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Searching for gift ideas? ’Tis the season to give the gift of banned books

As we wind down a year marked by groups campaigning to ban books from libraries and schools, it seems fitting that a banned book is the ideal holiday gift.

In the first eight months of 2023, 3,923 public library books were “challenged,” according to the American Library Association (ALA). The ALA reports that most challenged books are written “by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.” In other words, these are books that give voice to communities not frequently heard and that provide comfort and understanding to young readers who identify with these stories.

Here’s a list of banned books that the Southern Poverty Law Center recommends for the 2023 holiday season. The selections are drawn from a list of banned books compiled earlier this year by the SPLC’s Learning for Justice program and books highlighted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Banned Books Project and the ALA’s Banned and Challenged Books list.

Look for these books at your favorite local bookstore or online retailer.

Grades K-5

Book cover of two people in deep blue water with ship on horizon.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

By Nikole Hannah-Jones
An illustrated adaptation for young readers of the landmark study of the ongoing effect of enslavement on contemporary American life. This book tells the history of Black enslavement, resistance to inhuman treatment by white people and advancements in U.S. society by descendants of enslaved people.

Something Happened in Our Town

By Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins and Ann Hazzard
A winner of multiple awards, this book follows two families, one Black and one white, as parents answer their children’s questions about racism, racial injustice, anti-Black violence and trauma after a police shooting of a Black man in their community.

Book cover: Two children using paints in buckets and brushes to illustrate book title Pink is for Boys

Pink Is for Boys

By Robb Pearlman
A simple yet important story that challenges gender stereotypes about what is strictly “girl” and “boy” behavior. The book’s core message is, “All the colors are for everyone.”

And Tango Makes Three

By Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
The heartwarming story of two male penguins who fall in love and create a family with the help of their caring zookeeper. The story demonstrates that love and the desire to nurture our young transcend gender and sexuality.

I Am Jazz

By Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel
The story of a transgender girl whose parents resist their child’s desire to act and dress like a girl but come to accept and support her after a doctor explains being transgender to them. Though Jazz faces mistreatment by some peers, she welcomes many new friends and is happier than she has ever been.

Middle and high school grades

Book cover in vibrant pink color and title words in word bubbles, Are You There God? It's me, Margaret.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

By Judy Blume
Margaret, a sixth grader, confronts her changing adolescent body, anxiety over boys and sex, and questioning relationship to God due to her parents’ interfaith marriage and their lack of religious observance.

All Boys Aren’t Blue

By George M. Johnson
A coming-of-age memoir by Black LGBTQ+ journalist and activist George Johnson that recalls his youth and college years.

Gender Queer

By Maia Kobabe
A memoir of the writer’s journey of self-discovery and eventual self-acceptance as a nonbinary and asexual person.

The Bluest Eye

By Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s first novel tells the third-person narrated story of the cruel effects of racism. Pecola Breedlove is a young Black girl who develops an inferiority complex due to criticism of her Black skin and overall appearance. Amid the harsh reality of her life, which includes enduring incest, she yearns for blue eyes, a desirable symbol of whiteness to her.

Book cover of person holding sign with title The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

By Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter straddles two worlds: the gang- and drug-ridden Black community where she lives, and the predominantly white school she attends with her white friends and boyfriend. When she witnesses the shooting of a close childhood friend by a white policeman, a traumatized Starr must decide whether to go public with her knowledge of the killing and alienate white friends or remain silent.

Illustration at top: According to the American Library Association, 3,923 public library books were “challenged” in the first eight months of 2023. (Credit: SPLC)