One marcher was costumed as the cover of Lawn Boythe Jonathan Evison book that was banned for its gay and lesbian content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.
Another was outfitted as All Boys Aren’t Blueby George M. Johnson, which was banned for similar reasons.
Others wore the oversized dust jackets of other books that have been targeted in libraries and school districts for supposedly inappropriate content.
On Saturday, several walking, talking books were trailed by about 15 parents and kids, an author, and readers of all stripes and interests, a parade that carried a warning through the streets of Doylestown to cap Banned Books Week, the nationwide celebration of the freedom to read.
“Read banned books!” they chanted as they moved across State Street.
Car horns honked.
“We’re facing a huge influx of book bans,” said Anusha Visvanathan, accompanied by her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, and dressed as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. “Frankly, it’s un-American.”
The parade was more than symbolic in Bucks County, where the Central Bucks School Board recently enacted a contentious library policy that community members said amounted to a ban. The policy aims to exclude books from school libraries that might be deemed inappropriate for unspecified “sexualized content.”
The district superintendent said the measure would ensure that students read “age-appropriate material,” but civil-rights groups have been alarmed.
“No one is saying that every book is or should be appropriate for every child,” said parade organizer Kate Nazemi, a parent with two children in the Central Bucks district, one of the state’s largest. “Librarians and teachers work actively to find the right books for the right kids. They are educators. And they’re being treated like they’re not.”
Nazemi, a member of Advocates for Inclusive Education, a coalition that opposes extremism, said district parents have the power to restrict the books seen by their own child. But they shouldn’t have the right, she said, to have a book removed for nearly 18,000 district students.
In this country and around the world, book bans have occurred for decades.
JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has been targeted by censors almost from the time it appeared in 1951, because of complaints of sex, violence, and profanity. EB White’s gentle Charlotte’s Web was banned in Kansas in 2006 because some parents thought its depiction of talking animals was blasphemous. In January, a Tennessee school board pulled Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Mouse, which helped push the two-volume work on the Holocaust to the top of Amazon best-seller lists.
Today, bans, restrictions, and challenges have reached levels not seen in decades, often pushed by conservative parents, school boards, and government leaders who object to what they see as sexual or “woke” content, according to the American Library Association and other groups.
A study by Pen America, the literary free-expression group, found that book bans have been enacted in 26 states, impacting more than two million students. Texas ranked first with 713 bans, followed by Pennsylvania with 456, and Florida at 204.
The organization defines a school book ban as an action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parental or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to lawmakers or government officials.
On Saturday, paraders donned glittery, silver and purple top hats as they traversed the area around State and Main. They paused to present mock awards to the most-often-banned books, handed stickers to children on the street and gave flyers to adults that warned of the dangers of censorship.
Business owners walked to their front steps to watch, and people in neighborhood pubs paused mid-sip, looking on as the oversized “books” navigated the chairs and tables of sidewalk cafes.
Glenda Childs, owner of the Doylestown Bookshop, set up two displays of banned books in her store, proudly offering them for sale. She would have attended the parade, she said, except the Bucks County Book Fest is this weekend, and the store has no staff to spare.
“It’s so important for us to be reading books that challenge us, that have characters that are different from us, that have broader views,” she said.
Last year in the United States, 1,597 books were affected by “censorship attempts,” according to the ALA and other groups. About 44% of those efforts were aimed at books in school libraries and 37% at those in public libraries.
Among people who wanted certain books barred, 39% were parents, 24% were library patrons, and 10% were members of political or religious groups.
The biggest reasons cited for wanting books removed were that they were allegedly sexually explicit, explored Critical Race Theory, featured gay, lesbian or transsexual people, or were “obscene” or “woke,” according to the ALA.
“We’re a family that reads,” said parader Amanda Paschke, who was dressed as The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, banned because it depicts child abuse and was considered sexually explicit. “I’m very disappointed to see what’s going on in the district.”
Last year the most-banned, challenged or restricted books were Gender Queerby Maia Kobabe, Lawn Boyduck All Boys Aren’t Blue. Also in the top 10 were The Hate U Givefor a supposed anti-police message and social agenda, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indianby Sherman Alexie, for profanity and sexual references.
Nazemi sees bans becoming more insidious, with vaguely worded policies around sex and nudity that make teachers and librarians cautious about adding new titles.
“What I have learned is that you actually don’t need a policy of censorship to have censorship,” she said. “In Central Bucks we’ve seen teachers removing their classroom libraries, because they don’t want to be targeted, and they don’t know who will object to what.”