Is keeping up with all of the attacks on intellectual freedom getting tiring? Of course it is. But to keep these conversations going and ignite change, we need to continue bringing up challenges and books being pulled in order to highlight exactly how wide spread and endemic this is.
Each of these stories hit the news in recent weeks, ranging from an author being uninvited from an event in Katy, Texas, to a Hudson, Ohio, mayor demanding school board members resign over a book’s writing prompt, showcase the ways and means censorship is alive and well in the U.S.
Read and understand what’s at stake in each of these stories and then, whether you’re local or not, take steps to help put these books back on shelves where they belong. This guide to how to fight book bans and challenges will help you find the right way for you to get involved however you can.
Katy, Texas, School District Cancels Author Visit, Pulls Books
In Katy, Texas, a suburb of Houston, award-winning author and illustrator Jerry Craft was uninvited from his scheduled event to speak to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students. Parents called his New Kid graphic novel an example of “Critical Race Theory,” which is not allowed to be taught under Texas law. (It is not, of course, a book about or in any way, shape, or form, related to Critical Race Theory).
From Katy Magazine Online:
Katy mom Bonnie Anderson received the flyer from her twin third grader’s school, like many Katy parents did.
“I review all of their instructional material whether it’s a math worksheet or something like this,” says Bonnie Anderson, who previously ran for a Katy ISD Board of Trustee position.
Anderson read Jerry Craft’s books and grew concerned over how racism was presented in them and believes they push a critical race theory curriculum.
According to Anderson, the book depicts white children displaying microaggressions to children [of] color. She admits that the books do not come out and say, ‘we want white children to feel like oppressors,’ but that is what she feels the books do.
SB 3739 became law on September 1 and prohibits schools from presenting critical race theory material in social studies.
“This is very subversive because they aren’t calling it Critical Race Theory and it’s not being presented in social studies,” says Anderson.
Anderson created a petition that had 500 signatures before Change.org removed it for violating their policies.”
The book is being reviewed by the district and Craft has been invited to speak again — just outside the school day.
Hudson, Ohio, Mayor Demands School Board Members Resign Over Book
A single prompt in a book used to help students generate writing is at the center of the Hudson, Ohio, mayor’s ire. The book, 642 Things to Write About, used in one college-level credit class in the high school called “Writing in the Liberal Arts II,” has prompts in it parents have complained about. Mayor Craig Shubert said the board should resign or face criminal charges for exposing kids to “child pornography.”
From the Akron Beacon Journal:
One speaker said he was “appalled” by the content and requested that cameras be put into the classroom so parents could monitor what is being taught to their children. Another speaker said the material was “disgusting” and that it amounted to “grooming.”
Shubert on Monday night gave the board an ultimatum.”It has come to my attention that your educators are distributing essentially what is child pornography in the classroom,” Shubert told the board. “I’ve spoken to a judge this evening. She’s already confirmed that. So I’m going to give you a simple choice: You either choose to resign from this board of education or you will be charged.”
His statement was met with cheers and applause from many of the audience members.
The mayor said he would like to see all five members resign by the end of the month.
It’s not clear whether the board can be held criminally liable for material that was being used in a class.
Ohio has a new law effective as of September 30 that will allow parents of high schoolers taking part in college-level classes to review the material being used.
Parents Complain About Classroom Read Aloud in Plainedge, New York
The headline for this piece is deceiving, which does some injustice to anti-censorship work. Last week, Kelly Yang’s middle grade, New York Times bestselling and award-winning book Front Desk was stopped as a classroom read aloud in Plainedge’s Eastplain Elementary School. The book wasn’t at the center of a ban, but rather, the center of attempted censorship — the book wasn’t actively being pulled from shelves (it was temporarily for review, per district policy) but from the opportunity of a read-aloud. This distinction may seem minimal, but it’s not. A book being pulled from a read-aloud is censorship, but it is not an outright ban. The book is back in the classroom.
What’s especially interesting in this case is the complaint not only of “Critical Race Theory” — it’s a book about an immigrant girl — but specifically, it’s anti-police rhetoric in a community that is home to 200 New York Police Department officers.
From Yahoo News:
“This author’s books are extremely divisive and controversial, and we are shocked and disappointed that this ‘CRT’ book is part of Plainedge’s teachings,” wrote the parent behind the letter, referring to the controversial critical race theory — a teaching methodology that acknowledges the role of systemic racism in shaping American history, with tenets including “racism has always existed” — according to screenshots posted to Yang’s Instagram.
The letter continued, “Our children … are not to be audiences to any books that portray cops as racist, foster the notion of white supremacy or white privilege, teach that America is a racist country where all people are not equal etc. … “
According to Yang and reports on social media, her book was temporarily banned until the district came to the decision to reinstate it in classrooms while giving parents the choice to “opt-out” their children from reading it. Those who do opt out, according to the unidentified parent who had been tweeting out details of the unfolding situation, will instead read Home of the Brave, a middle-grade book about an African immigrant written by Katherine Applegate, who responded to the decision by tweeting about how she had “bought 20 copies” of Front Desk.
