Banned books exhibit at city libraries provide access to important literature (2023)

When El Paso teen Alex Reyes read “Magnus Chase” while in the seventh grade, they immediately identified with one of the main characters: Alex Fierro. It wasn’t just because of their shared first name, but because of their shared experience as gender fluid teenagers.

“It was the first time I had read a book where I saw something that I kind of felt similar to, related to,” Reyes said. “It’s stuck with me for so long. They have so much more going on, and the sexuality is just a part of it. … It’s not all that I am, but it’s a part of me.”

Rick Riordan’s “Magnus Chase” series, like many of the books Reyes reads, is being targeted by Texas legislators and school boards nationwide. A PEN America report from 2022 found that book bans affected 86 school districts across 26 states, with a combined 2 million students. More than 1,500 books have been banned already; Texas tops the list, with 16 districts having banned more than 700 books.

The number may soon rise further. The Texas Legislature is currently considering several bills that may ban books in schools that include content on sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual activity. Among the bills being considered are Senate Bill 13, House Bill 900 and House Bill 1804.

In El Paso, youth, authors, librarians and other community members are pushing back.

Last year, the city, in collaboration with the YWCA Paso del Norte Region, installed a banned books section at city library branches. “Books have been challenged and banned throughout history, and we are seeing a reemergence today,” the YWCA announced then. “Silencing and limiting of stories, histories, and points of view of anyone are direct attacks on the people who write and are represented in those books.”

The effort by El Paso Public Library sought to spotlight the stories of historically marginalized people and communities of Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian and LGBTQ+ that are often left out of history books and school curriculums.

El Paso city Rep. Alexsandra Annello was elemental in championing the effort to bring access to banned books to area residents.

Banned books exhibit at city libraries provide access to important literature (1)

“A lot of teachers in the area were expressing their concern,” she said. “We really wanted to do it in solidarity with our school board partners … and say that the state can’t come in and tell us what not to have in our library. They’re being banned because they’re culturally informative.”

(Video) Librarians in Louisiana at odds with conservative activists working to ban books

A city of El Paso resolution, created and passed unanimously by council in February 2022, declares that every public library in the city would have a banned books section, highlight the books year-round and form a partnership to accept the books from the YWCA.

The partnership between the two entities, Annello said, served as a message to the public that it wasn’t just a city initiative but a collaboration with community partners that is continuing and can be expanded.

“I was even expecting some of my fellow council members to fight against us, but we had overwhelming support,” she said, adding that the YWCA’s own inclusion and diversity committee donated the books. “The day after we passed this, people were showing up to the library (asking) to rent books.”

Banned books exhibit at city libraries provide access to important literature (2)

Having representation in literature

As Reyes continued their schooling, they found solace in stories they identified with. When a teacher shared the book “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by El Paso author Benjamin Alire Sáenz, it helped Reyes see that others in their community had some of the same questions.

“Seeing ‘Aristotle and Dante,’ something that takes place in my own hometown, written by someone from my hometown, someone who was a teacher at UTEP at one point, it made me realize that there are other people out there like me,” Reyes said. “I’m not alone and no one is alone.”

Having literature that reflected their own feelings helped Reyes finally feel like themselves – and discover what it meant to be gender fluid, allowing Reyes to come out to their family.

“I was so scared to say anything or even think about what I might be when I was little,” Reyes said. “I was so scared that everyone in my family was going to hate me because we were Christian.” But the books they had been reading, in which queer characters’ families and friends were not only religious, but supportive, offered Reyes hope.

“I was able to tell my mother (I was) gender-fluid. Having something concrete that I was able to say back to myself in the mirror gave me so much courage to be able to say it to her.”

School libraries

Armando Loera has been an educator for more than 30 years. Seventeen of those years have been as a librarian. Currently, he is the librarian coordinator for one of the school districts in El Paso County.

“As librarians and as educators, we are about having the freedom to teach real history,” said Loera, who spoke to El Paso Matters not as the representative of the district but as an expert on Texas school libraries. “The freedom to read what’s out there. We really are defenders of something we call the freedom to read.”

(Video) New York Public Library Gives Access To Commonly Banned Books

Due to proximity alone, school libraries offer daily access for school children to access literary materials without driving to a public library. If any of the current Texas legislation passes, new restrictions would be added on librarians’ ability to choose books, meaning students would have fewer books to check out.

