Books at center of Fairfax Co. controversy also caused nationwide stir

Two books that led to a debate in the Fairfax County, Virginia, public school system have also stirred up controversy nationwide, according to the American Library Association.

The ALA released a report Monday noting that it recorded 729 challenges — affecting nearly 1,600 books — at public schools and libraries in 2021. That’s more than double the 2020 figures, and the highest since the ALA began compiling challenges more than 20 years ago.

“What we’ve been observing is organized campaigns to remove certain categories of books,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. “These campaigns were really initiated during the summer of 2021.”

The two most challenged books on the list included “Gender Queer,” Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir about sexual identity, and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy,” a coming-of-age novel narrated by a young gay man.

Those books were temporarily removed from high school shelves in Fairfax County last year after critics argued that they contained sexually explicit content.

The school system’s decision to return the books followed an extensive review that lasted about two months.

The library association defines a “challenge” as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

“We’re also seeing the impact of social media,” Caldwell-Stone said. “Videos on Facebook and complaints on Twitter go viral.”

Others on the ALA list, virtually all cited for LGBTQ or racial themes, include Angie Thomas’ bestselling “The Hate U Give,” centered on a police shooting of a Black teen; George Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” Juno Dawson’s “This Book Is Gay” and Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta.”

Two older works that have been on the list before also appear: Sherman Alexie’s autobiographical novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s debut novel “The Bluest Eye.”

Caldwell-Stone said the biggest complaint regarding LGBTQ books was that they include content that is not appropriate for young people.

The biggest concerns regarding books that have racial themes, Caldwell-Stone said, related to people claiming that they promote critical race theory. Critical race theory, often referred to as CRT, is an academic concept that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism in the United States.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Iannelli

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