(NEXSTAR) — Book fair season is here, and controversy is swirling around a new diversity collection that Scholastic is allowing schools to opt into or out of at its pop-up sale events.
The collection — called “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” — was created in response to dozens of states restricting or attempting to ban certain books dealing with LGBTQ issues and racism from schools, the company said in a statement on Oct. 13.
“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 statement reads.
The New York Times reported the collection has about 64 titles, ranging from “The ABCs of Black History” to biographies about Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and civil rights activist Ruby Bridges. It also includes picture books written by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Jojo Siwa, who came out as gay in 2021.
Some social media users on Reddit and TikTok started raising concerns last month after seeing the diversity offerings in a separate case, and accused the company of creating a “bigot button.”
Scholastic, which is the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books, stressed that it provides diverse books at its fairs every year.
“The biggest misconception is that Scholastic Book Fairs is putting all diverse titles into one optional case,” the company said. “This is not true, in any school, in any location we serve.”
The company also said it cannot decide for its school partners what risks to take in this book banning climate. Scholastic explained that the new collection has been discussed in many planning calls, and it’s still committed to sharing stories that represent all voices.
“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 company said.
On Tuesday, free speech group PEN America released a statement calling on Scholastic to explore other solutions so the publisher can “reject any role in accommodating these nefarious laws and local pressures.”
“In an environment of growing censorship, publishers have a dual obligation to both fight it and to make books as maximally available as possible,” the statement from PEN America reads. “Scholastic is a valued partner of PEN America and an indispensable standard bearer for children’s literature and the freedom to read. We hope that Scholastic will find its way through that complex morass, and we stand ready to help.”
There were 695 attempts to censor books at public schools and libraries in the U.S. in the first eight months of 2023, according to data released by the American Library Association (ALA) in September.
Last year, there were 1,269 reported attempts to censor 2,571 titles, according to the organization.