Skip to content
Education
Link copied to clipboard

These are the most commonly banned books in U.S. schools — and in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania now ranks third in the country for school book-banning activity, nonprofit PEN America has found.

"Lawn Boy," "The Bluest Eye," and "Gender Queer: A Memoir" were among the most commonly banned books in U.S. schools between July 2021 and March 2022.
"Lawn Boy," "The Bluest Eye," and "Gender Queer: A Memoir" were among the most commonly banned books in U.S. schools between July 2021 and March 2022.Read moreFrom left: Algonquin Books via AP, Washington Post, and Oni Press / MCT

As attempted book bans and restrictions surge nationwide, Pennsylvania now ranks third in the country for school book-banning activity, nonprofit PEN America has found.

In time for national Banned Books Week, PEN America Monday released the findings of an updated study, which places Pennsylvania only behind Texas and Florida for the most book-banning activity between July 2021 and June 2022.

The vast majority of the bans documented by the group — 441 of the state’s 457 bans — were in just one school district, Central York, with the rest in 10 other districts. The most commonly banned books included Gender Queer: A Memoir and All Boys Aren’t Blue.

» READ MORE: Pa. ranks near the top nationally in book-banning activity, report finds. Here’s why.

In New Jersey, PEN America has recorded three book bans in three districts, while Delaware has none.

This summer, the Central Bucks School District in Bucks County, which was not one of the 11 Pa. districts that banned books in PEN America’s latest findings, approved a library policy paving the way for removing books with “sexualized content” from schools.

School officials in Central Bucks — Pennsylvania’s third-largest district — have said the contentious new policy is not a book ban, though many parents, library advocates, civil rights groups, and some dissenting school board members disagree.

» READ MORE: Central Bucks has approved a library policy targeting ‘sexualized content’ in books. Here’s what we know.

“Nobody wants to say they’re banning and censoring content because they want to find other words to make it sound less extreme, but those of us who do work against censorship, we’ve been calling these things bans for 100 years,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs for PEN America.

Across the country, he said, many districts are avoiding the term “ban” and using vague terms such as “sexualized content” to avoid sounding outwardly homophobic, transphobic, or racist.

Across the country, more than 1,600 books have been banned, PEN America found. Of those, 41% have LGBTQ+ themes, protagonists or prominent or secondary characters, while 40% of the bans have protagonists or secondary characters of color.

» READ MORE: Why I want my kid to read banned books

At the beginning of 2021, many books groups were seeking to remove from school shelves books mentioning race, racism, and the history of slavery. Throughout the school year — using similar rhetoric and reasoning — the focus shifted to books depicting LGBTQ+ characters or identities, as well as books featuring sexual content, including those on sexual and reproductive health and sex education, according to PEN America’s report.

Nationwide, PEN America found that around 50 conservative community and national groups, including Moms for Liberty, have mobilized in the last year around books they have deemed dangerous in schools, often citing “parents’ rights,” circulating lists of books framed as dangerous or harmful, and campaigning at school board meetings. Parent and community groups advocating for book restrictions played an “influential role” in at least half of the bans enacted across the country over the last school year, the report said.

» READ MORE: Can parents opt-out students from curriculum? Pa. and N.J. school districts are seeing more attempts.

Here’s what PEN America reported about book bans in Pennsylvania and nationwide between July 2021 and June 2022:

Which books have been banned in Pennsylvania schools?

Which states had the most book bans?

  1. Texas: 801 bans, 22 districts

  2. Florida: 566 bans, 21 districts

  3. Pennsylvania: 457 bans, 11 districts

  4. Tennessee: 349 bans, 6 districts

  5. Oklahoma: 43 bans, 3 districts

  6. Michigan: 41 bans, 4 districts

  7. Kansas: 30 bans, 2 districts

  8. Wisconsin: 29 bans, 6 districts

  9. Missouri: 27 bans, 8 districts

  10. Idaho: 26 bans, 3 districts

  11. Georgia: 23 bans, 2 districts

  12. Mississippi: 22 bans, 1 district

  13. Virginia: 19 bans, 9 districts

  14. Indiana: 18 bands, 3 districts

  15. North Carolina: 16 bans, 5 districts

  16. New York: 13 bans, 4 districts

  17. Utah: 12 bans, 3 districts

What are the most commonly banned books in the U.S.?

Who are the most commonly banned authors in the U.S.?

What kinds of books have been banned?

By genre
  1. Fiction: 75%

  2. Nonfiction: 24%

  3. Poetry: 1%

By intended readership
  1. Picture Book (ages 0-5): 19%

  2. Chapter Book (ages 6-8): 10%

  3. Middle Grade (ages 9-12): 11%

  4. Young Adult (ages 13-17): 49%

  5. Adult: 11%