Scholastic Book Fair Will Discontinue Separate Collection Of Race And Gender Books
The Scholastic Book Fair will discontinue its separate selection of books on race and gender following criticism that segregating the titles caters to the right-wing censorship that is spreading across the country.
“I want to apologize on behalf of Scholastic,” Ellie Berger, president of Scholastic Trade Publishing, said in a recent statement. “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. We sincerely apologize to every author, illustrator, licensor, educator, librarian, parent, and reader who was hurt by our action.”
Earlier this month, the renowned publishing company announced a new, separate catalog called “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice,” which would feature 64 titles on race and gender that elementary schools could choose to include or exclude from their book fairs. The catalog included a children’s biography of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, stories about same-sex families and books about basic history, such as “I Am Ruby Bridges,” about the first Black child to integrate an all-white school in Louisiana.
The catalog sparked backlash from critics who argued that creating a separate section for these books would exclude books from diverse authors, since schools would be allowed to opt out of having them at their book fairs.
PEN America, a free speech group and partner of Scholastic, asserted that the separate catalog accommodates the “nefarious laws and local pressures” and makes them “an accessory to government censorship.”
According to Scholastic, more than 30 states have introduced or enacted legislation aiming to ban certain books in schools, specifically ones that include LGBTQ topics and racial diversity. Book bans surged in 2022, and a recent report from PEN America found that school book bans and restrictions in the U.S. rose by 33% in the last school year.
The bans have led to clashes between proponents, who say that books which explore race and LGBTQ themes contain inappropriate language and are an attempt to “indoctrinate” children, and opponents who believe that such bans are an act of censorship. According to The New York Times, Scholastic had signed an open letter opposing state laws that ban books in schools.
Scholastic clarified in a statement that the catalog doesn’t place all diverse books into one selection and explained that the separate collection was intended to ensure kids can access books that are targeted by book bans across the 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,” Scholastic said in its statement.
“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.”
PEN America acknowledged that legislators and those advocating for book bans are the ones placing Scholastic and other publishers “in an impossible bind when it comes to the distribution of a diverse range of books.” But the group still urged Scholastic to find alternative solutions to ensure access to books targeted by bans.
“Sequestering books on these topics risks depriving students and families of books that speak to them,” PEN America wrote in its statement. “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.”
Red Wine & Blue, a political group of liberal moms, created a petition against the separate book selection, which garnered more than 8,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
“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,” the petition said. “They’re taking the most extreme policies from the most extreme state [legislatures] and applying them to everyone.”
In its latest statement, Scholastic apologized for the harm caused by its separate catalog and declared that it will be discontinued starting in January, when Scholastic’s next book fair season begins. It also pledged to “redouble our efforts to combat the laws restricting children’s access to books.”
“Scholastic recognized that, as difficult a bind as this pernicious legislation created, the right answer was not to become an accessory to censorship,” Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s free expression and education program, said in a statement sent to HuffPost. “Scholastic is an essential source of knowledge and a delight for countless children. We are glad to see them champion the freedom to read.”