Feb 11, 2022 - News

The books Des Moines suburbs want to ban in schools

Illustration of a book wrapped in caution tape

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Six book bans have been requested in Des Moines' largest metro school districts, according to documents Axios obtained via multiple public records requests this month.

The big picture: The requests are a product of a culture war that has made schools across the nation ground zero, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

  • A pivotal midterm election year, COVID frustrations and a backlash against efforts to call out systemic racism are in play.

Driving the news: Educators could face prison time under a bill advancing in the Iowa Senate to ban "obscene material" from schools.

  • Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" is one of the books supporters of the proposal read aloud Thursday in an hourlong public hearing.

Zoom in: Ankeny School District removed "Gender Queer" from its collections late last year.

  • No other book has been banned in the district so far.

What they're saying: The book is not pornographic but its explicit visuals and graphic nature overshadow its message and reduces its literary value, Ankeny's committee concluded in November.

The other side: West Des Moines reviewed the book, and an advisory committee determined that seeing the illustrations alone is very different from reading the book.

  • There is value for LGBTQ students in having access to it, the committee concluded.

Of note: Des Moines Public Schools said it hasn't received any book ban requests this school year.

The following books have been targeted for graphic descriptions or illustrations in suburban school districts.

"Gender Queer: A Memoir"

  • Requests for removal made in Ankeny, Waukee and WDM high schools.
  • Nonbinary author Maia Kobabe's autobiography illustrated in comics.

"All Boys Aren't Blue"

  • Requests made in WDM, Waukee and Ankeny high schools.
  • George M. Johnson shares personal essays about his experiences growing up as a Black gay man.


  • Requests made in WDM's Stilwell Jr. High.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson's novel, based on the author's personal experience, about a sexually assaulted teen who's ostracized by peers.

"Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl"

  • Requests made in Ankeny's 8th-12th grade collections.
  • Author Jesse Andrews tells the story of a girl with cancer is befriended by another teenager.

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian"

  • Requests made in Ankeny's 8th-12th grade collections.
  • Author Sherman Alexie Andrews' fiction about a Native American teen's experience after transferring to an all-white school.

"Lawn Boy"

  • Requests made in Waukee high schools.
  • Jonathan Evison tells the story of a Mexican American man's journey understanding his own identity and sexuality.

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