Over the past year, Texas has banned a total of 801 books as part of the controversial debate around teaching critical race theory in schools. And although the Lone Star State isn’t alone in nationwide book bands, it leads every other American state in the most banned books on record.
Recently, public and school libraries across the U.S. have been under attack for collecting books that critique race, sexuality, and other issues in contemporary American politics. States such as Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming have joined Texas in these efforts, creating an unprecedented number of book-banning requests in the past 20 years.
Texas parents have called for the removal of these books, including some in the Katy Independent School District. They pulled books they deemed “offensive” without any official review. A law was signed last year by Gov. Greg Abbott that restricts K-12 teachers in public schools from discussing current issues of race, society and American law. The critical race theory bill joins other regressive political decisions such as the state’s abortion ban and HB 25, a bill that targets transgender youth.
State Rep. Jared Patterson and 26 other Republican members of the Texas House sent a letter to every Texas public school superintendent “asking them to pledge not to knowingly partner with, purchase from, or associate with vendors who have supplied child pornography to public schools,” and used Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir as an example. To make matters worse, state Rep. Matt Krause sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency requesting to see school libraries’ budgets and if they house any of the 850 books listed on a 16-page spreadsheet.
Books on the list include coming-of-age stories that prominently feature LGBTQIA+ characters, which have been deemed sexually explicit and pornographic by both parents and Republican politicians. In defense of this material, the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter to Patterson calling his attempt to censor books intimidating and misleading every school district in Texas.
“Rep. Patterson and his co-signers are not protecting students from obscene and explicit content. They are censoring books and denying students the well-rounded education that is essential to preserving a healthy democracy,” the statement said.
Book defenders from across the nation continue to fight against censorship by using petition drives, protests and direct pressure on school board members.
Curious about other titles that have shaken the table in Lone Star politics? Here are just 10—of the many—books that are considered banned or have been unofficially removed from Texas school districts.
1. Separate Is Never Equal: Slyvia Mendez and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation By Duncan Tonatiuh
Set in the late 1940s, a young Sylvia Mendez is forced to overcome the ills of segregation when her family moves to Westminister, California and is turned away from attending the neighborhood school.
Reason cited: “propaganda, racially insensitive language, anti-police”
2. What If It’s Us By Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli
A scheduled summer in New York turns into a whirlwind, queer romance story between two unsuspecting characters, Ben and Arthur in this YA comedy novel.
Reason cited: "homosexuality, sexually explicit content, profanity"
3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl By Jesse Andrews
Two moviemaking high school boys join forces to lift the spirits of their classmate Rachel after she’s been diagnosed with leukemia in this coming-of-age film. The 2012 book became a popular film in 2015 starring Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, and RJ Cyler.
Reason cited: "vulgarity, offensive language, sexually explicit content, and for being degrading to women"
4. Thirteen Reasons Why By Jay Asher
This harrowing story made headlines when it was made into a widely popular Netflix series in 2017. The original book, about a young high school freshman’s motivations behind her suicide, disturbingly portrays the devastating repercussions of experiencing trauma in adolescence.
Reason cited: “pornographic, suicide”
5. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents By Isabel Wilkerson
Although completely nonfiction, this book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson made it on the banned book list because of its timely exploration of the American caste system and its impacts on our society.
Reason cited: “racially insensitive language”
6. Lawn Boy By Jonathan Evison
The story follows 10-year-old protagonist Mike, who has a sexual experience at a youth group meeting with another 10-year-old boy. Ashamed of the incident until early adulthood, Mike finally owns the experience and revisits it through a sometimes uncomfortable but humorous lens while on the journey to self-actualization.
Reason cited: “profanity, pornography, gambling, homosexuality”
7. Gender Queer: A Memoir By Maia Kobabe
Possibly the most challenged book in the U.S., this graphic novel depicts Kobabe's personal journey with gender identity and sexual orientation. This book is an “intensely cathartic autobiography” that charts their journey from the confusion of adolescent crushes to the struggles of coming out, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction and facing the trauma of pap smears.
Reason cited: “obscene and pornographic imagery”
8. Out of Darkness By Ashley Hope Pérez
Set in the 1930s, this novel chronicles a love affair between two teenagers, a young Mexican American girl and an African American boy in East Texas.
Reason cited: "sexual explicit content, profanity"
9. Ghost Boys By Jewell Parker Rhodes
Ghost Boys is about a 12-year-old boy named Jerome who is shot by a police officer who mistook his toy gun for a real one. As a ghost, Jerome observes his family’s and communities’ devastation and the wake of a movement against brutal killings and racism.
Reason cited: “propaganda, anti-police”
10. The Hate U Give By Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’ best-selling debut novel, The Hate U Give, follows a teenage girl who, after witnessing her Black friend killed by the police, grapples with the aftermath of his death. The novel eventually became a film in 2018 and is a sobering story of racism, police brutality and activism.
Reason cited: “pervasive vulgarity and racially insensitive language”
For more information on how to support your local and school libraries, visit the EveryLibrary website.