“Since the beginning of time … people have had problems with knowledge, because knowledge really, truly is power,” Loera said. “The people that know are the ones that are in power, and they don’t want to share that power.”

When selecting which books will be at school libraries, librarians read reviews, look at education curriculums, and learn what books the students want, all while following guidelines set by the state.

“There are some parameters, but at the end of the day, they’re a little bit broad,” Loera said. “We don’t have the opportunity to read every single book that we have. We also read books, especially if they’re controversial, and then we make that decision.”

If House Bill 1804 were to pass, Loera believes the bill’s ambiguity could cause many books to be banned without being vetted adequately by librarians.

“Unfortunately, a lot (of the books) have to do with race (and sexuality),” he said. “They want to quiet, silence people of color’s experiences. They definitely want to do away with books that have to do with the LGBTQ experience.”

Banned books exhibit at city libraries provide access to important literature (3)

Close to half of the books that Texas wants to ban have to do with the LGBTQ experience, he says.

“Our communities are made up of a group of diverse people,” Loera said. “Books and libraries should be safe places for people to get books that they identify with and get information on things that they’re confused or curious about. By getting rid of those books, they’re not going to have that opportunity.”

The current attacks on books, Loera said, are highly political and a way to silence historical mistakes by those in power. He celebrates the decision by local libraries to make those books available.

“Many people feel that the more books are banned, the more attention you bring to those books, and those books get to be read even more,” he said. “The more displays we have like that, the more people will be aware and read those books.”

(Video) The top library books people tried to ban or censor last year

Loera believes the only people who should have a say in what children read are their parents, and not whatever political rhetoric is being used by those seeking votes.

“The problem comes when the legislature or political parties are wanting to make that decision for everyone,” he said. “As a parent, you’re welcome to go ahead and decide what your children can read, but it shouldn’t be extended to what others at the school should read.”

Fighting for books at school

Reyes and their classmates faced an attack on their freedom when a parent pushed to have the book, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” removed from the Canutillo High School library. Reyes fought to have the school board reinstate the book.

“(The librarian) told me that the parent had called and threatened to burn the book inside the library,” said Reyes, who founded the Gender and Sexualities Alliance at their school. “(The parent) skipped going to the principal and just went straight to the school board. I went, and I gathered a whole bunch of people’s testimonies. Once I started advocating for this book and talking to the board … I got a lot of threats from parents and students in my school.”

Reyes took on the blowback, the insults and threats to be a voice for their community – seeking to emulate the efforts of their hero Adri Perez, an LGBTQ+ organizer and educator who was recently arrested at the Texas Capitol during a peaceful protest.

Banned books exhibit at city libraries provide access to important literature (4)

“I saw that (Adri Perez) were being called names and all these things, and I have been seeing this for years, but there are so many people still supporting them,” Reyes said. “No matter what happened, they still were a voice. But they still do it because if they don’t do it, no one else is going to do it.”

And so Reyes took on the battle.

“There are so many people out there who don’t have the voice that I have or are not in a safe place where they can talk about certain things,” they said. “I was in a position where I could do it.”

Rather than trying to indoctrinate or corrupt children, Reyes argues, these books are personal stories which authors share to connect with readers of different backgrounds.

(Video) Texas county plans to close entire library system rather than un-ban books

“It is someone putting themselves out there, which lets other people know that they aren’t alone,” they said. “These authors and these people reading the books, we’re all one big community. No matter who comes out and says what about us, we know who we are, and we know what we’re trying to do, and we have to just keep fighting for what we’re trying to do.”

Possible sanctions for the city

The consequences for rebelling against the status quo can come in the form of state budget cuts for public libraries.

“The state of Texas can’t come into our facilities and tell us what we can and cannot have,” Annello said. “They’re saying they’re going to cut funding if we have these books. We’ve stood strong, and if it’s about finding other funding to keep our libraries going instead of silencing our community and silencing the stories, that’s something that we will do.”

The stories of minorities in the city are essential, according to Annello, who said El Paso will fight for racial and LGBTQ+ tales to continue to be available for those that want representation in the shelves of their libraries and the halls of powers.

“(Those stories) shaped this country and will continue to shape this country and are extremely important stories not only for the people of El Paso but across the country,” she said. Bills like these, Annello said, are used to silence these stories and voices.

“It is important for communities like El Paso and across Texas to stand up against them.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of city Rep. Alexsandra Annello.

