During the 2021-2022 school year, more than 1,600 books were banned from school libraries. The bans affected 138 school districts in 32 states, according to a report from PEN America, an organization dedicated to protecting free expression in literature.
And the number of bans are only increasing yearly.
But what are the most commonly banned books in America, and why are they considered controversial? Here are the 50 most commonly banned books in America from the 2021-2022 school year, with data supplied by PEN America.
50. “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
The children’s book is based on the real-life story of two male chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, who formed a bond at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. After zookeepers saw the pair trying to hatch a rock as if it were an egg, they gave the penguin couple their own egg. Roy and Silo subsequently raised the chick, Tango, as their own.
This book came out in 2005, and was subject to five bans during the 2021-2022 school year.
PEN America states that “the banning of a single book title could mean anywhere from one to hundreds of copies are pulled from libraries or classrooms in a school district.” The data doesn’t consider duplicate bans per district in its unique title tally, but each separate ban is counted in the overall rankings.
49. “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You,” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
This children’s book garnered controversy for its frank portrayals of racism.
Senator Ted Cruz held up a copy of the book during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in April 2022 as he questioned her about her views of critical race theory.
“Stamped” has found itself subject to five book bannings during the last school year.
48. “The Infinite Moment of Us,” by Lauren Myracle
Myracle’s young-adult novel discusses love and sex among teenagers. It was a target of five book bans in the previous school year.
She is seen here at the premiere of “Let it Snow,” a film adaptation of a novel of the same name.
47. “Two Boys Kissing,” by David Levithan
The book was released in 2013 and was subject to five bans during the 2021-2022 school year.
The story, inspired by real-life events, is about two boys who set out to break a world record by kissing for 32 hours straight.
46. “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi
The nonfiction book by Ibram X. Kendi helped popularize the term “antiracist” when came out in 2019. It was on school ban lists five times over the previous school year.
It’s part memoir and part social commentary on racism and ethnicity.
45. “I Am Jazz,” by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
As soon as Jazz Jennings could speak, she told her parents that she was a girl, despite having been assigned male at birth. She became a spokesperson for trans children and co-wrote a book entitled “I Am Jazz” about her experience. It was banned on five separate occasions during the past school year.
She’s pictured here with parents Greg and Jeanette along with brother Sanders at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2019.
44. “We Are the Ants,” by Shaun David Hutchinson
The science fiction novel follows Henry, whose boyfriend has died by suicide.
“We Are the Ants” was subjected to five book bans in the 2021-2022 school year, despite having been on multiple “best of” lists.
43. “Killing Mr. Griffin,” by Lois Duncan
This suspense novel, published in 1978, is about teenagers kidnapping and murdering their strict teacher. These themes caused the book to go through five bans over the course of the previous school year.
Duncan, pictured here, was credited with helping to pioneer horror and suspense for teens.
42. “Lucky,” by Alice Sebold
Alice Sebold, known for her more famous best-seller “The Lovely Bones,” saw her memoir “Lucky” pulled from school bookshelves six times in the 2021-2022 school year because of a graphic depiction of the rape she survived in college.
Outside of the content of the book itself, there was further controversy after Anthony Broadwater, the man who was convicted and imprisoned for Sebold’s rape for 16 years, was exonerated. Sebold has publicly apologized for having mistakenly identified the wrong man as her attacker.
The book is no longer being distributed, and Sebold (seen here autographing a book) is rewriting the memoir.
41. “The Truth About Alice,” by Jennifer Mathieu
“The Truth About Alice” discusses slut-shaming among teenagers. The work was part of six book bans in the previous school year.
The book was released in 2014.
40. “Real Live Boyfriends: Yes. Boyfriends, Plural. If My Life Weren’t Complicated, I Wouldn’t Be Ruby Oliver,” by E. Lockhart
The fourth novel of author E. Lockhart’s “Ruby Oliver” quartet is the most controversial, thanks to sexual content and slut-shaming, and was part of school book bans six times in the 2021-2022 school year.
Released in 2010, the long-titled book details common issues teenagers face.
39. “Almost Perfect,” by Brian Katcher
An all-American high-schooler named Logan develops a crush on a trans teen named Sage.
Many among the top 50 banned books deal with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, including this one, which was part of book bans six times in the 2021-2022 school year alone.
