We Need Diverse Books, the organization committed to making the book publishing industry more inclusive, is funding a new initiative to assist teachers and librarians. The Educators Making a Difference Grants program is being launched in response to the recent spike in books being banned in classrooms and libraries around the country. Grants of $2,000 each will be given to teachers and librarians to fund author school visits and field trips, conduct library diversity audits, purchase diverse titles for classrooms and libraries, and finance other programs meant to counter the efforts by certain groups and individuals to challenge or ban books.
“Soft censorship. Outright bans. Books are being pulled from schools and libraries across the country at an alarming rate,” stated a WNDB release, citing a recent, PEN America report that provides alarming statistics on the huge rise in books being challenged and banned. The affected titles, the report noted "disproportionately feature characters of color, and LGBTQIA+ and trans protagonists.”
Of the 1,586 book bans implemented in 86 school districts in 26 states, PEN reported, 41% of the books had BIPOC protagonists or prominent secondary characters, 22% directly addressed race and racism, and 33% addressed LGBTQ issues.
After receiving 600 applications for the inaugural grants, WNDB awarded a total of $70,000 to 35 recipients teaching in schools or working at libraries around the country. One of the recipients, Melissa Robles, library media specialist at Aida C. Escobar Elementary in Pharr, Tex., says that she believes that every child “deserves the opportunity to dream of a brighter future,” including the immigrants enrolled at Escobar Elementary, located a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Robles is using the $2,000 grant to purchase diverse texts that reflect her students’ experiences, like Refugee by Alan Gratz. “This grant will give my students the opportunity to hear other success stories and inspire them,” she explained.
At West Sound Academy in Poulsbo, Wash., Susan Trower, director of library and information services, intends to purchase books by non-binary authors for reading in English classes; she also wants to invite one of these authors to make a virtual school visit. “By reading literature with queer characters and hearing a successful non-binary author talk about their writing, our students will learn how important it is to see, and recognize, the lives and stories of LGBTQI+ people," she said.
Gabby Stoller, youth services librarian for the Meridian Library District, in Meridian, Idaho, intends to use the grant she has received to, WNDB notes, “provide underrepresented populations books about underrepresented topics” in the library’s summer reading program. She plans to include such reads as Stuntboy by Jason Reynolds and Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. According to WNDB, "these diverse texts will not only fight the ‘summer reading slide,' they will also act as much needed ‘window’ books for the program’s participants," as the community that the library serves is predominantly white.
Pending funding, WNDB intends to schedule another round of $2,000 Educators Making a Difference grants soon.
Quotes attributed to Idaho librarian Gabby Stoller have been corrected.