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In a record year for book ban attempts, ALA says these 10 books were challenged most

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Book bans are nothing new. In the U.S., the practice goes back to Puritan times when Thomas Morton's "New English Canaan" was tossed out of Massachusetts. But the American Library Association said this year, they have seen more challenges to books since they started tracking this in 2000 and four times as many challenges as in 2020. NPR's Miranda Mazariegos has more.

MIRANDA MAZARIEGOS, BYLINE: According to the American Library Association, libraries in every state faced an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books last year. The Office for Intellectual Freedom, an arm of the ALA, tracked 729 challenges to library, school and university materials in 2021. The ALA collects this data through media stories and voluntary reports sent to their offices, so this isn't an exhaustive list. In fact, surveys have shown that around 90% of book challenges remain unreported and receive no media attention.

DEBORAH CALDWELL-STONE: I think we've always had a dispute over what young people can and should read. I think that's the constant. The subject matter of concern has changed.

MAZARIEGOS: That was Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom. She's been working there for 20 years and has witnessed different trends in the banning of books. What surprised her this year is that the rise in numbers seems to be an organized movement, often related to political groups.

CALDWELL-STONE: It really seems to be a moral panic, a campaign by a number of groups to sanitize schools and libraries of ideas, opinions, thoughts.

MAZARIEGOS: But an ALA survey from earlier this year indicated that the majority of voters oppose efforts to have books removed from their local public libraries. Most of them said they trusted their local libraries to make good decisions about their book rosters and agreed that libraries in their communities do a good job offering a diverse set of books.

CALDWELL-STONE: The loudest voices often are the voices that are heard. And if there aren't any voices to counter those loud voices, it's easy for elected officials to assume that that represents a prevailing opinion.

MAZARIEGOS: Many of the books banned and challenged in 2021 are related to LGBTQ topics, and most of them were written by Black or LGBTQ+ authors.

Miranda Mazariegos, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "LIONHEART") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miranda Mazariegos
Miranda Mazariegos is NPR's 2021-2022 Reflect America Fellow. She has worked with NPR's history podcast Throughline and with Weekend All Things Considered. She is now doing a rotation with the Culture Desk.