Concerns about censorship at Scholastic’s Rising Voices Library, a diversity-focused provider of educational materials, arose on Wednesday after writer Maggie Tokuda-Hall was asked to revise an author’s note in her book about Japanese American incarceration during World War II. Tokuda-Hall spoke out against Scholastic’s request that she cut the words “virulent racism” from a sentence about the trauma caused by anti-Japanese American policies and that she eliminate a paragraph about racism’s broader legacy in America.
Scholastic's actions sparked an immediate backlash on social media and an apology from the company.
The controversy began earlier this week when Tokuda-Hall got a message through her publisher Candlewick’s subsidiary rights department: Scholastic’s Education division was offering to license her picture book Love in the Library for a Rising Voices Library collection called Amplifying AANHPI (Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders). Rising Voices Library packages books with teaching materials for educators, as part of its stated mission to “provide students with high-interest texts that celebrate the stories of the historically underrepresented.”
In Love in the Library, illustrated by Yas Imamura and published by Candlewick in January 2022, Tokuda-Hall tells the story of how her Japanese American grandparents met while incarcerated in Idaho’s Minidoka camp during World War II. The picture book ends with an informational author’s note from Tokuda-Hall, which places the romance between her grandparents George and Tama squarely in the context of injustices then and now. Candlewick president and publisher Karen Lotz, who edited the book, explained that this afterword was developed in the editorial process, saying: “In fact, we asked Maggie to provide the note. Maggie’s powerful words offer vital historical context that will benefit younger and older readers alike, also drawing valuable connections between the events of the story and lessons for today.”
Love in the Library, and in particular the author’s note, have drawn hateful messages and threats against diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I do not report these emails to Candlewick, they die in my inbox,” Tokuda-Hall told PW via email. “When the book was first published, I’d get about one a week. Now it’s down to about one every month, or even month and a half.”
Lotz added, “We are devastated that Maggie has been fielding these kinds of responses. We have seen some negative feedback on online review sites but have not received any here directly, as far as we know. In general, we report reviews that are inaccurate or bigoted, but otherwise we seek to amplify positive reviews and reception as much as we can to emphasize the value of our books and to underline how critical it is that children have access to them.”
Tokuda-Hall’s uncompromising language was on Scholastic’s radar too. In an internal message provided to PW by Scholastic, Rising Voices Library’s lead editor wrote to the publisher, “We love this book! And we want everyone in the schools we serve to read it. However, our audience is comprised of elementary school-aged children and there are some details in the Author’s Note that, although eloquently stated, are too strongly worded for what most teachers would expect to share with their students. This could lead to teachers declining to use the book, which would be a shame. To that end we are requesting make an adjustment to the Authors Note. Our suggested change is attached.” Afterward, Scholastic communicated these concerns to Tokuda-Hall in another email.
The passage in question reads:
“[My grandparents’] improbable joy does not excuse virulent racism, nor does it minimize the pain, the trauma, and the deaths that resulted from it. But it is to situate it into the deeply American tradition of racism.
“As much as I would hope this would be a story of a distant past, it is not. It’s very much the story of America here and now. The racism that put my grandparents into Minidoka is the same hate that keeps children in cages on our border. It’s the myth of white supremacy that brought slavery to our past and allows the police to murder Black people in our present. It’s the same fear that brings Muslim bans. It's the same contempt that creates voter suppression, medical apartheid, and food deserts. The same cruelty that carved reservations out of stolen, sovereign land, that paved the Trail of Tears. Hate is not a virus; it is an American tradition.”
On April 11, Tokuda-Hall blogged about the situation in a piece called “Scholastic, and a Faustian Bargain” illustrated with a screen-capture of the proposed edits. In her blog post, Tokuda-Hall expressed her complex emotional response to Rising Voices Library’s desire for inclusion and the contradictory request to delete the paragraph. She felt “put in a position where I had to choose between my career and my ethics” and expressed her fear that a principled stance “could scare off an editor who sees this and thinks I’m too difficult to work with—I have a book out on submission right now.”
Responding to Tokuda-Hall’s post, Scholastic v-p of corporate communications Anne Sparkman provided a statement to PW via email, saying, “We did not receive any direct response [from Candlewick or Tokuda-Hall] in advance of this evening’s blog post publication. We are very sorry for how this is all unfolding. We wish the conversation around Love in the Library could have continued with the author and her editors because we very much wanted the book to be available in our collection to reach as many students as possible.”
In a tweet, Tokuda-Hall shared, “It is worth saying: I clarified that the offer was contingent upon this edit being accepted. The answer was yes, it is.” She later told PW, “I considered for a moment trying to seek compromise. But the elimination of the word ‘racism’ made it clear that none was to be had.”
Lotz emphasized that Candlewick stands behind the author and her book, calling Love in the Library “profoundly truthful. We honor Maggie’s courage and moral clarity in responding to any request to obscure that truth or censor her voice, and support her decision not to accept an altered version of the book. It is a necessary courage to respect children enough to tell them the full and at times painful story of our country—so that we can create a better future. We will continue to work hard to ensure that Love in the Library reaches the broadest possible audience, via whatever channels we can.”
Tokuda-Hall called the matter, in her blog post, “the perfect encapsulation of what publishing, our dubious white ally, does so often to marginalized creators…. Always, our voices are the first sacrifice at the altar of marketability.” Rather than turn her grandparents’ story into a timeless romance and soften it for classroom settings, Tokuda-Hall said, she rejected the Rising Voices Library’s offer.
As word of the controversy spread, Thursday afternoon Scholastic CEO Peter Warwick sent a message to all company employees acknowledging that Scholastic was mistaken in asking Tokuda-Hall to make edits. “This approach was wrong and not in keeping with Scholastic’s values. We don’t want to diminish or in any way minimize the racism that tragically persists against Asian-Americans,” the letter read.
Warwick added that Scholastic has contacted Candlewick to apologize to Tokuda-Hall and that the publisher hopes to continue on with the project. “It is our sincere hope that we can start this conversation over and still be able to share this important story about Ms. Tokuda-Hall’s grandparents, who met in a WWII Incarceration camp, with the author’s note unchanged,” Warwick wrote.
Meanwhile, an online petition protesting Scholastic’s action has garnered some 100 signatures from authors. The petition calls for Scholastic to publish Love in the Library as written and to publicly apologize to the author and illustrator.
This story has been updated to include Scholastic's response and the creation of the online petition, and to clarify internal messaging not shared with Tokuda-Hall.