(NEW YORK)–PEN America is pleased to learn the Wentzville School District in Missouri has returned 200 books that were temporarily banned to school library shelves, following an open letter signed by 27 authors and illustrators calling on Missouri School Boards and Districts to reverse any bans enacted in response to a new law, SB 775.

The organization remains concerned, however, that 17 books have been permanently banned, are not being returned to shelves, and will continue to be inaccessible to students in the district. To PEN America’s knowledge, none of these books were challenged by parents or other community members, but were removed by school administrators out of fear that they might run afoul of SB 775, which established criminal penalties for providing “explicit sexual material” to students (in the context of a broader bill). The law has broad exceptions for materials of artistic and anthropological significance. Works of literature and educational texts, identified through established, standard material selection processes, may and should remain in schools and school libraries.

“When legislation and threats of criminalization are enacted without guidelines, what we see are librarians and school officials operating out of fear and excess caution,” said Kasey Meehan, program director for Freedom to Read at PEN America. “When books are being removed out of fear of government reprisal, the result is almost certain to be widespread banning.” 

“It is always good news to hear books are going back on library shelves where students can access them,” Meehan continued, “but in this case, serious questions remain about the process adopted by Wentzville School District and other school districts across the state to make these determinations. We do not yet know what criteria was used to determine that these 17 books should be banned, while others returned to circulation, and if this in any way comported with the district’s reconsideration of materials policies. What we do know is that some librarians and school officials are feeling pressured to remove books with any nudity or sexual content–regardless of a book’s context as a whole, its artistic or anthropological significance, or its educational utility. That is to the detriment of Missouri students.”

The books that have been returned to shelves include graphic adaptations of Kindred, Macbeth, The Giver, and The Gettysburg Address; books on art, music, and photography such as Reader’s Digest’s Complete Guide to Drawing and Painting and Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers; and books on history including Holocaust Resistance (Understanding the Holocaust), and the Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel, Maus.

The 17 books that have been permanently banned are listed below. According to PEN America’s tracking, at least 97 books have been banned by Missouri districts this fall, apparently in response to SB 775.

The Handmaid’s Tale – The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood, Renee Nault (illustrator)

Epileptic by David B.

Pablo: Art Masters Series by Julie Birmant, Clement Oubrerie (illustrator)

Bone Parish: Volume 1 by Cullen Bunn, Jonas Scharf and Alex Guimaraes (illustrators)

Bone Parish: Volume 2 by Cullen Bunn, Jonas Scharf and Alex Guimaraes (illustrators)

Bone Parish: Volume 3 by Cullen Bunn, Jonas Scharf and Alex Guimaraes (illustrators)

How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual by Rebecca Burgess

It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris, Michael Emberley (illustrator)

The Cape by Joe Hill and Jason Ciaramella, Zach Howard (illustrator)

Home Body by Rupi Kaur

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, Dani Strips (illustrator)

Ivy by Sarah Oleksyk

Last Man: the Royal Cup by Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville, and Balak

Slaughterhouse-Five: The Graphic Novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Ryan North, Albert Monteys (illustrator)

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. Learn more at pen.org.

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