(NEW YORK)—Joined by a coalition of authors – including Khaled Hosseini, Maia Kobabe, and Molly Knox Ostertag– PEN America today sent a letter to Rockingham (VA) County Public Schools protesting a recent ban on over 50 books and urging that the district return these books to shelves.

Books banned in the school district during this review period include: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Tricks by Ellen Hopkins, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.

In the fall of 2023, a parent challenged a volume of Heartstopper. The committee that formed to review it voted unanimously to retain the book. Now, Heartstopper has been included as part of the Board’s “temporary removal” initiated on January 8.

Two of the books in the list of over 50 – Slaughterhouse Five and the Kite Runner – were recently retained in one Florida district after public outcry, including students concerned that critical texts for the AP Literature exam may become unavailable. Numerous others have survived challenges nationwide due to their educational and literary value.

The school board is currently revising its policies for reviewing school library contents. The board is also considering new policies governing how school board meetings are run. The proposed policies include a ban on signs, a ban on yielding time to other participants, and a ban on vulgar language.

“We are concerned not only about the recent ban, but also the limitations on public discourse,” said Kasey Meehan, Freedom to Read program director at PEN America. “It is alarming that the school board would move to ban these books at the same time they would narrow the lanes of open dialogue. We are joined by authors in demanding that Rockingham County return these books to shelves and uphold the freedom to read for Virginia students.”

In the open letter, 38 authors requested that the books be returned to the shelves, noting that many of the titles on the list featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes. The letter reads, in part: “Diverse books are critical in engaging students, encouraging empathy, and creating the kind of just and pluralist society that an environment of open exchange promises. Students deserve to see themselves in books, and they deserve to learn how to see others, too.”

On Tuesday night, the Rockingham County School Board met to hear from district librarians about revisions to the library policy. While the status of the 50 plus banned titles was not specifically on the school board agenda, community members and students spoke out against the bans.

Meehan said: “We urge the school board to listen to their community and immediately return all books removed from the libraries. Students have the right to access books and information and school libraries are essential in advancing that freedom.” 

Read the full letter and petition and full list of banned books. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057