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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.