A new PEN America report documents how state legislation across the country is driving an alarming spike in book bans in schools.

The report, Banned in the USA: State Laws Supercharge Book Suppression in Schools, expands on two previous PEN America reports tracking the intensifying wave of book bans and laws aimed at limiting access to school and library books. Since July 2021, when PEN America began tracking public school book bans, the organization recorded more than 4,000 bans books through December 2022, including 1,477 individual book bans affecting 874 unique titles during the first half of the 2022-23 school year—a 28% increase over the previous six months.

Another new trend highlighted in the report: the mischaracterization of books as “pornographic” or “indecent.” The reports notes that “alarmist rhetoric” from right wing activists and politicians about “porn in schools” has been a significant factor driving book bans and legislative action.

“The heavy-handed tactics of state legislators are mandating book bans, plain and simple,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, in a release announcing the new report. “Some politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have tried to dismiss the rise in book bans as a ‘hoax.’ But their constituents and supporters are not fooled. The numbers don’t lie, and they reveal a relentless crusade to constrict children’s freedom to read.”

Among the report’s other major findings:

  • Texas and Florida continue to lead the country in book bans—seven districts in Texas were responsible for 438 instances of individual book bans, and 13 districts in Florida were responsible for 357 bans.
  • Of the 1,477 books banned this school year, 31% are about race, racism, or include characters of color, while 26% have LGBTQ+ characters or themes.
  • An emerging feature during this school year has been what PEN calls “wholesale bans” ––where teachers and librarians, feeling pressured by new state laws, empty entire classroom collections.

PEN defines a school book ban as “any action taken against a book based on its content and as a result of parent or community challenges, administrative decisions, or in response to direct or threatened action by lawmakers or other governmental officials, that leads to a previously accessible book being either completely removed from availability to students, or where access to a book is restricted or diminished.”

PEN officials say these efforts to chill speech are part of a nationwide political effort to “foment anxiety and anger” and to “suppress free expression” in public education.

“This book ban movement erupted precisely as many schools had begun to diversify the literature they make available to young people,” commented Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read Program Director at PEN and a lead author of the report. ”Now, those books are being ripped away from students who need access to diverse ideas, information, characters, and stories. They should not be deprived of the opportunity to see themselves reflected in literature and to learn from different perspectives.”

The report comes on the eve of National Library Week, April 23-29, with the American Library Association set to release its annual Top 10 Banned Books.

Last month, ALA also reported a shocking surge in book bans, announcing that it had tracked a stunning 1,269 "demands to censor library books and resources" in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago, and nearly double the record-shattering 729 challenges recorded in 2021. Once again, the vast majority of works challenged were written by or about members of the LGBTQ community and people of color; 58% of reported challenges targeted works in schools and 41% targeted materials in public libraries.