38. “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen,” by Jazz Jennings
Jazz Jennings’ follow-up book to “I Am Jazz” was “Being Jazz,” in which she talked about what her life as a trans teen was like. The book was banned six different times from 2021-2022.
Here’s Jazz Jennings taking on the role of Grand Marshal at the 2016 Pride March in New York City.
37. “Speak,” by Laurie Halse Anderson
A girl named Melinda is raped, calls the police, and is then ostracized, causing her to develop selective mutism. The story was based on Anderson’s own life.
It was the fourth most-banned book in the United States in 2020, and removed from classrooms and libraries in schools six separate times between 2021-2022. Anderson is seen here attending the National Book Awards in 2008.
36. “Dear Martin,” by Nic Stone
A Black high school student who suffers a dangerous encounter with white police officers writes to the late Martin Luther King, Jr., asking him what he would do.
Stone stated she began writing the 2017 book as a response to the deaths of Jordan Davis and Michael Brown. It received seven bans in schools in the past year. She is seen here speaking at the Drum Major for Justice Luncheon in 2020.
35. “The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives,” by Dashka Slater
Two teenagers — one White and transgender, the other a Black high-school student named Richard with a tragic past — ride the same bus home each day.
Due to frank discussions about gender identity, the criminal justice system, and race-based content, the book was part of seven bans in classrooms or libraries over the past school year.
34. “Sold,” by Patricia McCormick
A girl from Nepal is sold into sexual slavery. A film based on the novel was released in 2014. Due to depictions of violent sexual content, the book was banned on seven different occasions in the 2021-2022 school year.
McCormick is seen here holding one of her books.
33. “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Maas
“A Court of Mist and Fury” is the second in Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” fantasy series. Due to its sexual content, the book found itself subject to seven book bans over the past school year.
It’s also notable for being one of the books that spurred Virginia state legislator Tim Anderson to sue Barnes & Noble in hopes of stopping sales of the book. The case was later tossed out.
32. “Monday’s Not Coming,” by Tiffany D. Jackson
A Black teenage girl goes missing — and her disappearance is never investigated. The book is based on real-life missing Black girls who fail to receive attention from media or police.
Due to its intense discussions about racism, justice and poverty, the book, which was released in 2018, has been pulled from classroom or school library shelves seven times in the past school year.
31. “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health,” by Robie Harris
Robie Harris’ frank children’s book about puberty and sex was first published in 1994. It had scientifically accurate information and pictures, which caused a lot of uproar when it was initially published. The book continues to receive regular publishing updates to reflect new information. It was on school ban lists seven times in the 2021-2022 school year.
Some parents appreciate the book. Here, mother Stephanie Baptist reads it to her 8-year-old daughter; the book is part of her daughter’s school curriculum in Toronto.
30. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 book, which was turned into a major film in 2012, is one of the most influential of the 21st century, but that hasn’t stopped it from getting banned frequently from school libraries — including in seven instances in the past school year alone.
The book deals with themes of death, trauma, and grief in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
29. “More Happy Than Not,” by Adam Silvera
The book “More Happy Than Not” deals with LGBTQ themes as well as suicide, depression, and teen pregnancy. Because of this, it was banned in schools on eight separate instances in the 2021-2022 school year.
Here, author Adam Silvera speaks onstage at the Audie Awards Gala in March 2020.
28. “Tricks,” by Ellen Hopkins
Ellen Hopkins is known for her gritty, realistic fiction, and her book “Tricks” is no different. It follows the paths of five teenagers and deals with drug usage and sexually explicit content.
The book was published in 2009, and has regularly shown up on banned lists in school districts since then. It was subject to book bans eight times in the past school year.
27. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was first published in 1999. The book was considered somewhat controversial for how it portrayed sexuality, drug use, and suicidal content. It was part of book bans eight times during the 2021-2022 school year.
Chbosky, who based the book on some aspects of his life, adapted the novel for film in 2012. He’s seen here at the premiere.
26. “All American Boys,” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Jason Reynolds (pictured here) and Brendan Kiely were sharing a hotel room when they heard that George Zimmerman had been acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. They shared their frustrations and eventually decided to write a book together.
That book talks about two Black boys navigating hurdles of police brutality and racism while growing up in poverty. Because of its explicit racial content and depiction of law enforcement, the book was subject to nine school bans during the 2021-2022 year.
25. “Nineteen Minutes,” by Jodi Picoult
Picoult’s 2007 novel “Nineteen Minutes” tells the unfolding tale of a school shooting.
