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Members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church congregation toss items like books and CDs into a fire in 2001.
Members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church congregation toss items like books and CDs into a fire in 2001.
Photo: Butler Eagle, Jack Neely (AP)

Banned and heavily challenged books are all the rage these days… at least for school districts in states like Florida and Texas. An April 2022 report from PEN America, a nonprofit that works to defend expression in literature, found that the number of banned books is on the rise. As of last month, school districts across 26 states have banned more than 1,000 books over the span of nine months, NBC News reported.

Oftentimes a book is “banned” by being removed from a school’s library or the school’s reading list. Elected officials, parents, or teachers often cite that the contents of the book are inappropriate for the students. School boards can become involved in banning a book from the a school.

The tomes on this list pissed off multiple schools. These characters and plots show how various societal issues, including racism and poverty, intersect with climate change and environmental destruction. Here are some banned books to add to your reading list, if you care about intersectionality and gross chunky rivers.

A student protestor wears a lab coat quoting the Lorax by Dr. Seuss during a climate protest in 2019.
A student protestor wears a lab coat quoting the Lorax by Dr. Seuss during a climate protest in 2019.
Photo: JASON REDMOND/AFP (Getty Images)

In 1989, parents in Northern California asked their children’s school to take The Lorax by Dr. Seuss off the required reading list for second graders. They didn’t like that the plot of the story criticized deforestation. Some of the children who read the book in their classrooms had family members who worked in the logging industry, and the story had supposedly made them question their parents’ lumber jobs.

This illustrated book is about fantastical floofy trees that are used to produce clothing called “Thneeds. The Once-ler (some dude) chops down these trees to knit the multi-function garments, and is confronted by the Lorax, a creature who tries to defend nature before the last trees are cut down. Parents were so upset by that plot that they funded a book parody called The Truax, which emphasized the importance of the logging industry.

Promotional still for the original Broadway production of Native Son.
Promotional still for the original Broadway production of Native Son.
Photo: Mercury Productions; Fred Fehl (Other)

Native Son by Richard Wright is a story about a young Black man named Bigger Thomas who lives in Chicago’s Southside circa the 1930s. The protagonist makes a number of awful decisions, including accidentally killing a white woman in a moment of panic.

This book isn’t explicitly about environmental issues, but there are some intersections in the city’s history. That decade saw the redlining of the city, which pushed Black residents into horrible conditions that include bad housing, crime, and vermin, like the huge black rat that Bigger kills with a skillet in his kitchen. Bigger’s life was always going to be difficult, regardless of the choices he’d make: The toxicity around him and in his decisions mirrors the toxicity of his environment. Almost a century later, Chicago’s south neighborhoods are still largely segregated and suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution and the illnesses, like asthma, that go along with it.

This book was banned from Irvington High School in Fremont, California back in 1998. Some parents complained that the novel was too graphic for children, though children across America face similar horrors in their real lives.

A dust cloud approaches a ranch in Boise City, Oklahoma in 1935.
A dust cloud approaches a ranch in Boise City, Oklahoma in 1935.
Photo: AP Photo (AP)

The Dust Bowl was a period of extreme drought in the 1930s that caused huge dust storms to sweep through the American prairies. It intensified the impact of the Great Depression, especially after towns in states from Texas up to Nebraska practically emptied out as families migrated to states like California for jobs and fresh air.

The characters in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath who flee West are migrants who have been displaced by natural disaster. The protagonist, Tom Joad, leaves prison to find that his hometown in Oklahoma is practically deserted. He has to journey west in hopes of finding a fruit-picking job with his relatives, only to encounter discrimination, back-breaking labor, and starvation. As the effects of global warming intensify, millions of people, much like Tom Joad, will become climate refugees.

This book was banned in California’s Kern County almost 100 years ago due to “obscene” language. People in that county also publicly burned the book after they felt that the author had unfairly portrayed the county and failed to mention Kern’s efforts to help migrants.

Hog carcasses ready for processing and packing in a Chicago meat packing plant.
Hog carcasses ready for processing and packing in a Chicago meat packing plant.
Photo: Keystone (Getty Images)

This early 20th century book made readers feel sick, and it’s also the reason there are now federal laws to oversee food quality and safety. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is littered with visceral descriptions of the kind of conditions low-income European immigrants had to work and live in. In the book, there’s a passage about the environmental damage caused by an unregulated meat industry (and other factories nearby) that describes Bubbly Creek, an arm of the Chicago River, as a “great open sewer” that was putrid from “grease and chemicals” dumped into it. The creek is still polluted to this day.

The book was banned in multiple countries and even burned by Nazis decades after it was released because it supposedly promoted “dangerous” socialist ideals about working class empowerment. But this book went on to change the U.S. meat industry for consumers and for workers. Inspired by the book’s details, President Theodore Roosevelt signed two bills on food and drug regulation in 1906.

Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in 2016 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in 2016 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP (Getty Images)

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People showed up on a ban list in Texas just this year. The book outlines the devastating U.S. legacy of settler colonialism and the harmful polices that were shoved onto tribal nations. What does that have to do with climate or environmental justice? A lot.

The fights over land sovereignty, people being displaced, fear of water near sacred grounds or burial being polluted by pipelines: these are issues that began with the attempted genocide and removal of Native people. Many Native groups east of the Mississippi were “encouraged” to give up their territories for land out West. These areas would later become reservations.

Today, about half of the people living in tribal homes don’t have access to clean running water. Faucets often flow with polluted and rust-filled water, and residents rely on trucks to bring enough for people to drink and wash with. Water could become an even more scarce resource in the near future. Droughts are worsening in the American Southwest (and around the world), and so it might become challenging for some people to have access to crucial natural resources like water. This will cause conflict… which leads to all sorts of atrocities. We need to understand the history of displacement and climate destruction in the U.S. and keep an eye out for patterns, so that we don’t commit the same sins in the near future.

Author Rachel Carson conducting marine biology research in 1952.
Author Rachel Carson conducting marine biology research in 1952.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This book was published in 1962 and is credited with igniting the modern environmental movement. The book lays bare the many negative effects of indiscriminate pesticide use in the U.S. Author Rachel Carson carefully and meticulously described how toxins like DDT were introduced into the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissue of animals, including human beings, causing cancer and other sickness.

Silent Spring has not been banned, but it was heavily challenged by many chemical companies and is worth a read for anyone interested in the history of environmentalism in this country. Campaigns against Carson’s book and research leaned on the importance of using DDT to protect people from the spread of malaria. Monsanto even published a parody of the first chapter of Silent Spring. Despite these challenges, President John F. Kennedy asked that the President’s Science Advisory Committee examine the argument the book made against pesticides, and DDT was eventually banned in the U.S. in the early 1970s.

Source: Gizmodo