Oh MG News

Educational Intimidation Bills

Middle Grade Authors

A new report released by PEN America documents a rise in laws that are designed to intimidate educators and librarians. The aim of these laws is to promote self-censoring. Rather than making headlines for banning books, those who wish to promote certain ideologies by limiting students’ access to books are using intimidation tactics. Their objective is to evoke fear that prompts educators and librarians to disregard topics and materials that might cause controversy. 

Educational Intimidation Thumbnail PEN America

What are intimidation laws?

According to pen.org, “Educational intimidation bills are part of the broader, ongoing ‘Ed Scare’—a nationwide effort documented by PEN America to foment anger and anxiety about public education; to restrict or prohibit instruction about race, sexuality, and gender; and to ban books that address these topics.”

In a report titled Educational Intimidation: How “Parental Rights” Legislation Undermines the Freedom to Learn, the organization examines the rise of educational intimidation bills, “a category of legislation that has the effect of prompting self-censorship in schools through indirect mechanisms, rather than direct edicts.” While PEN America has documented some intimidation bills affecting higher education, the majority of these laws target K-12 educators.

In its Index of Educational Intimidation Bills, PEN America identifies nearly 400 such bills that have been introduced in state legislatures between January 2021 and June 2023, and they have categorized bills by their intent. These bills generate fear, intimidation, or insurmountable obstacles in the following ways:

  • Requiring teachers to post all instructional or professional development materials on public websites so that citizens can easily access these materials and issue objections  
  • Restricting students’ access to school libraries or empowering individual parents to gain control over which materials are allowed in school libraries
  • Inviting parents to opt students into or out of certain content, greatly complicating school schedules and creating individually designed curricula that tears away at the unifying fabric of public school environments
  • Expanding the definition of obscenity beyond its existing legal definition, and threatening educators and librarians with criminal penalties for violations
  • Requiring teachers to monitor and report students’ gender expression

Many laws are making it easier for a single parent to disrupt the educational opportunities afforded to all students. From telephone tip lines to the filing of anonymous complaints, individual parents are being given increasing control over the professional decisions of educators and librarians. 

How are these laws affecting teachers and librarians?

In an article titled “New Intimidation Laws Lead to Classroom Censorship,” PEN America’s editorial director, Lisa Tolin, provides specific examples of teachers and librarians who have lost professional autonomy over curriculum and reading material based on intimidation. 

For example, an art teacher in Tennessee removed major figures from her teaching of art history because of laws that prohibit the teaching of concepts related to race or sex. She was merely introducing the artists and their work to her students, but because of the personal lifestyles of these artists, she knew she would face opposition. This teacher also noted the elimination of Black History Month observances and reported that third graders who have traditionally taken a field trip to a civil rights museum are now going to a baseball game instead.

There’s the case of a Virginia librarian who was subjected to a library inspection and received challenges that originated from a Moms for Liberty list. A teacher in Georgia was fired after reading My Shadow is Purple, a book that was available at the school book fair and was requested by her students.

In addition to legal actions, teachers and librarians also face personal harassment for defending students’ right to read. An Oklahoma teacher who informed her students about Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned program was removed from the classroom, but that was only the beginning. She was harassed online with graphic suggestions of violence, imprisonment, and even execution. 

In Louisiana, a librarian who voiced opposition to the proposal of book banning was threatened and harassed to the point that she lived in fear and was unable to sleep. According to the article, “Strangers called her a ‘pedophile’ and a ‘groomer.’ One person filed a public records request for her employment history. Another sent her a message saying, ‘You can’t hide, we know where you live. You have a target on your back. Click click.’”

The battle is becoming exhausting for many teachers and librarians. Facing termination of employment, legal actions, and unrelenting harassment is unhealthy and unsustainable. In short, intimidation is effective because the consequences are overwhelming.

What can be done to battle intimidation laws and their effects?

The first step in addressing intimidation bills and the undue stress they place on teachers and librarians is to become informed. To more fully understand the issue of educational intimidation bills, read PEN America’s full report.

Next, find out what’s going on in your local school district. If you become aware of a book ban, you can report it to PEN America via this online form. PEN America and Penguin Random House have joined parents and students from Escambia County, Florida, in filing a federal lawsuit to challenge the removal of some books and the restrictions placed on many others.

Learn more about specific state challenges and PEN America’s #FREETHEBOOKS campaign. At this link, you’ll find many issues addressed in detail, and each has an “ADD YOUR VOICE” link that opens instructions for interested parties who want to take action.  

Most importantly, as the surge in educational intimidation bills continues to grow, be a voice of support for the individual teachers and librarians who take a stand for students’ right to read.

Books for Maui Auction

Middle Grade Authors

As the tragic devastation caused by the Maui fires continues to weigh on hearts across the world, we all look for ways that we can help. Enter the Kānaka Maoli authors and publishing professionals with a brilliant idea that will appeal to those who write, read, and share a love of books. This group launched Books for Maui, an online auction supporting Maui relief efforts following the recent wildfires. 