This story was co-published with Next City as part of our joint Equitable Cities Reporting Fellowship For Borderland Narratives.



What does banned books mean in library? ›

Book banning, a form of censorship, occurs when private individuals, government officials, or organizations remove books from libraries, school reading lists, or bookstore shelves because they object to their content, ideas, or themes.

What is the purpose of banned books? ›

The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom: the material was considered to be "sexually explicit" the material contained "offensive language" the materials was "unsuited to any age group"

Why is it important to read banned books? ›

Banned books often deal with subjects that are realistic, timely, and topical. Young people may find a character going through exactly what they are, which makes it a powerful reading experience and helps the reader sort out thorny issues like grief, divorce, sexual assault, bullying, prejudice, and sexual identity.

What is the purpose of the banned books week? ›

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted for removal or restriction in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

How do books get banned from libraries? ›

A book can be banned for one or more of the following reasons: racial issues, encouragement of “damaging” lifestyles, blasphemous dialog, sexual situations or dialog, violence or negativity, presence of witchcraft, religious affiliations (unpopular religions), political bias, or age inappropriateness.

What happens after a book gets banned? ›

What is the effect of banning books? Banning books has both short- and long-term effects. As soon as a challenged book is banned, it will promptly be removed from places like school libraries, bookstore shelves, reading lists and curricula—making it more difficult for a specific audience (usually students) to access.

What are three common reasons why books are banned? ›

offensive language (61.5%) unsuited to age group (49%) religious viewpoint (26%)

What were the three major reasons books were banned? ›

Why are books banned or challenged?
  • the material was considered to be 'sexually explicit'
  • the material contained 'offensive language'
  • the material was 'unsuited to any age group'

When did banned books become a thing? ›

This was in 1982. That same year, organizers at the American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California drafted a plan to bring banned books to the nation's attention.

What is the problem with banned books? ›

Factors of Banning Books

Banning books has a ripple effect that impacts the rights of other readers. When individuals restrict their children from reading certain books, they can't enforce those beliefs onto other children and families. Banning books has the potential to create gaps in knowledge for young learners.

Why is it important to talk about banned challenged books? ›

Banned and challenged books may include uncomfortable or foreign experiences than what you're used to but it allows you to learn about those situations through the words of authors who may not look or think exactly like you.

Why books should and should not be banned? ›

When we ban books, we compromise children's education and development. Books “foster development physically, socially, and emotionally,” says Ash Beckham, an LGBTQ+ advocate, activist, and leadership and diversity speaker. “Books can give children a glimpse of the world far beyond the one they actually see every day.

Why was Charlotte's Web banned? ›

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

She ultimately saves Wilbur before her naturally short lifespan comes to an end. Due to themes of death and the fact that the main characters are talking animals, a parent group in Kansas sought to ban the book from their students' school libraries.

How many books are banned in the US? ›

During the first half of the 2022-23 school year PEN America's Index of School Book Bans lists 1,477 instances of individual books banned, affecting 874 unique titles, an increase of 28 percent compared to the prior six months, January – June 2022.

What is the theme of the banned books 2023? ›

The American Library Association has announced the theme for Banned Books Week 2023: “Let Freedom Read!” Banned Books Week will take place October 1 – 7, 2023.

What is the most common reason books are banned? ›

Violence or Negativity: Books with content that include violence are often banned or censored. Some books have also been deemed too negative or depressing and have been banned or censored as well. Presence of Witchcraft: Books that include magic or witchcraft themes.

How do libraries make sure books are not stolen? ›

Library materials are tagged and if the tag is not deactivated it sounds an alarm. In some libraries with older or rare materials, readers are not allowed to take coats or bags into the reading area except for a few items in a clear plastic bag. Security cameras are not commonly used in libraries for privacy reasons.

Does banning books violate the First Amendment? ›

Book bans violate the First Amendment because they deprive children or students of the right to receive information and ideas,” explained David L. Hudson Jr., a professor at Belmont University College of Law and a First Amendment law expert.

Why is Catcher in the Rye banned? ›

The American Library Association states that The Catcher in the Rye has been banned by schools and public libraries for having “excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence and anything dealing with the occult” and “communism,” among other things.

Why is Fahrenheit 451 banned? ›

Why Was Fahrenheit 451 Banned? Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was banned several times in an effort to censor the graphic content of the story. Even though the story is about censorship, the novel has also been subject to censorship and banning.

