Teens fight for the right to read with ‘banned-book clubs’ and lawsuits


HR King
May 29, 2001
On a hot, dusty Wednesday afternoon, 10 girls gathered in their high school library to talk about a book the adults said they weren’t allowed to read.
The teens came complaining about tests and chattering about TikTok dances — but they quieted when Ella Scott, the 16-year-old co-founder and co-president of the Vandegrift High School Banned Book Club, cleared her throat.
Ella looked at her notes for the club’s 14th meeting, convened to review I.W. Gregorio’s “None of the Above.” The book tells the story of Kristin, a high school student who discovers she is intersex, a condition in which people are born with atypical combinations of chromosomes, hormones, gonads or genitals. In December, the Leander Independent School District had outlawed the novel from classroom libraries and from use in high school student book clubs — along with 10 other books — because it features “sensitive topics” and “concepts of sex and anatomy.”
Books on display at the “Spring into FReadom” rally held in Cedar Park, Tex., on April 20. (Montinique Monroe for The Washington Post)
Vandegrift High School Banned Book Club members, from left to right, Jaea Rivera, Isabela Rotondaro and Nicole Miltonberger chat before a meeting in late April. (Montinique Monroe for The Washington Post)
“So the main thing for this one,” Ella said, tucking her blonde hair behind her ears, “was strong language and sexual references.”
Kendall Howe, 16, pulled up a discussion question on her computer screen and read aloud: “Throughout this novel, Kristin struggles to accept her identity outside of the gender binary. How does Kristin’s self-acceptance change throughout the novel?”
Several people tried to speak at once.
The teens in Texas — who would spend the next hour sharing how they never knew people could be intersex, and wondering what other aspects of the world will remain hidden if grown-ups keep banning books — are part of a swelling movement of students who are gathering all across the country to fight, in ways large and small, for the right to read.
In Missouri, two students filed a lawsuit against their district for yanking eight books from school libraries. In New York, a group of students from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Intellectual Freedom Teen Council are meeting weekly on Zoom to coordinate national resistance to school book censorship. And in Pennsylvania, students held daily protests outside their high school this fall until administrators reversed their decision to ban more than 300 books, films and articles, the majority by Black and Latino authors.
“I didn’t want little kids growing up in the district to feel as if African Americans don’t matter because our books are not on the shelves,” said 17-year-old Christina Ellis, who is Black and helped lead the Pennsylvania demonstrations. “There’s no room to grow if you dismiss our history.”
A poster at a rally for the right to read held in Cedar Park, Tex., in late April. (Montinique Monroe for The Washington Post)
Challenges to books in America this year reached the highest level since the American Library Association (ALA) started tracking the issue decades ago. PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of expression, found that 1,586 books have been yanked from libraries or classrooms in the past nine months, with the majority disappearing secretly, outside proper procedures. By comparison, 2018, 2019 and 2020 each saw about 300 book challenges or bans, according to an ALA tally. Most of the books targeted feature LGBTQ or Black characters or address LGBTQ themes, race or racism.
These are books school systems don’t want you to read, and why
And the book removals are just one piece in a larger, Republican-led campaign to reshape public education in America. Conservative lawmakers in 17 states have passed laws restricting what teachers can say about race, racism and sexism, according to an Education Week tracker, and legislators in at least seven states — including Florida, Kansas and Tennessee — have passed or are considering laws that limit instruction on gender identity and sexuality.
“They’re creating a very small image of what people are supposed to look like in the world.”
— Cate Marshburn
At the local level, adults so far seem little disposed to grant teens’ requests for greater access to books. The reversal in Pennsylvania seems to be one of the only instances to date of a school district backtracking publicly in response to students, according to a Washington Post analysis.
The Texas book club members knew these odds. They knew their district, Leander ISD, had so far refused to return a single one of the 11 books to classrooms. Leander schools spokeswoman Crestina Hardie said Friday that the 11 books remain unavailable in classroom libraries or for use in book clubs, although she noted that physical copies of 9 of the 11 are on offer in high school campus libraries.
The teens knew the adults might not be listening that afternoon in April. But they spoke up anyway.
“For people who are intersex … taking away that story is taking away their story,” said Alyssa Hoy, 16, the book club’s other co-founder.
Cate Marshburn shook her head, blonde ponytail swinging behind her. “They’re creating a very small image,” the 16-year-old said, “of what people are supposed to look like in the world.”
A stack of banned books sits on Alyssa Hoy’s dresser in Austin (Montinique Monroe for The Washington Post)

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HR King
May 29, 2001
Dumb ass Republican fascists. If you want to make a teenager do something, just tell them that they can't!


HR Legend
Jul 14, 2011
"a book the adults said they weren’t allowed to read" - never heard of a school, or school district rule that said that