The Scholastic Book Fair Situation

Middle Grade Authors
There are few school events that children look forward to as much as the annual Scholastic Book Fair. Library shelves get moved aside, and a big truck shows up to deliver boxes and boxes and boxes filled with all kinds of books. Children are excited, parents are nostalgic, and schools reap the benefits of a time-honored tradition. What could possibly go wrong?
red rectangle, white letters, scholastic logo

Well, in our current climate, books are being challenged in every state across the nation. Individuals are being empowered to call for the removal of books from library shelves, and children are losing access to books that are representative of many members of our diverse population. And now, the time-honored tradition of Scholastic Book Fairs has succumbed to the pressure created by the vocal minority who challenge diverse books.


The Controversy


In response to the growing number of book challenges across the country, Scholastic made the decision to separate books dealing with racism and sexuality from the rest of their merchandise. When planning their book fairs, schools could decide whether to “opt in” or “opt out” of making diverse books available.

Change Sings Amanda Gorman cover

The books that have been separated from the general inventory are being lumped together in a special collection called “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.” According to Publisher’s Weekly, there are 64 books in the collection. If schools opt out, students are denied access to books like Amanda Gorman’s Change Sings, Kwame Alexander’s Booked, Denise Lewis Patrick’s Justice Ketanji, and Michael Hall’s Red: A Crayon’s Story.


Many librarians complained, and public outrage followed. Writers and educators used their social media platforms to reprimand Scholastic for bowing to political pressure and restricting access to diverse books. PEN America released a statement decrying Scholastic’s actions. Red Wine and Blue, a group of moms who stand against book banning, is circulating a petition that asks Scholastic to return the books to their regular collection.


PEN America says that the issue is “driven by a vocal minority demanding censorship.” The organization tracks book bans and has documented a significant rise in the number of books being challenged and restricted. According to NPR, book challenges and bans are most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina. However, no state is immune to restrictions being placed upon books.


The Statement


In response to public outcry, Scholastic released a statement providing a rationale for their decision to allow schools to opt out of the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” collection. Among their reasons, Scholastic states the following:

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. 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 main premise for their decision seems to be that book challenges are placing schools in a difficult position. In order to continue offering their popular book fairs, the company claims that they need to provide a way for schools to adhere to complex state and local laws. They acknowledge that this is not a perfect solution, but they claim that without the ability to opt out of certain books, schools would be unable to host book fairs.


The Reality


A fifth grade teacher in Georgia was recently fired because she shared a book about gender identity with her students. That book had been available at her school’s Scholastic Book Fair. A middle school teacher in Texas was fired for sharing a graphic novel about Anne Frank with her eighth grade students. A high school English teacher in Oklahoma received death threats after sharing a QR code with her students that enabled them to access the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned project. 

a stack of books chained together

Teachers, librarians, and volunteers are being fired, sued, and threatened for sharing diverse books with their students. Scholastic claims they are trying to help schools navigate these threats and still provide book fairs that bring in needed funds and put books in the hands of children. Critics disagree.


Critics accuse Scholastic of putting profit over principle. They argue that publishers need to stand strong in support of their authors and books. Across social media platforms, there is a demand for Scholastic to reverse the opt-out option and support access to diverse books. After all, critics argue, if your goal is to truly “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice,” you cannot hide some stories and voices because a vocal minority denounces them.


The Alternatives

When we think of book fairs, we think of Scholastic. There’s a good reason for that. Over 100,000 Scholastic book fairs are hosted each year, and they provide schools with funds for books and other resources. Scholastic is so dominant in the book fair market that it’s difficult for many schools to find viable options. However, outrage over the isolation of the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” collection has caused many librarians to look beyond Scholastic for book fair options.


While Scholastic is definitely the biggest player in the book fair market, there are other booksellers that host book fairs, including Literati and Barnes and Noble. Many publishers also host book fairs, but their collections might be more limited than what is offered by Scholastic.

shelves with books, red seats, people reading

Another option is the independent book store. During recent years, indie bookstores have seen a rise in popularity, and their followers have a deep sense of loyalty. Communities embrace them because they are known for promoting the open exchange of ideas and contributing to the local economy. They also usually provide access to a diverse collection of books and make their services available to local schools. 


Now, many communities are turning to their local bookstores as an option to book fairs hosted by the publishing giant. Independent bookstores have strong ties to their neighbors and understand the culture and needs of their communities. The personal attention they can offer is leading many librarians and schools to partner with their local indie bookstores. The indie alternative offers a personalized approach to hosting a book fair and a way to take a stand against Scholastic’s decision to give libraries and schools the choice to opt-out of including diverse books.



