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An Idaho school board banned 23 books. So a local bookstore gave out copies for free

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Book banning is on the rise. The American Library Association says that last year set a record for the number of attempts to ban books at public and school libraries - more than 700. And last month, one of Idaho's largest school districts voted to ban 23 books. But an Idaho bookstore is pushing back. It's handing out copies of those banned books for free. Boise State Public Radio's James Dawson reports.

JAMES DAWSON, BYLINE: Last summer, Idaho right-wing activists started pushing local library boards to ban books they said are tainting students' minds. Then, State House Republicans passed a bill that could have fined or jailed librarians for up to a year for lending any materials deemed harmful to minors. Here's Representative Bruce Skaug.

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BRUCE SKAUG: I would rather my 6-year-old grandson start smoking cigarettes tomorrow than get a view of this stuff one time at the public library or anywhere else.

DAWSON: But minority leader Ilana Rubel says the bill never defined what would be harmful.

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ILANA RUBEL: How in the world is any librarian facing potential criminal sanctions going to know? They absolutely cannot.

DAWSON: The measure failed in the Idaho Senate, but lawmakers ended up cutting $3.5 million from the State Commission for Libraries budget, even though it doesn't choose which books go on shelves.

Then last month, school board members in Nampa threw out about two dozen books from its libraries over concerns they were pornographic. Vice Chair Tracy Pearson said they needed to act quickly, even though many of the books were already under review by the district.

TRACEY PEARSON: I think it's too long of a process to have lifetime trauma to a child that does not need to be maybe experimenting something that they've read.

DAWSON: Some of the titles have been challenged for decades, like Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye." But it also included "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison - a book the district never had, but one that's been a recent target of conservative groups.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's, like, a late middle school...

DAWSON: Yesterday, some people in Nampa pushed back. More than 100 kids, parents and teachers are lined up around the block to get free copies of these banned books at a local coffee shop. Rediscovered Books, a local shop, solicited donations for the giveaway. Co-owner Laura DeLaney says some of the banned books do include vivid descriptions of sex and drug abuse, but those are real issues in everyday life.

LAURA DELANEY: I want us to stop second-guessing our educators on what is and is not appropriate to teach in a school.

DAWSON: DeLaney says she's tired of these debates.

DELANEY: This is about seeing the richness and complexity of humanity. And who are we but the ones to educate our students, especially those in high school, how to navigate our world and understand it to the best of our ability.

DAWSON: Caitlin McCarrol was in line. The Nampa English teacher says she noticed many of the banned books included LGBTQ characters.

CAITLIN MCCARROL: It felt like almost a targeted attack on that community, which already feels attacked a lot anyway.

DAWSON: Also in line was Michelle Sprague, a seventh-grade science teacher who keeps her own library in her classroom that her students can use. She was heartbroken that "The Prince And The Dressmaker" was banned. It's a graphic novel for young adults about a cross-dressing prince that Sprague says meant a lot to her students this year.

MICHELLE SPRAGUE: The acceptance and love and friendship of it is just beautiful.

DAWSON: Bookstore owner Laura DeLaney says they'll give away more than 1,300 banned books, creating a sort of unofficial summer reading list. Some of the books could return to Nampa school libraries by this fall. The district is working on a new review process, but for now, a majority of board members continue to support the ban.

For NPR News, I'm James Dawson in Nampa, Idaho.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "UNDER THE BRIDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.