Scholastic is walking back its new controversial book fair offering. The publishing company caused an uproar when elementary school fair organizers reported they had to opt in separately to receive a collection of 64 titles relating to race, gender, and sexuality.
The “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” collection included biographies of people of color like Malala Yousafzai and Ruby Bridges, books about Black history or queer characters, and other stories by LGBTQIA+ or BIPOC authors. Authors and advocacy groups released statements calling on Scholastic to desegregate these diverse books, and teachers, parents, and librarians flooded social media with angry messages.
Scholastic initially released a statement saying they created the collection in response to legislation enacted or pending in more than 30 states that prohibits books engaging with racism or LGBTQIA+ identity in schools. Scholastic also acknowledged that this decision was not a perfect solution.
“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 said. “We cannot make a decision for our school partners around what risks they are willing to take, based on the state and local laws that apply to their district, so these topics and this collection have been part of many planning calls that happen in advance of shipping a fair.”
But after outcry—including a letter signed by over 1,500 authors and illustrators asking Scholastic to discontinue the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” program—the company issued a statement on Oct. 24 announcing it would be discontinuing the collection beginning with the next book fair season in January 2024.
“We will find an alternate way to get a greater range of books into the hands of children,” said Scholastic president of trade publishing Ellie Berger. “We remain committed to the books in this collection and support their sale throughout our distribution channels … Our commitment to BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ authors and stories remains foundational for our company.”
Berger added that Scholastic will consider a pivot plan for the remaining book fair season. In the meantime, it appears schools will still have the option to opt out of this collection.
Molly Gardenhire, who organized her first grade son’s book fair in Chico, California this fall, recalled being unsettled by the way her assigned Scholastic representative referred to the collection.
“The ‘diversity case’ was what she was referring to it as,” Gardenhire said. “At first, I remember being a little unsettled by the way that the representative worded it because she was kind of acting as if she was stepping into murky waters.”
Gardenhire was surprised when the representative asked if she’d like to opt out of receiving the case. Upon asking why, the representative explained that some people were uncomfortable with the racial and LGBTQIA+ topics covered in the collection. Gardenhire told her not to withhold anything from their school.
“When it came time, I honestly was a little underwhelmed,” Gardenhire says of the collection. “I could tell from comparing the case to last spring that all they did was pull stuff off of other shelves and kind of consolidate it … it made me worried that that meant those titles were not on other shelves and so the schools that said ‘oh no, don’t send us that, that’s okay,’ are just not receiving those titles.”
Lance McGrath, the president of the Idaho Library Association and an academic librarian at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, Idaho, also worried about the titles not being on other shelves and called it “very distressing.”
“We need Scholastic to help continue to provide access to those titles,” he said.
McGrath pointed out that the Scholastic book fair may be a child’s only access point to certain titles, especially if those books were not available in the child’s school. Even if a child could not afford to buy the book at the fair, its mere availability could lead to awareness and conversation, and the child could seek out the book at a public library.
Similarly, Gardenhire said that displaying diverse titles at her son’s book fair allowed many children to see characters who looked like them reflected on the covers, regardless of whether or not they actually bought the book. According to Gardenhire, the books in the diverse collection ended up being some of the most popular in the entire fair for both children and parents.
A school librarian in Arkansas, who requested to remain anonymous, expressed understanding over Scholastic’s dilemma. Act 372, a state law passed earlier this year but not able to go into effect pending an injunction, allows criminal prosecution of librarians who refuse to remove books deemed “obscene” and allows any individual to challenge a book as “obscene.”
“I hate it, but it is necessary,” the librarian said of Scholastic’s “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” program before the company changed course. “I do not have time to read the diverse collection prior to the book fair to evaluate what would or would not follow the new law. I had told my consultant at Scholastic that I would not be able to have a book fair because of the political climate right now. She assured me that I would be within the new law if I ran the fair without the diverse case.”
The librarian also stated how painful it was to decline the collection.
“It hurts my heart that I declined a diverse case, but I had to in order to protect myself from legal action,” they said. “I honestly question if I should have had a fair at all knowing that I was a part of limiting access to diverse books.”
McGrath wants Scholastic to support librarians in states where book censorship activity is highest.
“We have people with the will to fight them, but it is not cheap to fight these well-funded national groups,” he said.
Kathleen Toerpe, a recently retired educator in Wisconsin who raised five children through Scholastic book fairs, also expressed disappointment in Scholastic’s decision.
“I think they’re trying to play both sides to preserve their sales in states that have legislated bigotry and, at the same time, trying to position themselves that they are creating this special collection,” said Toerpe. “And to do that and have the gall to call it ‘Share Every Story’ when they’re doing the exact opposite, that’s a lot of audacity.”
Other book fair organizers resisted Scholastic’s policy by seeking alternatives altogether. On social media, librarians and teachers discussed using local independent bookstores for book fairs or other companies like Literati.
McGrath believes that a company with as strong a brand and market presence as Scholastic has a responsibility to take a firm stance against book bans in both words and actions. Despite the legal issues of providing diverse books in certain states like Idaho and Arkansas, he doesn’t think that Scholastic should be preemptively complying with a request to restrict access to materials.
“Children need access to diverse voices, for creating greater understanding of the world around them and also seeing representation of themselves, their families, their friends, loved ones, their communities,” he said. “Scholastic should be about expanding access and creating opportunities for children and families to learn about the world around them through the titles that they provide.”