Author Jodi Picoult denounces book bans after Florida school district pulls 20 of her titles from shelves

"It's really important that right now we all speak out against this," she said.

March 27, 2023, 5:36 PM

According to a new report from the American Library Association, attempted book banning and restrictions at school and public libraries set a record in 2022, with more than 1,200 challenges — nearly double the total from 2021.

Florida passed a new law last year to review reading materials made available in classrooms, and the state's Martin County recently announced the removal of 92 books from its schools.

Twenty of those books were written by bestselling author Jodi Picoult. She sat down with ABC News’ Gio Benitez and Kayna Whitworth on “GMA3” to discuss what happened to her books in Martin County and what she believes is driving book bans nationwide.

Books are displayed at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla., Feb. 18, 2023.
Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times via AP

GIO BENITEZ: You say that you've had your books banned before, but never 20 all at once.


BENITEZ: Why do you think your books are getting banned, especially there in Florida?

PICOULT: That is an excellent question. But unfortunately, in Martin County, Florida, and in many places in Florida, one parent can decide to pull a book from a shelf without even giving a reason for that. And the one parent who wanted to ban all 20 of my books said on her form that she had not read the book, she admitted to that. And she said that some of them were adult romance, which is really interesting because I don't write adult romance. And, in fact, half of the books she pulled do not even have a single kiss in them. But they do have topics like gun rights and women's reproductive health rights and gay rights and things that make—

BENITEZ: Because all of your books are very topical. It's like what's happening in the moment.

PICOULT: Yeah, so they're books that are to encourage kids to think for themselves. They're at a high school library. It's worth saying that. This is not an elementary school library. And the modus operandi is to get the books pulled off the shelves, because the process for review is very muddy. And so the books stay off the shelves, away from kids, until they actually manage to figure out a way to review them. There are some libraries in Florida, actually, school libraries, where they have not had any books in elementary school libraries since Christmas.

KAYNA WHITWORTH: And you said you've had even two more pulled off the shelves.

PICOULT: Yeah, just this weekend.

WHITWORTH: This weekend. And when you're talking about adult romance, you say that's not what I'm writing. Even your book, “The Storyteller,” it's a novel about the Holocaust.

PICOULT: That is correct. Yeah, that was the one that really shocked me in Martin County because it's a book about fascism and the rise of fascism and how ordinary people can play into that. And it felt very ironic to have a book about the Holocaust banned. You know, it's a story for people whose stories can't be told. And that's the reason that we need books like this on the shelf.

BENITEZ: So I want to show this moment from last week. This was at a Martin County school board meeting. And this is a 100-year-old World War II widow, and she spoke out against these book bans. OK. The moment went viral. So let's go ahead and take a look at that.

100-year-old WWII widow: "One of the freedoms that the Nazis crushed was the freedom to read the books they banned. They stopped the free press, banned and burned books. The freedom to read, which is protected by the First Amendment, is our essential right and duty of our democracy."

BENITEZ: It is just chilling to hear that. Jodi, what is your reaction when you hear that?

PICOULT: That I wish she didn't have to fight this battle, that we shouldn't have to relive history all over again, that it's OK for a parent to decide whether or not a book is appropriate for their own child, but it's not appropriate for that same parent to make the decision for your child.

WHITWORTH: Right. You call that a colossal problem.

PICOULT: It is a colossal problem.

WHITWORTH: Individual parenting and individual family decisions that need to be made here.

PICOULT: Exactly.

WHITWORTH: Especially at a time when we're setting record for book bans. So keep this in mind. There's a new report from the American Library Association. Attempted book banning and restrictions at school and public libraries actually set a record in 2022, with more than 1,200 challenges. So to put that in perspective for you, it's nearly double the total from 2021. So what do you think is driving this nationwide idea?

PICOULT: I think it is a small, very vocal group of people who are speaking out. The vast majority of folks in this country know that we should not be banning books, that we should not be restricting what kids are reading. You know, especially at a high school level. I think that unfortunately, the minority is much louder than the majority. And so we all really need to take a stand. You can't listen to the politicians when they say, “These aren't bans, it's a hoax.” I'm an author. Twenty of my books were pulled off the shelf in one particular school district. That is not a hoax. That is a ban. And it's really important that right now we all speak out against this because we've seen historically what happens when we do not.

WHITWORTH: And as Gio said, you know, your books are always grounded in topical information. But also from my experience in reading your books, they're grounded in research.


WHITWORTH: And so it is a fantastic learning tool.

BENITEZ: Just stop writing all those romance novels.

PICOULT: Trust me, I'm OK.

WHITWORTH: Well, thank you so much for joining us. And her latest book, by the way, “Mad Honey,” is available now. Bestselling author Jodi Picoult, thank you so much for joining us.

PICOULT: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

BENITEZ: Thank you.