(NEW YORK)— PEN America today criticized a decision by the Millburn School District in Illinois to pull out of the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award, a statewide program celebrating children’s literature, as “placing ideology over pedagogy or children’s needs.”

During a board meeting this month, one member expressed that he was “deeply offended” by and “very uncomfortable” with Stamped: (For Kids) Racism, Antiracism and You, which appeared on the 2024 Caudill list, selected for the award by 5th to 8th graders. The board member also asked if the program was “left leaning.” In total, four board members voted to withdraw from the program. The Caudill Awards are unique in giving students the opportunity to vote for winners of the annual prize.

“The board’s deliberations were plainly ideological,” said Jonathan Friedman, Sy Syms managing director, U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “This program is a wonderful opportunity for kids to experience literature and express their opinions on it. Now, students in Millburn will miss out because of a preconceived notion about the politics of previous award winners. Unfortunately, Millburn is not alone: in many districts nationwide, kneejerk decisions have ended programs and removed books from shelves, placing ideology over pedagogy or children’s needs.”

A petition to bring the awards back has received over 1,300 signatures. Over 60 educators and community members testified at the board meeting where the decision was made to stop participating in the awards; no commentators were in favor of the decision.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057