Books for Maui Official Logo

Donated items include manuscript critiques, query critiques, author visits, and autographed books as a way for the writing and publishing community to help with recovery efforts. Donations will go to the Hawaii Community Foundation, Kamehameha, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, and the Maui Food Bank. 

Agents, authors, and other publishing professionals have joined forces to offer a huge selection of items up for bid. Check out the offering of a query critique from MUF’s own Heather Murphy Capps!

The full list of auction items can be found here. The auction opened on August 21 and will conclude on August 25 at midnight Hawaii Standard Time, so act quickly!

What Does AI Mean for Middle Grade?

Middle Grade Authors

Everywhere you turn in the news these days, you’re hearing about artificial intelligence, more commonly referred to as AI. What is it that prompts both excitement and apprehension, and just how does this tech news affect authors, illustrators, and readers of middle-grade works? 

If you find yourself asking these questions, read on. There’s plenty of AI news on the middle grade front, and multiple organizations are speaking out.


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 Back in December of 2022, the official blog of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators published a two-part series titled “The Troubling Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and How It Impacts Children’s Book Creators.” 

Part I covered issues for illustrators, like the potential for AI systems to study a wealth of existing artwork, learn patterns within them, and “create” something new from what the system has learned. 

Natural questions arise. Can this be termed as “stealing” from existing creators? On one hand, it looks new. What’s the difference between a tech tool borrowing from existing patterns and an artist being inspired by them? But on the other hand, the product is not new and original. The “creation” is generated from the images that have been programmed into it.

The same issues exist for authors, as detailed in SCBWI’s Part II of the series. At issue is the fact that AI systems like the highly popular Chat GPT and a growing number of similar resources, are producing text at a wildly accelerated rate.

These systems can generate a story or a nonfiction piece about a particular topic for a target demographic at a specified word length. Just give it the specs, and watch it “create.” But can you really call it “creating”?

How Does AI Work? red question mark

Text generated by AI systems pulls from the language patterns, information, and ideas of existing works. Technically speaking, it’s not creating new work – it’s regenerating data points from established work in a whole new way.

This capability is sending up red flags for authors and illustrators. What qualifies copyright infringement in this strange new world? How likely is it that the publishing industry might succumb to the potential for big returns on small investments? 

And what might all this mean for readers? When text and illustrations are being generated from patterns and data points gleaned from existing works, there is no creativity. No human perspective. No potential for something new and wonderful that speaks to the soul and enlightens the mind.

The SCBWI blog posts refer readers to the questions that are already on the minds of the folks at The Authors Guild, so let’s go there next.

The Authors Guild Authors Guild on white background

Back in October of 2022, The Authors Guild posted a cautionary article by Mary Rasenberger entitled “How Will Authorship Be Defined in an AI Future?” 

One major concern presented in this piece is fair compensation for creators. The Authors Guild is actively advocating for changes to copyright laws that will prevent AI from taking over the market for written works. 

Rasenberger presents a list of ways AI has already been used in journalism, corporate texts, and literature. She cites two examples of AI achievements that are more than moderately concerning. An AI-generated novel was a finalist for a Japanese literary award, and there was an AI-generated article about the harmless nature of AI published in The Guardian

Rasenberger goes on to explain that AI is not actually “creating”; it is auto-generating texts and images using existing works that have been programmed into it. She argues that copyright laws need to adjust for AI infringements, and she details a list of concerns that need to be addressed.

However, the author also concludes that she does not foresee AI being able to replace true art. Human art reflects the very real experiences and emotions of its time and place. And that cannot be generated from existing works. In Rasenberger’s words, “I think we can all agree that a world without the arts, which help move us forward as a society, is not one that we aspire to.”


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In July 2023, a joint task force of the Modern Language Association and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (a chartered conference of the National Council of Teachers of English) issued a statement about writing and AI in which they discuss both the risks and the benefits of AI. It’s a working paper, so comments are open and a final version is forthcoming.

This working statement “makes principle-driven recommendations for how educators, administrators, and policy makers can work together to develop ethical, mission-driven policies and support broad development of critical AI literacy.” In other words, there may be dangers, but AI isn’t going anywhere, so how can we make this work?

In the introduction, the statement is made that “writing describes a process as well as a product.” This is an important premise to consider. The labor involved in creating should be acknowledged and compensated appropriately, and students of writing need to learn their craft by going through the process of writing.

The paper goes on to define “broad risks and potential benefits of artificial intelligence to language, literary, and writing scholarship and instruction.” For example, while we need to guard against AI resources infringing on copyright and supplanting actual authors and illustrators, we can safely acknowledge the benefit of AI in brainstorming and gathering ideas.


It’s hard to derive real conclusions from all the AI information out there right now because this is just the dawn of the age. However, it’s safe to say that AI is here to stay, and creators as well as consumers of middle grade literature need to be aware of both its positive and its negative potential.

Does AI have the potential to eliminate human creators from the equation? No, it does not. Regenerating text and images from what already exists does not move the world forward. AI will never have the capacity to think, feel, empathize, and imagine. 

AI can help us see with new eyes what is already in existence. But it cannot truly create. In the wise words of Albert Einstein, “Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one else ever thought.”

Keep seeing. Keep thinking. Keep creating.