Amid a chorus of criticism from authors, librarians, educators, and freedom to read advocates, Scholastic this week said it would stop offering an optional collection of diverse books at its book fairs, and apologized for the loss of trust and “the pain caused” by the exclusionary policy.
“I want to apologize on behalf of Scholastic,” Scholastic Trade Publishing president Ellie Berger wrote in the October 24 letter addressed to authors and illustrators. “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.”
Berger said that the "Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice" case will be formally "discontinued" starting with "the next book fair season," in January 2024. For the remaining fairs in the fall, "Book Fairs is working on a pivot plan as we speak," she wrote. "We will find an alternate way to get a greater range of books into the hands of children. We remain committed to the books in this collection and support their sale throughout our distribution channels.” Berger added that the company's "commitment to BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ authors and stories remains foundational" for the company.
Scholastic has not posted Berger's letter to its media site. Instead, Scholastic shared the letter with several of the authors and illustrators who had signed a statement against “Scholastic Book Fairs’ policy of separating and excluding diverse books, which was then shared by some of the authors on social media. But the company has now posted a media update, stating:
"This fall, we made changes in our U.S. elementary school fairs out of concern for our Book Fair hosts. In doing this, we offered a collection of books to supplement the diverse collection of titles already available at the Scholastic Book Fair. We understand now that the separate nature of the collection has caused confusion and feelings of exclusion.
"We are working across Scholastic to find a better way. The Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice collection will not be offered with our next season in January. As we reconsider how to make our Book Fairs available to all kids, we will keep in mind the needs of our educators facing local content restrictions and the children we serve.
"It is unsettling that the current divisive landscape in the U.S. is creating an environment that could deny any child access to books, or that teachers could be penalized for creating access to all stories for their students. By listening to those who share our mission we have successfully piloted our way through past difficult periods, and we will do so successfully again."
The move comes after the company on October 13 posted a message seeking to justify its position, citing pending legislation in more than 30 U.S. states that could imperil librarians and educators for offering certain books in schools—"mostly LGBTQIA+ titles and books that engage with the presence of racism in our country," the company acknowledged.
Critics of the October 13 message had bristled at the idea of having diverse books segregated at book fairs, and pointed out that many of the books in the offering—a case of 64 titles amplifying BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, and other diverse perspectives—were not controversial and were being wrongly treated as a dispensable option. Organizers at schools and libraries could opt out of receiving the Share Every Story case, and even when the case was included in a shipment, some said, Scholastic enclosed a flyer letting organizers know they might have received the case in error.
According to Scholastic series author Vicky Fang, who received Berger’s apology and posted it on X/Twitter, the authors and illustrators drafted the letter on October 17 and collected more than 1,500 author and illustrator signatures between October 18–20, including more than 250 who self-identified as Scholastic authors, illustrators, or both. The letter called for Scholastic to “discontinue the Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice program and include those books with the other books in their fairs,” and to use its “clout to fight book banning and support the teachers and librarians who are also fighting for access to books for their kids.”
“Deciding that the subject matter of these books might go against a state’s law capitulates to the idea that these books are not suitable for children,” the authors and illustrators contended. They argued that children need to see themselves and read about others, as well as that creative careers deserve equitable support: “authors from marginalized communities need the same opportunities as other authors to succeed and shine.”
Among the books in the Share Every Story case: 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; and Colin Kaepernick’s I Color Myself Different.
In its letter this week, Scholastic acknowledged the concerns of stakeholders across the industry. “We sincerely apologize to every author, illustrator, licensor, educator, librarian, parent, and reader who was hurt by our action,” Berger wrote. Berger promised that Scholastic would “redouble our efforts to combat the laws restricting children’s access to books.”
Social media followers of the controversy called the apology a win for collective action and an unusual admission of accountability from a major company. More than a few observers advised a wait-and-see approach as to Scholastic’s follow-through, and others questioned Scholastic’s claims of original “good intention” and realization that “it was a mistake to segregate.”
Although the letter was addressed to the aggrieved authors and illustrators, Berger’s words resonated across schools, libraries, creative channels, and media outlets too. At PEN America, which rebuked Scholastic’s earlier stance, Free Expression and Education program director Jonathan Friedman affirmed the change of heart.
“Scholastic recognized that, as difficult a bind as this pernicious legislation created, the right answer was not to become an accessory to censorship,” Friedman wrote. “Scholastic is an essential source of knowledge and a delight for countless children. We are glad to see them champion the freedom to read.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Scholastic.