(LOS ANGELES)– PEN America said today the decision this past weekend by the Orange Unified School District removing a digital library app due to concerns raised over two books with LGBTQ+ themes represents an overreaction and sets a “worrisome precedent.”

The digital library app, Sora, grants students access to ebooks and audiobooks, and connects them to required reading assignments and courses. The suspension was reportedly enacted after individuals raised concerns during open comments at a school district board meeting about two books available through the  app – Polar Bear in Love by Koromo and The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg. Both books have LGBTQ+ themes: in Polar Bear in Love, two male animals fall in love, and in The Music of What Happened two teens do the same.

In response to the proposals, Allison Lee, managing director of PEN America’s Los Angeles office, released the following comments:

“The decision to immediately remove access to thousands of books for students due to a few vocal parents and citizens is both an overreaction, and a worrisome precedent. Digital libraries and related applications are integral to school and district resources and services. Unfortunately, this development in Orange County tracks with the wave of book bans and educational censorship seizing the country. There’s a misconception that California is going to be immune to these forces. Clearly, that’s mistaken. Efforts to remove books that feature LGBTQ+ characters, or that touch on gender, sexuality, or racism, are certainly underway.”

Reporting suggests that “The Music of What Happens” was incorrectly labeled as a primary grade book by its publisher and was removed from the platform the next day; however, the wholesale suspension of the digital library remains in place.

 “The individuals who complained had to search for these books, the same way you might search for a particular book at a public library,” continued Lee. “The digital library is vital for students; the school should resume access, even if a committee proceeds with their review of Sora.”

For the last year and a half, PEN America has documented the sweeping censorship and mobilized against book bans in schools nationwide. Its second report on book bans, Banned in the USA: The Growing Movement to Censor Books in Schools, documented 2,532 instances of individual books banned, affecting 1,648 titles during the 2021-22 school year. The report shows a deeply undemocratic movement of organized groups to ban books, the vast majority of which feature LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color, and/or cover race and racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education. Nearly 140 school districts in 32 states have banned books, impacting a total of 4 million students.

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