STEM Tuesday — Spooky and Scary Science– Writing Tips & Resources

The Lizard Brain & the Science of Fear

Spooky and scary! What a great October theme for STEM Tuesday. I’ve been looking forward to this month for a long time, especially that awesome book listOctober or not, we can’t really look into the spooky and scary without taking a step back and taking a dive into why they are appealing and how they work on our brains.  

Many people are drawn to media and entertainment that contain a scary or spooky element. The scary and the spooky are all around us. Movies, TV shows, games, music, haunted houses, and literature. Fear sells!

We don’t think much about nonfiction when considering things that scare us but, as our book list exhibits, nonfiction can also use the power of the scare to entertain and inform readers. To put a fine twist on an old saying, the truth is scarier than fiction.

It all starts in the brain. In the limbic system to be exact. It’s a neurological system so inherent in biology that it is often termed the “lizard brain”. The scare (the stimulus) triggers the amygdala in the brain to signal the ancient fight-or-flight response. Motor functioning is put on high alert, the sympathetic nervous system goes into action and there is a release of stress hormones. 

SoniaM2020, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

You are ready to respond physically to the scare just as eons of biological organisms have responded. Our primal response is primed! 

  • The brain becomes hyperalert.
  • Our pupils dilate.
  • Breathing accelerates.
  • Heart rate and blood pressure increase.
  • Blood flow to the muscles increases bringing more fuel (glucose) to them.
  • Digestion and other systems that are not immediately needed for fight or for flight go into a reduced-function mode.

At the same time, the amygdala communicates with another part of the limbic system, the hypothalamus. Now is the time for the brain to think and analyze the potential threat the scare brings. The hypothalamus and the prefrontal cortex rapidly take in all the perceived data, assess it against memory and learned behavior, and then process whether the threat from the scare is real. If no real threat exists, the lizard brain shuts down the flight-or-fight response and we can now relax after the zombie character who chased us in the haunted house.

Young, Art, 1866-1943, artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

With literature and other media, this fear response can actually be a positive experience, which provides one explanation for why so many people love the spooky and the scary. There’s also research showing that controlled fright situations can actually benefit cognitive and emotional well-being. When the limbic system kicks in, the external stressors currently causing anxiety and lowering cognitive abilities get biochemically shoved to the back burner. The individual is given a respite from their problems for a period of time and is able to function again at a higher emotional and cognitive level. We feel better and perform better after a controlled fright!

See? Scary and spooky–in an appropriate and non-threatening manner that is unique to each of our individual brains–are actually good for us. Scary and spooky fiction AND nonfiction fit this bill perfectly. Children’s fiction and nonfiction allow readers to experience and learn in an age-appropriate way.

How about that? The trash in/trash out theory my mom used to preach to me when I read scary things, watched scary movies, or dissected frogs and examined roadkill was not 100% true. I was training my lizard brain! (I do believe Mom would agree with the labeling of my adolescent brain as a “lizard brain”.)

As writers, readers, and consumers of all kinds of media, we can learn to use the tool of fright in our work to enhance, entertain, and educate at a higher level. We first must learn to tap into and put to work our limbic system. Knowing how the brain works can help creators appeal to the brains of our audience. Fear can be a powerful thing.

Have a great October 2023 and enjoy a fright or two! I know I will. Bwahaha…



Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal-opportunity sports enthusiast, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training-related topics at and writer stuff at  www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64 and on Instagram at @mikehays64.


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s version of the O.O.L.F.(Out of Left Field) Files creeps into the dark and dank cellar to explore the scary and spooky side of our brains and how fear works to manipulate our behavior.

What Is The Limbic System? Definition, Parts, And Functions via Simple Psychology

TED talk Dr. Margee Kerr: Why do we like to be scared? (2018)

5 Things You Never Knew About Fear from Northwestern Medicine

Smithsonian Magazine


Hidden Brain podcast The Science of Fear (2015)


Sympathetic vs. Parasympathetic Nervous System


And finally, where would Spooky & Scary Science Month be if I didn’t include my scariest movie scene of all time?

(Thank you, John Carpenter for understanding how my lizard brain works!)




Author Interview: Elizabeth C. Bunce – Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity

Elizabeth C Bunce photoWe’re excited to have Elizabeth C. Bunce on here today to talk about her new release. Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, Elizabeth, and then we’ll talk about Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity.

Did you have any childhood dreams for when you became an adult? If so, did they come true?

Absolutely! I knew I wanted to be an author from the time I was fairly young—and here I am. (We maybe won’t talk about how I also pictured myself surrounded by cats. Ahem.) But dreams don’t just “come true.” You have to make them happen. I read, studied, practiced, found other writers, and learned everything I could about how to become an author. And I wrote.

Elizabeth 5th grade

Elizabeth 5th grade

What advice would you give to your eight-year-old self?

