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Some of the country’s most extremist censors are trying to walk back their actions, or at least the appearance of them. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose state is responsible for 72% of the books pulled from the nation’s public schools last semester, recently signed a bill that limits the number of books the public can challenge. Under the new law, Florida residents without children in a school district cannot object to more than one piece of material each month.

But because the law does not outline penalties for violators — and allows parents with children in the schools to continue filing as many complaints as they like — the law is largely performative.

Perhaps Gov. DeSantis is playing to the crowd. Polling consistently shows that the public largely opposes book bans, but censorship hasn’t slowed down. In fact, more books were banned during the first half of this school year than in the entire previous one. These attacks continue despite clear signals that the censorship has negatively impacted students’ educational experiences. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress — sometimes called “the nation’s report card” — the scores in U.S. history and civics for eighth-graders in 2023 were the lowest recorded since the assessment began in 1994.

Across the country, legislatures have passed a range of laws that tightly control the content teachers are allowed to teach and even assign criminal penalties for teachers and school librarians. The vagueness of many of these laws, some of which threaten penalties for teachers and librarians who offer students “obscene” books, has made it nearly impossible for educators to know what is “safe” to teach. The fear of job losses and criminal penalties has severely limited the ability of students to gain an accurate depiction of history. Even assigning a novel based on Anne Frank’s diary caused a Texas teacher to lose their job.

HarperCollins, one of the largest publishing houses in the world, has wrestled with attacks on classics including To Kill a Mockingbird and newer books such as The Undefeated, a Caldecott Medal winner that offers a tribute to Black life in the United States. Rich Thomas, who oversees children’s literature at HarperCollins, has said that the best way to resist book bans is to continue publishing diverse books, even if they might get banned. This approach suggests that HarperCollins and other publishers will continue to hire editors from diverse backgrounds and obtain manuscripts from diverse authors.

The ‘Big Five’ publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster — have filed a joint lawsuit against the state of Iowa for its 2023 book ban, known as SF496. These industry giants argue that SF496 is discriminatory, stifles LGBTQ+ perspectives and authors, and denies students access to books that reflect the human experience. A federal judge temporarily blocked SF496 in late 2023

We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for diverse books so every child can feel represented in the literature they read. The organization offers a multitude of resources, from guides to find diverse books to resources for addressing book bans. 

The next Banned Books Week will be held September 22nd – September 28th, 2024. Created by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week aims to raise national awareness about attacks on readers’ freedoms across the country. ALA also offers a Celebrate Banned Books Week Handbook with ideas for programming and events in addition to preparation materials.