The Scholastic Book Fair is facing backlash for choosing to separate books on topics of race and gender from other books at its school fairs as right-wing censorship efforts continue to sweep the country.
The renowned book fair, which schools in the U.S. have hosted for decades, announced an optional book collection in elementary schools containing 64 titles called, “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.” The collection focuses on books with content on race, gender and sexuality which are banned in some conservative counties and states. Books listed in the new collection include “The ABCs of Black History;” a biography of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be a Supreme Court Justice; and a book by JoJo Siwa, a singer and YouTube star who announced in 2021 that she is part of the LGBTQIA+ community, according to NPR.
Critics of Scholastic’s new collection believe separating the books makes it easier for schools to exclude books from diverse authors.
PEN America, a nonprofit that focuses on books and human rights, said in a statement Tuesday that “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 [and] understanding, and reflect the range of human experiences and identities,” the organization said. “In an environment of growing censorship, publishers have a dual obligation to both fight it, and to make books as maximally available as possible.”
Scholastic’s new collection comes at a time when conservative groups have pushed numerous book bans in schools across the country, claiming that books on gender, sexual orientation and race contain inappropriate language and are an attempt to “indoctrinate” children. Progressives have regarded the ongoing book bans as censorship and an attack on free speech.
In response to the backlash, Scholastic released a public statement to clarify that they have not put all of their diverse titles into one optional case for book fairs. The company said that the new collection only focuses on books on topics that are being targeted by active or pending book ban legislation, specifically, “mostly LGBTQIA+ titles and books that engage with the presence of racism in our country.”
“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,” the company said.
It is also still possible for book fair organizers to request specific books from the collection rather than ordering the entire collection, NBC News reported.
PEN America urged Scholastic to look into better solutions for books targeted by the book bans.
The nonprofit argued that Scholastic isn’t the only organization facing challenges posed by right-wing legislation ― other “booksellers, teachers and librarians” are, too, PEN America said..
The nonprofit went on to accuse Scholastic of “accommodating these nefarious laws” and “being an accessory to government censorship” through this collection.
PEN America reported last month that there were 3,362 instances of book bans in classrooms and libraries across the country during the 2022-23 school year. The bans removed more than 1,500 books, according to their report. The bans occurred primarily in Florida, but also in Texas, Missouri, Utah and Pennsylvania.
A liberal mom’s political group called Red Wine and Blue started a petition that has garnered more than 3,300 signatures in opposition to Scholastic’s new collection. The petition continues to urge Scholastic to remove the collection and put the title back with the remainder of the book fair.
“By separating these books into their own collection for ‘opt-in,’ Scholastic is sending a message that the books are problematic and should be avoided. They’re taking the most extreme policies from the most extreme state legislatures and applying them to everyone,” the petition reads.
Anne Sparkman, a spokesperson for Scholastic, has defended their decision in a statement to HuffPost, saying that book fairs in every state have ordered books from the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” collection.
“Our top priority is to make sure kids have access to books,” Sparkman, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Scholastic, told HuffPost. “We are invited guests in schools, and we support the paths they have taken, working with their communities, to continue to bring kids access to books, especially through fairs which creates the unique dynamic of kids being able to select books for themselves.”
In a public statement posted to their website, Scholastic also admitted that the solution wasn’t perfect.
“We don’t pretend this solution is perfect ― but the other option would be to not offer these books at all ― which is not something we’d consider,” their statement said.
Scholastic said this allows them to still offer books containing diverse content. They added that middle school book fairs have not changed.