Don’t be ashamed of the things you love, even if no one else understands why you like them. Collect those rocks! Plaster your room with posters of hippopotamuses! Read mysteries! Learn to knit! Don’t let anyone tell you rocks and hippopotamuses and mysteries and knitting aren’t cool, because they totally are. And you know it.

Did you love to read as a child? Can you tell us some favorite books?

Wow, this interview could go on forever! I absolutely devoured not just books but words. I was the kid who read cereal boxes. The Bookmobile stopped about half a mile from our house, and we would trek down there every week, and trek back home with armloads of books: the Betsy-Tacy books by Maude Hart Lovelace, Ruth Chew’s terrifically spooky stories, The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and every Trixie Belden book I could get my hands on. I loved everything spooky and mysterious and historical from a very early age—which explains the things I love to write.

Have you had any careers besides writing?

I have had a variety of different writing jobs, but I’ve spent my entire career working with words. I’ve been a technical writer, worked at magazines, wrote corporate employment manuals (nobody says, “I want to write employee handbooks when I grow up!” and there is a reason for that…). Writing is a skill you can use in any career path, from education, to science, to the law.

Why do you write?

I live with a population of imaginary people in my head clamoring for attention. When I was a kid, I thought I was supposed to grow out of my imaginary friends. I never did. Now they get to be your imaginary friends, and it’s fabulous!

What do you drink while writing?

Coffee. So. Much. Coffee.

Do you have any special things around your desk that inspire you when you write?

Oh, you mean besides the cats? Yes, I’m always surrounded by props that work as touchstones for my stories—I actually give writing workshops on this topic. Right now I can reach out and touch several items for my current project: a large brass key, a miniature silk bonnet, a rock with clawmarks on it… Writing books is such an ethereal endeavor that it really helps me to have real, physical objects to handle as I’m working.

Do you have a regular writing schedule?

I do, but “regular” depends on the book and my current deadlines. I have written many books very late at night, but my current project seems to like the mid-afternoons—and one of the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries surprised me utterly by catching me at work first thing in the morning! (Which literally never happens. With anything.) When I’m on deadline, either drafting or revision, I typically work in two or three big chunks of time every day—even on weekends—punctuated by breaks for the rest of my life: chores, errands, working out, Making.

Just a note about Making. If you’re wondering what it is, check out her website here to read more about it. Elizabeth, we’re kindred spirits when it comes to Making. I love everything you’ve mentioned and have tried almost everything you mentioned. Readers, feel free to share what you like making in the comments. We’d love to know.

Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity book coverAnd now that we know more about Elizabeth, let’s find out about more about her book, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity.

What inspired you to create this story?

Like all my stories, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity is a culmination of several things that had been brewing in the back of my mind for a while. One was the idea of exploring a new side of Miss Judson’s heritage—her Scottish ancestry. Another was playing with a new mystery “trope” for Myrtle & Co: where the sleuth unexpectedly inherits a big legacy, along with a murder mystery. And another was the nudge from my subconscious to get back to writing ghost stories, after several books with absolutely no paranormal elements. When I remembered that in the Victorian era, ghost hunting was a burgeoning science, I knew how I could work a haunting into Myrtle’s decidedly unghostly world!

Can you share how you plot your mysteries?

Funny you should ask that now, on this book—which was done completely differently from every other Myrtle Hardcastle book! First, mysteries are really two stories intertwined into one narrative: the tale of the crime itself and how that was committed, plus the story of the investigation, the scenes you see on the page, of the sleuth figuring everything out. Typically I am a devoted participant in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. The schedule for the Myrtle books has meant that November is the perfect time to start drafting the new book, so I would get to work figuring out Whodunit: who dies, why, and how. I’d get to the end of the month, look at my glorious heap of words, and triumphantly think, “I’ve done it! I’ve written the story!”

…And then wake up on December 1, and realize: No, I’d only written the backstory. I still have to sit down to the hard work of deciding what clues I’ll need and the scenes that show Myrtle & C0 solving the crime.

However. The schedule for Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity was a little bit different, and somehow instead of spending that initial month working out the who-what-where-why of the murder, I simply launched myself headlong into the book itself, finding the clues and figuring out the story along with Myrtle! Instead of planting clues whose meaning I already understood, I flung interesting and mysterious things into my path and figured out what they meant as I learned more about the story. It was certainly interesting to approach the story from a different direction—and having done it both ways now, I can confidently say: I don’t really like either method. Ha!

Did you base Myrtle on anyone you know?

*Looks around self-consciously*  No comment. Ahem.

In fact, Myrtle is me, when I was in eighth grade and my homeroom teacher called me argumentative and antisocial. I was a nerdy kid with somewhat “morbid” interests, and prone to speak up when I didn’t agree with what I was being told. That’s how I wound up as the lead prosecutor in Mock Trial! It’s been a real joy revisiting the girl I was and giving her worthy adventures Young Elizabeth would have loved (and a more understanding teacher!).

