Banned books include regular list of Witchcraft titles

TWH – Welcome to Banned Books Week, the annual event organized by a coalition across numerous organizations to raise awareness, offer education, advocate, and develop programming around the problem of book censorship.

The coalition includes such members as the American Library Association, the Association for a Free Press, and the National Book Foundation. It is supported by sponsors such as American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Authors Guild, and GLAAD, as well as Publishers like HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. The work of Banned Books Week is endorsed by Library of Congress Center for the Book.

PEN America tracks banned books and has been working on this project. The organization just celebrated its centennial this year and was founded “to foster international literary fellowship among writers that would transcend national and ethnic divides.” Today, it has programs and festivals on free expression as well as awards literary prizes.

PEN conducted a survey to document the decision to ban books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States over a 9-month period from July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022. PEN noted in its report that “over the past nine months, the scope of such censorship has expanded rapidly.”

The report added, “Today, state legislators are introducing — and in some cases passing — educational gag orders to censor teachers, proposals to track and monitor teachers, and mechanisms to facilitate book banning in school districts. At the same time, the scale and force of book banning in local communities is escalating dramatically.”

“Efforts to censor entire categories of books reflecting certain voices and views shows that the moral panic isn’t about kids: it’s about politics,” ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada said in a statement. “Organizations with a political agenda are spreading lists of books they don’t like.”

Of the books banned during the study period, four states accounted for the most challenged books. Texas (32% of bans), Florida (22% of bans), Pennsylvania (18% of bans), and Tennessee (14% of bans). 54% of bans were still pending investigation and 20% of bans were for classrooms only and 13% for libraries and another 13% for both libraries and classrooms).

The report notes that the majority of the books targeted have been works of fiction (71.5%), but 28% are non-fiction titles that include personal essays and informational works. There were 31 graphic novels on the overall list.

According to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, comics are “uniquely vulnerable” to being challenged because a single page or panel is easily taken out of context and there is a “lingering stigma” surrounding comics as “low-value speech.”

The books usually targeted for banning often have LGBTQ+ topics, but also include books with protagonists of color, those with sexual content, or books addressing issues of race and racism.

PEN noted that, “Over the same short period, nearly two thirds of all book bans in the Index touch on topics related to sexual content, such as teen pregnancy, sexual assault, abortion, sexual health, and puberty.”

The most banned books of the year were:

  • Gender Queer: A Memoirby Maia Kobabe (41 districts)
  • All Boys Aren’t Blueby George M. Johnson (29 districts)
  • Out of Darknessby Ashley Hope Pérez (24 districts)
  • The Bluest Eyeby Toni Morrison (22 districts)
  • The Hate U Giveby Angie Thomas (17 districts)
  • Lawn Boyby Jonathan Evison (17 districts)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Sherman Alexie (16 districts)
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girlby Jesse Andrews (14 districts)
  • Crankby Ellen Hopkins (12 districts)
  • The Kite Runnerby Khaled Hosseini (12 districts)
  • l8r, g8rby Lauren Myracle (12 districts)
  • Thirteen Reasons Why Jay Asher (12 districts)
  • Belovedby Toni Morrison (11 districts)
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Outby Susan Kuklin (11 districts)
  • Drama: A Graphic Novel Raina Telgemeier (11 districts)
  • Looking for Alaskaby John Green (11 districts)
  • Melissaby Alex Gino (11 districts)
  • This Book Is Gay Juno Dawson (11 districts)
  • This One Summer Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (11 districts)

Courtesy of ALA press kit

However, the banning of books that discuss minority religions and spiritual practices or generally “the Occult” are on the list as well. Of the books challenged in the study period, 64 titles (4%) include characters and stories that reflect religious minorities, such as Jewish, Muslim and other faith traditions.

The Harry Potter series was famously challenged in the early 2000s for discussing Witchcraft. Strega Nona has also made the list which now includes:

  • Bayou Magic
  • Magic to Brew
  • The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses Series)
  • The Red Scrolls of Magic
  • The Witch Boy (The Witch Boy Series)
  • The Witch King (The Witch King Series)
  • The Witch Owl Parliament
  • The Witch’s Hand (The Montague Twins)
  • These Witches Don’t Burn (These Witches Don’t Burn Series)
  • Wayward Witch (Brooklyn Brujas Series)
  • When we were Magic
  • Witchlight

Some have overlapping themes with Witchcraft or the occult such as an LGBTQ+ character. In the hierarchy of banning reasons, LGBTQ+ issues do appear to trump Witchcraft, though combining them is serious anathema.

According to the data provided by PEN, all of these books were banned because of a challenge from an administrator decision. None of them appear to have been challenged by parents or through a formal challenge procedure.

“This is certainly a reflection of what is going on right now in this country,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which monitors book bans and issues annual lists of the most challenged told The Washington Post earlier this year. “There is dispute and debate over what kind of government and society we want to be. Book bannings are part of that.”

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