Why is Harry Potter banned? ›

There were concerns over the violence and increasingly dark tone of the later books but most of the censorship attempts were for religious reasons. It was also banned in some Christian schools in the UK.

Why was Captain Underpants banned? ›

In an article titled “Why 'Captain Underpants' Is the Most Banned Book in America,” (Sept. 26, 2013) Business Insider cites offensive language, partial nudity, violence, misbehavior, and blackmail/threats.

When was the first book banned in the United States? ›

What is considered the first book ban in the United States took place in 1637 in what is now known as Quincy, Massachusetts. Thomas Morton published his New English Canaan which was subsequently banned by the Puritan government as it was considered a harsh and heretical critique of Puritan customs and power structures.

Is Of Mice and Men a banned book? ›

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is regularly on the banned books list put out by the American Library Association. It has been banned because of vulgarity, racism, and its treatment of women. The challenges don't seem to go away as time goes on; even in the twenty-first century, the book is still being challenged.

Why are books banned in the world? ›

Book banning and censorship have been common practices in countries like China and Hong Kong in order to protect the Chinese Communist Party from criticism. Politically sensitive reading materials as well as those dealing with religion, sexual content, and other taboo topics are consistently avoided by booksellers.

Is the Bible the most banned book in the world? ›

They are meant to immortalize historical events, unique stories, and fantastic worlds. To ban a book is to ban creativity. The American Library Association recently released a study showing that the Bible has become the most banned book for the first time in history.

How many books are actually banned? ›

Banned and Challenged: Restricting access to books in the U.S. This year's report includes an expanded list of the 13 books most challenged in 2022, as there were the same number of banning efforts against several of the books. Overall, the ALA says that 2,571 unique titles were banned or challenged.

How does censorship affect education? ›

Censorship also harms teachers. By limiting resources and flexibility, censorship hampers a teacher's ability to explore all possible avenues to motivate and “reach” students. By curtailing ideas that can be discussed in class, censorship takes creativity and vitality out of the art of teaching.

Why is The Great Gatsby banned? ›

The Great Gatsby was challenged and banned for a few reasons: sex, violence, adultery, and language. The affair between Daisy and Gatsby along with Nick's language regarding Jordan Baker make up most of the sex and adultery reasoning behind the challenging and banning of the book.

What is the difference between banned books and challenged books? ›

What's the difference between a challenge and a banning? A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.

How to read banned books? ›

Download Free Banned Classics from Google Books

Classic books that have been banned or challenged for which you can get free downloadable versions for computer, mobile devices and some eReaders from Google Books, below. You can also try Project Gutenberg Banned Books Bookshelf and Many Books: Banned Books.

What does censorship mean in literature? ›

censorship, the changing or the suppression or prohibition of speech or writing that is deemed subversive of the common good.

Why are books so important? ›

Books play a significant role in our life, especially for children. Reading books increases the knowledge of students, improves their intellect, makes students aware of the various societies, and civilizations across the globe. Moreover, reading books enhances imagination and creativity in the student's mind.

Why does censorship happen? ›

Political censorship occurs when governments hold back information from their citizens. This is often done to exert control over the populace and prevent free expression that might foment rebellion. Religious censorship is the means by which any material considered objectionable by a certain religion is removed.

Why books are better than movies? ›

Furthermore, books are much more detailed than films. Usually a film lasts approximately two hours while in a book there can be hundreds (maybe thousands) of pages of description. Books also develop their characters much more and add multiple dimensions to them; such as detailing their emotions and thoughts.

Why is green eggs and ham banned? ›

Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham was banned in Maoist China in 1965. What was the reason? Apparently, it portrayed Marxism in a bad light by showing the Sam-I-Am character force his possessions (green eggs and ham) onto someone else. The ban was not lifted until Seuss' death in 1991.

Why is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory banned? ›

BANNED BOOK WEEK! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Why: A Colorado library banned the book because it embraced a “poor philosophy of life.” Additionally, since its publication in 1964, the book was under fire for comparing the Oompa Loompas to Africans.

Why was Alice in Wonderland banned? ›

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was originally banned in China and other parts of the world because some people objected to the animal characters being able to use human language. They felt this put animals on the same level as humans"(Banned).

Why is the color purple banned? ›

The Color Purple by Allice Walker has been banned in schools across the United States sine 1984, just two years after the book was published. The book was banned for its sexual content and situations of abuse and domestic violence.

