UPDATE 10/25/23: Scholastic Backs Down! Read the Letter!
The Scholastic Book Fair will return its books on race and gender to its broader collection, in response to protests and criticism that separating these titles supports right-wing censorship across the U.S.
“I want to apologize on behalf of Scholastic,” Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade Publishing, wrote in a letter of public apology. “Even if the decision was made with good intention, we understand now that it was a mistake to segregate diverse books in an elective case. We sincerely apologize to every author, illustrator, licensor, educator, librarian, parent, and reader who was hurt by our action.”
Read the Original Post
Who’s ready for a trip down “What-The-Hell-Were-They-Thinking” Lane? Remember the giddy feels when the Scholastic Book Fair rolled into school? Well, hold onto your Lisa Frank bookmarks because Scholastic’s latest move might just curb your enthusiasm. Unless, of course, you’re one of those 21st century book-burning party poopers who thinks your personal choices should apply to everybody’s kid.
Quarantines R Us
Get this: Scholastic has corralled all the books they’re scaredy-catting about into a somewhat sequestered collection. Schools have to explicitly request ’em! Sure, fair folks always selected what books to bring, but this? It’s basically a neon sign screaming, “Problem Books Here!” But, spoiler alert: the books are not problematic. They’re brilliant.
So which books is Scholastic labeling as potentially problematic? Hold onto your hats; you know you saw this coming. According to USA Today, Scholastic now makes it easier to overlook a biography of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. A biography of civil rights icon John Lewis is deemed too controversial for Scholastic to automatically include in book fairs, asserts the New York Times. Any oh-so-radical book that helps children feel accepted and respected, like All Are Welcome, except this particular book itself is not welcomed. And a nod to the dynamic poet Amanda Gorman, which is left out of the standard book fair mix, because…uh…IDK…just because. Basically, Scholastic has “othered” dozens of books that aren’t plain vanilla because these so-called “radical leftist” tomes celebrate our colorful, diverse world.
Every. Single. Kid. should be diving into these gems! But Scholastic? They’re like, “Hey, we made this ‘Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice’ collection so librarians don’t accidentally rebel against an unjust state law.” Riiight. Sure, Jan. Nothing like prioritizing willful ignorance over intelligent thought. This is total bullshit that not only empowers book burners everywhere but makes it slam-dunk easy for Scholastic to pretend they care while they easily prop up fascism.
Oops! Did I do that?
But wait. It gets even better (or worse, depending). Some book fair organizers are reporting that the sidelined book collection is being shipped separately and doesn’t arrive in time for the start of the book fair. Gee, how convenient! In at least one case, the really good stuff didn’t arrive until three days into book fair week, after most kids had already visited the fair and found nothing even remotely affirming or inclusive to read. Considering how these book fairs are often a fundraiser for the good deeds of the PTA or FFO, that’s another reason to sound the alarm.
Let’s translate. The leader in U.S. school book fairs—a 103-year-old company—Scholastic is now the head cheerleader for far-right book-banning nutjobs. Under this fancy new “policy,” schools have to explicitly agree that they actually want a collection of books by or about BIPOC or LGBTQ+ people at their book fairs. And agree again, after being asked to agree again. And maybe the book fair will get the diverse books in on time or maybe…whoops!…they might not. It’s a crap shoot, apparently.
I feel like we’ve all been transported into Bizarro World. Having easy access to books that showcase the best a diverse society has to offer should be the default, not the other way around. Grouping these fab reads into a branded bucket of hot potatoes? Yeah, no. Scholastic is basically hand-delivering censorship to ban-happy extremists on a silver platter. What’s next? Separate water fountains for controversial authors?
Taking the high road
Hey, but it’s not only the pushing of books aside that has highlighted Scholastic’s complicity. It’s also the company’s habit of contacting authors to request WTF editorial changes while dangling the promise of broader exposure. Author Maggie Tokuda-Hall writes on her blog about Scholastic’s Educational Division request that she remove the word racism from her book, “Love in the Library,” the tale of her Japanese American grandparents’ meeting in Idaho’s Minidoka camp during their internment in World War II. Um, what part of “internment camp” does not scream racism?
“They did not slip and fall into censorship. They asked for it directly,” writes Tokuda-Hall. After several back-and-forth discussions, along with corporate back-pedaling and accountability gymnastics, the author refused Scholastic’s offer to license her book. The company had lost her trust. Go figure.
Get a Clue, Dudes!
Back to the subject of school book fairs: look, if some despicable Moms for Liberty activists want to remove books from their school’s book fair, they should be forced to do it manually, one flippin’ book at a time. Why the hell make it easy for book burners to hamstring every reader at a school? Why the hell empower those on the wrong side of history? Somebody wants to prevent our children from growing up to be mindful, critical thinkers? That somebody should have to do the dirty work all on their own!
As for why Scholastic chose this route—siloing diverse books into a “separate but equal” collection—it’s clear they thought there were only two choices, or maybe their media memo is a ruse, as in a last ditch effort to gaslight us. “We don’t pretend this solution is perfect – but the other option would be to not offer these books at all – which is not something we’d consider,” Scholastic said in a statement on its website. Color me cynical, but their binary choice defense is so ironic…and lazy AF.
If I were the author of a best-selling cool book geared to kids or teenagers, I’d pen a letter to Scholastic telling them where they can stick their back-of-the-bus book ideas and attempts at censorship. And that really wouldn’t be anything you’d want your elementary school kiddo to read. But again, the choice would be yours as the actual parent.
C’mon, Scholastic. You claim to want kids to fall in love with reading. You say you’re all about kindling the flame of reading love in youth. Uh-huh. Newsflash from rational parents and librarians everywhere: Nope. This ain’t it.
Fired up, Mom and Dad? Pissed off, Grands? Good. Scholastic needs to cut the crap and ditch the bans! Tell Scholastic: Don’t make book bans easier for extremists! Add your voice here: https://secure.everyaction.com/fkZTHLK8sUia9Amw8FvYWg2