Reiterating the distinction here matters. The book is available again, which is a win. But it’s a dangerous precedent: teachers now need to worry about the books they can read aloud to their entire class, knowing it can at any time be subject to complaint. This is where quiet censorship thrives — not in the big bans, but in the “smaller” scenarios like this.
Campbell County, Wyoming, Book Challenge: Update
We reported on the uniquely challenging book challenge happening in Campbell County, Wyoming, earlier in the week. Librarians were threatened with charges for carrying sex education books in the collection.
As of this week, six of the 35 challenged books were advanced to the final step in the review process and retained in the collection. One of those books advanced to a further step — level five — where the original complaint seeks further review because they were unsatisfied with the outcome.
The six books retained so far include A Quick Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities by Mandy G. and Jules Zuckerberg, This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson, Trans Mission: My Quest for a Beard by Alex Bertie, The V-Word: True Stories about First-Time Sex by Amber J. Keyser, Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley and Meena by Sine van Mol.
Dawson’s book is the title moving to another round of review.
Third Austin-Area School Book Challenge of Out of Darkness, Lawn Boy — A Book Which Isn’t Even In The Library
Bastrop, Texas, becomes the third school district with parents challenging Ashley Hope Pérez’s award-winning novel Out of Darkness. We reported on Lake Travis ISD’s challenge last week, where an unhinged parent who’d lost the election for a seat on the board this year complained about the book’s depiction of anal sex. The historical novel indeed has a scene in it with anal sex, but the context of that scene is vital in understanding power and race then — and now.
“What she’s reading from,” explained Pérez on Instagram, “is from a part of the book where the whole point is to capture the utterly relentless sexual objectification and racialization the Mexican American main character endures.”
Earlier this fall, Leander Independent School District banned the book, along with several others.
Now Bastrop parents are weighing in, asking the school district to remove the book from libraries. They, like parents in Leander, also complained about Lawn Boy.
From the Austin American Statesman:
Two concerned mothers voiced their frustrations to school trustees Tuesday during the public comments period of the board’s meeting and read aloud from books with explicit imagery that they said are available in school libraries. But before reading from the book, Kim Dunlap offered other parents at the meeting a warning to keep their young children from listening.
“They may not want to hear this, though they can read it in our library,” she said.
Dunlap recited a sentence from “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison: “I sucked his (explitive) [sic] and he sucked mine.”
“Why are we allowing that to be available to our children?” Dunlap asked the school board. “Is anyone OK with that because I know I’m sure as hell not.”
Kristi Lee, the district’s spokesperson, said Dunlap was referring to the wrong book. The school library, she said, has “Lawn Boy” by Gary Paulsen, a humorous book recommended for middle schoolers about a young boy who learns about capitalism when his grandparents give him a lawnmower.
Lee confirmed that the district’s high school libraries do carry “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, which includes the sexually suggestive material, brought up at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
What’s clear in this situation is the copycat effort to remove books from shelves across suburban Austin. The parent complaining elected the same titles being challenged in Leander and in Lake Travis, failing to even look at the library’s collection to see there was no Lawn Boy by Evison.
Only Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen.
Groups like these continue to band together and seek out opportunities to censor what’s available to students. These efforts replicate and play out in similar patterns, ensuring their morality standards are universal, rather than one part of a larger range of freedoms to think, read, and speak.
Mid-Continent Public Library Board Members Loathe Intellectual Freedom
How about a frustrating story but in a different manner?
Last week, a couple of board members at Mid-Continent Public Library were blasted for their comments about the library’s banned books week display and honoring of intellectual freedom. They’re being asked to step down from their positions, given that their voices counter the freedoms which the library — and their positions as governance of that library — stand for.
In bright red lettering surrounded by paper flames and yellow caution tape, the display reads, “Caution: These books are dangerous!” Like many others in libraries across the country this week, the display at the North Independence Branch location is meant to highlight the value of free and open access to information — a key aim for Banned Books Week.
But three members of the library’s board of trustees took issue on Facebook with the display.
“Appalling,” Yummy Pandolfi and board Vice President Michael Lazio posted online. Pandolfi continued, “I’m saddened by this lack of judgment from library employees.”
“You are crossing a line that’s not yours to cross,” wrote trustee Michelle Wycoff, in a now-deleted Facebook comment. “Influencing someone else’s children like this is unacceptable quite frankly.”
This isn’t the first expression of the board’s anti-queer, anti-intellectual freedom stance for the library.
Austin Gragg, a former MCPL employee, said the comments are just the latest in a string of anti-intellectual and anti-LGBTQ views that he said has no place on the library’s board. Those views, he said, have caused some queer former employees to leave their jobs at the library.
“It really does seem that these board members are more interested in not only furthering political goals, but treating the library board as a political country club,” said Gragg, who is helping organize a group of current and former library employees who want to see the trustees off the board.
Read this piece to look at the history of the board’s discriminatory behavior and where and how the library and community are working to get these politically driven appointees recalls from their seats.