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Book bans are getting everyone's attention — including Biden's. Here's why

<em>Gender Queer</em> was one of the most banned and restricted titles in American libraries in 2022.
Rick Bowmer
Gender Queer was one of the most banned and restricted titles in American libraries in 2022.

President Joe Biden named checked "MAGA extremists" and attempts to ban books in his video on Tuesday announcing he was officially running for office again. Here's why it's the topic that just won't stop.

What is it? Put frankly, it's a rising trend of parents and politicians pushing for censorship on material available to students in public schools and public libraries.

  • According to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges to unique titles last year was up nearly 40% over 2021.  
  • As reported by NPR's Meghan Collins Sullivan, the ALA says that 2,571 unique titles were banned or challenged in 2022. 
  • From July 2021 to June 2022, 40% of the banned titles had protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color, and 21% had titles with issues of race or racism, according to PEN America, a non-profit tracking book ban data. 
  • What's the big deal? It appears that public libraries are another battleground for the United State's ever-present culture wars.

  • Another 41% of titles challenged or banned have content relating to LGBTQIA+ identity and themes, according to PEN.   
  • This dynamic has existed for decades. Famed novelist Judy Blume faced heavy scrutiny and calls for censorship in the 1980s for her books that discussed sexuality and self-image.  
  • The number one banned book is once again Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, a graphic memoir that follows Kobabe's journey into exploring their own gender and queer identity.  

  • Want to hear more on book bans? Listen to Consider This on how some communities are fighting back.

    What are people saying?

    In his re-election video released on Tuesday, Joe Biden cited book as part of the "bedrock freedoms" under threat by "MAGA extremists":

    Here's what he said at a White House event honoring educators earlier this week:

    I never thought I'd be a president who is fighting against elected officials trying to ban, and banning, books. 

    Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada, president of the American Library Association, on how the campaign for books being banned has ramped up in past years:

    Now we're seeing organized attempts by groups to censor multiple titles throughout the country without actually having read many of these books. 

    Elle Mehltretter, a 16-year-old who spoke with NPR's Tovia Smith about circumventing book bans online in her home state of Florida:

    You can say you ban books all you want, but you can never really ban them because they're everywhere. 

    So, what now?

  • Grassroots organizers from all walks of life are responding. Take those putting banned books in Little Free Libraries, or organizing banned book giveaways.   
  • Earlier last year, the Brooklyn Public Library announced a program allowing free online access to any of their available "banned" titles
  • The battle for books continues in places like Llano, Texas, where county commissioners recently held a meeting to decide whether they should close their public library system entirely instead of restoring 17 banned titles upon the orders of a federal judge
  • Learn more:

  • ALA: Number of unique book titles challenged jumped nearly 40% in 2022
  • Banned Books: Maia Kobabe explores gender identity in 'Gender Queer
  • Plot twist: Activists skirt book bans with guerrilla giveaways and pop-up libraries
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.