The graphic depictions of the shootings have made the book controversial, and there were nine instances of it being pulled from classroom or school library bookshelves in the past school year.
24. “The Breakaways,” by Cathy G. Johnson
This graphic novel tells the story of a girls’ soccer team.
School districts have banned it for its depiction of trans kids, sexual content, and discussion of “Black Lives Matter.” It was part of nine book bans in the 2021-2022 school year.
23. “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s narrative, told through comic-style illustrations, served as a memoir of her life growing up with a closeted gay father; she herself come out as a lesbian after his death.
It was adapted as a musical in 2013.
22. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood
“The Handmaid’s Tale” shows the dystopian near-future of a patriarchal, totalitarian, theocratic society. The book, originally published in 1985, is now a successful television series. It is still controversial, and was removed from classroom and library bookshelves nine times over 2021-2022.
A special “unburnable” version of Margaret Atwood’s famous book, seen here, was auctioned off in June 2022 to support PEN America in its goal to fight censorship.
21. “Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts),” by L. C. Rosen
“Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts)” is a book about a sexually active queer teen who starts a sex column at his school. Rosen specializes in writing content for LGBTQ teens.
Due to the content of sexual nature — despite the fact that there are no sex scenes in the book — there were 10 book bans for it over the past school year.
20. “Flamer,” by Mike Curato
This 2020 book from Mike Curato is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel based on his experience growing up as a gay Catholic boy, and struggling to suppress his feelings and act more masculine in front of other boys.
Some people have criticized the book’s discussions of LGBTQ content, but it won a Lambda Literary Award in 2021 — while also being banned by schools on 10 different occasions.
19. “Drama: A Graphic Novel,” by Raina Telgemeier
Raina Telgemeier stands here in front of a display of her books. “Drama: A Graphic Novel” tells the story of a middle-school girl navigating crushes and friendship.
Due to the fact that it portrays a same-sex crush, it was on ban lists 11 times in the 2021-2022 school year.
18. “This One Summer,” by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
Two teen girls start to get interested in boys and learn more about the adults around them.
Based on some sexual content and mental-health issues, as well as the depiction of a pregnant teenager, there were 11 separate school bans of the graphic novel in the past school year.
17. “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel was inspired by a tragic real-life story of a person fleeing slavery in Kentucky in the 1850s, and the dramatic choices she made when she was caught.
Its violent and graphic scenes were cited as reasons why it was subjected to 11 book bans in schools in the past year. Morrison, a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner, seen here, died in 2019.
16. “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” by Susan Kuklin
Kuklin’s story chronicles six real-life trans teens and young adults. Kuklin interviewed each of them before, during, and after transition, and formed all of the interviews into one cohesive narrative.
The book was accused of being “anti-family” and “sexually explicit” and has regularly been on banned book lists since its release. In the 2021-2022 school year, it was pulled from classroom or school library bookshelves 11 times.
15. “Looking For Alaska,” by John Green
Author John Green (seen here at the premiere of the film adaptation of “Looking for Alaska”) is known for his young-adult novels, which have been well received by critics and fans. “Looking for Alaska” is considered his most controversial — it has been banned 11 times in schools since 2021.
Parents were concerned about the profanity and sexually explicit scenes in the book, which follows a group of friends dealing with the death of one of their own.
14. “Melissa (George),” by Alex Gino
The book depicts a fourth-grade trans girl trying to get her parents to understand her transition by playing Charlotte in a “Charlotte’s Web” school play, even though she is perceived as a boy. The story is often controversial in conservative schools.
In the 2021-2022 school year, it was part of classroom and library book bans 11 times.
13. “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson
This informative nonfiction book talks about being gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex, asexual, queer, or even just being curious. It includes stories, interviews, and more from kids, teens, and adults across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Dawson considers it a manual for life as an LGBTQ person.
Due to what parents considered “sexually explicit” content, the book was yanked from classrooms and school libraries 11 times over the past school year.
12. “l8r, g8r,” by Lauren Myracle
A 2000s era young-adult series by Lauren Myracle (seen here) is written entirely as instant messages. The first two, “ttyl” and “ttfn,” aren’t considered as controversial.
But 2007’s “l8r, g8r” was banned due to sexual content and profanity. The use of emojis and internet shorthand are prevalent throughout the novel.
