Stephana Ferrell was only active in politics until a year ago. She would occasionally write letters to elected officials.

Next came the Orange County school board meeting, Florida. There was an objection to Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir.” The county made the decision last fall to take it off high school shelves.

Ferrell, a mother to two, says, “By winter break we realized that this was happening across the state and had to start a project for parents to protect information and ideas at school.” She co-founded the Florida Freedom to Read Project with Jen Cousins, a fellow Orange County parent. This project works with parent groups across the state on a variety of educational issues including “keeping or getting back books that were challenged or banned,”

According to the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, and other advocates for freedom of expression, book bans and challenges have increased in number over the past year. Censorship efforts range from local communities like Orange County, a Tennessee schoolboard’s pulling Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “Maus,” up to statewide initiatives.

Yael Levin, a spokesperson for No Left Turn in Education says that there are books that contain pornography and pedophilia. She has asked Attorney General Merrick Garland for an investigation into the availability of “Gender Queer” books. “Now, we’re talking not about a bookstore or public library. “We’re not talking about school libraries for K-12, books with pornographic or pedophilic content.”

According to PEN America which tracks legislation across the country, dozens have been proposed that limit classroom reading and discuss. Almost all the laws are focused on sexuality, gender identity and race. Missouri’s bill would prohibit teachers from using the “1619 Project,” New York Times magazine issue that centers on slavery in American History. It was published last fall as a book .

Responses have been received from many organizations, as well as individuals like Ferrell.

Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN America, stated that the American Civil Liberties Union (PEN America), PEN America, and the NCAC have been helping local activists, educators, and families across the country. They help them “to prepare to meetings, to draft letters, and to mobilize opposition.” Markus Dohle (Penguin Random House CEO) has announced that he will donate $500,000 to a book defense fund in partnership with PEN. Hachette Book Group announced that it will make “emergency contributions” to PEN and the NCAC, as well as the Authors Guild.

One strategy was legal action. The ACLU sued the Missouri school district in mid-February to stop them from removing booksas: “Gender Queer,” Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”, and Keise Laymon’s memoir “Heavy.” The civil rights union also filed open records requests for Montana and Tennessee over book bans and a warning letter in Mississippi about the “unconstitutionality” of book bans in public libraries.

Vera Eidelman, a staff attorney for the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, cited the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states that local school boards cannot remove books from school libraries because they don’t like the ideas in the books. However, Eidelman noted that school officials can ban books for other reasons than disapproval of the views expressed by the books. For example, officials might decide that the book is inappropriate or vulgar.

She said, “The problem is that too often, our definitions of vulgarity and age appropriateness are, for lack of better words, mushy” and can be hidden or used as pretext to justify viewpoint-based government decisions.”

Pennsylvania launched two anti-banning programs. Kutztown eighth grader Joslyn diffenbaugh started a ban on book clubs last fall. It began with a reading from George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The Pennridge Improvement Project has launched a drive to buy books that were removed from schools like Kim Johnson’s This is My America and Leslea Newman’s Heather has Two Mommies. They will then be placed in small libraries throughout the district.

New organizations have emerged and existing ones have had to shift their focus. Katie Paris, a Ohio resident, is the founder of Red, Wine & Blue, a network of politically engaged “PTA moms and digital divas” that was established in 2019. She said she started receiving calls last year from members asking for assistance as “critical race theory” debates erupted.

Red, Wine & Blue launched online Trouble Maker Training sessions. This includes guidance such as “Present a calm, composed face to counter the yelling, shouting,” and “Own individual liberty: You have the right to decide what is best for your child, but not what is best for others.” Red, Wine & Blue has also launched a website to track book bans, raised $65,000 to support bans, and will be hosting an event featuring parents and authors from communities where banned books are being challenged.

Paris, a mother to three-year-old boys and a father of seven-year-olds, says that education is best when parents and teachers work together. If you don’t wish your child to have access, opt them out. That’s fine. It’s okay.

It is not difficult to get a book back. This is similar to other forms of community activism, such as letter writing, speeches and attending meetings.

Meenal McNary, a member the Round Rock Black Parents Association is located about 20 miles away from Austin, Texas. After a Black teenager was brutally beaten to death by a police officer in 2015, the association was established. It has been active in diversifying curriculum and fighting for books to be removed. Round Rock school district officials considered whether “Stamped” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi should be removed from middle school reading lists last year after a parent object.

McNary states that McNary worked with a middle-school teacher to create a petition. The petition gained more than 1,000 signatures. The three-step review culminated in a vote by the school board. McNary and other members helped to organize people to write letters, turn up at board meetings, and tell others about the petition.

McNary states that children spoke out in support of the book, even though some found it difficult to read. “We had everybody, from middle schoolers to grandfathers and grandmothers, stating why this book should be kept on the shelves. The book is still available and the board voted in our favor.