AUSTIN, Texas - Texas leads the nation in the number of books banned in schools, according to a report from PEN America.
Meanwhile, two local libraries are encouraging the reading of such books.
"We have been shocked and dismayed by the incredible rise of book bans in schools in the past year," Director of PEN America’s Free Expression and Education Programs Jonathan Friedman said.
A report released by PEN America, a nonprofit advocation for free speech, showed more than 140 districts across the country banned more than 2,500 books last school year. Texas banned more than any other state with 801 across 22 districts.
"What's been happening around the country is any kind of objection over any kind of book leads to its removal for all, sometimes at the drop of a hat," Friedman said.
The data showed books featuring protagonists of color, dealing with issues of race, and highlight LGBTQ+ characters was what was being pulled from the shelves.
"They're supposed to bring people together and be places where anyone can go into a public-school library, any student, and find a book that reflects who they are and that teaches them about other people and the wider world out there," Friedman said.
Parents, politicians, and community members have challenged books at higher rates as conservative lawmakers raise concerns about what students are being taught in schools. Friedman said books can be challenged, but strict processes should be followed before banning books.
"Students do have first amendment rights in schools and the library is a place for voluntarily inquiry," Friedman said.
The Austin Public Library and BookPeople are encouraging the inquiries for banned books. They’re challenging everyone to read one banned book during this month and win a prize.
Austin resident Alyssa Johnson said she plans to read more than one this month.
"It's really to expand our consciousness about the experiences of other people and especially as necessary steps to dismantling supremacy and toxic patriarchy and homophobia and to learn more about different communities and different people," Austin resident Alyssa Johnson said.
PEN Austin in collaboration with the Austin Public Library Foundation is holding a community reading Wednesday night as part of Banned Book week. It will feature local leaders reading the books.