The Banned Wagon Is Making A Stop In Houston’s Third Ward To Fight Book Bans

The Banned Wagon Is Making A Stop In Houston’s Third Ward To Fight Book Bans

According to PEN America, Texas is second only to Florida when it comes to the number of books banned by school districts. Texas has banned 625 books, compared to Florida’s much more expansive 1,400 banned books. As a result of the bans, PEN America, Little Free Library, Penguin Random House, and The Freedom to Read Foundation have created a joint project called The Banned Wagon: A Vehicle for Change.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the wagon will be unloading on a Oct. 7 stop at Third Ward’s Kindred Stories, a bookstore owned by Terri Hamm. The Banned Wagon event will have free tote bags, “swag” items, and pizza, plus entertainment provided by DJ Double Dutch. A promotional flyer for the event, explaining the importance of The Banned Wagon, reads, “Book bans are on the rise in America, driven by new laws and regulations limiting the kinds of books that kids can access.”

According to Penguin Random House, the wagon is traveling on a tour to hand out copies of banned books to the communities most affected by the book bans.

According to Texas Scorecard, Harris County Commissioners approved a resolution which turns the Harris County public library system into a book sanctuary, joining 2,828 others across the country. As the resolution reads: “The freedom to read is under threat across the nation, and nowhere more so than in the state of Texas which challenged 2,349 books, of which at least 511 were removed from school libraries and classrooms in 2022, and is on pace to once again lead the nation in challenging and removing books in 2023.”

As the Houston Chronicle reported, on Sept. 1, Texas House Bill 900, also known as the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources (READER) Act, took effect. This act makes book sellers rate books based on references to sexual content; books that are rated “sexually explicit” are taken off shelves. A complaint was filed against the act, alleging that it violates the First and 14th Amendments. Furthermore, this opens up smaller bookstores, which generally sell their books to schools at a reduced price, to face fines that could threaten their businesses. In addition to this hurdle, the act also demands that stores keep detailed records, asking for an accounting of every book they have ever sold to libraries or they could face fines. 

Elizabeth Jordan, general manager of Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio, told the Chronicle, “If I am selling a book to a school, I will have to have read the whole book to determine if it’s sexually relevant or sexually explicit. And both of those things, I think, are pretty subjective, and I might rate them differently than others might.”

She continued, “I don’t see why I would put myself at risk to do that. If all the onus is on me, all the liability is on me, and it’s not a job I’m trained to do or my employees are trained to do. I think that the ultimate end result is there’s just going to be a lot fewer books in school libraries because there are going to be fewer bookstores willing to do the work to sell those books, and that’s bad for all Texas students.”

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