(NEW YORK)—In a statement, PEN America responded to news that Scholastic Book Fair, in a decision that reacts to enacted and passed state legislation, created a case of diverse books for schools to use at book fairs, allowing some schools to opt out, limit, or partition their use of these titles:

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 Friday 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.

Sequestering books on these topics risks depriving students and families of books that speak to them. It will deny the opportunity for all students to encounter diverse stories that increase empathy, understanding, and reflect the range of human experiences and identities which are essential underpinnings of a pluralistic, democratic society.  

To be clear, it is essential to lay blame on the legislators and activists who are putting Scholastic and other publishers in an impossible bind when it comes to the distribution of a diverse range of books. The climate of fear taking hold in our schools and libraries has come on fast, posing difficult challenges to traditional policies and practices in the education sector. The threat to Scholastic ‘s ability to run book fair fundraisers for public schools is no different.

In an environment of growing censorship, publishers have a dual obligation to both fight it, and to make books as maximally available as possible. 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.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open 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. To learn more visit PEN.org

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