A Letter to the Pinellas County School Board
Superintendent Kevin Hendrick
Chairperson Lisa N. Cane
Vice Chairperson Laura Hine
Member Carol J. Cook
Member Caprice Edmond
Member Eileen M. Long
Member Stephanie Meyer
Member Dawn M. Peters
Dear Superintendent Hendrick & School Board Members,
We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), PEN America, and Florida Freedom to Read Project (FFTRP) are writing to you on behalf of the undersigned authors and illustrators affected by the Pinellas County school district’s decision to hold 87 titles for further review. The list predominately includes stories by Black, Latine, Native, Asian, Muslim, and LGBTQIA+ authors. Some examples of the affected books include:
- Christine Day’s upcoming We Still Belong, about a girl celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
- Jason Reynolds’ and Brendan Kiely’s All-American Boys, focusing on a violent racial incident and its fallout. This book received WNDB’s Walter Dean Myers Award in 2016.
- Rick Riordan’s Daughter of the Deep, featuring a non-binary character.
- Sabaa Tahir’s All My Rage, featuring Muslim characters. This book received WNDB’s Walter Dean Myers Honor in 2023.
Further, we find it troubling that several titles written by WNDB current and past Board members are included on this list, including The Getaway by Lamar Giles, Blackout co-authored by Dhonielle Clayton, and Valentina Salazar is NOT a Monster Hunter by Zoraida Córdova, along with many books by creators affiliated with WNDB’s programs. Several of PEN America’s author members are also named on this list of books. Given WNDB’s mission to produce and promote diverse literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people as well as PEN America’s mission to defend free expression and celebrate literary excellence, this list of books targeted for review is particularly jarring.
As stated in Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s seminal essay, “Mirrors Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors,” published in 1990: “When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” Targeting these titles sets a terrible precedent and message that diverse books need to be further scrutinized and censored, just because they are by and about marginalized creators.
We understand the tremendous pressure and intense scrutiny that has been placed on school districts across the country. But it is the responsibility of the district to protect the rights of all students, not just a few. Erring on the side of caution should never mean censoring the voices of marginalized creators and promoting a discriminatory effect on what books are made available to the community.
We Need Diverse Books, PEN America, Florida Freedom to Read Project, and the undersigned authors and illustrators are deeply concerned how books by marginalized authors are overwhelmingly affected by these purported “reviews.” We ask that you cancel the upcoming Library Media Review and instead examine your guidance and procedures that encouraged your team to second guess this diverse and celebrated list of books. Educator resources are scarce and student literacy needs are at an all time high. This review is the wrong decision at the wrong time for PCS. If given the proper support and guidance from the district, we have no doubt that the professionals you have put in charge of your media centers would curate amazing collections for the students they serve. Trust and uplift your professionals. We do.
CEO & Founding Member
Director & PCS Parent
Jennifer De Leon
Karina Yan Glaser
Tiffany D. Jackson
Jody Lee Mott
Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Pam Muñoz Ryan
Dr. Jewell Parker Rhodes
Quressa Robinson (literary agent)
Chris Van Dusen