Why is Lawn Boy banned? ›

Lawn Boy, a 2018 novel by Jonathan Evison, drew national attention in 2021 after it was found in school libraries despite scenes that parents labeled 'pedophilic'. School districts in at least 12 states removed the book from libraries because of the controversial passages.

Is Huckleberry Finn banned? ›

Some Americans did not view Huck as a positive role model for young readers. Immediately after publication, the book was banned on the recommendation of public commissioners in Concord, Massachusetts, who described it as racist, coarse, trashy, inelegant, irreligious, obsolete, inaccurate, and mindless.

Does Barnes and Noble sell banned books? ›

The good news is that we have an extensive list of banned books that are available to read today. Explore our list of the top banned & challenged books in libraries and schools at Barnes & Noble.

Why is Kite Runner banned? ›

Banned Books

The novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini appeared in the top ten of the American Library Association's (ALA) list of frequently challenged books in 2008. The main concerns about using the novel in high schools included its sexually explicit content, offensive language, and age inappropriateness.

Is Animal Farm a banned book? ›

The American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded a cartoon version in 1955. Because of its illegality, many in Soviet-controlled territory first read it in pirated, 'samizdat' form. In 2002, the novel was banned in schools in the United Arab Emirates.

How do you know if a book is banned? ›

The American Library Association (ALA) maintains a useful website of Frequently Challenged Books. It answers the questions such as to, "What is the difference between a challenge and a banning?" and "Why are books challenged?" It includes lists of banned book by author, by year, and by decade.

Why is Charlotte's Web banned? ›

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

She ultimately saves Wilbur before her naturally short lifespan comes to an end. Due to themes of death and the fact that the main characters are talking animals, a parent group in Kansas sought to ban the book from their students' school libraries.

Why are banned books bad? ›

''Removing books has a negative impact because it is censorship. When you censor certain ideas and beliefs, you create a more xenophobic and ignorant society. This is teaching students that it is okay to stop an idea or viewpoint from being heard because they don't agree with it. ''

What is banned books class? ›

Course Description:

This course is about works of literature - including some classical and medieval works - that have been censored and banned in various parts of the world.

Are book bans illegal? ›

The 6th Circuit found that the First Amendment protects the right of the students to receive information and that a decision to remove the books from the school library was unconstitutional.

Is banning books unconstitutional? ›

The government cannot create laws or allow lawsuits that keep you from having particular books on your bookshelf, unless the substance of those books fits into a narrowly defined unprotected category of speech such as obscenity or libel.

Why was the Wizard of Oz banned? ›

In 1928 all public libraries banned the book arguing that the story was ungodly for “depicting women in strong leadership roles”. This argument remained the common defense against the novels from ministers and educators through the 1950s and 60s.

Why was Junie B Jones banned? ›

Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones series was challenged because of its poor grammar, punctuation and often disrespectful attitude.

What kind of books get banned the most? ›

As of 2020, the top ten reasons books were challenged and banned books included sexual content (92.5% percent of books on the list); offensive language (61.5%); unsuited to age group (49%); religious viewpoint (26%); LGBTQIA+ content (23.5%); violence (19%); racism (16.5%); drugs, alcohol, and smoking (12.5%); "anti- ...

What are the top 3 reasons books are banned? ›

violence (19%) racism (16.5%) use of illegal substances (12.5%)

What states have banned books? ›

Florida and Texas remain at the top of the list of states banning the most books, followed closely by South Carolina, Missouri, and Utah. These states earn their titles thanks to legislation and broad, “wholesale” bans of entire swaths of books.

Why is Huckleberry Finn banned? ›

Huckleberry Finn banned immediately after publication

Immediately after publication, the book was banned on the recommendation of public commissioners in Concord, Massachusetts, who described it as racist, coarse, trashy, inelegant, irreligious, obsolete, inaccurate, and mindless.


1. Republican surge on book bans and defunding libraries
2. Armed activists show up to library and demand they ban books
3. Over 170 books banned from Florida school libraries following new education reform
(CBS Evening News)
4. Why Are People Banning Books in Schools?
(Above The Noise)
5. Book Bans Reach Historic Highs: How Libraries Became a Political Battleground | Amanpour and Company
(Amanpour and Company)
6. Brooklyn Public Library offers teens nationwide access to banned books
(CBS New York)
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