Scholastic has responded to accusations of censorship at its book fairs stemming from the creation of a new diverse stories offering, called "Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice," which librarians and school officials hosting fairs must decide whether to offer or not.
In a statement late last week, Scholastic said that it created the collection for U.S. elementary school book fairs as a way to continue providing diverse books, as a number of states and localities pursue legislation or other policies around content selection that could put librarians and school officials in jeopardy.
“There is now enacted or pending legislation in more than 30 U.S. states prohibiting certain kinds of books from being in schools—mostly LGBTQIA+ titles and books that engage with the presence of racism in our country," the company said late last week. "Because Scholastic Book Fairs are invited into schools, where books can be purchased by kids on their own, these laws create an almost impossible dilemma: back away from these titles or risk making teachers, librarians, and volunteers vulnerable to being fired, sued, or prosecuted.”
Critics, however, have pointed out that many of the books in the Share Every Story collection are not controversial. Furthermore, it is unclear what, if any penalties, librarians or school officials might face for marketing titles with diverse representation in a book fair setting.
Scholastic Book Fairs reach 35 million children annually in all 50 states and internationally. The complete Share Every Story list is not visible to unregistered website visitors, but it is available in Scholastic’s showcase listing, distributed to elementary fair planners.
Caution or Censorship?
The controversy first erupted on social media in September, when educators began raising concerns that the company was requiring school fairs to opt into or out of the Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice case, which focuses on diverse content, characters, and creators. The option to include or exclude the offering gives local fair organizers the option to effectively eliminate a wide swath of titles foregrounding the representation of BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, and other identities.
At media site the Mary Sue, Rachel Ulatowski reported that “several librarians…were explicitly asked ‘if’ they wanted a case with diverse books” and that Scholastic does not list the titles “in book fair catalogs sent to parents, even when the school requests the case.” Independent journalist Judd Legum dubbed the option “Scholastic’s ‘bigot button’ ” in a blog post about the situation, and news outlets including the New York Times and CBS News have since picked up the story.
Among the 64 books in the Share Every Story case are the picture books Change Sings by poet Amanda Gorman, illustrated by Loren Long, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, and disability-positive titles You Are Enough and You Are Loved, by Margaret O’Hair and Sonia Sanchez, illustrated by Sofia Cardoso. Graphic novels in the set include Booked by Kwame Alexander, Freestyle by Gale Galligan, The Tryout by Christine Soontornvat, and Parachute Kids by Betty Tang.
The collection also includes the memoir I Am Ruby Bridges by civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, illustrated by Nikkolas Smith; the biographies Justice Ketanji by Denise Lewis Patrick, illustrated by Kim Holt, and Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown; and Vietnamese American author Thanhhà Lai’s novel in verse When Clouds Touch Us. Colin Kaepernick’s I Color Myself Different is in the case, alongside Susan Tan’s Pets Rule! series books and Brandon Hobson’s middle grade novel about a Cherokee boy, The Storyteller.
Scholastic officials say it is a “misconception" that the company was "putting all diverse titles" into one "optional" case. "This is not true, in any school, in any location we serve," the company said, insisting that there is "a wide range of diverse titles throughout every book fair, for every age level.”
Anne Sparkman, Scholastic senior v-p of corporate communications, confirmed that "this collection and approach began for this school year,” telling PW in an email that the company created the Share Every Story collection with titles "we support even as they are the most likely to be restricted.”
Sparkman noted that "LGBTQIA+ and racism" are the "most legislated themes in the states with enacted or pending laws” aiming to restrict children’s access to reading material. She argued that the Share Every Story case could in fact “increase the diversity available at a fair,” carving out “additional space at a fair for even more diverse titles,” including books that may not be targeted by new laws and policies. She added that Scholastic has also “reintroduced" diverse backlist titles to extend the typical length of time a title is available at a fair, potentially extending a book’s reach.
Among those backlist titles are Mommy’s Khimar, a 2018 picture book about a Muslim girl by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn, and Nuestra América by Sabrina Vourvoulias, a 2020 anthology from the Smithsonian Latino Center that profiles 30 influential Latinx people.
Critics, however, contend that Scholastic is making discoverability more difficult for young people and enabling censorship.
On X (formerly Twitter), Brown Girl Dreaming author Jacqueline Woodson opened a thread:
So @Scholastic has a No Diversity Option and Librarians have to Opt In to get diverse books now. Talk to me, folks. Other Options for Book Fairs? Happy to retweet.— Jacqueline Woodson (@JackieWoodson) October 13, 2023
Maureen Johnson, YA author of Nine Liars, posted:
When you start removing content that book banners want removed so you don't have legal trouble, you are quite literally doing their work for them. You are holding the door open and inviting them in. https://t.co/n8XIm4iL3f— Maureen Johnson (@maureenjohnson) October 15, 2023
Meanwhile, in a statement, PEN America urged Scholastic to explore "other solutions" to help local librarians and school officials cope with the pressures of "nefarious" new laws and local pressures.
"To be clear, it is essential to lay blame on the legislators and activists who are putting Scholastic and other publishers in an impossible bind when it comes to the distribution of a diverse range of books," the PEN statement reads, noting that the "climate of fear" taking hold in schools and libraries. But "sequestering books on these topics risks depriving students and families of books that speak to them. It will deny the opportunity for all students to encounter diverse stories that increase empathy, understanding, and reflect the range of human experiences and identities which are essential underpinnings of a pluralistic, democratic society. "