Outraged at Scholastic’s Option to Opt in—or Out—of Receiving Diverse Books, Librarians Seek Book Fair Alternatives

Librarians and authors are angry and seeking alternatives after Scholastic Book Fair change that requires opt-in for an add-on case of diverse books for elementary fairs. PEN America calls on Scholastic to find a new solution instead of accommodating "nefarious laws."

Amanda Jones has hosted Scholastic Book Fairs in her Louisiana school library for nine years. There will not be a 10th.

A photo of a "Share Every Story" case by
Maryland media specialist Stacey Flynn

“I was so disappointed in Scholastic this year and canceled my fair for next year,” says Jones, a Louisiana middle school librarian and 2021 School Librarian of the Year. “When I had my book fair meeting with my rep, she told me that I could opt in for a ‘Share Every Story’ case of diverse authors and characters. I said absolutely I was opting in. Then she asked me again if I was sure, and I said the same thing. In all fairness, my rep is wonderful and knows all I’ve faced in the past year, so I think she was just looking out for me. But still.”

Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice is a new set of books offered by Scholastic Book Fairs, framed by the company as an “add-on,” which librarians can choose to receive to stock their book fair—or decline.

The set of approximately 60 titles includes books on Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Rep. John Lewis, and Ruby Bridges, as well as The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal, She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, and I Color Myself Different by Colin Kaepernick. Scholastic claims these books might put some educators or volunteers in danger of breaking local laws.

Jones—who has been battling harassers in court after speaking out for the freedom to read at a public library hearing—is one of many librarians upset with Scholastic.

graphic showing the pages of the PDF (link)
View the "Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice" collection

Scholastic notes that in some cases these specific books will not be available and substitutions will be sent instead. 

Several went to social media to recount their own conversations with Scholastic representatives. Educators say the reps asked repeatedly if they were sure they wanted to include the case. Having to opt-in to a separate, additional case with these titles was bad enough for many of the librarians. To be pushed to confirm that they really wanted it was more disconcerting.

The final straw for many was a paper attached to the case when it arrived that said, “We’ve included the requested ‘Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice’ collection with your Book Fair assortment. 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, please reach out to your Fair consultant.”

Jones works at Live Oak Middle School in Denham Springs, LA, but has always ordered the elementary fair because there are fifth and sixth graders in her school, she says. Jones then adds on more middle grade titles.

“I noticed several standard books that we’ve had previously, like The Undefeated and Drama [by Raina Telegemier], were missing,” says Jones. “It’s not as if the ‘regular’ cases didn’t have any Black or LGBTQ+ authors, but there was a marked difference in variety and diversity, in my opinion.”

SLJ asked a Scholastic spokesperson how the titles were selected for the Share Every Story case and received this response:

“LGBTQIA+ and racism are the most legislated themes in the states with enacted or pending laws. 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,” the spokesperson said via email. “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.”

Questions about what the representatives have been instructed to ask, the consequence of “othering” these titles by separating them, who made the decisions as to what goes in the "Share Every Story" case, and why the "diverse" titles the company says remain in the regular offering wouldn’t leave those who run the fairs similarly vulnerable to professional or legal consequences went unanswered.

Jones chose a more limited add-on: three boxes of Share Every Story titles, instead of the full case. She was surprised by what she found when they arrived.

“The Share Every Story boxes I received weren’t anything controversial or any books that would put librarians in jeopardy of breaking these absurd new laws I’ve been keeping track of in other states, so I guess I’m just confused about why we had to opt in for them,” she says. “And all of the opt-in books seemed to be by authors of color or with characters of color. The feeling I got from Scholastic was that Black authors are controversial and need to be separated. The message that sent to me was one I do not want to be associated with in any way and is harmful.”

[READ: Building Better Book Fairs: Librarians Create New Models]
[READ: Partnering with Indie Bookstores on Book Fairs]

One media specialist said she was asked to assess the Share Every Story books before volunteers would display them. Like Jones, she was surprised by the titles in the case.

“Our PTA runs the book fair and they asked me to take a look at the books before they put them out,” tweeted Stacey Flynn, media specialist at Great Seneca Elementary School in Germantown, MD. “So shocked to see what was considered ‘controversial.’ What??????? Just people of color, just like our student population.”

Outrage from the library and publishing world flowed on social media, where people sought to find alternatives to Scholastic Book Fairs.

“So @Scholastic has a No Diversity Option and Librarians have to Opt In to get diverse books now. Talk to me, folks,” author Jacqueline Woodson tweeted on Friday. “Other Options for Book Fairs? Happy to retweet.”

Librarians responded, many recommending partnering with local, independent bookstores to stage book fairs. Others noted First Book for Title I schools and Literati as possibilities.

With no sign of the controversy waning, author Angie Thomas tweeted on Monday October 16: "I know a lot of indie bookstores follow me, so if your store can offer a book fair in schools similar to what @Scholastic does, please drop your store name and location in the replies."

A statement released by Scholastic on Friday night sought to clarify “misconceptions.”:

The statement did not appease Scholastic’s critics. While there were a few supportive replies, noting the decision allowed schools to make the choices for themselves, the overwhelming majority blasted the company.

"This cowardly stance is indefensible," wrote author David Bowles. "You are facilitating the silencing of Latino and other BIPOC voices when they are needed most. Where is the literary dignity in placating religious fascists? #DignidadLiteraria"

Wrote Tracy O'Connell Novick, a member of the Worcester (MA) School Committee, "You don’t have only two options: the third option is to refuse to bowdlerization your book collection, and to use your power as the major children’s publisher to push back on legislative efforts to limit children’s access to stories they need to see.

"This is extraordinarily gutless, frankly. The librarians, teachers, and parents for whom you claim to be watching out for are putting their own safety and positions on the line in many cases to take actions to fight these efforts. You should be backing them up.”

Today, PEN America released a statement calling on Scholastic to find a different solution: 

PEN America shares the dismay we are hearing from authors over news that, at Scholastic Book Fairs, access to certain books by a diverse group of authors has been limited or partitioned because of content related to race, racism and LGBTQ+ identities. We have spoken out repeatedly to condemn legislation that has the effect of restricting what books can be accessed and taught, putting teachers, administrators and librarians under penalty of discipline if they traverse intentionally vague lines of censorship.

A public statement from Scholastic on Monday details the book company’s dilemma in serving schools and communities subject to these laws and local pressures. It describes that all cases from Scholastic still contain diverse titles; but that the company wished to alert educators as to which books might trigger reprisals or make educators vulnerable. These contortions on Scholastic’s part reflect the dilemmas faced by booksellers, teachers and librarians across the country who are being forced to play defense in a war against books. They reflect a climate in which vaguely-worded legislation is putting unique pressure on K-12 schools, and in which at least one teacher has been directly punished for reading students a book purchased at a Scholastic book fair. 

Despite the challenges of this climate, we call on Scholastic to explore other solutions so they can reject any role in accommodating these nefarious laws and local pressures, or being an accessory to government censorship. What we understand was conceived as a practical adaptation to keep book fairs going in a fraught legal and political climate is clearly at risk of being twisted to accomplish censorious ends.


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