Have you had any experiences like those Myrtle does?

Well, thankfully, I have never found myself embroiled in a murder case! (Although, troublingly, that has happened to a few young people I know in real life.) But many of the things she feels are certainly based on my own experiences facing similar challenges: not fitting in with her peers; knowing full well who she is and what she wants from life even if it doesn’t fit the mold the world has planned for her; embracing her true self; standing up for herself and what’s important to her.

Do you have any advice for readers on how to face similar situations to what Myrtle faces in this book?

Don’t give up. Keep asking questions. If the first person you ask can’t help you, find someone else. When you know in your heart something is important, you have to keep going!

What is your favorite part of the book?

The dogs! We are a cat family now, but for many years we had dogs. So. Many. Dogs: a big, crazy family of coonhounds we raised from birth after finding their mama as a (pregnant!) stray.  The zany pack of foxhounds Myrtle encounters at Rockfforde Hall is based on them. People have always asked me when I was going to write about “The Buncehounds,” but it took just the right story for them to make an appearance. All of the animals in Myrtle’s stories are based on my real-life animal acquaintances, so letting her experience the wild life of being surrounded by loud, lovable scenthounds was definitely special!

What do you hope readers will take away from the story?

I’d love to see them curious about Scotland, the Scots language, and Scottish history and culture. And I hope they find it a crackin’ ghost story, tae boot!

Please tell us about your other books.

Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity is the fifth (!) volume in the Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries, which take Myrtle all over the UK, solving all sorts of nefarious crimes. I’ve also written several YA historical fantasies, including the fairytale retelling A Curse Dark as Gold, which also has a spooky, ghostly setting.

Can you share what you’re working on now?

Nope! It’s super-duper top secret, but it’s very exciting, and I hope to have news by year’s end.

Wow! How exciting! Can’t wait to hear more about it.

Thanks ever so much for agreeing to the interview, Elizabeth! I know our young readers, as well as teachers and librarians will enjoy learning more about you and Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity! And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

About Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity

In the fifth book of the Edgar Award-winning series, Myrtle Hardcastle uncovers a string of murders during a treasure hunt on a haunted Scottish estate.

When her governess inherits an estate on a Scottish island, amateur detective Myrtle Hardcastle couldn’t be more excited. Unfortunately, the ancestral castle is both run-down and haunted. Ghostly moans echo in the walls, and there are rumors of a cursed treasure lost on the island—an ancient silver brooch that may have cost the former lord his life. But who had the motive, means, and opportunity to kill him? And could this Scottish trip mean the end of Myrtle’s plans to get her father and governess together?

Then Myrtle’s investigation stirs a villain out of hiding. The estate’s boat is stolen, so there’s no escape from the island. Myrtle is forced to play a deadly game, hunting for the brooch with a thief breathing down her neck—someone who will stop at nothing to get the treasure, even if it means murder.

About the Author

Elizabeth C. Bunce is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery series, beginning with Premeditated Myrtle, an Amazon Top 20 Children’s Book of the Year for 2020, an Indie Next Pick, winner of the 2021 Edgar Allan Poe “Edgar” Award, a Society of Midland Authors Honoree, a Library of Congress National Book Festival selection, a Best Children’s/YAA BookPage Best Book of 2020, A Mighty Girl’s 2020 Books of the Year, a two-time Edgar Award finalist, a three-time Anthony Award finalist, and a three-time Agatha Award finalist. The series continues in How to Get Away with Myrtle (a #1 Amazon New Release) and Cold-Blooded Myrtle, also an Edgar Award finalist, Agatha Award finalist, and Anthony Award finalist, as well as a Kirkus 2021 Top 10 Best Book of the Year–Middle Grade Fiction, a Silver Falchion Award finalist, and a Wall Street Journal holiday guide recommendation. The fourth book, In Myrtle Peril, is a 2023 Anthony Award finalist and 2023 Agatha Award finalist, and all four are available now in all formats with the fifth installment, Myrtle, Means, & Opportunity, coming in 2023.

Her first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, won the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a young adult debut novel and was named a Smithsonian Notable Book and an Amelia Bloomer Project selection. Her high fantasy Thief Errant series includes the novels StarCrossed, A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best book for 2010, and Liar’s Moon, one of Kirkus Blog’s Favorite YA Novels of 2011. StarCrossed and A Curse Dark as Gold have appeared on Oprah’s Kid’s Reading List. Her novels have been named to the ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and she is a four-time Kansas Notable Book winner. An accomplished needlewoman and historical costumer, Elizabeth lives in the Midwest with her husband, her cats, and a boggart who steals books.

Check out her website at