• Home

Fight Back Against Book Bans: Tell Urbandale School District to Maintain Access to Knowledge

Join PEN America in sending an open letter to an Iowa school district calling district leaders to reverse an order to remove books found in district schools and classrooms. 

Earlier this week, nearly 400 books were identified for removal from Urbandale, Iowa, schools because of a new state law. The list included literary classics like The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerUlysses by James Joyce, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. After a flood of attention, the district dropped its objections to more than 300 books, but identified 65 it said violate the new state law.

Join us in sending the following letter to Urbandale Schools officials. Use the form below to stand up for the freedom to read.

Letter to Urbandale Schools District officials

To Urbandale School Officials: 

According to a report in the Des Moines Register, earlier this week, nearly 400 books were identified for removal from Urbandale schools. Your district leadership has since revised its position, releasing an updated list of 65 books deemed to be in violation of SF 469 –  of which 22 books weren’t included on the original list, per local reporting.

Sixty-five books is still a jaw-dropping number of books. This list still includes literary classics like Ulysses by James Joyce, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. The revised list also, overwhelmingly, bans books featuring LGBTQ+ characters.

The original list included a sweeping collection of books:

  • Literary classics like The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Ulysses by James Joyce, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. 
  • Children’s picture books like Mayor Pete, about the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Sharice’s Big Voice, about U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, The Adventures of Honey & Leon, about actor Alan Cumming’s two dogs and books about families like Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, The Family Book by Todd Parr, and Old MacDonald Had A Baby by Emily Snape.
  • Contemporary young adult books by award-winning authors such as Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur, Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, and Paper Towns by John Green, Last Night at The Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson, and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. 
  • Works by renowned authors James Baldwin, Charles Baudelaire, Albert Camus, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Henry Miller, Robert Cormier, Neil Gaiman, Roxane Gay, Zora Neale Hurston, Khaled Hosseini, Alice Walker, and Tony Kushner. 

Although the district dropped its objections to some of these books, your district administrators continue to direct educators to remove dozens of valuable literary works from their classrooms and libraries

We understand the tremendous pressure and intense scrutiny on educators and districts when state leaders enact legislation that promotes censorship. Vague language in the law, as well as the inclusion of potential punishments for district leaders and educators who violate it, understandably yield a chilling effect.  

In compiling such a vast number of titles – sourced from other districts where these books have been banned from student access – your district is choosing to restrict access to an expansive body of acclaimed literature and books. And, with what appears to have been little review process, this list targets books by Black and LGBTQ authors and books that deal with racism, gender, and sexuality, seemingly just because these have been the books targeted elsewhere. In removing such an astonishing collection of books you are depriving your students of the freedom to read, to think, to imagine, and to grow. 

It is the responsibility of the district to “support student achievement.” In protecting students’ access to a wide array of knowledge, ideas, stories, and literature, you support their academic and developmental success, sense of well-being and value, and protect their constitutional rights.  

Rather than this sweeping suppression of literature, we ask that you leave these books on shelves and continue to pressure the state to provide explicit guidance on the implementation of the law starting January 1, 2024.