Number of books being challenged, banned in schools, libraries is growing

PITTSBURGH — This week, the American Library Association announced its theme for this year’s Banned Books Week: “Let Freedom Read.” That announcement comes at a time when more and more books are being challenged by politicians, parents and local school boards.

Fifth grader Tila Moreno loves mystery stories, like “Nancy Drew” and “Fuzzy Mud.”

But it was a book that she was assigned to read for her class in the Norwin School District that had her really puzzled, and her mom really upset. Tammy Moreno said her daughter came home from school and asked her what rape was.

“I said, ‘Where is she getting this information from?’ and then I found out about the book,” said Moreno.

The book is called “Al Capone Does My Shirts.” It’s set in the 1930s on Alcatraz Island. The main character is Al Capone.

Moreno said the book has sexual innuendos and uses the “R- word” to refer to a character who has autism.

“I think our children are exposed to social media and see inappropriate things there. Going to school should be an outlet of not having any violence or these type of words or situations portrayed in this book,” said Moreno.

The book was the center of a fight that divided Norwin School Board members, parents and the community. Some parents, including Tammy, pushed to have it removed from the curriculum. Others argued that it is an award-winning book., and to replace it would open the door to removing classics like Tom Sawyer from school reading material.

In the final close vote last month, the book was allowed to remain as part of the 5th-grade reading material

But Tammy Moreno feels so strongly about the issue. It’s one of the reasons she’s now running for the school board.

Similar book challenges are taking place across the country.

Nationally, the American Library Association is seeing a record number of books being challenged, in some cases, outright banned and pulled from library shelves.

Amy Anderson, the CEO of the Allegheny Library Association says the books that are being challenged the most often are books that have topics touching on LBTQI, racial topics or even historical topics.

At Café Conmigo in Wexford, two members of the group called NA for Change sat down with Channel 11 to talk about the book called “The Hate U Give.” The book delves into issues of race and police brutality.

The group successfully fought to keep the book part of the 9th-grade curriculum at North Allegheny High School.

Senior student Lameese Subir said it’s about learning different points of view and being more open-minded.

“In education, and especially in middle school and high school, that’s the time to dismantle your biases,” said Subir.

A point echoed by fellow North Allegheny student Elise Britton who said students should be exposed to issues that are not always comfortable.

“These are real issues that we are facing every day. Erasing history has never made anything better. It’s only bound to repeat itself, said Britton.

Amy Anderson said public libraries need to provide for all parents and all children.

“Things that parent ‘A’ may find offensive or inappropriate, parent ‘B’ might find extremely appropriate for their child,” said Anderson.

It’s an issue affecting rural communities, urban areas and the suburbs, here in Western Pennsylvania and nationwide.

According to PEN America, a national non-profit that works to defend free expression, in 2020 there were 156 requests to pull books and resources. By 2022, the number of challenges swelled to 1,269.

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