defines a school book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content.”

Altogether, according to PEN America, the bans sweep schools in 32 states and affect nearly 4 million students. The vast majority of the titles either explicitly address race and LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or characters who are racial or sexual minorities.

According to the report, at least 40% of the bans are the result of proposed or enacted legislation or political pressure exerted by state officials and lawmakers to restrict access to certain books.

The report identifies at least 50 groups, ranging from local Facebook groups or the nonprofit Moms for Liberty, that are involved in pushing book bans at the state, local and national level.

The efforts are coordinated by culturally conservative groups backed by wealthy right-wing donors, a report by The Guardian found earlier this year.

“These groups share lists of books to challenge, and they employ tactics such as swarming school board meetings, demanding newfangled rating systems for libraries, using inflammatory language about ‘grooming’ and ‘pornography’ and even filing criminal complaints against school officials, teachers and librarians,” the PEN America report states.

Similarly, the American Library Association tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services in 2021, resulting in more than 1,597 individual book challenges or removals. Most targeted books were by or about Black or LGBTQIA+ people.

Do you have a question about Kentucky for our service journalism team? We’d like to hear from you. Fill out our Know Your Kentucky form or email ask@herald-leader.com.

Aaron Mudd is a service journalism reporter with the Lexington Herald-Leader based in Lexington, Kentucky. He previously worked for the Bowling Green Daily News covering K-12 and higher education. Aaron has roots in Kentucky’s Fayette, Marion and Warren counties.
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