11. “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini
The story is about two boys growing up in Afghanistan against the backdrop of the Soviet invasion, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan, and the rise of the Taliban.
It is a controversial novel in Afghanistan, but is also the subject of many book challenges in American school districts. There is a particularly brutal rape scene in the book. It was subjected to 12 separate book bans in schools since 2021.
Hosseini is seen here at the premiere of the 2007 film adaptation of “The Kite Runner.”
10. “Crank,” by Ellen Hopkins
A teenager develops a crystal meth addiction. The story was loosely based on Hopkins’ own daughter, who also developed an addiction to crystal meth.
Because of the portrayal of addiction, drug usage, and sexual content, it was put on school ban lists 12 times in the 2021-2022 school year.
9. “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher
A girl named Hannah leaves behind seven cassette tapes detailing why 13 specific people and events caused her death suicide. The story was inspired by a suicide attempt made by one of Asher’s relatives.
The book was published in 2007, but gained new popularity after Netflix released a television series. It has been challenged frequently since its release, and was part of school book bans 12 times over the 2021-2022 school year because of its depiction of teen suicide, sexual assault, and drug and alcohol use.
8. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews
Two high school friends, Earl and Greg, befriend a girl named Rachel who has acute myelogenous leukemia.
With its depictions of death, drug use, and sexual content, the book was banned 14 times over the previous school year, which means that the book was removed from school libraries and classroom shelves on 14 separate occasions.
The author, Jesse Andrews, is seen here at the premiere of the film adaptation of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” which was released in 2015.
7. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie’s book was subjected to school bans 16 times during the 2021-2022 school year. It was first released in 2007, and has been controversial since then due to its subject matter, which deals with poverty, sexuality, bullying, alcohol usage, profanity and the use of slurs.
The novel is semi-autobiographical, based on the Native American author’s life, and won a National Book Award in 2007.
Alexie is seen here at the Live Wire! Radio Show in 2009.
6. “The Hate U Give,” by Angie Thomas
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, seen here in 2019 at the Massachusetts Conference for Women, was released in 2017, and deals with the aftereffects of a Black girl who attends a predominantly white, elite private school.
The movie adaptation premiered in 2018.
Due to the race-based themes, profanity, and explicit content, the book has been regularly banned since its release. In the 2021-2022 school year, it was removed from school libraries or classrooms 17 times.
5. “The Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison
Jonathan Evison, seen here at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016, received death threats over “The Lawn Boy” after it was published in 2018. The semi-autobiographical novel is about a boy facing hardship and learning to overcome it.
Parents have accused the book of containing “homoerotic content” because a character recalls a same-sex encounter from his youth, and it was ultimately part of 17 different book bans during the 2021-2022 school year.
4. “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison
The impact of this 1970 novel by Toni Morrison has been immense. This 2007 photo shows a dress rehearsal of a stage version of “The Bluest Eye” in San Francisco.
The novel follows a Black girl who believes she is ugly, and would be more beautiful if she only had blue eyes. Its subject matter contains elements of child molestation, sexual assault, drunkenness, racism and incest, all of which got it banned on 22 separate occasions throughout multiple school districts in the past school year.
3. “Out of Darkness,” by Ashley Hope Pérez
“Out of Darkness” follows the forbidden love story of a Mexican-American girl and a Black boy in the 1930s. The book was the subject of many parental complaints stemming from sexually explicit content, violence, and portrayal of racism experienced by the main characters.
Over the 2021-2022 school year, it was yanked from classroom and school library bookshelves 24 times.
2. “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson
Queer activist George M. Johnson published “All Boys Aren’t Blue” in 2020 and described it as a memoir-manifesto. The book is a compilation of essays describing the author’s experience growing up as a queer Black kid in New Jersey, and is written specifically for other queer Black kids.
It contains mentions of sex, masturbation, and profanity, making it the No. 2 banned book of the 2021-2022 school year. It was removed from schools 29 different times.
This photo shows Johnson at the Queerties Awards Celebration in March 2022.
1. “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe
The most banned book of the 2021-2022 school year was “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. It was removed from school libraries and/or classroom bookshelves on 41 separate instances, according to PEN America.
Kobabe (right) is seen here being interviewed by Kathleen Breitenbach (left) at an event at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.
Kobabe wrote the memoir about a journey through gender identity and sexuality. There are a few explicit illustrations depicting Kobabe’s sexual discovery, and many parents and conservative media figures have complained about the book.
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