This year, weeks before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee, voted to pull from its eighth-grade curriculum Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a graphic novel that chronicles the experience of a Holocaust survivor. In nearby Williamson County, a school board removed from its curriculum Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, a young adult novel about a girl whose mother disappears. Maia Kobabe’s memoir, Gender Queer, was banned in Brevard Public Schools in Florida, and has come under scrutiny by administrators in other states as well.
These are just a few titles on a long list of books — often addressing topics such as race, gender, sex, or sexuality — that have been banned in public schools and libraries in recent months. According to an American Library Association statement, there were 330 “book challenges” in the fall of 2021, a significant increase from recent years. In January 2022, The New York Times reported that “parents, activists, school board officials, and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades.”
But students and their supporters are fighting back. In Forsyth County, Georgia, where eight books, including The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, have been removed from school libraries, students are organizing through the student-run organization Our Turn. Their aim is to combat censorship and ensure that students can learn about U.S. history and racism regardless of what material is removed from classrooms.
“By banning books, mostly books that highlight marginalized stories, we fail to tell a full comprehensive truth and inclusive body of literature for students,” James Rhee, a recent graduate from a public high school in Atlanta and an organizer with Our Turn, tells Teen Vogue. “It’s fine to disagree with some books, but it’s not right to restrict the right to learn from other students who may find value in these books. Banning books ultimately undermines the very function of education: teaching us to think critically and develop our own views on the world around us.” Through Our Turn, Rhee adds, students are cultivating workshops and testimonies to support more inclusive curriculums.