NEW YORK (PIX11) — Despite the growing list of banned books, the New York Public Library is making sure teens across the country have access to literary works that have been censored.
The Books for All: Protect the Freedom to Read initiative kicked off this week to challenge growing censorship around the country.
“We want to celebrate the right to read,” said Siva Ramakrishnan, the director of young adult programs and services at the NYPL. “Restricting access to books is eliminating choice.”
Every two months during the school year, the NYPL will release a banned book that will be available for free on the SimplyE app, according to Ramakrishnan. The last book will be released in June. Anyone in the country can download the books via the app without a library card.
The first book that was released was “Each of Us a Desert” by Mark Oshiro. The fantasy novel, which was banned because the main character represents the LGBTQIA+ community, will be available on the app until Nov. 30. Hard copies can be found at library branches across the five boroughs.
Oshiro said the main character has superpower abilities where she can pull secrets out of people but also carries the weight of keeping them. The book is very popular with teens, Ramakrishnan said.
“It’s condescending to tell people what you can handle, what you can read,” Oshiro told an auditorium of students at the NYPL on Fifth Avenue Tuesday. “It’s important for teens to see themselves represented in books.”
While some classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Catcher in the Rye” have been censored, there is a growing list of books that are banned each year. The works usually touch on the topics of sexual identity, violence, or race, experts said.
So far in 2023, there are already about 700 books that have been challenged — an increase of 20% from the same time last year, according to the American Library Association.
There are no banned books in New York, but teens in states like Texas and Florida have fewer options.
Oshiro said a group of Florida students decided to take advantage of the state’s book challenge system. They challenged the Bible, their textbooks, and math books. One student said he found the math offensive, the author shared. This forced the schools to remove the books for six weeks during the challenge process.
“Malicious compliance is a (good way) to outsmart the system,” he said.
Mira Wassef is a digital reporter who has covered news and sports in the New York City area for more than a decade. She joined PIX11 News in 2022. See more of her work here.