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Scholastic Book Fair struggles with diverse titles amid surge in book bans: NPR


A School Book Fair banner photographed outside a school in Queens, New York.

Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A School Book Fair banner photographed outside a school in Queens, New York.

Lindsey Nicholson/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It’s fall, which means it’s School Book Fair season. Schools across the country are installing bookshelves in their libraries and gymnasiums to allow students to purchase a wide selection of books provided by the educational and publishing company. It is a highlight for many students and a nostalgic memory for many adults.

But the events also gave rise to controversy, after the company behind them changed its policy to help schools deal with the growing number of book bans in the United States – and was quickly accused of giving in to censorship.

Accusations began swirling on TikTok and Reddit last month: Scholastic — the billion-dollar education company that publishes and distributes books — was allowing schools to refuse to supply miscellaneous books at its national book fairs , according to complaints from several school librarians.

They said Scholastic put most books focused on race and sexuality in a separate exhibit and let schools decide whether to order them.

The reaction was rapid. Many writers and educators on social media accused the company of helping to allow restrictions on the books and argued that the company was not taking a strong enough stance against them.

Scholastic acknowledged the change in a statement Friday, but defended its decision. Legislation passed or pending in more than 30 states prohibits certain types of books — primarily “LGBTQIA+ titles and books that address the presence of racism in our country” — from being in schools, the company said.

Since book fairs take place in schools and without parental supervision, such laws create “an almost impossible dilemma: walk away from these titles or risk making teachers, librarians and volunteers vulnerable to dismissal, prosecution or legal proceedings”.

Scholastic says it wants to help schools navigate complex landscape

The company said that in order to continue offering diverse books, it has created a new collection for its elementary school fairs called “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.”

“We’re not pretending this solution is perfect – but the other option would be not to offer these books at all – which we’re not considering,” Scholastic said, adding that there are still miscellaneous titles in its book. fairs and that college fairs remain unchanged.

A Scholastic spokesperson told NPR that the company has been in contact with customers about the new policy since August.

They said many school districts have questions and concerns about how to adapt to the new legislation, which in some cases took effect over the summer. These conversations, they added, were not about how to eliminate certain books from their fairs, but about how to run a fair safely in the current climate.

According to a list shared with NPR, of the more than 100 titles featured at this year’s book fair, the most books addressing issues of race, gender and sexuality are in the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” collection. .

The file includes around thirty books, ranging from The ABCs of Black History to the biographies of Representative John Lewis, Ruby Bridges and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. There are picture books and graphic novels by poet Amanda Gorman, civil rights activist and football player Colin Kaepernick, and Jojo Siwa, a dancer and internet personality who came out as gay in 2021. A book based on the PBS animated show. The path of Alma features a Puerto Rican family searching for a child’s missing tooth.

The Scholastic spokesperson says that moving these titles to a specific group allowed for more diverse books to be included in their other collections and that the change was largely well-received by school districts.

Book Bans Pose All Kinds of Risks

Movement to restrict books is ‘driven by a vocal minority demanding censorship,’ says free speech group PEN America, which said it found 3,362 cases of book bans during the school year 2022-2023, compared to 2,532 bans during the year 2021-2023. ’22 school year. The group defines a ban as any action that restricts access to a book. A majority of Americans oppose restrictions on books, according to an NPR/Ipsos poll.

It says such bans in schools and libraries are most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah and South Carolina, but are “modeled and replicated across the country.”

Many districts are still considering what new book bans will mean for their classrooms and libraries.

The wording of the laws themselves – and the resulting legal back-and-forth – have created a lot of confusion, as is the case in Texas where one of these new laws is temporarily taking effect this month after an appeals court blocked a judge’s injunction against him.

In Georgia, a fifth-grade teacher was fired earlier this year for reading aloud a book about gender stereotypes, which she said was chosen at the Scholastic book fair. (She appealed her firing to the State Board of Education last month.) A Texas middle school teacher was fired for assigning her class an illustrated adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank.

Other librarians and teachers across the country have faced harassment, threats, and firings due to book bans, anti-critical protests against race theory, and other culture war issues. Some began to self-censor, while others quit altogether.

Mychal Threets, a California librarian with a huge social media following, responded to Scholastic’s change on TikTok.

Speaking to the company, he said: “We fight for the freedom to read. We celebrate the freedom to read. Join us. You are the power. Use your voice.”



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