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The Kennedy family reads controversial books while waiting for the Hamilton East Public Library board meeting to begin in Noblesville, Indiana, on August 24.
Battle Plans

Everything You Need to Know About the Right-Wing War on Books

Here’s your guide to the heroes and villains—plus a list of the 50 most banned books.

The Kennedy family reads controversial books while waiting for the Hamilton East Public Library board meeting to begin in Noblesville, Indiana, on August 24.

Citizens have led fiery campaigns against books they deem objectionable since before America’s founding. As early as the 1650s, Massachusetts Bay colonists banned and burned William Pynchon’s pamphlet “The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption” because it allegedly failed to adhere to Calvinist beliefs. Book bans were common in the South in the run-up to the Civil War, and nationwide during the McCarthy era.

But in the last few years, something changed. More people began writing complaints and demonstrating at meetings. They grew far more vocal. And they started to rally around the same texts, slamming them as “pornographic” or for supposedly preaching “critical race theory.” Since 2021, book banning—specifically, blocking access to books in schools and libraries—has become an organized movement, one backed by a powerful network of politicians, advocacy groups, and conservative donors.

More books are being challenged—for possible restriction or removal from libraries and curricula—than have been in decades. In the first half of the 2022–23 school year, PEN America, the free speech organization, tracked nearly 1,500 book bans nationwide, affecting 874 unique titles. Books centering on people of color and LGBTQ+ characters have been disproportionately targeted. In some GOP-controlled states, legislation has led to the widespread removal from schools of books with references to sex and sexuality, as well as race and racism.

The first week of October is the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, and to mark the occasion, The New Republic will launch a Bookmobile Tour to distribute texts conservatives have decided children simply should not read. 


Ron DeSantis

Under Governor DeSantis, Florida became the first of many red states to enact laws making it easier for parents to challenge books in school libraries that they believe are pornographic, deal improperly with race, or can otherwise be considered inappropriate. DeSantis was applauded by a Moms for Liberty (see below) founder for “blazing a trail” on school book bans.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Governor Huckabee Sanders signed a law imposing criminal penalties on Arkansas librarians who knowingly provide “harmful” materials to minors—though a federal judge has temporarily blocked sections of the law, calling them too vague. In January, Sanders also signed an executive order to prohibit “indoctrination” and “critical race theory” in schools.

Greg Abbott

The Texas governor signed a law banning sexually explicit books from schools. The law requires vendors to rate books as “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit” to determine if they require parental approval or full removal. During the 2021–22 school year, Texas districts banned more books than those in any other state.

A Moms for Liberty booth in Pennsylvania, on August 27, 2022
Mark Peterson/Redux/for The New Republic

Moms for Liberty

Founded in 2021, Moms for Liberty has rapidly expanded into a national organization with almost 300 chapters. Its strategy is to take over school boards and label dissenting teachers, librarians, and parents “groomers.” The organization has also endorsed legislation in line with its goals like “Don’t Say Gay,” the notorious Florida law hamstringing discussions of sexuality in many classrooms. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Moms for Liberty an extremist group.


Suzette Baker

In March 2022, Baker was fired as head librarian of the Kingsland Branch Library in Llano County, Texas, for “insubordination” and “failure to follow instructions,” which she said included her refusal to take down a display of banned books. Among the titles that have attracted the ire of local officials: Between the World and Me, the Ta-Nehisi Coates book that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

Debbie Chavez

Chavez quit her school librarian job in Round Rock, Texas, after a parent met with her to discuss Lawn Boy—a novel that includes a romance between two boys—and secretly recorded the conversation, sharing excerpts on Facebook. Critics claimed she was “grooming” kids and called for her firing. “It was so horrific to see that my words were being used as a rallying cry for the book censors,” she told The New York Times.

Summer Boismier

Boismier, an English teacher at Norman High School in Oklahoma, shared with her students a Q.R. code to Books UnBanned, a program of New York’s Brooklyn Public Library that offers access to books that have been banned or challenged. She received a torrent of abuse and later resigned, claiming there was no way for her to do her job amid passage of a new law limiting instruction related to race and gender.

Anonymous Utah parent

In a protest of legislation making it easier to remove “pornographic or indecent” content, a Utah parent filed a complaint with an eight-page list of objectionable passages from the Bible—successfully forcing a district to remove the text from elementary and middle schools. The decision was quickly reversed.


Books are listed in descending order by frequency of bans in schools nationwide.

