When Scholastic’s book fair returns to elementary schools this year, some books on race and LGBTQ+ issues might be stored in a separate box. Some might be removed entirely.
Scholastic, a children’s book publisher, hosts annual book fairs where students can purchase books during the school day. But amid a right-wing push to restrict access to certain school books, especially those that reference race or gender, Scholastic has moved some of those books to a new section in book fairs, which schools can opt out of providing.
The move has prompted backlash from librarians and authors, who accuse Scholastic of capitulating to conservative pressure. Scholastic, meanwhile, says the move is intended to protect teachers and librarians who could face lawsuits or even prosecution under some state laws.
Writers and educators began posting pictures of Scholastic’s new book fair boxes this school year. In addition to the usual racks of books was a separate cart of books with the slogan “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.”
Many of the books, the Mary Sue noted this month, appeared to feature Black or LGBTQ+ authors and characters. On social media, librarians characterized the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” collection as an opt-in offering at the book fair, allowing schools to exclude those titles from the event.
One librarian who shared a picture of the collection included a note that Scholastic had enclosed with the books. “We’ve included the requested ‘Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice’ collection with your Book Fair assortment,” the note read. “If you believe this was received in error, please set it aside for your school’s Fair pickup. If you have any additional questions or concerns, reach out to your Fair consultant.”
Reached for comment on Monday, Scholastic sent The Daily Beast a copy of its book fair catalog, which includes the 64 titles in its “Share Every Story” collection. The list includes books like “All Are Welcome,” which celebrates the diversity of children at a school, “Because of You, John Lewis,” about the civil rights icon, and “Justice Ketanji,” about Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Scholastic said that, for schools that include the “Share Every Story” collection, students will be able to browse a selection of books that might not have otherwise been included in the book fair.
“In terms of the titles in the collection, LGBTQIA+ and racism are the most legislated themes in the states with enacted or pending laws,” a Scholastic spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “To create the Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice collection, Scholastic began with titles we support even as they are the most likely to be restricted. Also, this collection provided additional space at a fair for even more diverse titles that while they may not have content that is named in legislation, do increase the diversity available at a fair. For instance, we reintroduced backlist titles to extend the typical length of time a title is available at a Fair.”
On Friday, Scholastic released a statement denying that all books featuring “diverse titles” had been placed in an opt-in collection.
“The biggest misconception is that Scholastic Book Fairs is putting all diverse titles into one optional case. This is not true, in any school, in any location we serve,” Scholastic said in a statement.
“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 publisher acknowledged that “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.”
The announcement sparked outcry from the publishing world, with one Scholastic employee slamming the move as “a cowardly, demoralizing, and harmful way for Scholastic to use its power in this industry.”
Molly Knox Ostertag, a graphic novelist whose young adult books feature gay and gender non-conforming characters, told The Daily Beast she learned of the collection last week, before Scholastic’s statement. Coincidentally, Ostertag was scheduled to speak at a Scholastic event for illustrators that week. She used the occasion to warn the publisher about the policy’s possible risks for young readers.
The “Share Every Story” collection “seems to be a good faith effort to protect teachers and librarians, and I understand the reasoning, but I feel the need to stand up tonight and say that I think this is a grave miscalculation,” Ostertag said in remarks that she later shared on Twitter. “It doesn’t come across as anything but an attempt to compromise with, frankly, fascist laws.”
Ostertag told The Daily Beast that Scholastic’s policy enabled a minority of school officials to keep whole categories of books off the shelves.
“So much of this issue is that it’s a very, very small group of people who are being very loud,” she said. “They get to politicize and hold up books that are not necessarily political, to challenge them en masse. They force the school district, or the publisher, or the librarian, to go through and justify why those books are okay. It’s a strategy to distract, it’s a strategy to use up time and energy, and it’s a strategy to intimidate.”
Research has shown book bans to be widely unpopular with voters, including parents. Instead, many challenges to books have been driven by a series of broad state laws that seek to define entire topics as off-limits, as well as by ban-happy individuals who have filed complaints against multiple books. A Washington Post report found that 11 people had filed 60 percent of challenges to books in the 2021-2022 school year. (The number of book challenges increased significantly in the 2022-2023 school year, according to a new PEN America study.)
Most of those challenged books, according to PEN America, feature characters of color or LGBTQ+ characters. The loss of those books can be the loss of a “lifeline,” especially for children who see themselves represented in the pages, Ostertag said.
“When you allow a single school official to make a choice, whether out of bigotry or fear, and sever that lifeline,” she told Scholastic in her remarks on Thursday, “when you make it easy for them to do, it is very literally a matter of life and death.”