POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Sixteen books have been removed from school library shelves after a local group determined they were “inappropriate” and contained “obscene material.”

This developed amid a “dramatic uptick” in challenges to books involving racial and LGBTQ issues, according to the American Library Association.

The books include The Kite Runner, written by an author from Afghanistan, and two books written by Toni Morrison, an acclaimed African-American author.

Here is the full list:

  • “Two Boys Kissing” by David Levithan
  • “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
  • “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
  • “The Vincent Boys” by Abbi Glines
  • “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris
  • “Real Live Boyfriends” by E. Lockhart
  • “George” by Alex Gino
  • “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  • “Drama” by Raina Telgmeier
  • “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult
  • “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera
  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  • “The Bluest Eyes” by Toni Morrison
  • “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins
  • “Almost Perfect” by Brian Katcher

The group “County Citizens Defending Freedom” brought its concerns to Polk County leadership, stating it violated Florida statutes meant to protect minors from harmful material.

“CCDF-USA believes the content within the pages of these books is not appropriate for distribution to minors, especially in a public-school library,” wrote the group in a statement.

CCDF lists several topics it claims are described in graphic details in the books, including sexual assault, rape, sexually explicit material and racism.

“Really at face value, it seems to be more about oppressing minority voices,” said Stephanie Yocum, president of Polk Education Association. “Going through history, usually the side that’s trying to ban books aren’t the good guys.”

CCDF claims on its website to have a national board that “equips American citizens to defend their freedoms and liberties at the local level.”

It is seeking “affiliates” across the country. A video on the website states the first affiliate is in Polk County, where the group is headquartered.

The website shows affiliates in Florida and Texas.

CCDF also states it protects the “parental right” when it comes to curriculum and what children are “consuming at school.”

“They talk about parent choice, parent choice, parent choice but yet they’re trying to take away parent choice from everybody,” said Yochum.

CCDF responded to News Channel 8’s request for an interview Friday by stating it was experiencing an “overwhelming” response and was prioritizing requests.

In response to allegations the books violate Florida statutes, Superintendent Frederick Heid directed schools to remove the books from shelves this week.

“While it is not the role of my office to approve/evaluate instructional or resource materials at that level, I do have an obligation to review any allegation that a crime is being or has been committed. It is also my obligation to provide safeguards to protect our employees,” Heid wrote in an email to staff.

With the books off the shelves, two committees will be formed to read and review each book, including district staff, colleges/universities, faith-based organizations, public libraries, and parents to promote fairness.

NAACP Lakeland branch president Terry Coney is meeting with Heid next week and expects to be on the committee, Coney said.

“It is important to note that these 16 books have NOT been censored or banned at this time. They have been removed so a thorough, thoughtful review of their content can take place,” said Jason Geary, a spokesperson for Polk County Public Schools.

Heid will bring the committees’ final recommendation to the full board.

“I’ve seen the list of books that were pulled in your county and all of them are books published by mainstream publishers. They will not meet the legal test for what is inappropriate for minors or harmful for minors,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom for American Library Association (ALA).

Caldwell-Stone said there has been a dramatic uptick in reports of book challenges and book removals from libraries and schools since the beginning of fall.

Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 1 of 2021, the ALA received 330 reports of requests to remove books, according to Caldwell-Stone.

In all of 2019, there were 377 reports, she said.

Most books being challenged involve issues of race or LGBTQIA-related topics.

“We’re talking about books that reflect the lived experiences of groups that have been traditionally marginalized in our society but are now finding a place on the public stage,” said Caldwell-Stone.

Caldwell-Stone said her organization’s position is that books should remain on shelves pending review.

The timeline for when a decision will be made on these books is unclear as committee members must read each book and convene to discuss their contents.