Those who challenge or seek to ban books from classrooms claim they are exercising their parental rights, but critics argue that banning works of literature represents the censorship of ideas and information in public schools.
In the 2021-2022 school year, more than 1,600 books were banned from school libraries across the nation. A banned book is one that has been pulled from library shelves or prohibited from being taught in the classroom. They are often pulled after parents, school board members, or other community members—some of whom are members of groups funded by wealthy conservative donors—claim the books contain inappropriate content, which can range from some chapters being “uncomfortable” to read to discussions about sexuality or violence.
While supporters of these bans claim they are exercising their parental rights, critics argue that banning works of literature represents the censorship of ideas and information in public schools, especially since many of the challenged books highlight the experience of marginalized communities.
Here is a list of books that have been banned or challenged in North Carolina.
Dear Martin – Nic Stone
Dear Martin was pulled from a Haywood County classroom by Superintendent Bill Nolte in January 2022 over claims of “excessive profanity.” The book centers around Justyce McAllister, a Black teenager, who has a bad run-in with local police. This coming-of-age novel is written in the form of letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as Justyce finds himself at a prestigious, mostly white school, grappling with trauma and racism.
Looking for Alaska – John Green
Since September 2022, the Cabarrus County school board has been under pressure to remove Looking for Alaska from classrooms and libraries because of a sexually explicit scene. Since then they have been establishing a process that allegedly will provide transparency to the community as they decide which books will be kept or banned in schools. Green’s novel explores many themes like discovering the meaning of life, grief, hope, and human connection. It’s split into two parts where a rag-tag group of teenagers form close bonds and go on a journey to find out what happened to their friend.
The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo
John and Robin Coble, in Coble v. Lake Norman Charter School, argued that The Poet X should not be taught in public schools because the main character struggles with her faith in Christianity. In 2021, a federal court rejected their argument. In the book, the main character, Xiomara Batista, is going through changes and feels stifled by her mother’s rules. To combat this, she writes about her struggles with Catholicism, a changing body, and young love in her book of poems—and along the way, she figures out a way to share them.
All American Boys – Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
The Pitt County school board voted to ban All American Boys from classroom curricula in January 2022. The story is about a racially divisive episode told from the perspectives of both a Black and a white student. Together, they explore the gritty details of a story that seems to be pulled right out of newspaper headlines.
Gender Queer: A Memoir – Maia Kobabe
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe is a children’s novel about the author’s process of understanding their identity. It was the most challenged book in the United States in 2021, and was briefly pulled off Wake County Library shelves. It has been put back in circulation after many protests.
Warriors Don’t Cry – Melba Pattillo Beals
In early 2022, parents at Union County’s Marvin Ridge Middle School complained that the semi-autobiographical account of the Little Rock Nine, Warriors Don’t Cry, would be uncomfortable for students to read. In her novel, Melba Pattillo Beals recounts what it was like to be one of the first Black students to integrate into a white school after the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. The teacher initially removed the book from her curriculum, but Union County insisted the book was not banned, and parents could now choose other books they found appropriate.
Melissa – Alex Gino
In December 2021, parents in Moore County insisted a story about a transgender teen be removed from shelves because “it’s not the government’s business to introduce transgenderism”—even though transgender people have existed for centuries and have long been active members of their communities. The parents, notably, also did not complain about the books featuring straight or cisgender people.
In Melissa, previously titled George, , the main character faces many obstacles over the course of the book and comes up with a plan to make sure everyone recognizes her true identity. The book was not required reading—it was available in school media centers where it could be checked out if a student was interested. The Moore County School Board created a committee to review the book that recommended it be kept in two schools, McDeeds Creek Elementary and Union Pines High School.