Maia Kobabe, the author of the graphic novel and memoir “Gender Queer,” in Santa Rosa, California, on April 25, 2022
Marissa Leshnov/The New York Times/Redux

Gender Queer: A Memoir 
by Maia Kobabe

All Boys Aren’t Blue
by George M. Johnson

Out of Darkness
by Ashley Hope Pérez
A Lake Travis, Texas, parent got a book purged from her school’s library after googling “cornhole,” a word that appears in Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, explaining at a school board meeting what she’d learned: “Cornhole is a sexual slang vulgarism” and “means to have anal sex.”

The Bluest Eye 
by Toni Morrison

Lawn Boy 
by Jonathan Evison

The Hate U Give 
by Angie Thomas

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
by Sherman Alexie

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 
by Jesse Andrews

Thirteen Reasons Why 
by Jay Asher

by Ellen Hopkins

The Kite Runner 
by Khaled Hosseini

l8r, g8r 
by Lauren Myracle

This Book Is Gay 
by Juno Dawson

by Alex Gino

Looking for Alaska 
by John Green

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out 
by Susan Kuklin

by Toni Morrison
A Fairfax County, Virginia, parent tried and failed to get Toni Morrison’s Beloved banned for allegedly being rife with explicit material. Still, the aggrieved citizen went on to star in a Glenn Youngkin campaign ad as he successfully ran for governor in 2021.

This One Summer 
by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Drama: A Graphic Novel 
by Raina Telgemeier

by Mike Curato

Jack of Hearts (and other parts) 
by L.C. Rosen

The Handmaid’s Tale 
by Margaret Atwood

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic 
by Alison Bechdel

The Breakaways 
by Cathy G. Johnson

Nineteen Minutes 
by Jodi Picoult

All American Boys 
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
by Stephen Chbosky

by Ellen Hopkins

More Happy Than Not 
by Adam Silvera

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 
by Jonathan Safran Foer

It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health 
by Robie Harris

Monday’s Not Coming 
by Tiffany D. Jackson

A Court of Mist and Fury 
by Sarah J. Maas

by Patricia McCormick

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives 
by Dashka Slater

Dear Martin 
by Nic Stone

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen 
by Jazz Jennings

Almost Perfect 
by Brian Katcher

Real Live Boyfriends: yes. boyfriends, plural. if my life weren’t complicated, I wouldn’t be Ruby Oliver 
by E. Lockhart

The Truth About Alice 
by Jennifer Mathieu

by Alice Sebold

Killing Mr. Griffin 
by Lois Duncan

We Are the Ants 
by Shaun David Hutchinson

I Am Jazz 
by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel

How to Be an Antiracist 
by Ibram X. Kendi

Two Boys Kissing 
by David Levithan

The Infinite Moment of Us 
by Lauren Myracle

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You 
by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Seven white school board members voted unanimously in Pickens County, South Carolina, to remove Stamped from libraries and classrooms. It traces the history of racism in the United States, but parents complained that it “promote[s] socialism” and “demonstrates radical Marxism infecting our schools and our culture.”

And Tango Makes Three 
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Source: PEN America
data from 2021–22 school year


Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation

An illustrated adaptation of The Diary of a Young Girl was banned from a high school library in Florida because, critics bizarrely claimed, it minimized the Holocaust and—perhaps more important—captured a young girl’s thoughts about other female bodies. A county chapter chair of the far-right group Moms for Liberty led the charge for removal over its “sexually explicit” material.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

The director of a Florida police union targeted this book about a Black boy killed by police. “Our members feel that this book is propaganda that pushes an inaccurate and absurd stereotype of police officers in America,” he wrote. Further use of the book was paused in a classroom in Broward County.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

A Leander, Texas, parent went after Machado’s surreal memoir about domestic abuse, brandishing a sex toy at a school board meeting while decrying portions of the book detailing a lesbian relationship. “This is what we’re asking our children to read,” the parent said, taking out a pink dildo. The book was ultimately removed from school libraries in the district.

Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel ‘Maus’ was banned for eighth-graders graders by a school board in Tennessee.
Mario Siranosian/AFP/Getty

Maus by Art Spiegelman

In January 2022, a Tennessee school board voted unanimously to ban this Pulitzer-winning graphic novel from its eighth grade curriculum. The book depicts Holocaust victims as mice and Nazis as cats. One board member took offense at illustrations of naked mice in the book. “All the way through this literature we expose these kids to nakedness, we expose them to vulgarity.… If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it,” he said.